A month ago, my body physically shut down.
It started when my right wrist reached an unbearable level of pain. Though over the last year I have battled on-and-off feelings of carpal tunnel, the pain turned into immobility as I could no longer open doors, hold a steering wheel, shake hands, pick up a pen… the list goes on. Finally, convinced my job could actually start to become impacted, I scheduled an appointment with an orthopedic wrist surgeon.
One week before my appointment, the tidal wave of physical burnout hit its peak. I woke up in the middle of the night screaming out in pain as daggers shot through the right side of my body—neck, shoulder, arm—leaving me in what felt like total paralysis. Unable to turn my head or pick up my arm, I was convinced this was the worst of it. Then I got sick.
Fever. Bed ridden. Nauseous. All of it. My ultimate rock bottom came a few days later when I had to leave an executive leadership team meeting to “take a quick bio break” and instead went to my car and cried for about 10 minutes because I could no longer handle the pain.
Time off from the gym did not help. Sleeping past 5:30 am did not help. Eating better did not help. My body was DONE. The adrenaline had flowed right out of my body. My fight-or-flight response was on vacation. In short, my body decided enough was enough.
Fast forward a month later and I have answers about what is going on with my body. Here is the spark notes version:
Turns out I don’t have carpal tunnel. Instead, I have a genetic bone condition—ulna abutment syndrome—that is caused from my ulna wrist bone being longer than my radius when they are supposed to be equal in length. It was a total coincidence that the time I finally decided to look into my wrist pain was the same time the right side of my body decided to shut down. They are not connected and thankfully some permanent workout modifications (goodbye pushups, burpees and mountain climbers) will cause the pain to go away.
My right-side pain is in fact caused from a pinched nerve and muscle spasm. A pack of steroids and six weeks of physical therapy should restore my mobility and relieve the pain, says my doctor.
Now let me stop for a moment. I am not writing this blog to elicit sympathy or because I for one moment think I am experiencing some awful, woe-is-me physical ailment. Almost anyone you speak to has experienced a pinched nerve. Perhaps most importantly, as we always say in our family, as long as something is fixable, it is manageable.
I am writing this blog because what I want to talk about is the fact that I—like I am sure many of you have experienced or will experience—saw the whole stress-induced thing coming and did nothing to stop it. Let me back-up.
About two weeks before my body entered a full-blown spasm, I sat on my living room couch, tears in my eyes, my stress level at an all-time high and said to my husband, “I am about to have a physical shutdown.” My husband looked at me, I think at first trying to figure out if this was just me being “dramatic,” and then, sensing this might be different, said calmly, “What do you mean?”
“I just can’t keep going like this,” I said. “Somethings going to break.”
Without getting into too many details, I was experiencing what we all experience from time-to-time: a surge of work-related stress, an emotional rock-bottom from the exhaustion that comes from doing a million things at once, saying “yes” over and over again to commitments that were piling up… and so on and so forth. I could feel the car veering dangerously off course. I could see the red lights flashing in front of me beckoning me to slow down, pull over and take a rest before pounding the gas again. But I couldn’t pull the car over. I had to keep going.
So instead, my body decided—without my permission—to pull the car over. It decided to speak with greater authority and had several important things to say but the most impactful of lessons has been this:
You are not invincible.
As women, we strive to be the everyday superhero. We pop out of bed well before the sun comes up, get in that quick run in we are lucky, prepare breakfast for everyone in our family—don’t forget the dog!—hurry out the door to work, spend all day striving to be a total powerhouse in the office, run to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home, throw some dinner in the oven, fire up the laptop to churn out a few more emails while the chicken is cooking, and find—if we are lucky—perhaps 30 minutes to unwind. Your day will look unique to you, but I bet a central theme runs true to you as well: you try to do it all and believe there is no consequence in this attempt.
When I told my husband I was heading for shutdown, if I am being honest I don’t think I truly believed myself. Or, rather, I didn’t want to believe myself. The statement felt more therapeutic than factual. Like something you are supposed to say when you hit your personal threshold of stress. It felt very self-aware and new-agey of me. And I couldn’t wait to prove myself wrong and come out on the other side unscathed.
Though I knew of friends who had gone through something similar and had in fact reached their breaking point, a part of me felt like that would never be me. My goodness one of my closest friends Katie McDonald, self-care guru and founder of bNourished, helps people miracuously transform their lives through self care for a living and I didn’t even ask for her help because I assumed I would figure it out.
I am Carrie Majewski, I told myself. I don’t shutdown. I don’t breakdown. I am ferociously strong.
Here’s what I have learned. Even ferociously strong people break down. They reach a point of no return. They watch as the gas gauge heads to empty and the check engine light comes on. But they can also stop it before it surges. They can shatter their “invincibility shield” and humble themselves to admit that something is profoundly off before it all comes crashing down. Had I been humbler, I could have prevented this.
I wish I could say that I have heard all the messages my body wishes to share with me. But I am not done listening as I can tell it has not yet finished the conversation. To that end, I don’t have the answer for how to make sure this won’t happen again. Instead, I’ve made a promise to myself to explore this deeper. To be willing to admit that the car went off course. To be open to figuring out how to prioritize my emotional, physical and spiritual health ahead of all else. To be willing to say that I am not invincible.
And you know what, that feels ferociously strong.
Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as VP of Marketing for Trilix. Carrie is a 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” honoree and a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.