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

HOMECOMING

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. 

The Healing Tree

“I have struggled over the last few years to write about and share my experience because it is legitimately hard as hell. But I felt so alone during the process and felt hungry for truly functional information about what was happening to me. And the fear about what might happen or not happen was at times, paralyzing and alienating. So take this as an open invitation to go on a healing journey with me. I want to explore what healing means to all of us.”

A blog and community dedicated to healing in all its forms

INTRO – Post # 1

Courtesy of Karin Willman and A La Carte Photography

(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.)

3/11/2022

Whelp….. I’m healing again. AGAIN. Not just figuratively, but literally. A broken wrist. It’s annoying, frustrating, irritating, inconvenient, sometimes depressing…. And real. And triggering. 

The word healing may trigger different responses in different people. This broken wrist is a nuisance at most but right now, for me, it brings me right back to the place and time that forever changed my life, and almost took it. 

This Blog will detail the traumarecovery, and rehabilitation involved as a result of a debilitating car crash. I’ve separated my story into sections in the attempt of making access to specific information easier for those searching for it. If you are in the midst of trauma, just recovering, or processing trauma maybe reading about my experience and what I share about mine, might make you feel less alone, less strange, or helps you embrace and accept your own journey. I also have a section dedicated to recovery and what I like to think of as the “nitty gritty” of what I did medically and physiologically to heal and move forward through the most volatile and insecure time of my professional life. My rehabilitation section is dedicated to my journey back to playing my horn professionally and the very messy “workout montage” that it wasn’t. Please use this as a resource in any way you need.

On May 5 2018 I was T-boned on the driver side going through a stop sign on a rural road. I broke my C6 and C7 vertebrae, collapsed my lung, ruptured my spleen, lacerated my liver and kidney, sustained a head trauma resulting in a 3 day coma of which no one knew if I would wake up, and the worst of all….. bit entirely through my lower lip and lost my left front tooth. While this might seem the least of my injuries, being a professional French Hornist with a major orchestra, made this almost the worst possible injury I could have. 

“Betty White” My trusted Honda Accord saved my life.
This was the beginning of Day 2 – My husband took this. I have no memory of those 3 days.

For my family, they just wanted me to wake up, which wasn’t clear was going to happen. They were in absolute hell for 3 days not knowing if I would become conscious again, and if I did, who would I be? Would I still be me? But for me, waking up was awakening to the reality, that though they might still see me, and recognize “me” in all my personality traits and appearance, what would I see? If I couldn’t play the horn again, would I truly be “me”? Would I feel like myself? Would I have to re-evaluate what that meant? Am I going to have to become a different person just to survive and convince myself I don’t hate every living moment of not being able to do what I love? BE what I love. Because that is what music is for me. It IS me. It is how experience love, and joy, and pain, and excitement; life in general. It isn’t what I do, it is literally who and what I am. Is that unhealthy? I don’t actually care. I didn’t then and I still don’t. It is just a reality I accepted a long time ago, and when I did, it allowed me to let go into my joy so completely I never looked back. 

I have struggled over the last few years to write about and share my experience because it is legitimately hard as hell. But I felt so alone during the process and felt hungry for truly functional information about what was happening to me. And the fear about what might happen or not happen was at times, paralyzing and alienating. A friend was just brutally injured in an automobile accident that may still take his life. He may very well be faced with an even greater level of lengthy healing, and need to dig profoundly deep into his soul for the strength to fight as hard as he possibly can to get back to his fullest expression of being. I want to share my process, my journey, my fight so that when the time comes for him, he might feel less alone. I want him to be able to feel fully and completely validated in his feelings, his choices, and HIS process. 

So take this as an open invitation to go on a healing journey with me. I want to explore what healing means to all of us. I’ve found that my healing particularly fell into these categories:

  1. Trauma – that is a loaded word isn’t it? There are so many levels to trauma it could rival the Bloomin’ Onion at Outback. How do we walk through that trauma and find OUR OWN road/path to healing? It doesn’t have to look like someone else’s, so let’s explore holding space for that. 
  2. Recovery – Also a word that could mean so many different things to different people. But for me, I want to provide specific details on how I approached my physical recovery. How did I care for my neck fracture? My lip? My tooth? My mind? I had so much trouble finding resources that gave me confidence in my treatments and felt I was flying blind in terms of what would apply to my goals, ie get back to playing my professional orchestra job. The nuts and bolts of healing our amazing bodies is vast and helpful. The body has an amazing ability to adapt and heal itself. I want us to talk about what that has looked like for all of us. My healing story is only one of so many. What if we share what worked for each of us?
  3. Rehabilitation – So we may be simultaneously walking with trauma, actively recovering, but when is it time to rehabilitate? Do we have to wait until the physical healing and emotional healing is complete before we begin? I can say most of the resources I found regarding rehabilitation (getting back to playing) say pretty much exactly that. I can also safely say, it was NOT going to work for me. It was scary to deviate from the “methods” I found, but I did it for my own sanity. I had to find my own way that felt right and allowed me to calm my monkey mind while letting my body adapt. How great would it be if we all were able to give ourselves the space and support to also find what works for each of us? Without the fear that one wrong decision, choice, or step would ruin everything?
2 Months after the accident. Photo Courtesy of Karin Willman and A La Carte Photography

So, here we go. In the coming weeks I will dive more in to my story under each of these topics and welcome your contributions and insights from your own experiences. We don’t have to fit into one method, mold, or process. Maybe together we find a new, better, and more authentic way to heal together. 

Be well.