The Healing Tree – Why Shame?

What a surreal existence to have so many show you love and support and you end up feeling the exact opposite of how they wanted you to feel and you can’t even begin to control it.

(My name is Mary Beth Orr. I am a professional horn player and currently 3rd Horn in the Grand Rapids Symphony. The following is my story in hopes it may be a helpful resource.)

So, let’s talk about shame. Why? Because that is a surprising little nugget that popped up for me during my recovery. It sometimes would slink in as a companion to my depression or come on like being hit by a 2×4 when someone said just the right thing meant to make me feel better. You know what pairs super well with shame? Rage. Oh yeah. That one never slunk in… nope. It travelled right alongside shame like nails on that 2×4. Along with dealing with physical injury repair to my face, teeth, neck, internal soft tissues, etc.… my brain had its own journey as well. This post will cover all the wonderful mixed up, messed up, jacked up things losing your career, passion, and brainpower can do to you, but more specifically, did to me. Concussions for women are a bitch. Pun definitely intended. And brain injury lingers on like a bad chain letter that keeps making its rounds. You forget about it and forget they exist until you get one and are once again reminded what a nuisance it all is. 

So where did my shame come from? The accident was my fault. Do I KNOW this? Not really since I can’t remember anything. But that is what I was told and that is the only information I have. Do I believe it? I actually don’t know and at some point, realized it doesn’t fucking matter. You know what else triggered my shame? The rage I would feel every time someone was kind to me. People I loved and even just acquaintances were trying to everything they could to support me. You know the feeling you get when someone you know has something really terrible happen to them, you see it posted on Facebook, or see them and know you should say something supportive and amazing to make them feel better but have no clue what that is because deep down you know they’re in hell and nothing can really make it better? I’m pretty sure a whole truck load of people in my life felt that way. And so, they would say amazing things like, “Well, you look amazing”, or “You are sooooo lucky”, or “At least you still can play piano and sing”, and my favorite “If anyone can get through this and come back you can”. 

Honestly, even writing these again make me want to punch a wall. WTF?! WHY DO THESE THINGS TRIGGER ME SO MUCH! Now I’m having rage at myself for allowing myself to be triggered by these kind and supportive phrases. What a surreal existence to have so many show you love and support and you end up feeling the exact opposite of how they wanted you to feel and you can’t even begin to control it. Enter shame. Dirty, sexy shame come right on in. And now let’s compound this with fear you can’t live up to everyone’s expectation of your strength, that no amount of support may get your career and livelihood back, that what made you special was possibly gone forever, that this was all your fault, etc.… blah blah blah blah blah BRAIN. My trauma therapist Angie and I had a good time with this cyclical thought process. 

On a side note, I started out with a speech therapist to help my lingering memory issues after the accident. We established where I was on what is called their “Bell Curve” to establish a bit of a baseline and then work at improving from there. Ultimately, there was a point I reached the max of my improvement and discovered my emotional and chemical trauma were the squeakier wheel.

While Angie was helping me adapt my hyper productive oriented approach to living to a new normal that was supportive in my healing process, we also had to get to the root of each of these phrases. 

“Well, you look amazing” 

Thank you? I mean yeah, normally that would make me feel great. Accept, not only was I feeling like physical shit almost all the time, I really didn’t have the ability to show emotion or experience a wide range of emotions other than fear, shame, and rage. It’s so complicated. And I’m pretty sure the rest of what I’m going to write about won’t make much sense but here it is…. Ultimately, I kind of wanted to just be left alone. But I also wanted to be working. Doing anything that felt like me. Or who I used to be. But I really couldn’t do that in the way I wanted and that pissed me off. I also really felt like a ghost and couldn’t feel emotions the way I did before, nor did I have the energy or the ability to match others energy with a similar reaction to our interaction. Follow?  Did I want to look amazing? Sure. Did I want people to know how badly I was struggling? No. But I also, didn’t want people to have unrealistic expectations of me either. And I felt how I looked on the outside may have sent a false message I couldn’t begin to really get into in a casual conversation. #COMPLICATED

“You are sooooo lucky”

This was a little more clear to me as to why I wanted to punch walls… or people… when this phrase passed my ears. OF COURSE I KNOW I’M FUCKING LUCKY! Christ almighty! Like, what the actual fuck am I supposed to say to that? Ummm yeah, I know? Thanks for reminding me of something I live with every day? What am I really supposed to do with that comment. I respect that sometimes is the only thing someone can think of because they are grateful I’m still here and intact, but to my over achieving up tight, control freak classical music trained self, that said to me, “You’re not acting grateful enough so I thought I should let you know”. So initially I would feel the thud of the shame 2×4 in the gut and in true form, those sharp nails of rage would rip right into me just a teeny tiny moment later. Is this rational? Not even remotely. But I have never asserted any of these posts about my experience would make sense, be moral, or even inspirational. It’s just honest, unfiltered, and vulnerable. Just in case I might not be the only one, I’m putting it all out there. Because these feelings were isolating and made me feel terminally ALONE.

