Cake or Death?

I began seeing a new doctor on Friday. As he manipulated my arms, legs, and finger joints, his brow creased in concern.

“Wow, your right hand is seriously overworked. I need you to switch to your left hand — 100% for a while, ok?”

“I’m an illustrator; that’s probably not going to happen.”

“As much left as you can manage, then. The back and leg pain is concerning, too. This doesn’t look like a back injury. I usually only see this in patients who are carrying way too much stress for way too long. You’re a little on the young side to be experiencing this kind of prolonged stress. What’s your job like? Tell me about the breaks you take from work. Tell me about your boss.”

“My boss is the worst. Long hours, few breaks. I spend most of my waking hours working. Sometimes I forget or am too busy to stop and eat. I rarely get out to exercise, but that’s a catch-22 of the back and leg issues.”

He looked at me for a long moment with piercing eyes, as if to say, you already know what the problem is, then.

“Well, the boss is me. I run a small business.” Sheepish grin.  Ta-da.

There it is: I’ve done this to myself.

I’ve been ordered to reduce work stress; to swallow disgusting quantities of glucosamine and pills filled with oil; to begin yoga and swimming once the pain is manageable. I’ve been ordered off starch and sugar because apparently all things that are delicious and good can cause joint inflammation. Grand. Like, half my identity is tied to cake, the other half to work. How shall I proceed, then?

With as much dignity as one can muster after a full week flat on one’s back.  And no cake.

A part of me dies a little bit when I think about it.

The rest of me is trying to write a blog entry almost upside-down with my laptop keyboard perched vertically against my abdomen, so there’s that.

After my initial dismay at learning starches and refined sugars can cause joint inflammation, and dutifully doing extensive research post-doctor-visit to make sure that wasn’t total bullshit (it’s not, sadface), I really started reflecting on how I got to this point, and what it means to be so stressed out for so long that one can actually cause long-lasting damage to one’s body.

Coming from an education in biology, I should have realized that hormones play a huge part in the physical manifestations of stress. I should have realized that eventually this would all catch up to me.  I was warned — by doctors, healers, friends…and my own body. I thought by having a pretty clean diet and stretching daily, I could outrun the tidal wave of cumulative injury that loomed as a result of the uninterrupted state of distress my body’s endured.

I could not.

It wasn’t until I arrived at this place, this scary new landscape of adulthood in which a visit to a chiropractor couldn’t crack me back into walking shape, and forty-eight hours of binge-watching Veronica Mars from my zero-gravity chair didn’t set me right — it wasn’t until this moment that I really “got it.”

It’s terrifying to be thirty-six and immobile. I feel the madness creeping in when I can’t fidget and get up and move around and work with complete freedom. In the shady recesses of my mind, terrible dark things rise and stir and whisper. You’ll never be whole from here on out. You’ll never run and jump and climb with ease. You will never again be able to enjoy the wild places of the world. You will always be broken. And there’s no one to blame but yourself. 

I keep wondering if this is my Day 1.

You know, you always read the blogs about that definitive moment the now thinner/healthier/drug-free/alcohol-free/disease-free/any-restricted-diet-having bloggers reached their “final straw” moments and defiantly and firmly put down their foots. “My life has to change,” they say, “and this is the first day of the rest of forever.” It is the predominant Leitmotif of our blogosphere. Or maybe just the ones I read.

That collective voice gives me hope. I hope I stop hurting. I hope this is my Day 1, and not the day I realized I’d fucked up so properly that I’d be forever physically changed.

Even at this moment, I catch myself holding my breath and clamping my teeth down tightly. Stressed has become the new baseline for me. This isn’t normal. I find it surprising that I am just now realizing this.

I hope this is my Day 1 so much that I briefly hauled my body, stabbed with pain, from were I lay, and stood before my mirror. I took a photo of myself, hunched and too tired, too heavy, too soft, too pale.  Maybe next year I’ll run across that photo, look back on it with an indulgent smile and say, “That was Day 1. I’m so much better now.”

It’s problematic to use my left hand. I’m having trouble. I keep trying to remember, and I forget. When I try, it’s too hard and switching always happens at the point that I rationalize not doing it because my work time is more efficient.

I’m literally trying to regain my footing and just get to a point where I’m ok again, and here I am fighting against myself. Why? There are all sorts of excuses for all sorts of things. It’s easy to make them. I’ve fooled myself, though, because the truth of it is that excuses are only easier in the moment. To make excuses for so long leaves you lying in a chair trying to illustrate on a shitty trackpad using your non-dominant hand.

It’s harder to own up to the excuses and expose them for what they are, flush them into the light, annihilate them.

Now is the time for listening to the beat of my heart and appreciating that my body needs to be loved as much as I love my work.

And hopefully this will be my Day 1, because the alternative is unacceptable.


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