Monday, June 18, 2012

Metaphysics

Nine months ago my left hip and leg began to hurt. It started on the day of my cousin's funeral last October, I remember it clearly. There was a sharp stabbing pain when I moved in a certain way, and the leg refused to hold me. It happened several times that first afternoon, and I would have to "work the joint back in" very painfully. It felt as if the leg had become dislocated from the hip socket and would not resume its proper position without an agonizing "crunch" somewhere mid-thigh. It was at its worst when I went from sitting to standing, or tried to swivel my body, or tried to lift my leg, or bent to pick up something. I would get stuck, halted in position by the pain, and would then try to unobtrusively work the leg back in, hoping no one noticed. I kept thinking it would go away, and I was embarrassed to talk about it, sure that the only response anyone would give was, Well, just lose some weight for God's sake. Of course if it were so damned easy to "just lose some weight" I would have done it years ago. Yes, I'm sensitive about it.

But back to the leg. The pain grew more and more intense and by the time I went to my uncle's funeral a week ago, I could not climb the shallowest stairs without pulling myself up by the railing. I laughed it off the best I could, trying to deflect people's concern. But I knew it was serious. And then at the repast back at my aunt's home, my cousin Helen took me aside. She led me by the hand into the garden and looked meaningfully in my eyes. I should note that Helen is a healer and an empath. She works as a physical therapist and her hands are pure magic but that is only the very beginning of her gifts. In the garden she looked me squarely in the face and said, "Something is telling me I am here for you this weekend. I feel it very strongly. So what is going on?"

There was so much love in her approach, so we began to talk about my leg. And the conversation, ostensibly about my aching leg, veered to the horrendous lumpy sinkhole of a mattress my husband and I have been sleeping on. We have to get a new one, I told her, but we need to pay the kids' tuition first. "Women always do this," Helen said. "They try to take care of everyone else before taking care of themselves. So what if you spent a couple thousand on a really good supportive mattress? What would happen to the tuition then?" We'd pay it, I said. "Exactly!" she answered, and in that moment, I resolved that the very next day I would go out and buy a really, really good mattress, one that properly supported my husband and me. And the next day, I did!

But Helen wasn't finished with me. She was just getting warmed up. She asked me where the pain had come from, was it really my pain to carry, who did I think I was relieving by carrying it? Somehow all of this resonated deeply with me, and I began to cry. Because what I began to understand was that this pain in my leg made me feel more connected to my mother, and was a physical manifestation of guilt and sadness at not being able to make it so she can walk again under her own steam. Helen said, "You don't have to carry this pain. You are not helping your mom one bit by holding on to it. It just means now you're both in pain and she surely would not want that."

Of course, she wasn't suggesting that the pain didn't have a physical source, that the cure was only metaphysical. She counseled me to go see a doctor and deal with it at once. In fact, I had already made an appointment with a rehab doctor, a physiatrist. I had been referred by my wonderful new primary care physician, who is sending me all kinds of places for follow up and generally taking good care of me. There is nothing like building a relationship with a good and caring doctor to get one over one's fear of doctors. So last Friday, I went to the rehab doc, and he and his PA were both so affirming and compassionate, and neither had a whiff of treating my pain as if it were my own damn fault for being so fat. Yes, this is actually what has kept me from doctors for years, the feeling that I would be judged for my size.

The doctor thinks I have bursitis of the hip, which is an inflammation of the bursa, the pillowy sacs that cushion the muscles and soft tissues and bone and allow everything to slide around freely. When he said the word bursitis, I felt a rush of truth, because my mother suffered with bursitis when I was growing up. She would be incapacitated for days, unable to move her left shoulder or arm. I remember feeling so sad as a child to see her in such pain. But the memory brought some relief, too, as if now I understood something and could finally begin to heal. The doctor gave me a steroid injection in the hip to calm down the inflammation, and I'm to go back in two weeks to see if there has been significant relief. If there has been, then he will prescribe physical therapy to strengthen everything and restore mobility, and if there has been no improvement, then we will have to do further investigation.

But I feel some reduction in pain already. The sharp shooting pain is now a dull ache. I can actually bend and pick things up without getting stuck and it's no longer excruciating just to climb into the car. But I need to mind the metaphysical emotional body as well. Because after waking up this morning and announcing to my husband how much better the leg felt, I then got on the phone with my mom. I was cleaning the kitchen as we talked, and she mentioned how incapacitated she felt at not being able to get around, and how disheartening that was and I suddenly noticed that as she talked, I had begun to limp again, and the longer we talked the more I was limping. The threads that bind us are powerful indeed. Silently, I thanked Helen for the gift of consciousness. It was as if she had helped prepare the way for healing, both physically, by prodding me to get a mattress that would not undermine the doctor's treatments, and emotionally, by making me aware of my instinct to hold on to the pain. Now I shall concentrate on the healing.


