Happy Monday all, and what a glorious one it is, right? No, no, I’m not sarcastic at all, why do you ask?
Molasses: not just for hair any longer!
Okay, yes, I may have struggled to get up and get going this morning (and why do we sometimes feel like we’re struggling through a swimming pool of molasses after a restful nights’ sleep, anyway), but thankfully I’m starting to shake out of the torpor and get down to this business of writing and working and living again. That’s a good thing, because so far this month has been a little frustrating on the writing front. Oh, I’ve come close to hitting my writing targets thus far, it’s not exactly that, it’s just a matter of finding time to work when there’s so much to be done on the unpacking front. Terribly frustrating, and it doesn’t help when you spend so much time tired and out of it. Thankfully, things are starting to ease and I have some writing commitments to meet this week so it shouldn’t be a problem to push that stuff aside and focus on the good stuff: writing.
This morning it occurred to me…well, the proper place to start is in explaining that I suffer from a recurring back problem that dates back to around age 15. You see, I was (and still am) a major baseball junkie, and would do anything to play with just about anybody. Whatever it took to get some playing time, and I liked to experiment with stances and possible ways to hit the ball, like going the other way on an outside pitch or what would happen if I tried to push an inside pitch to the opposite field, that sort of thing. On this particular day I was attempting to recreate the batting stance of one Phil Plantier:
Not pictured: the end of his career due to back pain.
Thing looks hilarious but it quickly became apparent why he used it: you could generate tremendous torque and thus power when you “unfolded” and hit the ball. Long story short, it resulted in tremendous home runs, with an additional side effect of shrinking the strike zone.
You might already see where this is going, however; the stance stresses even a 15-year-old’s back pretty fiercely. On this particular day I got a pitch too low for even that stance and went for it (plate discipline might not have been my thing). I was rewarded with a strikeout and searing agony that shot up the center of my back. Spent a good deal of time writhing in the dirt, but managed to get home and fake it for about five seconds before Mom decided an ER trip was the appropriate response.
This led to a week or two of having to sit bolt-upright, even as I slept, for the slightest false move sent another flare up the back. Imagine this as an active 15-year-old. Absolute torture. Eventually, however, it cleared up.
I don’t even know what this is about.
Unfortunately, as these things tend to do, it crept back into my life. Over the years a wrong move would cause another flare-up, or perhaps a too-long period of sitting (or sleeping, ye gods) in the wrong position. It acted up very badly about ten years ago and the doctor gave me the great news that this injury had resulted in a bone spur on my spine, which causes arthritis from time to time. Only option would be cutting my back open and shaving the thing down, which is not a journey taken lightly.
Now imagine the stress of moving, the packing and unpacking, moving furniture, all of that fun stuff, with such a back problem. Fantastic, right? Well, the good news is that I’m on a treatment that helps my muscles heal much more quickly and reduces the time it takes for me to bounce back for injury. I can do a lot more and not worry about the consequences so much, but when it does catch up, watch out.
So, and we’re getting to the point of this, as well as perhaps a tortured metaphor. My back is pulling the old tricks again, but it’s added a twist of making my hand go numb when I lie on my back too long – doctor thinks it’s a pinched nerve, whatever, it’s not fun and only clears up when I roll on my right side and push my elbow into the bed (odd, I know). But the affliction is not necessarily the thing here, it’s what it represents, or so it seemed as I mulled it over in my head on the way to work.
It occurred to me that the entire situation bears resemblance to emotional wounds. You might undergo something that sucks at the time, but you think you have moved past and healed. Years, sometimes decades, down the road, it pops up again in the strangest places. Perhaps you’re buying a latte and hear a song that played when the traumatic event occurred. Maybe you stumble across a phrase that evokes that period. You could also find yourself in a repeat of the situation, facing down some of the same fears and frustrations from all those years ago.
And sometimes the body’s response is to numb up, to shut down any sort of incoming pain. I’ve learned to cope with this response in many different ways; sometimes you can prod your psyche into pushing on, sometimes you do your best and phone in emotional resonance until it resurfaces, and sometimes you throw your hands up and realize that you can’t do anything until the situation passes. It sucks, but it happens.
The relevance? This entire situation sums up Dean’s addiction in Came to Believe. So much of it is autopilot, his body trying to shut down any attempt at facing the painful reality in which he lives. His story is about lowering his defense mechanisms and letting the world come in. It’s about the things that threaten to derail that self-awareness and ability to cope.
Ultimately, it’s about surviving a wound and learning to thrive again. Sometimes, a day feels like a microcosm of all this. It’s good to know that I can return to that world and watch as “someone else” (admittedly, a projection of my own psyche) overcomes this stuff. If nothing else, that can keep somebody going. That’s the power of writing – and reading.