I was having the most amazing flying dream this morning. One of those dreams where you leap and hover, and then soar; suspended and propelled above the changing landscape. It’s been years, maybe a decade, since I last had a flying dream. Dream-flying is a far cry from my very grounded and leveling week last week.
For years, I’ve had back pain. During and between my pregnancies that pain went away and I can’t tell you the joy and relief that came with that physical freedom. It’s ironic to define the 39 weeks of my pregnancies as a windows of physical freedom because they’re really anything but physically liberating, but they gave me a break from the searing pain in my low back. Pain that kept me from doing things; that filled my schedule with appointments at the massage therapists, physical therapists, with chiropractors, acupuncturists, craniosacral and tuina specialists, orthopedic surgeons offices, x-rays, MRIs, and TENS units.
After Lulu was born, and even up until a couple of weeks ago, my back didn’t hurt. It had almost been long enough for the memory of that imprisoning pain to fade. I did have some nagging pain in my left foot caused by stress fractures, and something like tendonitis. I saw some great specialists at OHSU. They got things improved to the point that I was doing “fine”. I had stopped limping and could walk barefoot a bit. I still had some aching in my foot, and my doctors suggested that I see a physical therapist to strengthen and stretch my foot.
Three weeks ago I started seeing the physical therapist. He took one look at my foot, and his eyes traveled up to my shoulders, and traced back down to my left hip, where they stopped. I felt the panic rise in my chest before he even said the words, “I think your foot isn’t the problem. The issue in your foot is coming from your low back.” Since I’ve been going to work with him, my foot has gotten better – almost completely – but my back pain is back in full force. He put me back in alignment, and just like that an issue that my body had figured out how to somewhat-successfully compensate for came back as strongly as if it had never been banished by relaxin.
Friday was a low, low day for me. The pain was so intense and constant that I felt nauseous. It radiated through my hip, down my leg; coursed up my back and deep into my abdominals. I just laid on the floor, with my legs elevated, in tears for the majority of the day. I felt desperately panicked, frustrated, and I kept thinking, “I hate my body.” I truly feel like a prisoner of my body, the pain is so debilitating.
I don’t really hate my body, of course. I’m just incredibly frustrated. Our bodies manifest our choices. Our bodies don’t lie. Our muscles can become skeletal, and in my case, that’s exactly what they’ve done. Muscles are encased and entrapped by a layer of fascia which over time freezes into permanence around misused muscles, trapping them into a position of painful submission. Fifteen years as a gymnast, years of sitting slouched at a computer, and 20 years of childcare – carrying around a tot on my left hip – has caused my muscles to become stuck and aggravated and swollen and inflamed.
There’s a part of me that knew that this respite from pain was too good to be true. With my foot injured I avoided action. I’ve spent a year mostly sitting, and hoping that things were really better, but knowing deep down that this was no way to live. Sitting and being mostly out of pain was not a long term solution. Neglecting to do anything is not a long term answer to any problem. I was so happy to not be in pain that I was afraid to make a move.
I hate that I’m here again, in pain again. But I’m determined that it will get better this time. I don’t want my kids to remember that I always smelled of mentholated pain-relieving patches, or that I was always lying, draped across a pillow on the living room floor with a winced look on my face. This is the first time I’ve been in pain like this since I’ve become a mother and, let me tell you, having two young kids makes me willing to do anything.
Undoing 20 years of muscle memory is overwhelming and, frankly, terrifying. But I’m putting my faith in my physical therapist, who’s approach is very different than anyone else I’ve seen. I fully realize that in order to undo the pain that my habits have caused, I’m going to have to completely overhaul all of my habits, my approach to work, my routines… everything. Which is daunting. But I’m ready to do it; I have no choice, really.
The blessing, or maybe it’s a sign, in all of this is that I feel better and have less pain when I’m relaxing or when I’m moving. Which are two things I could really stand to do more of. When I’m out working in the garden, as long as I’m being conscious of my movements and postures, I feel better. So, more time in the garden, going for walks, and a bit more time reading books on the couch are in order.
I don’t have a recipe to share today, I just wanted to share this part of my life with you. Since, even though I hate to admit it, chronic pain is determined to play a role in shaping who I am; and if I suddenly enroll in yoga school or try an intense cleanse, you’ll understand why.
Here are some photos of things I’ve been enjoying lately… wildflowers on our walks, Lulu wearing sundresses that Gigi wore three summers ago, a girl who is way too big for sink baths but still insists on getting in when Lulu gets out, swinging at the “Lost Boys Fort”, and gorgeous spring sunsets.