In-Between Thoughts 2/21/20: Stepping Up

I had my first physical therapy appointment yesterday, to figure out what I can do to help my back heal from this awesome, totally not-inconvenient herniated disc. (MAN it feels good getting old.) The exercises she gave me are hilariously “old person”, but I am all in on doing whatever the experts tell me will help encourage all my back squishy to return to its little discy shell. Lie down and lift my right foot one foot off the ground 10x in a row? On it. Lie down and lift my arms CAREFULLY above my head and let them come to rest CAREFULLY by my side 10x in a row? Call me Stephanie Buttermore because I am ALL IN on that shiz.

The BEST news, though, is that my PT cleared me to lift upper body! With some modifications. Basically my new rule of thumb is to stop doing something as soon as my leg (which really means my back) starts to hurt. Can do. I’m pretty excited to get back into some kind of gym routine, even though my legs will continue to shrivel into toothpicks for a while because lifting legs is still out. Good thing I had built up a healthy block of muscle in these gams so that there is plenty for the atrophy to feed off of.

Even though my enthusiasm was sky-high and my permission slip hot from the printer, class and work kept me from actually getting to the gym yesterday. Argh. So instead I woke up at my regular time this morning, but instead of reading for an hour before getting ready for work, I hopped onto this little number I bought from Amazon a week ago:

It felt so, so good to sweat, to work hard(ish), to have to work to catch my breath, to find myself needing to take a break because I had reached some kind of physical limit. It’s no Insanity, and it’s no 9-mile run, but it felt awesome just to do something and I am sure my former strength will return over time.

(My PT also said I should be able to run a half marathon in May, so while my beloved Hapalua in April is out, I am downright giddy at the thought of getting back into running pretty soon!!)

While I was steppin’ to (with?!) the oldies, I thought about the healing process for my herniated disc. It started as back pain. When I ignored it, the pain got worse (this is probably when it turned into a herniated disc). When I ignored that, pain started radiating down my right leg. When I ignored my sciatica pain, the injury manifested as numbness in my foot. When I ignored my numb foot BECAUSE I AM A GIANT DUMB-DUMB and went for my weekly 9-mile run AGAIN, BECAUSE I AM A GIANT DUMB-DUMB, my whole right leg said F*#K YOU DUMB-DUMB and stopped working. I limped for two weeks. My foot numbness got worse.

All this time, though, after the initial injury and subsequent herniation, I stopped feeling much pain in my back. The injury, while definitely only located in my back, was felt wholly in my right leg.

My PT said we need to work on moving the symptoms and pain back up my leg. She said it sounds counterintuitive, and may feel like we’re making things worse, but the treatment she has me on will make my leg feel better at the same time as it makes my back feel worse. Feeling the pain in and only in the spot where the injury occurred means the physical therapy is working.

How perfectly does this capture the way our psychological wounds manifest in our relationships and lives, and the process of that healing? We experience a wound, maybe a hurtful comment from a loved one that cut us to our core, and the pain of that comment hurts for a while. If we don’t work to heal that wound, the initial intense emotional sting will probably fade (such is the fascinating nature of the brain), but the unattended injury will continue to manifest itself in other areas of life. Particularly in our behaviors and reactions with others. We will demand too much from others, or perhaps keep our distance and sacrifice real intimacy, or will be too critical, may even say similar hurtful comments to others, and in general we will “create” (maybe “allow”) pain to appear in places where there’s not actually an injury. Those secondary places aren’t the real pain (though they may be creating new wounds for others from which their secondary pains may start to radiate); the previous-yet-present unattended wound is. And therapy, both physical and psychological, is the process of working that pain backwards to its source, to reveal the particular wound and reawaken the particular pain for a while, all so we can actually attend to the hurt and heal it (along with the jagged rips it has torn in our relational lives) for real.

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