Saturday, October 23, 2021

Injuries And Mental Health

Now it's my turn to struggle. 

The health care system in the United States doesn't completely suck all the time, just most of the time. Though some people in the field can be difficult to work with, there are also individual doctors and healthcare workers who can be nice or even helpful. I'm not referring to ER docs or anyone helping COVID patients. This relates to issues in the medical field in big, broad, general terms. The problem is all the bullshit a patient has to wade through in order to see anyone and not knowing if whom you're allowed to see is any good. Even when you find good doctors, scheduling is a catch-22. You can't make one appointment or get treatment without first having to schedule a different appointment, the appointment before the appointment, and since both appointments are booked at least a month out, waiting for months at a time in order to have anything even accessed is the norm these days. 

Before every visit to the doctor, therapist, or surgeon, you must fill out large piles of paperwork or sell your first-born child to the devil, which makes getting anything done difficult, especially for those of us who are childless and plan on staying that way. Even when you finally do get to see an actual person after moving mountains to get through the office doors, the result is often a shrug of the shoulders accompanied by an announcement that their department doesn't deal with your type of issue. Basically, nothing can be done. Cheer up, bitch

This spring, I was able to see my podiatrist after a long wait. He suggested surgery, something we discussed previously, but said that I could consider a different procedure if I wanted, one that looked somewhat promising. I mentioned to the office manager that I didn't want to lose the potential surgery date I was initially offered in June, three weeks from the time of my appointment, the one I waited about a month to get, but also wanted to consider the other procedure. She reassured me that the doctor always has openings for surgery and that, given how long I had been dealing with the issue (years), I shouldn't worry. She could squeeze me in if the other procedure I wanted to try first didn't work. 

So I did try it, and what a disaster that was, from the additional wait time, a month to get my foot looked at and another couple of weeks for the actual procedure that was far more painful and far less effective than I anticipated, to the conflicting messages I received about how things would go, it was all a giant mess. Plus, it was horrifying to see my foot expand like a blowfish, even with some warning shortly before the doctor administered the six shots with two vials of liquid each. How is it possible for one body part absorb that much fluid? Lastly, the constant nagging about payment when the billing office couldn't even bother to send an actual invoice, just a short and snippy email demanding PAY US MONEY NOW!!! was annoying. 

Shortly after I realized that donating about $1,000 to individuals who couldn't fix the problem was a mistake, I called my doctor to schedule the surgery, but he couldn't see me for another two months. In the meantime, I got a second opinion from a specialist in Denver who was excellent but couldn't consider doing any work on me because of my insurance. At that point, I called my doctor's office a second time and let the office manager know that I was requesting a surgery date, however, a month later when I finally was able to see him, the scheduling office let me know that he suddenly had no time. They said that he wouldn't be able to do the surgery until over a month later. During all these months my limp worsened, and in the week after seeing him, I developed a new, far more debilitating injury that has left me unable to walk. One thing leads to another, dominoes. At this point, I'm shuffling around as best I can, but I'm unbelievably disappointed in… no, angry at the way patients are treated.

When an injury is coming on, the desperation is intense. How often I've thought, "Oh no! I'll never be able to run again! How will I survive without running?" I hate this fear, and no matter how many times I realize that it's like jumping into a pool or a murky lake, tremendous anxiety followed by acceptance, I still freak out. It won’t kill me, even if the entire process is uncomfortable and depressing and the murky water seems to drag me down deeper and deeper before a release allows me to swim to the surface. I struggle. Every fucking time I fight it. It is survivable, though. Patience.

In sharp contrast to being ignored and cast aside by western medicine, alternative medicine more often than not provides almost immediate (within days) treatment. In this field, you will find far more compassionate and caring individuals if you look in the right places, however, there are a lot of quacks and scammers out there. Still, there are also plenty of individuals who actually want or feel driven to help others and who take extra time to do so. Sometimes it takes a team to keep a person off the ledge, and simply feeling heard can be an effective form of therapy, even if the physical issues linger stubbornly. And sometimes there's a little magic that happens, a tiny glimmer of hope with thoughts of a future with at least some painless moments. 