 “At least you still can play piano and sing” 

This. Was. A. Doozie. I know full well people were trying to help me stay positive. But this also links up to the “lucky” shame cycle. If I’m not okay with that outcome, does that make me ungrateful? I am a punishingly honest person so for me to try and smile and say, “Yes, I know. It’s such a blessing” just couldn’t come out of my mouth. My main reaction was to kind of nod my head, look away and try to change the subject. Just that little bit of deflection or redirect was exhausting and made it hard for me to want to be around people in broad social situations. I did not want and could not even begin to explain to every single person that uttered those words, what it would cost my soul to lose the job I had recently won and gotten tenure in after 15 years of auditioning in one of the hardest career markets. The shame of wishing I had lost one of my feet instead of one of my teeth. Yeah, I actually had those thoughts…. Which also caused massive amounts of self-loathing and shame. Because that is a fucked-up way of thinking. But, again, that is the truth of what passed through my brain. I remember trying to find some peace one summer evening, somewhere between recovering from my lip surgery and waiting for my implant surgery, by sitting outside and trying to enjoy a beautiful sunset and crisp G and T. I had yet to find any sign the 25 years of technique/lip I had cultivated would either still be there once the implant was done, or would come back even remotely to the level it had been. I also wondered how far back to square 1 would I have to go? In my mind, it felt like watching a Druid be so close to getting that last stone in place before they slipped and stone rolled all the way back down the hill…. And the rest of “Henge” went with it. Would I have to just move one more stone back into position? All of them? Or had the stones broken completely and now I must find all new stones… The resounding thought in my brain was. “Girl, if you can’t play horn anymore, there may not be enough medication to save you”. 

So, when I got the “At least” comment, it instantly brought all the fear, shame, and isolation front and center. No Bueno. 

“If anyone can get through this and come back you can”.

And this brings us to this little gem. Look, I pride myself on being strong. I am a believer you can actually choose to be as strong as you need and/or want to be. However, in this situation, though these loved ones, friends, and supporters were trying to build me up, instead triggered the implication in my mind that if I somehow didn’t come back, I wasn’t strong enough? Or the frustration that deep down I knew there was a distinct possibility I had nerve damage in my lip. There was a distinct possibility the implant would fail. These are things beyond my control. What if there was a physiological reason that all the strength in the world couldn’t overcome? Plain and simple, this statement made me feel vulnerable. Or I allowed this overwhelmingly supportive statement to trigger my vulnerability. 

Honestly, most of the time I wanted to be left alone. Yes, there were times getting out of the house was good, felt good, felt necessary. But in those times, I dreaded the simple question “How are you?”. You know, the one where they give you that certain pointed look with wide eyes and a tone of voice resembling something between awe and terror? I mean, how exactly was I supposed to really honestly answer that question. Enter my amazing therapist Angie. Together we came up with a great answer to both be honest, simple, and redirect the conversation to what I really wanted. A distraction from my reality. I wanted desperately to know how everyone ELSE was. So here was my answer “Oh, it’s too complicated, but I’m really interested in how you are? What’s new?” 

Even though having that phrase ready helped, I still preferred being alone. It was comfortable because I could be a mess, a complete mess and not have to try to navigate social interaction. This, also made it easy to go deep into my doom spiral which, also wasn’t good. What is comfortable isn’t always what is good. Which brings me to a last surprise little nugget….

“You are such an inspiration” 

Oh, this phrase pretty much just killed my soul. What a ridiculous thing to live up to! My first thought would be…. “Do you have any idea what kind of stupid, impulsive, and compulsive things I am doing right now? The destructive cyclical thoughts constantly spinning my brain until I’m just paralyzed”? I strongly felt that if the world could see what was really happening behind the scenes, they might think differently. It’s hard for me to accept a compliment I don’t feel I’ve earned. I’ve been called strong, but I prefer the more truthful word to be compulsive. As in, everything I do, I’m compelled to do because I can’t live with the alternative outcome. My drive and my compulsions were my strength and also my vice. I did some stupid shit when trying to bring my playing back. I doom spiraled my brain out of having any creative energy to write songs or arrangements, or do all the painting I always said I would do if I had the time… 

I guess I’ve had to do some thinking on my definition of inspirational. As previously mentioned, I was “lucky” surviving this car crash. I guess I can take credit for being smart enough to wear my seat belt, sit far away from the steering wheel, and purchase a super safe car (Love Ya Honda). But I didn’t have one ounce of control over how fast I healed, or coming out of the coma…. It is true everyone around me said I was fighting all over the place, i.e. Constantly removing my cervical collar and restraints (yep I had to be put in restraints), moving too much to let them give me an MRI, etc…. But that wasn’t conscious. That wasn’t a conscious decision I made to do. BECAUSE I WAS UNCONSCIOUS. So, I couldn’t, right? When I woke up I was told to rest. Rest was what my body needed. I did not do that. I wanted out of that bed and walk around. So, I did. Against orders. My actions and decisions came from my compulsion to get my horn career back. Entirely. Rest was not an option because of the urgency of those compulsions. So, during my recovery and rehabilitation back to playing, I had a constant tug of war with those compulsions. Sometimes my healing won, and sometimes my compulsions did. Being inspirational and strong to me, is being more and better than your compulsions to do what is smart, and uncomfortable because it is patient, and requires grace and diligence. 

