Emotional intelligence: Lessons from the discomfort of a bad back

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I’ve never been one to suffer badly with back pain.  The really painful stuff has only happened to me a few times over my near 55 years.  Memorably the first time I experienced debilitating back pain it was caused pulling my socks on, on my 30th birthday!  Prior to that experience I had carried around woeful, youthful distain, belittling the grumblings of others over their sore backs.  If nothing else, my unwelcome birthday present brought a new ability to empathise on a completely different level!  When you put your back out, it hurts like crazy!  

Two weeks ago I had the questionable pleasure of being reacquainted with such pain.  It was a normal day, I’d pulled up outside a clients head office, opened the boot, removed a suitcase of training stuff and then grabbed my laptop bag slightly twisted, bang!  There it was, that striking pain that indicates I’d become somewhat careless with my poor old back.  

What do you do?  Me, I’m a pusher, the client is relying on me, there’s going to be a whole room full of people expecting me to deliver, alongside mounting costs with people travelling to take part in the workshop.  Having tried to mask my discomfort I get into the room and find some strong pink painkillers in my bag (I want to call them Cuprinol, but I’m pretty sure that’s something all together different).  

I pushed through the two days in client, thinking I was masking my discomfort well, until the receptionist who has welcomed me for many many years said “Bob, are you ok, you don’t seem your usual cheerful self”.  She was right, I was ruddy sore! 

Two weeks on, thankfully it’s reduced to a low nagging reminder to be sensible when moving myself or anything at all really.  Perhaps a useful reminder, because we all know that it’s when I forget about it I’m most likely to do some more damage.  I’ve learnt some things though, if your interested here’s what:  

1. When you lose your health you can feel utterly useless! 

For those first few days I needed help to do the simplest things.  Literally the simplest; getting bags from the car, removing clothing, even getting out of a chair!  I couldn’t even pick up and cuddle my beautiful grand daughter (and honestly she is so beautiful she may be the reason for all that icecap melting; she melts me for sure) climbing up my leg to say hi to pops.  For me it was only a short lived disability, but it highlighted the struggle that many face on an ongoing basis.  It’s cliched I know, but looking after our health and well-being is so important. 

I feel I’m relatively fit, exercising once or twice a week, but I hadn’t made it to the gym (through busyness) for nearly three weeks before it happened.  I feel sure that returning to do a little exercise has helped my immediate recovery, but the experience has given me a new emphasis to make time for keeping my ageing bones in as good a condition as possible.  Exercise is not an option, it’s the route to keeping well as long as I physically am able. 

2. Some things can help you make small changes that you should have already been mindful of! 

The second lesson may not be so profound as the first, but it’s making a difference. I’ve lost weight!  Not personally, not in two weeks, but I have aggressively downsized that laptop bag. It had become way too heavy, really. I just hadn’t realised it. A laptop, a big iPad, usually a camera, a kindle, a book (I know), a water bottle, various food and endless other dongles, spare batteries and other general assorted crap!  It was a bad back waiting to happen.  So I’ve skimmed it down, tried to keep it to a bare minimum basis.  Which got me thinking; what else in my life had become bloated or unnecessary?  Are there other areas where I could slim down, cut out the crap and be better for it?  It’s very easy to collate and collect, multiple bass guitars, more shoes, another gadget. Or perhaps it’s another social commitment, committee or responsibility.  It could be a useful question, what can we eliminate from our lives that will reduce the strain we have inadvertently built up over the years?  

They say every cloud has a silver lining.  I think there is some truth in that.  If I count my blessings and strip out the unnecessary it might just make my push towards retirement all that more enjoyable and free from pain.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain