Those sound like the four horsemen of the apocalypse and their better angel, don’t they?
I live in an area where there are winter days that sometimes don’t get below 57-60 Fahrenheit. We have a pool, which we installed eighteen years ago so that I could dip my post-polio body into it regularly, walk (which is hard for me to do on land; the water helps hold me up) and do various stretches and therapies, as the only form of exercise other than yoga that is realistic for me to do.
So I had a nice workout the other day and when I got out, my canal stenosis (narrowing of spinal canal causing a pinched disc due to many decades of a two-inch limp), tendinosis in my butt and top of thigh, and arthritis pain all called out to me emphatically, even though I had just spent nearly an hour being close to pain-free.
I had this thought, as I wrapped a towel around my soaked self and shivered in the mild wind, and actually expressed it aloud: “I wish I could have just one day with no pain!” On the heels of that, immediately, my clever mind: “Yeah, you’d want more than one. If you had one, you’d want a lot more.” Like having one piece of popcorn. It would be addictive.
So… another thought: Now that I know I will experience physical pain to some degree for the rest of my life (I’ve known this for, oh, about ten years), why be envious of those who don’t have it? Which I definitely have been. I’ve seen you happy, often younger people out there jogging or hitting a volleyball or standing up for hours at parties, and wished. And remembered the days long ago when there was no pain, or it was infrequent, mostly just after injuries (and sometimes excruciating). And since I’m now an old lady, I also know that some of you are also in pain and putting a good face on it.
Yes, I still don’t want it. I don’t want my low back to feel like it’s got a tiger biting me when I do too much (definition: on my feet for an hour straight, such as when I cook dinner) or when I sit too long. I don’t want my thumb base joint to suddenly feel like it’s been stabbed, or for both my hands to hurt when I do something I used to be able to do easily, like open a jar. (“Honey? Could you please come quick and open this?” Lucky to have a “honey.”) I don’t want that owie in the shoulder wherein I had surgery for a rotator cuff tear (it’s SO much better than it was before the surgery, though!). And that tendinosis in the back of my butt and thigh, oh, mercy.
But it’s serving a function, telling me when I need to do something for my body.
Can I live with it all? With modifications, yes, I can. For my back, the solutions are bed rest, pool exercise, yoga, sometimes icing it, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (ie, Advil), and starting two years ago, about once a year, a cortico-steroid shot between two vertebrae. For my tendinosis, I avoid sitting on hard surfaces and ice it and don’t overdo bending over. And I wait, since it generally subsides after a couple of months. For my shoulder, being careful; find someone else (Honey) to use the heavier pruners on occasion.
Overall, meditation helps. I have read that it assists the brain not to respond to pain in the same way… to simply not care as much that it’s there, though one still experiences it. I notice that since I started up this practice again, that even though I am frustrated with my body off and on throughout many days (not all), that I can let that go faster since taking up meditation again. I’m a little more aware that all things do pass. Accepting.
Ultimately, I am so grateful to be able to exercise in a warm pool and watch the hawks, buzzards, crows, hummingbirds, and other avians overhead, enjoy the beautiful garden I have put so much work into, and gaze at the ever-changing hills a few blocks away. I know this is a privilege. I am thankful that my husband has always had a good job (mine was OK) so that we saved enough money to be able to continue to live like this, and that he’s an intelligent, generous guy who’s also funny, and, at least a couple of times a day, affectionate. I regret that we don’t have much family, but we do have some really good ones and see them when we can. I am so glad I have friends, who enrich my life, and that they are smart, light-hearted, loving people who are, all but one, vaccinated.
So, what is pain in all of that? It can, it could, be just another experience. An alert system, from the perspective I can sometimes summon. I am fortunate that it’s not there constantly. My heart goes out to those who live in that way.