There were times I had those things. And times I didn’t. The times I gave in to the negative, panicked, or impatient choices, made me feel shame. At times like I was betraying everyone that thought I was an inspiration. Those lingering thoughts became the motivation for this blog, really. I felt that I could handle the “inspirational” moniker if I shared everything and THEN, people decided it still fit their ideal. If you or they saw all the dirty corners of my journey, and still wanted to say I was inspirational, I could live with that. Because at least it’s based on truth and it isn’t my place to tell someone how to feel or think, just give them the information to make an informed decision. 

As you might notice, I haven’t provided a shrewd and uplifting analysis of my thoughts from that period. I am not placing judgment on any of it. Because the truth that runs through all of it is that it flows like a tide… This experience goes so much farther beyond good or bad or right or wrong; would, should, or could. It just was, and is an experience. My experience. I want to empower you to have your own without judgement. I want you to feel less alone when those surprise “Oh shit” nuggets hit you that you have no clue how to sit with, or react to. Your Healing gets to be YOURS. You don’t have to rationalize your thoughts, choices, or feelings to anyone. 

Until next time reader, be well. 

The Healing Tree – Lets Talk About Lips Pt. 2

Please understand, I will never assert I made my decisions based off healthy choices. I was constantly dealing with a profound sensation of despair, impending doom, dread, anxiety, grief… all based on the uncertainty of what would happen with my horn playing and my career. 

(My name is Mary Beth Orr. I am a professional horn player and currently 3rd Horn in the Grand Rapids Symphony. The following is my story in hopes it may be a helpful resource.)

So, let’s talk about lips…. Part DEUX. FANCY. 

After a lovely nap and a generous dose of Norco, I wake up with much more normal sensation in my lip and less swelling. Now it’s time for FOOD, and maybe a cocktail. Oh wow… look at that, I just pulled a piece of glass out of the space where my front tooth used to be. AWESOME. Not freaked out at all. I’m just going to focus on the lip right now because the tooth issue is on pause.  I feel great that the surgery is over and given my crazy mutant-eques healing speed, I’m literally chomping at the bit to get my lips on my mouthpiece, invisalign and all, I WILL find a way to play. 

Delusional as it sounds, I was making my master plan of evaluating my lip literally 3 times a day to see when they were healed enough to try. I mean, what else did I have to do? My husband still wouldn’t let me walk down the stairs by myself so…. I had a lot of time to run the races on the hamster wheel in my brain. Please understand, I will never assert I made my decisions based off healthy choices. I was constantly dealing with a profound sensation of despair, impending doom, dread, anxiety, grief… all based on the uncertainty of what would happen with my horn playing and my career. 

GRS Horn Section… shenanigans!

I had just gotten tenure in the Grand Rapids Symphony the year before, graduated with my Master’s from Michigan State with their University Distinguished Fellowship, premiered at Spoleto and booked for more summer festivals…. I felt I had finally found my career and it had been ripped away. I was in a state of emotional hell, and completely obsessed with my mouth. So, when I say I got uncomfortable when people told me I was inspiring…. Disclaimer: I am NOT. I was and am still making decisions based on compulsion and managing my sanity, or insanity for that matter…

Before Tenure
After Tenure

Back to my lip. In true “Wolverine” fashion (it was my nickname in the hospital) the suchers healed up very very quickly. Most were dissolvable but because my tissue healed faster than they could dissolve, I ended up pulling them out in pieces. That sounds a little grotesque but it really wasn’t. There was no pain and they were becoming itchy and, frankly, it was clear my body was ready and telling me to get them out, they didn’t belong. Plus, my follow up was much later so I knew it was pretty up to me to follow my intuition. INTUITION. This will keep coming up in future posts because it was and is a huge component in my recovery. 

Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by what doctors are telling us and standard of care, treatment options, advice, google, etc. and it becomes so overwhelming we forget that maybe our body doesn’t fit into a statistic. Maybe your body doesn’t completely fit into the standard of care protocol. Maybe you don’t fit the normal timeline or your needs are not fully understood or achievable by your current professionals. Regardless, your intuition, that deep down voice that guides us all, will give you what you need to keep asking questions, keep problem solving, and keep the panic you’re doing everything wrong, under control…. Well –ish. 

At my follow up appointment my surgeon was incredibly pleased! Woohoo! It wasn’t a surprise to me because I knew the healing was going fast, but I still had more lumpiness than I would have liked. The scar was large enough to make my embouchure uneven and I strongly felt like there could be a piece of glass stuck in there somewhere, though that ended up not being the case. I hadn’t been able to bring about a buzz yet because I was waiting for the all clear that the tissue was completely healed. I still also had some swelling. For a time reference, this was about 2 weeks after the surgery and about 6 weeks after the initial damage from the accident. My “bless your heart” moment with my surgeon came when he very enthusiastically informed me that my scar tissue will continue to get worse before it gets better and will probably take about 2 years before it’s not noticeable. He saw my face lose all its color, my eyes bulge out of my head, and then that head going directly between my knees. When I said, “That isn’t going to work for me” … he got a confused look on his face and explained that scar tissue has a process. When you have an initial trauma that scar tissue starts on it’s on little journey of building, hardening, with the goal of protecting the traumatized area. Even though the surgery was to correct excess tissue and to clean up the scar and minimize it for the future, it resets that clock. So, the body has to start all over again. Once the scar tissue develops, it can be softened but it will never go away completely. 

