I woke up at 5 AM this morning and everything hurt. My shoulders, my back, my legs, my neck, everything. I have one gel wrap that stays in the freezer and another I warm in the microwave. I decided to put the heat wrap on my neck and the cool one on my injured shoulder. My other shoulder did not agree with this allotment, but even if I had another pad, I’m not sure how I’d manage to wrap it around my torso. I’m not a big person, and I’m running out of real estate for strap-winding. The left shoulder will have to wait until later.
Probably too much driving yesterday, or more likely, too much everything yesterday, but so what? I hurt every day. I was in a pretty good mood yesterday morning, despite waking up too early in a lot of pain, and so I went to the gym and ran a couple of errands, sunned myself in the front yard for a while, made some cookies, and then embarked on a deep-frying project that took me from the afternoon to well into the evening. It was fun, and now, as always, I am paying for that fun. And since payment is demanded regardless of fun, I figure I might as well have some, at this point. Some days I’m just too annoyed to tiptoe around my injury.
Today, I’m not annoyed, but I’m not sure what I am instead. More like chastened, perhaps. The high of being able to hand a diagnosis to anyone who might inquire for one has worn off rather quickly. I stand here this morning, bundled up in my pads in a dark apartment as yet untouched by sunrise, all too aware that diagnosis or no, I’m still living in the same fragile, damaged frame I had before I read that MRI report. Being able to affix a label to my right (and now possibly my left) shoulder hasn’t really changed anything. I’m still wounded, still disabled, and still struggling under a burdensome load of pain.
And it will still be at least a year before the long-term effects of having a full quadrant of my body locked up for so long will be felt. I will still have to continue along this path of permanent life changes to accommodate a body that injures and fatigues easily; career adjustments, commitment adjustments, and life-management adjustments, not to mention social ones. Most important, I probably should not continue to live alone; my days of doing my own home improvement and lifting-of-heavy-things are likely gone forever. But I can’t even begin to think about what that means, never mind what I should or shouldn’t do about it. I remain too wrapped up in my pity party to do an unbiased cost-benefit analysis. And despite the gift I’ve been given, in the form of a quantifiable medical diagnosis, I still can’t find my way to gratitude.
Even though I should be grateful; enormously so. I have hard evidence that a piece of my body is physically damaged. Finally, doctors can see what is wrong with me. Finally, my pain is no longer suspect. Finally, it is possible that I can be fixed, at least to some degree. I have found a way out of the Hotel California of treatment-eluding chronic pain. I am a rare and fortunate ape. Most of my fellow apes, including the inimitable Momma Ape herself, are destined to remain there for quite a lot longer, if not the rest of their lives. And even though I won’t be good as new, I should get back enough function to take financial care of myself. That particular demon, of remaining dependent on government aid and charity for the rest of my life, has been exorcised.
But old habits die hard. I’m still worried I will walk in to the doctor’s office triumphant, MRI scan and report in hand, and leave deflated, when he tells me that it’s not bad enough to merit going in to try to fix it, or tells me that I need to go to physical therapy for however so many more weeks before he will consider surgery. Or that while my right shoulder is, in fact, damaged, the symptoms in my left shoulder, despite hewing closely to the pattern of those in my right, are no big deal. What if he refuses to perform another nerve ablation? What if he won’t change my meds, despite the fact that their efficacy is marginal at best? What if I still can’t find a doctor willing to help me? How much longer is this going to go on?
I can pile extra trouble on my plate like a linebacker at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s always been one of my talents. And right now, I should be updating my injury and medication history for the new specialists I will be seeing over the next few weeks instead of pouring my energy into ramping up my anxiety. But I just don’t feel like it. I can’t seem to shed the mantle of learned helplessness that has lately wrapped itself around me.
It’s hard to let go of the attitude that nothing I do matters, having had it incessantly rammed down my throat for the last several months. I can’t help thinking about it in the same terms I’ve come to think about everything: either I will be fixed or I won’t be fixed, and there’s nothing I can do that will engineer or hinder that outcome in any way. Like a child who kept testing the fire’s heat until she was seriously burned, I am now loathe to come anywhere near it, the wounds still as fresh and tight as though they had happened only yesterday. Why bother? plays back every time I push the button labeled, “What if I…”
What if I what? Whether or not I hand the doctor a spreadsheet of treatments and prescriptions, the only thing he will probably be interested in is the MRI. It may be fatalistic to assume that nothing I say or do will make a difference in what he decides to do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true. But I’m not feeling the relief I used to feel at letting go of the compulsion to take an action of some sort. I no longer need to be able to point to a log of effort in absence of results. But I get no lift from it at all any more. I’m mentally numb.
I thought all I wanted was a diagnosis and purported endpoint, but now that I have them, I don’t feel any less depressed. I thought it would be easier to bear all of this pain and fatigue if I knew what was causing it and how long it would last, but it isn’t. It’s exactly the same, and I’m exactly the same. You’d think I’d have learned by now not to invest my happiness is supposed future occurrences, but apparently not. I know I’m supposed to look inside and not without, to find the contentment, the gratitude, the appreciation for what have rather than the preoccupation with what I don’t. But it’s still dark and lonely in here. I’m still never going to be the same again, and I’m not done being angry and sad and defeated about it. And nothing I do will hasten along that process.
So why bother?