It hasn’t been a good week. The tidal surge of adrenaline borne out of the pure joy at being released from constant, immobilizing pain has receded. I have come back down to earth to find my shoulder still heavily damaged and disturbingly weak. Chastened twice by my physical therapist in as many sessions, I resentfully cut even more commitments and tasks from my activities this past week, further dampening my mood.
To make matters worse, I’m now back in my least-favorite situation, of having to deal with well-meaning but obtuse commentary from acquaintances about a physical malady that lends itself poorly to the brief exchange of pleasantries that would accompany, say, a torn rotator cuff. I wish I hadn’t been so quick to crow about the surgery’s success, not because it wasn’t one, but because too many people now think that I’m all fixed. At fellowship tonight, one person after another kept commenting on the sling. What happened? You weren’t wearing that last week, were you? How is the healing going?
I wanted to scream at them. Leave me alone! Can we please not talk about my fucking shoulder all of the fucking time? Can we please stop pretending like you actually give a shit already? My god, church people can be so annoying, so cloying; when they’re in a house of God they’re so full of their altruistic selves, brimming with solicitude, something that rarely plagues me at, say, the research lab.
The meeting was on how important it is to let go and let God. (Before you wonder why I still go to these things, seeing as how me and God have had a parting of ways, well, these people are my friends, and I still take comfort in being with them, and am helped a lot by the discussions about how to be our better selves.) And everyone was talking about how they have to keep letting go a million times a day, because they just keep taking the wheel back in their own hands, trying to have things their own way, and everyone is laughing as people talk about the silly little ways they try to manage their lives, and I feel myself starting to fidget.
I find that I am getting a little peeved. And the more people talk, the more peeved I get. What is the matter with me? I keep wondering. By the time we take hands for the final prayer, I can’t wait to get out of there. Afterwards, I pack up as quickly as I can – which is not very quickly, unfortunately – but not before yet another friend asks about my sling. I start to explain that I overdid, and she gets this patronizing smile, and I lose it. “Don’t smile at me like that. I can’t handle it. I’ve had a challenging week.” I feel bad for snapping at her, but I don’t even have time to apologize before another friend comes up with the brilliant insight that tonight’s topic was just exactly what I needed for the “shoulder thing.”
I didn’t let him finish. “Stop. You have to stop. I don’t need to hear this right now. Please.” I’m sure he responded sympathetically, but I don’t remember what he said and I’m not sure I even heard it. My head was so loud it all but drowned out the cacophony of some fifty people chatting about their week and making plans for dinner.
I escaped as quickly as I [barely] politely could, gratefully pushing open the door to the parking lot and stepping outside. The air was bitterly cold, but I liked it; my anger had brought on a hot flash and I was sweating under my coat. I do not need to hear this right now. Why had I said that? But then it hit me, why I was so upset. Tears started to form at the outer corners of my eyes, and I stared up at the sky for a moment. The night was clear, and even this close to the city, a handful of stars shone stark and bright against a dusky violet sky. I had been right; I didn’t need to hear it, not any of it. Because what has my life been, this last year and a half, if not one, long, arduous lesson in letting go of trying to manage it? Not because I shouldn’t. But because I can’t.
Even this last couple of weeks is just another case in point. I had so little pain – and even now, I have far less than I did before – that I thought I could do much more with my right arm than I should have. I was properly lectured for it at that first session with my physical therapist and started to cut back, but it became clear in the subsequent days that cutting back was not what was called for. I had to stop using the arm for any but the smallest of tasks, and I was to rest and ice every single afternoon, no ifs, ands, or buts. The inflammation is now visible even under my clothing, a large mass under the surgery site, and swelling over a good part of the right side of my upper back.
Penalty. Severe. As always. Had I dared to think my life was going to be different now? How could I have possibly worried that I wouldn’t be able to remain in my humble, chastened state? How could I have had the audacity to assume that I could finally go back to something like normal?
And I wasn’t angry at those people in that meeting. I was jealous; insanely, paralyzingly so. I used to think, like they apparently think, that I could affect the course of my life, or at least my day. I used to think I had a choice as to whether or not to take hold of the controls, whether that was true or not. But the last fifteen months, I’ve been duck-taped to the passenger compartment. I can’t even see the controls, never mind try to put my hands on them.
I’m trying so hard to stay in that peaceful place I found last week, to remember that these things that are happening aren’t personal. No-one is punishing me for anything. There is no sadistic (or otherwise) being pulling these cards from the deck and specifically placing them in my hands. They just happen to be there. They just happen. Things just happen to me, like they do to everybody. And they’re just things.
But I’m still angry. I’m still not done grieving the loss of my autonomy. I’m still not done being jealous of people who have not had to suffer the destruction of the fantasy that they have control over their lives, their careers, the pursuit of their desires, their dreams.
I want to be OK with this. I want so badly to stop having this anger rise up, push aside rational thought, and leap out to sting the people around me, especially since it always seems to be the ones who care about me the most that wind up subject to my venom. But I feel cut down on the inside, like I’ve lost some essential part of myself. Like I was broken in two, like a wishbone, and left with the smaller piece.
Whoever got the larger piece still gets to make wishes and sometimes, some of them might even come true. But I don’t. And I still have a seemingly bottomless well of sadness about it, and I’m not anywhere near over it. And I don’t know how to get over it; I don’t know how to grieve, how to process, how to move on. And even if I did know how, I don’t know if I could do any of that right now, or strangely, if I even want to.
But I’m tired of waiting for it to happen. I was so sure the worst of this ordeal was behind me. I’m not so sure of that any more. I thought it was OK to be sure of things again, little things, at least, but it seems not. Perhaps it never will be. I wonder if that isn’t the most upsetting thing of all; that being on a well-marked path, granted a little bit of foresight, of predictability, is just one more thing that I will never have again.
You have suffered a very deep wound, far deeper than the physical. This psychological, emotional, spiritual gash needs gentle, long-term care to begin to heal. There are so many aspects to this wound I cannot begin to untangle them. I know how you crave having a plan for, well, most everything. And that’s not a bad thing because it has helped you to find a field of study and beyond that a career about which you feel passionate. That is huge! You couldn’t have done that without a plan, although the original blue print required countless revisions, many of which were drastic in the extreme. The hard part is that people cannot see this deepest wound and therefore cannot comprehend your suffering. Since they don’t know of it, they have no idea how to behave around you.
Yes, you’ve had to step out of the post-surgery race car and get back into your horse and buggy. It’s okay. Now is the time to be kind to yourself. You spent nearly two years pushing, pushing hard, your increasingly tortured body and psyche. It was the only choice you had.
I know you don’t want to slow down …. again, to place limits, to watch others play the game while you can only sit on that hard bench and wait … again. But if you put a pillow and back rest on that bench maybe watching won’t be so bad. Sitting and watching and listening is underrated in our culture. Make a plan to sit where you are in comfort. Of course, you don’t feel like it. But trust Momma Ape on this.