Well, that popped my fucking balloon. Turns out, I had much more research to do to get what I wanted. I needed my horn back on my face ASAP. So, what did I do? I completely crowd sourced on Facebook. Why did I have to do that? Shouldn’t my plastic surgeon know exactly what I could do to speed the process along? Of course, he doesn’t. Another hard lesson I learned through all this and why I’m sharing it all, is because I frequently encountered professionals in western medicine that had no clue how to really help outside of what was in a text book. An outdated text book at that. If it isn’t covered by insurance, it doesn’t exist I guess. And we all know our insurance system is bull shit…. So… there’s that. Remember there are many medical professionals that do not stay up to date on new treatments and also don’t have interest to do so. If your doctor or doctors can’t answer your questions, or tell you what you want isn’t possible, keep asking questions and searching until there’s nothing left to find. In many cases, there is something or someone out there to help you if you just keep searching. 

My help came from my dearest friend Karin. She’s done many of the photography you see on my website and also the amazing photography from our wedding. She’s a brilliant musician, photographer, friend, and renaissance woman. After a knee surgery that just never fully healed and giving her constant pain, she turned to cold laser therapy or Class IV laser therapy. 

Think somewhere between a soothing infrared sauna and the laser that cuts you open for surgery. It’s a spectrum thing. The spectrum frequency is enough to trigger healing and cell turnover without burning the skin. You need a licensed person to administer the treatments and they need to be done at the right intervals. But, if done correctly, will do amazing things for stimulating tissue repair, reduction and softening of scar tissue, and reduction of pain and inflammation. Scar tissue absolutely responds to inflammation. So, the less inflammation, the less scar tissue is necessary for protecting that area. Karin sought this treatment out for herself and had such success with it, opened her own treatment office. She lives in northern MI but as luck would have it…. was opening a second location in Grand Rapids! Hell. Yeah. My angel texted me after seeing my Facebook post and got me in ASAP. The first session felt very nice. It was a warm sensation and that is about all it is. I mean that in a good way. I relaxed back on a table and let them run this red light over my lip both from the inside and outside. It was not a long session because with that level of laser, you could burn with too much and get the opposite result you want. It was about 30 second on 10 seconds off for about 10 minutes. Easy Peasy.

After the first session, I can definitely feel a difference. My lips are much softer and the density to the scar is much less. All in all, I had about 8 sessions and started buzzing after about 4 of them. That was huge. Fucking huge. It was still a rough climb, but at least there was something active I could do to speed along the process. Cold Laser Therapy was noninvasive, therapeutic, and zero risk which was a no brainer for me. Within those 8 sessions, I was able to speed along my scar tissue timeline along by almost 2 years. Some would argue that is impossible, but I made my plastic surgeon a believer. The combination of trying to play even with invisalign was helpful in softening the scar tissue.  

From Before my accident but still accurately depicts my feelings every time I pick up that beast.

This is my whole point. I was being told by EVERYONE I was rushing in to playing again. Well, you know what? Fuck that. Yep. FUCK. THAT. Every fiber in my body and soul was telling me that only way I was going to have a career again was to keep trying to play and let that feedback from my body determine what to do next and where to go next. The very real truth is, there is never only one person, professional, or resource that will have all the information or answers you’ll need through your healing process. The only constant in it is you. The next are your loved ones and friends. That’s another important element to all of this. FRIENDS. I reached out and asked for help. I communicated my needs to the universe, literally and repeatedly. The universe responded. It will respond for you too if you let it.

Until next time, be well.   

The Healing Tree – Let’s Talk about Lips! Part 1

They roll me in to a place I like to affectionately call the “kill room”. It is wall to wall white tile and drains and hoses and OMG this looks like something my husband was watching on Netflix involving backpacking college students lost in Europe or something…

(My name is Mary Beth Orr. I am a professional horn player and currently 3rd Horn in the Grand Rapids Symphony. The following is my story in hopes it may be a helpful resource.)

Let’s talk about lips. For most people, lips are pretty important for functional elements of eating, speaking, hygiene of the mouth, but thought of as mostly decorative, or for pleasant things like kissing, smiling, etc.….  for brass and wind musicians, it is life. It’s the mechanism that makes the magic happen, makes the sound, changes the sound, performs acrobatic feats of wonder …. Cue the dramatic music. But, in all honesty, our lips are very tied to our identity as wind players and even more so, brass. We are hyper sensitive to how they feel at all times, and give absolutely zero fucks about how they look. They are highly-engineered pieces of mechanical wonder valued exclusively for their highly-nuanced performance capability. We hone them like an athlete to respond with supreme sensitivity, predictability, and strength. The connection to our lips feels almost sacred. 

I wake up to the intense burning sensation of the crusted corners of my mouth stretching and breaking as I try to open them. Everything is dry. Every part of me is dry, as dry and gritty as pure sand, with the same comfort you don’t get from grinding on dirt with your teeth. I want water. I want CHAPSTICK. Or LIP BALM. ANYTHING for my lips. Dry lips for brass is a huge “stranger danger” type of trigger. Dry equals bad. It’s that simple. That alarm keeps going off in my brain. I need moisture on my lips. I’m fantasizing about my glorious tube of A and D ointment. That thick and viscous softness gliding over my lips, soothing and coating them and protecting them. It felt like heaven. But, that was not to be. 