That's my cousin Helen, back in the day. 
She was daydreaming on the small patio 
adjacent to my room at 37 Paddington Terrace 
in Kingston, Jamaica. I left to go to college in 
New York six months after I took this photo.
I remember I was photographing everyone 
and everything that year, much as now.  
Helen lives and heals in Maryland now.



19 comments:

  1. Oh, I love all this. Yes, yes, yes.

    And if it's torn hip flexors, then you're carrying it for me and I release you! :)

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  2. angella, this is a poignant and important posting, on so many levels.
    how we feel about our bodies: the "weight thing"--how many of us avoid going to the doctor because the first thing they do is make us stand on the scale?
    and, how little care we caretakers manage to actually direct at ourselves.

    also: look how much talent in photographing you've always had! i hope that you will step back and let yourself blossom again/fully, now that your kids need you less.

    xo

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  3. I'm so glad your cousin saw what you needed and that you are doing what she suggested and that you have found a good primary care physician! Not to mention the new mattress. And that it was before permanent damage was done!! Way to go!

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  4. How complex the factors that cause our pain, our illness. Some very good doctors still dismiss the mind-body-spirit connections. I take heart reading your post, in the midst of identifying sources of and treatments for what has long been out of order. So glad for your wise guidance, for the easing of pain. xo

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  5. It's amazing how much our bodies and minds are connected. I've made myself physically sick from an emotional event - anxiety has a way of ceasing an appetite. Our minds are very powerful in that way.
    I'm so glad you are on a path to feeling better. Once we know we can't ever unknow. xo

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  6. this makes me want to cheer. Yes. yes yes yes yes yes. I'm so glad for your new mattress and for Helen and for the physiatrist (that's a new one on me!) and for the healing that is taking place. this is good. yes. and for that bond.

    xo love d

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  7. Your writing never ceases to move me emotionally. Thank you for this beautiful offering, Angella. xo

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  8. How wonderful that you have such a woman in your family, and that she could be there to guide you to the truth.

    I'm so glad you have found good doctors, it really does make all the difference. I'm wondering what your son's thoughts were, and if he had any helpful advice for you.

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  9. What a beautiful cousin!

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  10. Wow. And wow again! We women. We hurt because we take on the weight of the world and we think we can dilute the pain by sharing the pain of the ones we love. And we can't. We cannot.
    We can only pass on the pain to the ones who love us the most...our children. For THEIR sake, if not our own, we need to ease our own pain. What a wise cousin you have! I am so glad you are taking care of yourself, dear woman. So glad. And I have learned here today. I truly have.

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  11. Wow, this post is a true piece of education. So beautifully written. Your cousin and you are both amazingly wise.

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  12. i really love that you have helen. you deserve someone so wise and loving because you're wonderful, and this is wonderfully written. thank you for sharing it.

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  13. We have two beds that we regularly sleep on. The v expensive one, in a Summer outdoors room, is very relaxing. The other old lumpy one is in our indoors Winter quarters, and makes me feel as if I've just been in a fight. Maybe I'll do something about it.

    None of us should live with pain.... I do hope your doc gets you fixed.

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  14. I'm so glad you're taking care of your leg. The links between our minds and our bodies are amazing, aren't they? You're fortunate to have a healer in your family who can offer that kind of advice! That's a terrific picture of Helen, too.

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  15. Bursitis. And an old mattress. And a feeling that suffering is part of the program. That's my problem in a nutshell. I have the same recurring hip problem, and have to be very careful getting in and out of cars, or it feels like I've popped out of the socket. I never know day to day what joint will ache when I wake, or fail when I move wrong. I have creaky bones to match my creaky soul. I need a new mattress and a cousin Helen.

    Glad you are healing and so glad you share your story with us.
    xo

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  16. Off topic, but maybe of interest: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jun/17/rosa-guy

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  17. Angella, you're an empath — a blessing and a curse. (Speaking from experience.)

    xo

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  18. Thank you all for being her like this. I feel your support and empathy. And yes, Helen is a pretty darn amazing woman. Love.

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  19. This post makes me cry a bit. In recognition -- not of the exact circumstances, of course, but of something else. Thank you.

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