Sunday, December 16, 2007


Last night I went running.

For the past three to five years I've been very sick. Before that I was a physical dynamo. I was always energetic, always optimistic, always looking for a challenge, always ready to break barriers. I played inter-mural volleyball on my college team. Don't laugh. I could spike that ball with violent intent. I wasn't afraid to dive to my knees if it meant being victorious. I had (and still have!) a wicked serve for which I am famous... or is that infamous? I rode my bicycle everywhere. Everywhere. I lifted weights, I took aerobics classes, I went mountain hiking, I went dancing every Friday night until the sun came up Saturday morning.

Then about four years ago I started getting twinges in my right hip. I didn't realize how bad these "twinges" had become until one day I became aware that going up and down stairs filled me with dread, getting in and out of my car was a miserable event, and even walking two blocks down the street seemed like an impossibility. By this time I had fallen off my physical activities. I became a tortured lump that lived on my sofa. By this time the pain had travelled to my right shoulder, my right elbow, my right wrist, my right knee, my right ankle. It was as if everything that was right about me was in indeed WRONG.

When this had gone on for about a year I realized I wasn't going to heal on my own, so I limped my way in to my family practitioner. She found my condition perplexing. She said that there is no reason that I should suffer pain on only one side of my body. She ran a battery of tests and took much of my blood. The tests revealed that my immune system was compromised, but not by any virus or bacteria or genetic disorder that could be detected. She sent me to a rheumatologist, who poked, prodded, and took more blood. He poked and prodded in places that made me scream in agony. His response to my protests of pain was, "Don't be a baby. Everybody suffers some sort of pain. I have eighty year old clients who don't even whimper." So I tried not to whimper, but as I laid there in agony it occurred to me that I didn't give a flying fuck how the eighty year old people dealt with their pain. Pain is not measurable, pain shouldn't have to be justified. And my pain shouldn't be quantified, qualified, compared, or related to anyone else's pain. So the next time he prodded me in a particularly sore spot I slapped him. Apparently slapping him was the thing to do, for at this point he said, "Now I really believe you MUST be in a lot of pain. Let's do some more tests." If you're ever in such desparation that you are unconcerned about the risk of a lawsuit or a restraining order I highly recommend you slap your doctor to get his attention.

Further testing revealed that I had inflamed joints. Arthritis at thirty-five years of age! And arthritis on only one side of my body at that. This is the part the doctors still found perplexing. Finally it was revealed that the source of my arthritis was a faulty immune system that wants to attack innocent body parts for shits and giggles. It's not Lupus, but it's Lupus-like. The cause of all this pain? Eighteen years of suffering. Eighteen years of sustained flight-or-fight stimulation has effected my body, probably permanently. Oh, I am an anomaly for sure! I grew up in a violent household, an opera of grotesque and majestic proportions. I am an anomaly because only ten percent of children who grow up in such a household end up leading (mentally) healthy lives. The other ninety percent either turn out like their abusive parent(s), turn in to prostitutes, die of drug overdoses/addictions, and/or any combination of these things.

Ten percent. If I had known those odds as a child, or even as a young adult, I may have just thrown in the towel and lit up my crack pipe (or whatever it is you do with a crack pipe). But I didn't know. And somewhere deep inside I always instinctively knew that I deserved equality, safety, dignity, and hope. Instinctively I was a fighter. So I fought, I grew, and every day that I survived I became a little bit stronger. I imagined myself as my very own freedom fighter, my own little patriot, my own little rebel force. For a little girl, there was nothing little about these attitudes. I never gave in, I never gave up, I never waivered. I stood, I stayed, and when I could leave I left.

Nearly fifteen years later I have learned that despite my psychological health (O that great Anomaly!), it is my physical health that has been compromised. Eighteen years of flight-or-fight stimulation causes irreparable changes to the brain. This translates into odd symptoms of the body, like an auto-immune disorder that causes your own body to attack itself. Which means that despite being an anomaly, I still ended up being a statistic.

For the past three years I have experimented with several different medications to alleviate the pain. I've been on muscle relaxers, relafin, celebrex, ibuprofin, sleeping pills, and prescribed narcotics. I've had cortisone injections (I'd rather shoot myself in the leg than do that again!). I've taken vitamins galore. But here's what really helped: a change of attitude. I put my armor back on (a clothing style I hadn't used since I moved out of my parents' house), donned my weapons, and "girded my loins". Ha ha. Only this time, instead of battling people who's intent it is to destroy me physically, psychologically, and spiritually, I was ready to battle my own demons. I stopped making excuses. I accepted that the pain was there (by God, if an eighty year old person doesn't whimper then I want to be an eighty year old woman!). I decided to take command of my body and make it work for me rather than against me. First I started walking. That was a year ago. Now I am running. First I could barely walk a mile. Now I run 1.5 miles and I walk 1.5 miles. My goal is to run 3 miles non-stop (after that, there will be new goals). First I dreaded walking/running. The pain was immense, the effort exhausting, and I felt like I was pulling myself uphill by a tenuous rope. Now I live for running. I love the endorphin rush; there is no pain, and I finally feel as if I am being pushed from behind rather than pulling myself along. I feel strong, happy, healthy, and alive. The pain is still there, but I ignore it. I think of it as a remnant of my parents' cruelty which I refuse to acknowledge in any way. To do so is to give it power, and they will not have that power over me anymore.

I went running last night. As I bulletted through the rain I began thinking of my children. I thought of them when they were little. I remembered how I would take one in each hand and walk with them. They always pulled against me. I was like the bow of a boat, plowing through resistent water while my kids were the waves, split and curling on each side of me. They dragged behind me and I pulled them along. One day I realized I was weary of always leaning forward, pulling my kids along. So I let go of their hands and to my surprise they didn't fall away, they stayed right behind me, flanking me at each side. Which made me wonder: what does it take to recognize resistence, our own and/or that of others against us? At what point should we stop resisting? What does it take for us to let go and move WITH life, rather than against it? I thought of this as I ran blissfully through the rain.

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