I mentioned that this injury has really reshaped the way I view the universe, I still hold firm to this statement. It has inevitably made me more attuned to the suffering of others and has opened up my heart and mind to ways of reaching out and helping others in need. This is an important point I should make as one of the greatest contributions to my own recovery was taking in active interest and becoming friend’s fellow sufferers.
Getting to know people who have gone through a similar chronic pain condition, or at least have gone through something which requires drastic, painful and slow change, is of immense benefit. Anyone can say: just look at people who are less fortunate and be grateful. Yes on the surface that should work, it will create gratitude and make you count your blessings. But here is the deal with people with chronic pain: that’s not enough. You need to become familiar with fellow sufferers, become their friend. Let them help you. You alone can do it but you can’t do it alone. To best help others let them help you. This is a golden law of the universe I was so happy to firmly acquaint myself during my long battle with RSI.
After my nearly two years of unemployment I slowly ventured back into the workforce, at the beginning I started with temporary positions. Such a re-entry was beneficial as I was not tied to a company or contract (therefore I wasn’t fretting at night about not being able to fulfil it) and if the pain was to get unbearable again I could either change jobs duties which did require high keyboard use, or if a job did have high keyboard use I only went for one-to-two week stints, so psychologically there was always an ‘exit’. This was very important to me. Confidence takes time to build and you will put your health and well-being in jeopardy if you jump from unemployment to full time work. It’s important to build yourself up slowly by gradual exposure, the temptation for the long-term unemployed is to launch back into it, sometimes with the justification: “I’m making up for lost time”. This is nonsense! I acknowledge there will be times when you need to be firm and sometimes push yourself and type with pain, but these moments become bearable when you endure the hardship with the conviction you are getting better and the best of life, love and happiness is ahead of and not behind you.
So, to reiterate a previous section on thought patters, here are some positive mental thoughts to cultivate when you are getting back into the workforce:
“This is only temporary, I am getting better. This is only a setback which I can endure with patience and perseverance”
“My body is adjusting to this activity again, muscles will get used to this I just need to be patient and persistent”
It’s important you actively try and change the language and thoughts in your head. So pay careful attention to the words coming out of your mouth and change them if you hear harsh, damning, or overly self critical language such as:
“I can’t….it won’t, it’s useless, no one can help me, no one understands, I am an idiot and so on”.
There are many examples other examples, work them out. Another key is to avoid global language such as: “it’s too hard to recover, or no one understands”. Rather, highly personalise your expression language: I am going through this right now and this is what it feels for me. Own your experience.
I still need to combat destructive thoughts on a day-to-day basis. You don’t just “get better” you actively and continuously work on changing the habits and thoughts that got you into the problem. This is a war that can easily be won, at first it seems like hard and even impossible work. But good habits will begin to become ingrained and then lo and behold many become second-nature so that you’re doing them with unconscious competence and life becomes a whole lot easier.
Ok, back to my story. Well after a few months of doing fairly mundane temporary jobs I started to pursue my real interest – getting in to the helping professions and beginning to be of service to others. You know how all companies and motivational speakers go on about knowing your product and believing in it in order to sell it, well I totally believe in everyone’s ability to recover from a seemingly impossible situation. Hope was my newest and healthiest addiction.
It was not easy adjusting to the workforce. On top of my body slowly getting used to keyboard activity again and the fear associated with it, you also have the anxiety and stress of being in a totally different environment again which causes additional burden.
I was always very upfront about my RSI condition and, in fact, steered all potential employers to this website www.howibeatrsi.com so they could understand where I was coming from; it also explained some of the gaps in the resume too, thus serving a double purpose.
In this site I’ve tried to be as open as possible when communicating my struggles and I encourage you to be open with your struggles too. When approaching an employer you will not want to scare them off with potential insurance and injury complications, but then again if you say nothing and complications from the work arise you may need to quit which in turn disappoint your employer and yourself and could lead into more mental health problems.
It was hard getting back to regular keyboard work. I would get that awful, and all too familiar nasty sharp pain in both hands whilst typing and sometimes feels as if I had very little strength in my forearms and hands. Occasionally I felt a certain arm/shoulder going weak again but never as bad as the dead-arm feeling I used to get. I was still on anti-depressant medication when I went back in – this time the medication was called Avanza – a fairly new type of anti-depressant which is also effective against anxiety. Working on anti-depressants was also hard as many times I felt groggy and as if the floor was moving. I received a couple of e-mails asking me to give thoughts on anti-depressant medication. I’ll simply say they are definitely not a long-term solution, they lower functional impairment to assist you with facing and dealing with the deep-seated problems that cause depression. And for that purpose they are remarkably effective.
During my RSI struggles I had a very powerful encounter with God and was powerfully converted into the Christian faith. My life is now totally devoted to the purpose of communicating God’s unconditional love in the person of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour.
So, after temping for a few months I found my vocation and followed my calling in Christ and started working for a Christian organisation in Sydney called Wesley Mission as a welfare worker in a homeless shelter. I worked there for just over one year and during this time I was barely on the keyboard. Again, this helped a lot. Sometimes if your RSI condition is that bad and you want to make good progress with your exercises and minimise aggravation you must change work. I know for some people this is simply impossible, but for others who can, please think about doing so.
After a year and a bit of working at the homeless shelter – an experience I shall always treasure dearly – I started working full time, again for another Christian organisation called Mission Australia as a case worker in a programme designed to assist the long term unemployed overcome barriers such as drug addition, mental health problems and homelessness. I am still studying counselling too and really enjoying how my work, study, church life and personal faith are intensifying and complementing each other.
As for the pain – well, when I started my case work in the office my RSI flared up. This came as a complete shock to the system as I thought the RSI was dead and buried. But I did not panic too much:
I thought sensibly: this is a new job and there is always a certain amount of tension and anxiety that goes with a new job, or a drastic change in environment for that matter. I need to absorb this tension and continue to do what I know is right, NOT WHAT I FEEL IS RIGHT. So I went back to physio, checked ergonomic position, continued my stretches, continued journaling and always talked, talked, talked. Guess what the pain got better, quickly. I believe a lot of it was anxiety-fuelled. But man when I feel that pain I can’t admit that fact. Because the pain is real and you don’t want anyone insinuating you are somehow manufacturing or inventing the pain through some screwed up psychosomatic scheme to garner unwarranted attention.
I now can type for more than eight hours a day, play guitar regularly and never think of the pain. I ensure every day to be grateful when its pain free. I fear complacency just as much as I fear the return of the condition.
But more important than the functional restoration of my body, I have changed as a person. I have slowed down and lost the compulsion to always rush ahead and do everything on my speed and on my terms. In slowing down I can now more effectively tune into others, and therefore help others. Really help others, and in doing so I have become connected to the community in ways I never really thought possible.
God bless you all. I will always thank those people who helped me during those hard dark times. My family, Jeremy, James, you guys were inspirational and saw something in me that I couldn’t see at that point. I’ll never forget it.
I thank my girlfriend of one year, Katherine, who so many times along the way has helped me when my mind was going back to anxious territory. Kat inspires me every day and has rekindled my love of creativity. I love you very much Kat.
Take care everyone. Chronic pain takes its toll on many sufferers and their families, but believe me when I say there is always hope. Mutual understating opens the door for hope to barge in and rearrange all the mental furniture that was never really serving a proper purpose anyway.
I pray that you all catch this disease of hope which has clearly affected me severely.