As most active individuals can imagine, I'm hurting more than physically and have experienced some of the deepest lows I can remember in a long time. The water pulled me under. I'm drowning, all while trying to remind myself that taking myself too seriously isn't helpful. As I get older, it seems the highs in life have tapered off as the valleys grow. I can't shake this feeling of being selfish, wrapped up in my own pain. It's difficult to be in the world and not want to curl up into a ball and avoid everyone. The frantic feeling of wanting to do something drastic has subsided a little in recent days, but for some of us or possibly many of us, ending things permanently will always beckon, sometimes softly and at other times more intrusively. Considering that option without necessarily having a plan to follow through is normal, even for people who don't struggle with mental health issues, suffer from clinical depression, or have chronic pain. Some of us just look at our "should I stay or should I go now" options more frequently and thoroughly. 

So often, I think how silly my thoughts can be when there are others who have endured far worse. Why am I so afraid to let go? Physical pain combined with emotional suffering isn't easy to navigate, though. I'm trying to ease up on myself for my reactions and force the dictator voice in my head into a corner. It's only partly working. Pain is such a strange symptom, and the way pain is perceived is even more bizarre. It's complicated, and in a weird way, pain is in your head because the brain is what interprets these kinds of sensations. That's not the same thing as saying "It's in your head," of course.

After all these years of no longer being a competitive runner and dropping out of the running scene, for the most part, I still get caught up in my identity as an athlete. It's even more difficult now because I can't throw myself into other activities as long as I'm hurting when I try to walk. I have short bouts of hope followed by overwhelming worry and grief that this pain may never go away completely. Everything I do outside of running or really jogging, aside from writing, which I haven't really been doing much of and don't feel like I excel at, involves being able to move, volunteering in a vet clinic, working, and helping my mom, etc. I'm doing as much as I can, but sometimes the shooting pain causes me to wince or even yelp, and favoring one side is wrecking the opposite side of my body, something the medical field doesn't seem to give a shit about. They treat one issue and one issue only. It's a challenge to get around and do normal everyday activities, and if I think too hard about it, I want to quit. This is not how I want my life to be, but neither is a life of burying myself in my own compulsions. 

When I was getting physical therapy or other types of treatments previously, many years ago, it was with the idea that I would be running and racing again. I could justify the expense, time, and effort (healing takes work) by thinking that I would do something memorable with running. Those days are over, so it's harder to feel deserving of treatment or surgery if I'm not going to be extraordinary in something. The truth and what mentors keep trying to remind me is that life is more about who you are than what you do, but, damn, my soul aches when I can't run. Then again, the battle with OCD is there, so running doesn't always serve me well. When I'm in a routine or fall into a compulsive rut, I panic at the thought of not moving outside. What would I do if I couldn't run? When I'm injured and have to force myself to stop fighting it, I go from thinking I just want to be out of pain to wishing I could just walk without pain to knowing that my real desire is to run again. Good or bad, running is an addictive sport. When treated in a certain way, it's like an abusive lover with all its ups and downs, but my god does it feel good sometimes. Other people have a different kind of relationship with their sport. 

Thinking about recovery from an eating disorder perspective, getting better from an illness or injury doesn't necessarily mean you have to go on to place in the Olympics. Despite the many heroic journeys shown in the media recently, the majority of us don't go on to become world-class, nor should we have to in order to be relevant and appreciated or feel deserving. What I'm having trouble with most in this injury cycle is an inability to redirect my attention elsewhere, because if I can't walk without pain, I can't really engage in the things I love to do. I say "love" meaning the things I feel compelled to do or the things I find rewarding. In that sense, I love my job. I love volunteering. I even love running, but in a "How to Be Perfectly Unhappy" kind of way. 

Like many people on the Internet, I can sit behind a computer screen and dictate what others "should" do in times of injury, relax, trust that things will get better, redirect attention elsewhere, go easy on yourself physically and mentally, and reach out for help, but my brain gets a little foggy and my thoughts a little frantic when I'm wrestling with what to do. I go back and forth, searching for a cure and handing out money to potential healers as part of that process followed by an intense desire to give up. It took me longer than I want to admit to write this, but I'm hoping it will be cathartic to put some words together since being productive is such a challenge at the moment. The only more positive experience I have had recently is spending time outside either collecting fruit from our trees or cutting down dead or dying branches with an extendable chainsaw. Who knew how satisfying that could be?

And today I walked from my car to work with a tad less pain. Do I dare become optimistic? Not after the walk back, but perhaps there's still a possibility for some magic to occur. Shit.

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