blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Stoicism: Exit Stage Right

          Remember the stoics?  Those guys in togas who sat on their front porches and solved the world’s problems in Ancient Greek?  They came up with the idea that avoiding hedonism and facing danger with a stiff upper lip would save them from… from…they thought that being stoic was a very good thing.
          I don’t know when or how I got the idea that bearing pain and not complaining and carrying the rubber plant on my poor little ant-back would make me… better? stronger?  less likely to end up in… in… that admitting pain and complaining were not very good things.
          I have gone through many years of being strong, and stoic and confident. I have perfected the art of masking pain, sorrow, and feelings of anxiety or indecision. In fact, at different times I have walked around with clinical depression, debilitating anxiety, slipped discs, badly sprained ankles, and rotator cuff tears that went unacknowledged. And I thought that was a good thing, until recently.
          I awoke one morning in December of 2012 with a nasty kink in my neck. It was a very tough month emotionally, and I figured the pain would go away along with the stress I was under at the time. Then it was February and my neck was still hurting. I made an appointment and informed my family doctor that my neck was terribly sore, and I probably needed physical therapy. It had worked well before! He said a few things about pain relievers and x-rays or MRI’s if necessary, but he agreed.
          I went to therapy twice a week for a month and a half with good intentions and a sunny attitude until last week.  I decided that all the exercising was great, the heat and stim and ultra-sound treatments were wonderful, but I was still, in fact, in pain. And I had had enough of that. I went back to my doctor and said that muscle relaxers might help quiet this one stubborn spot on the right side of my neck, and he mumbled some things about orthopedists and second opinions, but he agreed.
           Armed with a new attitude and my Doctor’s prescription, I walked into the physical therapy office and  told them I was not going to do everything they wanted as many times as they wanted today. And the fun began.
          “It sounds like we better start with the stim first. Then we have to evaluate your progress for the insurance company.”
“That evaluation is going to hurt,” I said. “I probably won’t be doing much after that.”
“Let’s wait and see what happens,” he said, followed by that smile that says he knows exactly what will happen.
“I won’t do much more, I don’t want to hurt myself.”
“Well, why don’t you just do some lifts, like this…”
          And so it went. I whined through the evaluation, even though I was secretly pleased with how well I did. I said I’d had enough after one rep when he had asked for three. I made faces, sighed, and did everything I could to signify my lack of cooperation short of stamping my feet and yelling “Waaaah,” like a 2-year old. Finally, I heard my name and laughter rippling up the hall through three therapists and two assistants. I had to ask.
“What’s so funny?”
“Michelle wants to know if you’d like some cheese to go with that whine.”
          And I really didn’t care! I laughed along, but secretly acknowledged to myself that I liked being kind to my body. It doesn’t deserve punishment any more than I deserve pain. In a younger state, I would have said, “she’s getting old and weak.” In fact, I am getting wise and more respectful of my body’s future. Healthy food, gentle exercise, relieving stress with yoga and meditation – these are finally becoming very high priorities. And right up with those is the refusal to tolerate pain.
          My proud immunity to weakness can Exit Stage Right. When I hurt, I will whine -- with or without the cheese.


  1. Well said!! My physio-therapist was called the "physio-terrorist"!!!!
    We need more loving, kind and wise ways of relieving chronic pain. Nurture your Hope as Spring brings you some brighter days.

  2. Yes, don't be like my m-in-law of blessed memory who shattered all the bones in her hand and then went around for a week wondering why it was 3x normal size and "bothered" her so much.

    Get well--or, at least "weller" which is about what we can hope for here on the back 9--soon! :)