I had bitten through my lower lip completely, apparently on impact from either the side door or the airbag… who knows? The important part is that it was severed. There was a gash about an inch long just left of center on my bottom lip with another separating at the left corner of my mouth. The sutures were done in an understandable hurry in the trauma room before moving me to a facility better equipped to my injuries. So, they were clumsy and extremely bulky. My lip was still swelling and scabbing and burning. That was all I could focus on and no one, neither doctor or nurse could tell me how bad the damage was. They seemed confused I even cared. They didn’t know it was my livelihood, a crucial part of my identity for their function… not their appearance. They didn’t understand why I would get visibly pissed when they said, “Oh it will heal and you can cover that scar with lipstick”. Can you imagine my WTF face? 

I heal fast. so fast, the sutures couldn’t dissolve fast enough for the tissue wanting to grow around them at lightning speed. Something dandy (cue sarcasm) called a mucus plug form all around the sutures creating a pleasant little effect I like to call “the chew lip”. I literally looked like a cowboy holding a patch of chewing tobacco between their gum and lip. I don’t like that look. And even less, it is not remotely possible to play a horn with a lip doing that. It also hurt like a bitch. In the hospital, the only lip balm they were allowed to give me was a honey paste, at the end of a weird sponge. It was not the luxurious sensation of my beloved A and D ointment…. It got weirdly sticky and was kind of lumpy which for the life of me, I do not understand why. So, my grumpy ass was dwelling over my lost tooth, the knowledge I had completely derailed my life, and a lip the size of a golf ball that felt like total shit. 

As I was fixated on moving forward as quickly as possible, after getting my appointment set with a dentist for my tooth, I quickly went on the hunt for a plastic surgeon for this Franken monster on the inside of my lip. I mean, I definitely didn’t stand a chance of playing my horn again without fixing this lip issue. I am so embarrassed I even entertained the idea I would be able to play Grand Rapids Symphony’s summer season. It was delusional to say the least. Let’s just blame it on the brain trauma…. 

Here is what this process entailed: Get with my primary care for a plastic surgery referral. Next was waiting for my lip to be far enough in healing so the surgeon could know exactly what needed to be removed without causing more trauma. Once the referral went through, and my consultation was made, things proceeded much quicker. This was exciting. This felt like real progress. I was currently in a holding pattern with invisalign to adjust my teeth back to the right position i.e.… where they were before the trauma so the future implant surgery had an optimal chance of success. So that was a waiting game. I couldn’t even think about touching my horn with a bum lip. So, getting the surgery was so real and epic in tangible improvement I could not WAIT to get it done. 

You can see my seat belt scar and also a little more of the the depth of the lip injury. It’s hard to tell, but the music plug on the inside of my lip was the size of a ping pong ball. This is a pic I sent to friends to let them know I got my lip surgery scheduled. This was 2 weeks after coming home from the hospital. The surgery was at the very end of May.

The day comes. My best friend in all lifetimes Maria came to Michigan, partly to make sure I was indeed still alive, but to help take me to the surgery while my husband was job searching. I was ready and bopped in like it was Christmas morning. This was going to be a quick 5-minute procedure with a local anesthetic. No big deal, right? Maria and I were laughing and having a great time on the hour-long drive to Saginaw where the surgeon was located. We get there, sign me in, and I get taken into a prep room. I have to put on a surgical gown? Huh, ok I guess that’s fine. I have to put on a hair net? Meh, ok. And then they put me on a hospital bed. I mean, hey, I can totally walk into the room. But that is not allowed. They roll me in to a place I like to affectionately call the “kill room”. It is wall to wall white tile and drains and hoses and OMG this looks like something my husband was watching on Netflix involving backpacking college students lost in Europe or something… Not gonna lie, my rational mind knows what is getting ready to happen is both what I want, and also noninvasive and not a big deal. But when you’re in there and the big bright light is shining above your head and everyone is around you in masks and gowns with sharp things, you get a little twitchy. 

He gets right in there with an injection of lidocaine. I warned him I go through anesthetic exceedingly fast but he assures me the lidocaine won’t wear off until much later and by that time my lip won’t even be swollen anymore and it will feel fine. Adorable. I can hear the cutting and snipping and can smell blood. I keep it together. NO. BIG. DEAL. This guy is definitely lightning fast. I think maybe it was a total of 7 minutes. Felt like an hour but everyone is a little irrational in the “Kill room”. I’m wheeled out, vitals taken, and allowed to get dressed. Yeah, I’m drooling like my dog waiting for my dinner bowl. Don’t care. Huh… my lips feel really big. Hmmmm, my lips feel like they’re pulsing. How much lidocaine did they put in here? Sheesh. I feel like they’re getting bigger by the second… Oh boy….

I call this the reverse Angelina. This is waiting for my delicious ice cold smoothie. Can you believe people posted comments like…. “You look amazing”! Like….why do women do this to themselves willingly?!?!?!?!

