January 16, 2014

Sticks on the stream…

Today was a hard day. In fact, this week has been a hard day, full of disappointment in myself, in this body that continues to revolt against me.

I sat on the couch after work, coughing and wallowing in self-pity, having waved my partner out the door for his run, and I scrolled through and "liked" post after post on Facebook of all of my amazing friends' recent athletic achievements.

Yesterday I walked three blocks. And was immobilized by coughing half a dozen times.

2014 in 2014. *sigh* You'd think I would have learned now about setting achievable goals, but I guess I kept stupidly hoping that the higher the goal I set, the faster my body would decide to heal. My body has its own plans, though.

The First Round of Fantasy Goal Setting:

In my last ever social work class this past quarter, one of our exercises was to work with a Health Buddy and name some health goals for the quarter and help each other work through them. Here were mine:
  1. Walk Gumbo five times per week.
  2. Lift weights three times per week.
  3. Stop beating myself up.

Within the first couple of weeks, my list was slightly altered:

  1. Walk Gumbo five times per week if I don't feel like puking.
  2. Lift weights three times per week Move weights to a less visible area of the room.
  3. Stop beating myself up. Fail, beat up, repeat.
Then Gumbo and I had a momentous walk.

I was having a particularly hard time that quarter health-wise, and had already pinned my issues on histamine. One of the keys to histamine healthiness is NEVER EATING LEFTOVERS.

I freaking love leftovers. And also broccoli. 

One day, starving and ready to head out the door, I thought, Ah, what the hell, these broccolis weren't cooked more than three hours ago and they look so damn tasty! They are only broccoli. What could go wrong?

So I chomp on some steamed broccoli and strap my pup into his harness and not one mile from the house I am PLOWED with histamine.
It was all I could do to hold on to Gumbo's leash (he is not a small mammal, and walking him can take both Herculean strength and unparalleled patience) and stumble across the street to the park to sit down. Intense nausea coupled with shaky, numb legs leveled me for a few moments while Gumbo yanked and whined and licked my sweating, hyperventilating face.

I finally succeeded in standing, if for no other reason than that I had no Option B for getting home, and forced myself to continue my walk. By then, the cognitive effects had started to roll through like Seattle fog, with what I like to call The Hista-Meanies

So FUCKING Pissed and I don't know whyyyyyy!!

We managed to make it home, and I realized that I had severely underestimated my illness and overestimated my capacity to deal with it, and if I wanted to make it through the quarter I had better scale back my goals to something that made me less likely to curl up next to the couch and cry.

That's when I came across Virginia Woolf's "On Being Ill":

"In illness words seem to possess a mystic quality. We grasp what is beyond their surface meaning, gather instinctively this, that, and the other,-- a sound a color, a stress, a pause which the poet, knowing words to be meagre in comparison with ideas, has strewn about his page to evoke, when collected, a state of mind which is not in one word or one sentence, nor can the reason explain it. Incomprehensibility has an enormous power over us, more legitimately perhaps than the upright will allow. In health, meaning has encroached upon sound. Our intelligence domineers over our senses. But in illness, with the police off duty, we creep beneath some obscure poem by Mallarme or Donne, some phrase in Latin or Greek, and the words give out their scent, and ripple like leaves, and chequer us with light and shadow, and then at last if we grasp the meaning it is all the richer for having traveled slowly up with all the bloom upon its wings." -- Virginia Woolf, "On Being Ill"
...and I started thinking about my own illness narrative, the meaning that I had ascribed to my demon. A friend, aware of my health struggles and dealing with her own, reached out to tell me "...as it feels like the bandwidth of your life narrows there is also the opportunity to acquire a new depth of sorts."

So I thought about Virginia, and these nights crying on the couch because I failed to meet my running goals again this week, and the simple joy I once got from running, and writing, and just being...

...and I decided to check out.

I said my goodbyes to my various running pages, enlisted the Hurrahs of some loving and supportive friends, and decided that I need to stop forcing things and just let my body be.

Accepting limitations is extremely challenging. Those with chronic illness often find the need to separate their “true self” and their “medical self," to tell the stories of Who They Were in relation to Who They Appear To Be Now. I recognize that separation in myself, this existential crisis stirred by my sudden stumble into the realm of the unwell, and this dissociation is inhibiting my healing. 

I've decided to use my writing, and literature, to begin to shift my perspective on illness and, well, not accept my condition, but look at it from another perspective, like “sticks on the stream… irresponsible and disinterested, and able, perhaps for the first time in years, to look round, to look up,—to look at the sky, for example.”

I'll still be running, don't get me wrong, but there are infinitely more, subtler, and gentler things that I can do to engage with (or disengage from) the world and this weird, Depo-riddled body that I call home.

I'm going to go lay down and count my pup's whiskers.

(If you have advice, favorite readings, or just want to share your story of coping with chronic pain, please feel free to share with me in the comments section. I don't want to simply create a running monologue. I want to create a community.)

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