Lessons from an unlikely insect on thriving.
Yesterday I was on my roof cleaning the gutters. This alone is cause for celebration. I felt strong enough and steady enough to be doing it. What was so amazing was the vivid lesson about my reaction to pain that I received by an unlikely ally, a yellow jacket.
I was cleaning out the gutter, minding my own business when I hear a very distinct and close BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ! A yellow jacket was buzzing around my head and near my face. I freaked! Thoughts ran through my mind, “ I could fall if I got stung, I could lose an eye! I’ll make it more angry if I swipe at it.” It took everything I had to just stay still and shut my eyes. My whole body was rigid with fear but I stayed still. I tried to breathe to let some of the fear go. After what seemed like an eternity the buzzing faded and stopped.
Do yellow jackets sense fear? Are they attracted by it? Or was it the bright orange latex gloves I was wearing? I have no idea but as I felt into my body I realized that I was reacting just like I do when pain buzzes by.
All of my muscles went rigid with fear, my breathing was shallow—I held my breath for a while, and my attention was completely focused on the buzzing and the what-ifs. This was a natural reaction but not very useful! I flashed on this metaphor and decided that my reaction set me up for more pain—in this case a sting. Letting go of the fearful reaction might help.
Just then, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz and my theory was put to the test. I took a deep breath—through my nose—I didn’t want the yellow jacket in my mouth! Yes, I had that thought which made letting go of the fear more difficult. I unclenched my face and attempted not to get so tense. This was more difficult when I could hear the buzzing near my face. The buzzing went away after a while and I had successfully kept breathing.
We went through a few more rounds—my new teacher the yellow jacket and I. Each time I breathed, remembered that fear was not going to help and was finally able to not tense up. I felt proud that I had overcome. Oh what a great metaphor and teacher—DANG! All of a sudden out of the gutter came a bee as I reached in. Scared the #@#@%& out of me. All that mindfulness and all that breathing blown in an instant. Just like my pain, when it comes at me so suddenly and out of the blue. Bam!
I was able to take a deep breath and release some of the adrenaline with muttering. (Swearing has actually been shown to help with pain relief) Another visceral reminder of not being in control. Because I was working on my mindfulness and reactivity I recovered quite quickly.
Buzz, buzz, buzz came again and again, while I worked to finish up the gutters and the more dangerous task of pruning the tree from the roof. My reactions were less and less intense. I thought to myself, “I mean worse case scenario I would get stung—I’m not allergic. I could get down the ladder and put a poultice on it.”
I had warning by the buzzing, most of the time! I had my tools of taking care through breathing, releasing fears hold, relaxing my muscles through awareness, and my desire for clean gutters. Lessons I can use with my chronic pain! I know many of my triggers but sometimes it does come out of no-where. Using my breath, conscious relaxation, challenging my fearful thoughts, and being engaged with life with goals and purpose all help me to thrive with pain. Thank you yellow jacket for the reminders! Lessons from an unlikely teacher! But I do find them everywhere, as long as I am willing to look.