By the time I leave the hospital, the lidocaine has either completely worn off or I’m allergic to it because my lips, what feels like my whole face is throbbing. When Maria sees me, her face is frozen in an expression I like to refer to as WTF face. She does a great job at hiding her reaction but it was there. As I check out I ask for ice. I’m already crying. As we get in the car, I can feel the lip swelling so much it is literally pulling at my stiches. I can feel them stretching and pulling apart. So, let’s add burning stinging pain to the throbbing and pulsing of the swelling. The ride home was a sweet little piece of hell where I just squirm and squirm to make the pain go away though no matter what position I sit in we both know it won’t change a damn thing about my lip. We don’t have any ibuprofen anywhere in the car. I have pain meds at home I’ve barely used but that doesn’t help me for this moment. No gas stations ANYWHERE on the drive home. Why are there no gas stations?!?!?!?!?! The ice helps like it does a burn. You burn your hand when you stick your hand in ice water it hurts a little worse then feels good for, like, maybe 2 minutes then starts to hurt because it goes numb and you have to take it out. Then the cycle starts all over again. But, you know what? It was something and got me through that ride home. And to a smoothie place where Maria hooked me up with a chocolate, peanut butter and banana smoothie. God that was good. You know what was even better? NORCO. That sweet sweet sleep after a full belly and taking the edge off the pain was absolute heaven. HEAVEN.

So, I wake up. Again. And prepare for stage 2. You see, there’s this thing called SCAR TISSUE. 

To be continued….

Until then, be well. 

The Healing Tree-Healing is a Bitch

Ah yes, healing…. not peaceful at all, is it? In actuality, it is the literal growing pains of our youth. Bone stretching and aching to catch up with our chemicals, and our chemicals pulsing and surging to force those bones into submission through compulsion.

(My name is Mary Beth Orr. I am a professional horn player and currently 3rd Horn in the Grand Rapids Symphony. The following is my story in hopes it may be a helpful resource.)

Well, I have a dentist. I have a treatment plan. I’m home and starting this elusive process called “rest”. My day to day is sleep, try to eat, try not to crawl out of my skin with fear, dread, and panic about what may or may not happen to my career. That is what “rest” meant to me. It was pretty much just panic management. I mean, doesn’t that just sound like heaven????? Is that actually what healing is? Panic and dread management? It struck me and still strikes me how really miserable healing actually is. The word has such a positive and almost comforting connotation or association. But, the reality is, you pretty much feel like shit, both physically and emotionally until… well, until you don’t. I guess the assumption is that you are supposed to always be feeling a little bit better each moment of the healing process but I can tell you that ain’t even close to the reality. 

2 months into recovery. Courtesy of Karin Willman A La Carte Photography

Healing is constant, slow, torturous change. We sometimes talk about it in hindsight as if this transformative experience was such blessing and a spiritual awakening. If that is you, cool. You. Do. You. But that shit ain’t me. It sucks. In college musicians are eye ball deep in all our shortcomings in technique, artistry, professionalism, and overall just “suckiness”. It’s the point of getting an education. Get up close and personal with your weaknesses and make them stronger. So, you are absolutely and unavoidably uncomfortable and unsure of yourself the entire time. Yeah, there are some victories that make you feel like a badass, you drink some of your Kool Aid and then, BAM; 45 seconds later you’re slammed back down to reality of how far you have left to go. So, it sounds like I would be perfectly prepared for this awesome sauce overly romanticized “healing journey” of lifetime movie status. Right? WRONG. 

You have control when it’s your education. Just practice more. Read an inspiring autobiography that helps you focus, or start taking beta blockers to help with performance anxiety, or literally anything positive and proactive to make you stronger. You’re always in the driver seat as a musician, even when you’re frustrated. We know how to practice more. We know how to dive deeper. We know how to refine our process. We don’t know and are painfully unprepared for the moment when all our control is taken away. INJURY. We are not prepared or counseled on navigating the discomfort, fear, and mistrust that accompanies healing an injury. And what happens when the injury is compounded all over your body and your brain. And your soul. This uncomfortable place where there is nothing you can do to control the outcome, when you must trust so many others around you because you have no idea how to fix what needs to be fixed, and then learning to trust your decisions when you’re spiraling and holding off the insanity that comes from your inability to control anything anymore. Ah yes, healing…. not peaceful at all, is it? In actuality, it is the literal growing pains of our youth. Bone stretching and aching to catch up with our chemicals, and our chemicals pulsing and surging to force those bones into submission through compulsion. That is healing. Growing and healing are UNPLEASANT. 

As much of a blessing it was to heal physically extremely fast, it was very disconcerting to look normal, for everyone to compliment you on how well you look, and some ways physically feel, but yet not be…right. The idea of being blessed was a challenge too, and also the challenge to be overtly grateful. That sounds crazy, but it was very real for me to be very intellectually grateful, intellectually aware of how lucky I was to be alive, loved by so many, and cared for in so many ways. But, I couldn’t FEEL it. In actuality, I couldn’t really feel much of anything. This was part of the concussion and subsequent brain trauma. 

