Monday, December 28, 2020

Pain and Pretzels

Every time I go to a certain store, I sort of pretend I'm not going to buy a large soft pretzel. I'm not sure why I do this, maybe in part because bread has become such a taboo item these days, and I contemplate whether or not I "should" eat the pretzel, thinking maybe I ought to choose something healthier. I try to look away as I walk by the bakery, and eventually take a quick glance. If there are any twisted knots left, I get a little thrill and run over to put one in a bag. If the shelf is empty, I'm always disappointed and reluctantly toss some salad or a can of soup into my basket. 

These days, it's not exactly guilt that makes me kind of weird about the purchase. I used to eat two bagels topped with peanut butter or cheese at a time when I was in college and never really thought twice about it. Back then, bread was still considered part of a healthy diet. I was also running a lot and probably needed whatever carbs I consumed. As it is, I really enjoy toasting the pretzel and eating it with cream cheese, butter, or fried eggs. It makes me content or at least not feel physically bad. Overall, it's a pleasant experience, however, there's this little part of my brain that questions it. I hate that the world ever heard of Keto, Paleo, Atkins, or whatever other fad diet is au courant because now we're all supposed to look up to Instagrammers who eat "clean," whatever the fuck that means, when it's much more enjoyable to take pleasure in eating. The mess of dieters on social media reminds me of terrible times in my life when I was way too rigid and uptight to eat what I craved and couldn't see that eating something outside of my comfort zone when I was hungry was better than avoiding all food if I couldn't get something that fit with my specific set of set rules. In some ways, I'm still too rigid, a bit of the old OCD going on, but I'm glad I'm suffering a bit less and not so uptight that I can't enjoy some fucking bread now and then.

Baked goods aside, I've been thinking about this blog post for years. An outline has been sitting untouched for far too long, but an incident that occurred recently prompted me to drag out the draft folder and take another look. This is really just a rant, not an exercise in writing, and it's probably not going to be very entertaining. In other words, read at your own risk. 

It goes without saying that this year has been an exceptionally hard year on almost everyone. Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances have lost people close to them, the majority but not all from COVID. As a result, this doesn't feel like the right time to drop this kind of post into cyberspace, but there's never really a perfect time. 

A little over a week ago, I had a colonoscopy that resulted in two polyps being removed. Everything should be fine, but I have felt exceptionally tired and run-down ever since. That same day, I got some not so good news about my foot. An MRI showed a ligament tear, tendon thickening, a trapped nerve, some swelling in various places, and a little cartilage wearing in the joint. Oddly, none of this is supposed to prevent me from running..well, jogging, but today, I was just tired, tired of my routine, physically tired, emotionally drained, and sick of dealing with the pain and my wonky gait. I started out on a little jog in the falling snow and kept stopping. My shoe needed retying. Everything hurt. I needed to stretch a little more. My other shoe needed adjusting. I didn't even get a few houses up the street before I just said, "fuck it," and walked home. 

In the last couple of months, I have given more serious thought to giving up running altogether. It's the only exercise I really like other than horseback riding, which is too expensive, and I haven't gotten anywhere near a horse in what feels like a lifetime. I'm not quite giving up yet, mostly because I feel like if I can get to a point where I can walk without pain or at least with less pain, I'll naturally want to run. At this point, both hurt. Suzy Hamilton and I talked once about what we would do if we couldn't run. We both agreed that we would become walkers or maybe hikers instead. I don't know where she stands on that now, but walking isn't much of an option for me at the moment. Even biking accentuates my imbalances. It all just feels wrong. 
Pain is considered a symptom of an underlying condition. In more technical terms, it has been described as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage." Physical pain and emotional pain can sometimes become intertwined. The pain of existing for some can feel like a physical ache or discomfort, and chronic physical pain can increase emotional pain. 

When I first got the results of the MRI, I wasn't exactly surprised. I knew something was wrong, but I still worried maybe the test wouldn't show anything. Going into my hysterectomy, that same kind of fear arose. What if it's all in my head? What if there's nothing wrong, and it turns out I'm just a whiner? But, to date, that has never been the case. 

What concerns me regarding this whole situation is that a few years ago, I saw a couple of alternative "healers" who suggested that I was creating pain, that there was nothing physically wrong with my foot. I put off getting an MRI because I assumed they were basing this knowledge about my body part on some kind of evidence, but what they were really getting at was a fancy way of saying, "It's in your head." I suppose looking at my foot, one would never really know all that was going on under the surface, but everything wrong with my foot isn't apparent at a glance. That's why there are other ways to access injuries. That siad, there are at least some ways of prodding and poking certain areas that should give a professional some kind of an idea about the type of injury a person has or at least make it apparent that the discomfort is specific to a particular spot and not in a patient's head.
I always thought that this post would be extra long and informative, full of facts about the difference between psychosomatic issues and injuries. I know that the mind is powerful and believe it can contribute to either making pain worse or alleviating it, but I can't even tell you how absolutely sick and tired I am of people who discount other people's pain. I'm very fortunate that I have recently worked with a few people, my podiatrist included, who have never questioned my pain. Insted, they have worked with me to try to find ways to help cope with it and alleviate it as much as possible. 

I guess my whole point in writing this is to encourage people to trust their intuition when it comes to pain. Most people, especially runners, have a good idea of what's going on with their bodies. Don't let anyone make assumptions about something you know to be real. I always come back to the idea that even if pain were in someone's head, shouldn't that also be addressed? Wouldn't that also be a symptom of something deeper? I mean, fuck. The way some so easily discount others really saddens me. 

If I opt for surgery, it will be my 13th. I'm not ready to face that yet.

I'm not bothering to proofread this. I'm too tired, and I've spent most of the day in bed.


  1. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing. I always struggle with whether it is in my head or not (it hasn't been yet). Last year I spent months getting injections in my spine when I KNEW it was a stress fracture. Finally tests showed it was. Keep plugging away!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I'm sorry about your stress fracture but so glad you got it diagnosed!