The nerve is growing back.
There’s no denying it. There is a reactivated trigger point near where my collar bone joins my first rib that has dutifully responded to manipulations by both my physical and massage therapists in every session in the last ten days.
About three months have passed since the nerve was burned away, and probably a few more weeks will pass before it becomes something that will need attending to. Now that I’ve been through one full cycle, I have a better idea of what to expect. Since we’re all about learning here in the ape preserve, here’s a study guide of planned improvements for the second time around.
First, I am not going to put any more things off. Every time I pretend that my damaged shoulder is nothing more than a temporary inconvenience, I set myself up to be disappointed. Starting now, I will either do something or I will not do it, end of discussion.
It’s too frustrating and upsetting to keep confronting things I want to do, hemming and hawing over whether or not I should try to arrange to do them, and then having to push them farther and farther into the future as my shoulder fails to significantly improve. It’s better to simply discard them until the facts on the ground change. After all, it’s unlikely I will spontaneously forget all of the things I would like to do upon becoming physically able to do them again.
This handicap is no longer a suspension of my normal condition. This is my normal condition. My life has changed. Not been thrown off balance, not paused for a period of time, not off to one side somewhere while this runs its course. Changed. As in, not the same life. Totally different life, in fact. Moreover, certainty is no longer possible; uncertainty is the new status quo. No more endlessly adjusting the old routine to compensate. It’s time for a new routine, or better yet, no routine at all. If my pain doesn’t follow a set schedule, there’s no point in setting an activity schedule that demands constant remodeling.
Having read this far, I’d imagine you might be a wee bit skeptical. How will I, with my propensity to label, organize, compartmentalize, and stratify every last element of my life, be able to make such a wholesale realignment? You’d be right to hang on to that skepticism for a bit. It’s going to take a while to turn this boat around. I’m not wired for spontaneity; I don’t like it. I prefer routine.
I like to do everything the exact same way, in the exact same order, using the exact same tool, every single time. I have been eating the same thing for breakfast for at least four years straight. Far from being excited when I go out of town and have to eat something else, I’m ornery about it, and happy and relieved when I get back home and can have it again.
I don’t like changing the way I do anything in any part of my life, so if I don’t have to, I won’t. This explains why my struggle to include all of the elements of my old life in the exact same proportions as they were before has yet to yield the desired result. With fewer raw ingredients at my disposal, the same recipe just won’t work any more. And like my cookie bars (of which there have now been seven batches that have gone wrong; that would be Cookie Bars: 7, Ape: 0), I kept pulling failure after failure out of the oven, every single time.
But if the solution you’ve chosen is wrong, then perfecting your technique isn’t going to make it right. Instead of using a new recipe, I kept going back and trying to do the old one better, certain that if I could hit on the right combination of ingredients, it would work out like it used to. But the problem was the recipe itself, rather than the baker – for the bars as well as for me.
I don’t like sketching my life freehand. I prefer to have a diagram to copy, preferably one mapped over with one-inch squares so I can follow it as closely as possible. I didn’t trust myself to come up with appropriate responses to life’s various challenges all on my own. So I developed the habit of gauging what I was supposed to do by trying to figure out what a normal “someone else” in my position would do, another single woman my age, say, with a full-time job and a family to take care of (never mind that I don’t have those last two things), and then try to adhere to that as closely as possible. I used to get pretty close, but since last October, I haven’t been able to come anywhere near it.
This supposedly perfect woman wouldn’t leave work early because of pain, as I have done more than once, and she wouldn’t consider not going into work simply because she didn’t sleep enough the night before. She couldn’t afford to miss as much work as I’ve missed; she’d risk not being able to pay her bills, or worse, losing her job.
Nor would she have the resources to pursue doctor after doctor in an effort to achieve the best possible medical care available. She’d have to take whatever meds she got from whichever doctor she saw and that would be it. She wouldn’t be able to cultivate new pastimes, such as a blog, nor would she be able to afford a lot of the medical services I receive; she’d just have to manage as best she could.
Never mind that a “normal” person in my position probably wouldn’t have been able to keep working. Never mind that she may well have bankrupted herself pursuing all of the same treatment avenues as I have, rather than just soldiering on, gritting her teeth and ignoring the pain as best she could. None of that ever entered my mind. All I could think was that I was failing to live up to the standards of this ideal superwoman, and thereby managed, in the overburdened emergency shelter I’ve set up in my brain for homeless anxieties, to make room for an entire city block’s worth of guilt.
This pattern and the ensuing doubt that I’m doing things “wrong” somehow has dogged me my whole life; I didn’t just learn it after I got hurt. But whether or not it served some purpose before, it’s certainly not doing me any good now. It’s time to admit to myself that the coping mechanisms I used to use aren’t working any more. And that means no more following patterns or diagrams, comparing myself to some idealized version of a good person I have in my head; a version, I might add, that I’ve concocted solely from source material obtained from TV and the internet which, in all likelihood, doesn’t even exist.
It means changing everything, throwing away all of those messed up cookie bars and starting over from scratch, and that’s not something I’ve been willing to do. Even unhelpful coping is a form of coping, and if I’m coping with something, then it’s still just something that’s happened to me; it’s not something that’s permanently changed me and become a part of who I am. If I stop tilting at windmills, I won’t be coping, I’ll be living. I will have stopped fighting the assimilation of my injury, and it will have won, which means that I will have lost.
But it was never supposed to be a fight in the first place. The compressed nerve is just a thing. It’s not out to get me; it simply exists. I’m the only one doing any fighting. And I’ve been fighting for so long that I can hardly remember what kind of life I’ve been fighting to get back. It’s possible that I didn’t like it all that much. It’s probable that I just wanted to keep it because it was familiar and I knew how it worked, and like a lot of apes, if I’m forced to choose between familiarity and utility, familiarity wins every time.
Language is perception. As long as I say this happened to me, I’m not saying this is me. And the former is no longer applicable. This is my life now. I may hate it, resent it, and rail against it – often – but that isn’t going to change it or make it go away. I should know; I tried. I should take comfort in the fact that I went down swinging. And now it’s time to pull anchor and let this boat go where it needs to go.
And this time, it will be different. Really. I promise.