Having a Body

Sometimes, having a body is exhausting. This feels like one of those weeks.

Last Thursday I had an unexpectedly positive experience at a new rheumatologist’s office, and I’m feeling a little more hopeful that this one will actually try to figure out what is behind the chronic pain I deal with (as opposed to the last one, who basically just wrote it off as, “because you’re fat”). So that’s a happy thing.

Monday, in the middle of a staff meeting, I felt my back seizing up. I needed to stand but felt like I couldn’t (because everyone else was sitting and I felt the social pressure of not drawing attention to myself), and as a consequence have been in a not inconsiderable amount of back pain all week. It’s slowly working itself out, but it’s a process.

While this has been going on, I’ve also been trying to tackle multiple projects at work. I have a desk that can adjust from sitting to standing, and that’s been a lifesaver in terms of back pain management. But I’m finding the types of work I need to do are harder to focus on while I’m standing. On the other hand, sitting for any length of time makes my back stiff and sore. I feel like I can’t win.

Add to that the rain and temperature shift today, and I’m in a place of “everything hurts and I am exhausted.”

Thankfully, I have some bright spots to focus on this week. Most notably, I finally got to play the show I missed the night I had to go to the ER a couple of weeks ago. It was fun, more people than I expected showed up, and I even made some money in tips!

Just Keep Swimming

The first week of 2015 has not exactly been a party. Mostly, my back is still giving me a lot of trouble, and I’ve spent a lot of the past week wondering if I will ever stop being in some level of pain. I had x-rays done last Friday, and got word back yesterday that, despite outward appearances, my back and hip appear to be more or less normal. On the bright side, this means that it is probably just a bad series of muscle spasms, and not a skeletal issue. On the not-so-bright side, it means I’m going to need to keep taking muscle relaxers indefinitely, and I definitely need to find a physical therapist.

Aside from my back being a (literal) pain, though, things are generally okay. I’ve definitely been dealing with a bit of depression (both because that seems to be where I’m at in my Bipolar cycle, and just situationally), but I’m trying to look for bright spots. I’m knitting as much as I’m able. I took out my fountain pen collection this week and decided to try to get back into written correspondence – in 2013 I had a few pen pals in different countries, but right around the time I was interviewing for my current job I totally lost my letter-writing mojo. I’ve now written letters to all three of my former pen pals plus one new one, along with some thank you notes for the people from work who gave me little holiday gifts, and I’m remembering how much fun it is to write letters. I love the immediacy of email, instant messages, and texts, but there’s something really special about handwritten correspondence.

Mostly, I am trying to take things one day at a time. This isn’t a particularly fun place to be in, but I’m doing what I can to get through it and trying to learn what I can along the way. We’ll see how long I can keep this attitude going.

Holiday Blues

It’s Christmas, but it doesn’t really feel like it.

It’s too warm and rainy, for one thing. I could maybe cope with the warm, but the lack of sunlight is definitely getting to me.

I’ve been struggling the past couple of weeks. Maybe it’s the weather – I think I’ve seen the sun once in two weeks. Maybe it’s the fact that my back has spent the past week giving me grief (for the second time in a month). Maybe it’s continued frustration with my family, or the fact that a lot of people I care deeply about are having an especially rough time right now. Maybe it’s just that I’m on the depressed end of a Bipolar cycle. It’s probably a combination of all of the above.

The chronic-ness of my longstanding back issues has been hitting close to home in ways it hasn’t in a while. I am acutely aware of the fact that I am facing a drastic decline in mobility if things don’t change, and am struggling with a lot of emotions surrounding that – I have this horrible fear that if I lose my ability to be a strong physical presence (helping friends move, shielding friends from harassment, things that have apparently become more ingrained in my identity than my gender ever was, because they’re proving harder to let go), I will stop being useful…and maybe, in some way, stop being me. I recognize that this is a problematic, able-ist mindset (even if it is almost entirely self-directed), which adds a whole extra layer of complexity to what’s going on in my head right now. I am not coping at all gracefully. I have been feeling angry and whiny and ungrateful and overwhelmed and selfish. There is a very large part of me that has spent a large portion of the last week wanting to throw a major temper tantrum (complete with screaming and throwing myself on the floor, which I would pound with fists and feet).

Still, despite my tendency to be particularly cynical and growly these days, there is a part of me that is evidently an eternal optimist, and that part insists that I find something less sad to end this post with. So here are three things I want everyone I know who is struggling to make it through this holiday season to hear:

  1. Regardless of whether you, your coworkers, your family, or strangers on the street can see it right now, I want you to know that I believe you have value. Even if you think that’s not possible, that you’re too broken to be worth anything to anyone, please try to at least entertain the thought for a moment that the simple fact of your humanity, in all of its complexity and confusion and rough edges, makes you beautiful and gives your life value. My life would be less without you in it.
  2. I was reading Terry Pratchett’s Feet of Clay this week, and at the end of the book, one of the characters declares, “Either all days are holy, or none of them are. I haven’t decided yet.” I found this idea immensely comforting. In the end, a holiday is just another day. It doesn’t have to be any more or less than that for you unless you want it to be. No, that doesn’t remove societal pressure, but perhaps it will alleviate some of the pressure in your own mind.
  3. I can’t see the future, so I can’t promise when (or if) things will get better. I do know, though, that holidays can be a special sort of hell, and that it can be much easier to breathe on the far side of them. I came across the sound advice a few days ago that one should never make important decisions during the holidays. Hang on for the clarity on the other side.

Reminders of Weakness

On Tuesday morning, as I was making the bed, my lower back spasmed. After a panicked thirty seconds when I thought I wouldn’t be able to move at all, I slowly got out of bed, got dressed, and headed in the direction of work. I was halfway there when I realized my back was hurting worse as time went on, so I got off the bus, hopped on the next one coming in the opposite direction, and emailed my managers to tell them I would be working from home. As the day went on, I found I could sit, and I could stand and walk around, but the in-between bits of getting to and from one or the other? No way. Super painful. I ended up working from home Tuesday and Wednesday, taking lots of ibuprofen and making liberal use of a heating pad.

I have a bad back. The first time my back went out, I was twelve. Back then, I was a cheerleader (no, really, I was!), and a stubborn middle-school ego combined with a coach who didn’t have the training or common sense to realize that a twelve-year-old couldn’t possibly understand the long-term ramifications of pushing themselves past their limits…well, it was a problem. (The day my back went out was a game day. My team was furious when I told them I couldn’t be the base for any of the floor cheers. I had to call my mom to come pick me up before the game, because I was scared that they would make me do it anyway.) I did irreversible damage to my back in the three years that I was a cheerleader, and it’s haunted me ever since. My back is always tense, and almost always hurts in some way. Most of the time, I can deal with it fine, because it’s just become the backdrop of life, and I’m not super conscious of it. Every so often, though, something like Tuesday morning happens.

It’s always the stupid little things. This time around, it was making the bed. The last time this happened (almost two years ago), I had leaned down to pat my napping partner on the head, and found I couldn’t stand again. And every time it happens, I am reminded of how fragile humans are. In the space of half a second and one half-hearted arm motion, it suddenly became difficult to do the most basic things like getting out of bed, or going to the bathroom, or putting on socks.

Bodies are weird and wonderful and amazing, even if we don’t fit the ones we’re in and have to take matters into our own hands to form them into shapes we can feel comfortable wearing. And even when I’m laid out flat from a back spasm, I’m thankful for mine: without it, I wouldn’t be able to experience this amazing life I’ve found myself living.