My chemicals were wrecked. For much of the summer while I was waiting for the verdict on my career and thus the future of my soul, (no exaggeration) I had severe trouble sleeping more than a few hours at a time, having visceral feelings of any kind, and connecting with others. My sleep was plagued with violent nightmares. Nothing was regarding the accident and still have no memory of anything past going to sleep the night before. I can recount a dream in particular that still haunts me. I had to watch one of my beloved pups being hit by a car. And trigger warning – it wasn’t just being hit. I saw them viscerally torn apart in slow motion and it kept replaying over and over. It was one of those dreams that you feel stays on repeat the whole night. Every time you close your eyes, it is the same. It would happen sometimes when I was awake as well. It was possible the violence in the nightmares was my subconscious working out what it won’t allow me to remember, what my body was still holding on to, and an alarm to the erratic chemistry going on in my brain. 

In terms of sleep, I consulted with my doctor and developed a sleep protocol. This was a very specific diagnosis and treatment plan for me so any medications I share are not meant to be applied arbitrarily. (Please always communicate with your doctor or therapist). Taking 10-20 milligrams of propranolol (my beta blocker) and magnesium, was something she recommended with lavender and chamomile tea daily before sleeping. Reading something completely different than my reality was also helpful in putting myself in a different mental state before nodding off to dream land.  I took advantage of naps and sleep whenever I could without judgment until my night time sleep stabilized. Part of it was just accepting what my brain was doing and why it needed to manifest those nightmares. So, with each nightmare I again felt like I was moving forward. Each nightmare was an active step further along the process to recovery and one less nightmare for the future. The less I dreaded them and the more I found acceptance, my consciousness shifted and they began to dwindle.

Me an Bobo Easter 2018 before the accident. It would be almost a year before my sleep would look this peaceful again.

But the daytime? A whole other set of deep challenges in the shit show I like to call healing. In fact, I really feel it more accurately describes what that process feels like for me. And yes, that is present tense. Because 4 years later, the healing is still ongoing. My inability to feel was surreal. It is an odd thing to feel as if you’re watching yourself in your own life as if you were a ghost. I could recognize I was doing things I enjoyed but couldn’t actually take that feeling into my body and feel as if it was real. To exist without emotional connection and sensation is incredibly hard to describe and incredibly lonely to experience. I found myself not wanting to socialize or be around even my closest friends because I couldn’t match their energy, reactions, or emotional engagement in any way. I couldn’t help but feel pressured to and felt guilty and even more uncomfortable that I couldn’t. 

Part of the solution, was accepting there wasn’t one. I know that sounds like bullshit. But to be more specific, I had to accept I wasn’t the one with the solution; that I wasn’t SUPPOSED to be feeling or experiencing anything other than what I was. I had to tell the people I loved what my limitations were, and why I felt like I needed to pull away. I put myself in situations where I wasn’t the focus so I could absorb the experience rather than engaging in it, i.e.…. local concerts, movies, group dinners, shopping trips, outdoor activities, etc.…. I could do intimate exchanges with close friends because they accepted where I was. When I was presented with a situation that shifted focus toward me, I found ways to shift it back. “Oh my gosh, how are you? How are you feeling? Is everything healed? What’s happening with everything?” response….

“Much better but complicated. What’s going on with you? It’s been forever!” 

It gave me the strength to handle the exchanges that made me uncomfortable so much more. And again…. it’s a wonderful thing for people to ask how you are. Showing me they cared and were happy for my recovery was always so supportive and beautiful. 

But, if I’m honest, I frequently hated it. It made me angry. My limitations made me furious. Talking about it made me want to punch things. And then I felt incredibly guilty for having that very visceral flush of feeling. Especially because it was the only emotion my body would actually let me experience. This made me want to retreat. I just didn’t have the skills and resources within myself to outwardly reciprocate or engage. I had to let go of the guilt and be open with those closest to me. It set me free in a lot of ways. 

As I promised, this blog, this place we come to for connection and affirmation in all our shit, will be an invitation through my experience. The challenge of that experience was and continues to be about trusting myself, owning my own experience, and not apologizing for it. I’m hoping that by sharing my “shit show” with all of you, by validating my own you may feel more able to validate your own. What is holding you back? Is there space you can give yourself to help set you free, to let your healing be truly yours? Excuse me…. let your shit show be yours. 

So much more to talk about. Until next time friends, be well. 

The Healing Tree-Waking Up Pt. 2

“Don’t feel guilty…. don’t feel guilty. So many flowers, don’t cry. Don’t dwell on how much I feel like I don’t deserve this. Gratitude isn’t greed…. or narcissism, or maybe I should make a t-shirt out of that….”

A Blog and Community dedicated to healing in all its forms

(My name is Mary Beth Orr. I am a professional horn player and currently 3rd Horn in the Grand Rapids Symphony. The following is my story in hopes it may be a helpful resource.)

Trauma post #2


Home is nice. Home is good. I love my bed. It feels like HEAVEN. Especially after the hospital bed. Why is it you can’t ever get warm in a hospital bed? The sheets are so rough, the blankets are the most NON-cozy things ever and the pillows…. I’m going to sleep like the…. oh wait…. I’m not gonna go there. 

I’m not allowed to walk down the stairs by myself….my husband is being so sweet and protective. I dig it. Which helps me not be pissed about not being able to walk down the stairs by myself. But…. it’s been a few days, and he’s at the store and I’m bored out of my skull. It won’t be dangerous for me to vacuum…. If I hurry, he won’t even know…. Dear God, I just need to DO something….and the floor is legitimately gross….

