Who’s got my back?

How I rue that fateful day at the end of March when my chronic back pain took a turn for the herniated.

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Life changed and it continues on with adjustments to lingering effects from my injury. One of the only positives I could come up with about the situation was that I had a label, a thing I could point to. Instead of being dismissed as a wimpy whiner, I had a condition. See, not making this up, got a trouble, and have photographic evidence to back up the claim.

But then some dear soul, let’s say my beloved husband, got me a book called “Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection.” I harrumphed, and may have mentioned having pictures of herniated discs. But then he threw down the gauntlet, “What do you have to lose?” So the book sat looking at me for a couple months from on top o’ the book pile.

Then another dear soul, my friend Sonia, mentioned she was reading a book by John Sarno on the mind/body connection related to back pain. I believe I responded to her kindness with a snarky bit about the pictures I had of my vertebrae, a verifiably medical condition. I may contemplated making a small photo album of my MRI images.

But I relented a little. I carried the book around the house every now and then, took it on the bus back and forth to work for a week, perhaps even took it on vacation, but it remained unopened, making its silent demands.

Meanwhile, I’ve continued my efforts to maintain some sort of fitness during this interminable healing period. The efforts were proven woefully inadequate recently when I discovered that my fat pants were becoming snug. Dear God, the horror. I put my foot down and joined the Oakland YMCA.

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I must say, this may be one of the nicest gyms. It’s had some updates and has a lot going on, but there’s something more about the place. Maybe they feng shui’ed the heck out of it, because it’s got a positive buzz vibrating through the floors. Somehow this army of sweaty people seems to include my kind of people. I honestly didn’t know there was a gym in the world where I might feel ok. I’m not an athlete, never have been. I work out so I can enjoy eating more than the carrots my metabolism can process without fattening me. I work out so I can stay away from those fat pants…the currently snuggish ones.

First item on the agenda was water aerobics. Despite having to overcome the dread of donning a bathing suit in public, this is a great way for a wounded warrior to get her sword back. Well, maybe her butter knife, but it’s a start. Turns out the older folk flock to water aerobics. Duh! It doesn’t hurt their bones and joints either! I am loving my classes with them–they keep it real, have a good time and have made me feel welcome.

Apparently one of the big selling points at gyms these days is having a person at a desk who helps you identify gym classes and offerings that match your workout needs or goals. At the Y, these cats are called Wellness Counselors, which gets a little of the Y’s philosophy into your subconscious, too, doesn’t it? I signed right up, because I am all about the plan. I need me a plan, a point on the horizon, because otherwise this gimpy back thing is going roll me up like a millipede under a wet leaf.

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I show up to my appointment and the young man waiting to greet me with a smile has a list of questions. I don’t know what I expected, maybe less counseling, but remember he is a Wellness Counselor, right? It definitely felt like a counseling session and I responded…somewhat guardedly. What is it about being questioned? I’ve realized lately that it’s not my favorite thing. I like time to reflect, mull things over, chew on it and respond thoughtfully.

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But here I am being quizzed by this young man who seems more and more like a combination of Yoda and some sort of mercurial messenger, with bits of his hair sticking up like antennae, receiving and transmitting information. And then it happens. He starts to tell me about the mind body connection and how Tai Chi and restorative yoga could help the healing process with my back.

At that moment I waved the white flag. I relent, Universe! I relent!

The journey has to be about integration. Discs are discs, but the pain leading up to them may have had many causes, among them worry, perfectionism, judgement. Ok. I’ll claim these burdens that developed as coping mechanisms but have lost their necessity. I’ll work this healing crisis through with all my pieces and parts.

So the path forks to the left and a new journey begins. At the crack of dawn on Saturday, I’ll be moving my chi downtown. What do I have to lose…except maybe this monkey on my back.

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