The Do Over 06: Injuries
Is 56 the new 26? It seems that way for me as my current professional and existential quandaries mirror the ones I faced 30 years ago. These posts are a series of ponderings trying parse the difference between now and then.
Sorry for the extended break in this series. In early January, just as I was composing a dispatch on resolutions (my New Year’s resolution was to be more resolved), a flare up of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome struck. I first suffered from it in 2014 as I finished a madcap, big project for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I did all the revisions with a splint on my right hand, and often it was in so much pain that my left hand had to handle the whole keyboard. This was the worst flare up since then. Usually the pain goes away in a coupla days, this time it lasted a coupla weeks and just as I was about to lose the splint I aggravated it and spent another three weeks with a stump plus fingers as a right appendage.
During this injury phase I noticed my body acting in strange ways. Some days, I’d reflexively descend the stairs one at a time as if my knees were bothering me. Or I’d be reluctant to sleep on one side as if my shoulder was in some routine pain (usually from sleeping awkwardly on one side or the other). I came to realize that I was responding to something much deeper than merely a bit of Carpal Tunnel. Throughout my 50s, I’ve trundled my way through some chronic lower body issues and the occasional upper body injury, but my reflexes have understood it that what I’ve really done is anger the Omnipotent Forces of Pain and that in response, I curbed all varieties of movement for fear of incurring the wrath of those forces again, even if my self-enfeeblement had little to do with the exact injury I was enduring.
It’s not as if I’m some sort of total stranger to injury. In my late 20s, I broke my toe kicking a trash can at the store and spent three weeks on a cane, then, in my 30s, I had to be carried out of a step aerobics class after injuring a knee, which resulted in a few weeks of hobbling around. In both cases I diligently rehabbed and in a few weeks was back at it full tilt.
I don’t know what full tilt means anymore even though I’m only five years removed from a fitness regimen that included two yoga/spinning class doubleheaders each week as well as about 50 miles of urban biking. However, my latest recognition of how readily my body is kowtowing to pain has aroused a sense of ambition, a “nevertheless she persisted” moment (yeah, my inner athlete is female, it’s a long story) built up inside of me. As soon as my wrist was healthy enough to hold handlebars and brake on a bicycle, I resumed Citibiking everywhere, even if it was a short distance, it just felt good to be pedaling again.
In some ways, I was set to do good things. In mid-December, in response to my building’s still unresolved gas crisis (my neighbors and I haven’t had gas to cook with for nine months now), I bought a Foreman Grill and a new Pyrex dish, so that 75% of my meals now consist of lean proteins, steamed veggies, and leafy greens. I became driven to sleep seven to eight hours nightly and drink two to three liters of water daily.
By the time I returned to the gym last week, I received my reward. I stepped on the scale and I was ten pounds lighter than I was on my last visit around New Year’s Day. Granted, I have many more pounds to lose before my body resembles the 42 year old that I self -identify as, but the sense of momentum was palpable. With it came the realization that I needed to permanently reduce the Omnipotent Forces of Pain to a speed bump and not a roadblock. It was something I’d wanted to accomplish years ago and that I made progress toward that almost subconsciously makes many other ambitions seem more possible.
Even though there’s a medical urgency to lose weight now, it hasn’t usually been my fitness motivation. I was a brainy kid who wanted to be more physically active, but those avenues weren’t typically open to me as a kid. I wasn’t good enough to “play” unless I owned the ball. So when I joined a fitness center to take aerobic classes and then a gym and bought a bike, it felt like an opportunity to enable my body to catch up to my mind. When my body failed me, I’m sure self-consciously I feared my mind might soon follow. This episode has made me less fearful of that, and it’s made me more resolved. Now, maybe I’ll go back to one of my unfulfilled 2016 resolutions like seeing more movies.