I got myself “ready” today. I showered, braided my hair, put on a little makeup. Time for the selfie. I feel a sense of urgency I need to show everyone that I’m ok. The amount of love and support I’ve gotten is so overwhelming and honestly, makes me feel so so so guilty. Another WTF from this whole thing. Why can’t I just accept and enjoy peoples support and love and help? They put together a meal train for Kerry and me. He has been out of work since April 11. Luckily, I have enough sick days to cover things for a while. My symphony family donated a ton of sick days to me too…. Don’t feel guilty…. don’t feel guilty. So many flowers, don’t cry. Don’t dwell on how much I feel like I don’t deserve this. Gratitude isn’t greed…. or narcissism, or maybe I should make a t-shirt out of that…. It’s ok. Today is a good day. I feel the love, I feel more like myself, I’m wearing actual clothes and not pajamas. I want to go through my things from the hospital. I know my clothing was cut off me. And thrown away. I apparently “messed myself” on impact. That’s a fun little tidbit. But that’s ok. It’s past now. You’re not supposed to care about that when you almost die and scare the shit out of everyone that loves you. Putting on my wedding rings again and sorting through what was at the hospital will get me even more back to normal. 

My rings are cut in half. All of them. My grandma and Poppi’s rings are broken. The date inscribed of their wedding is gone. Fucking Gone. I ruined everything. I ruined everything. I RUINED EVERYTHING. Ok. Bat shit crazy losing it. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. Oh God…. Vic can hear me but I can’t stop. I can’t stop. 

Not. Okay. Nothing is ok. 

(End of Exercise)

For reference, it took me over a year to do this exercise. And 4 to share it. It was not easy to do. I wanted to be better so incredibly fast, going back to those feelings and acknowledging them, felt like a useless pointless barrier holding me back. I have struggled to accept each emotion during the entire journey back. I consistently wondered “Is this what I should be feeling?”, “Is this what will help me get better faster?” 

Acceptance of every moment was the only option, whatever that meant, and was a constant challenge to keep my self-judgement at bay. It was so easy to question my reactions to the compassion and generosity of those around me, milestones in my physiological recovery, and expectations…truly, simply all expectations in general. 

Here are a few examples of things that triggered feelings of guilt.

-Any time I allowed myself to feel grief, a sense of loss, “feeling sorry for myself”

(i.e. Discovering my rings had been cut, realizing clumps of my hair had been cut to remove my hair tie, my tooth, a photograph in my car that went missing.) 

-Donations, cards, flowers.

-acts of service…. cleaning for me, making me food.

-not being able to rest, not wanting to rest, being ungrateful for the ability to rest.

-Not being able to match anyone’s emotional levels. (more on that later)

-not being “grateful” enough.

Things that triggered anger (To be CLEAR- I was not angry at those that said these. The emotion it would trigger was very surprising and unwanted)

            -When people would say things like….” At least you play piano and you can still do that”

            “You are soooo lucky to be alive”, “You’re such an inspiration”, “You’re so strong”

  • And this one needs some further explanation “If anyone can come back from this, it’s you” 

So…. none of these things are negative and all of them are supportive. WHY WOULD THIS TRIGGER THESE FEELINGS!? One of the most frustrating parts of recovering from trauma is simply accepting your feelings as you have them. My feelings after and during this trauma were not going to be like anyone else’s and that is ok. My therapist worked very hard at keeping me aware of my own judgement against MYSELF. My feelings, all of them, weren’t what was keeping me from recovering; my judgement was. My fear over the unknown, my career, my mind, my life as I had planned, kept me from resting. Running from the fear by trying to DO as much as possible as soon as I could, only temporarily gave me peace. At the same time, denying my innate desire and instinct to be active and proactive in my recovery wasn’t helping either. I had to figure out some sense of balance. I had to honor who I was (an Alpha “doer” and over achiever), to manage and facilitate my healing, rather than constantly try to fight and act the way I thought others expected I should. 

With my therapist, I worked out a new way to assess a “successful day”. What was my new definition of a good day? I made meditation and quiet time an achievement. It was a goal to get as much of it as possible. My brain health required it so …. doing an active form of nothing, became a proactive something contributing to my recovery. I combined it with another activity that had a productive element to it. In the mornings, I would let my dogs out, start the sprinkler and sit and watch my dogs play, drink coffee, meditate, and water my lawn all at the same time. Something so incredibly simple had a profound ability to bring me peace just by shifting the perspective it held in my mind. Was I happy? Hell no. I still had the same fears and anxieties and anger…. It just didn’t rule my day anymore and didn’t give me a sense of shame anymore. What the shift did for me was help me to wait. That’s what recovering from trauma is; waiting. Every time someone said, “you just need time to heal”, I wanted to vomit, or slap them, or blow something up…. you know, normal healthy responses…. But when I shifted my definition of healing to something I could make active, I felt a sense of momentum in the waiting. What gives you momentum in the waiting? It occurred to me we all seem to be waiting for something. 

Next time…. let’s talk about feelings…or in my case, wondering where they went. 

Until then, Be Well.