Raising Spirits – The Balancing Act

This has been a really rough ten days or so, and today it all got to me. A friend observed that I didn’t seem to be doing very well, and the dam broke, and I spilled my guts (and not a few tears) about just how not very well I’m feeling at the moment.

In about two hours, I’ll be going to see the doctor who sent me for scans on Friday, at which point I’ll finally have a better idea of exactly what happened at the base of my spine to cause the agonizing pain and aggravation I’ve been dealing with for the last week and a half. (Well, okay, the pain was agonizing for the first few days, since then it’s been unpleasant but manageable). And after that, at least I’ll have a better idea of what happens next.

Because it’s the not knowing that wears at you, worrying the corners of your mind like a baby gumming on the edges of its soggy, drool-stained blanket. How bad a problem are we talking about here? How long will it take to heal? What preventative measures are going to be necessary? Is this a good time to see if my insurance covers lipo? How much change is going to be demanded of my lifestyle going forward?

But seriously, that last one is tough. I’ve had a couple of major issues over the years – issues that have demanded lifestyle changes that, as long as I’ve put into practicing them, have never come to be completely natural parts of my routine.

The first time I had a major injury was in my mid-teens. Sure, I’d gone through the kiddie stuff – a baseball bat to the forehead as the result of a softball teammate’s carelessness after she struck out and tossed her bat away, more burns than I can count from campfires and roasted marshmallows – but the first long-term injury I sustained in my life as a writer was that pesky hazard of the profession, repetitive stress injury. Related to, but thankfully not, carpal tunnel syndrome. I had tendonitis in my hands and arms for a good four years. This was in the early ‘naughts, I don’t think people had realized yet what a scourge tendonitis was going to prove for kids who’d never learned either proper typing or proper posture.

Since then, I’ve run into my share of aggravations – I can’t wear high heels anymore thanks to tendonitis (AGAIN!) in my feet, and I’m more or less resigned to wearing sneakers and orthopedic inserts for the rest of my life. I have to be very, very careful about the foods I eat and their sodium content, and have been trying to keep my weight down for years by eating less, though my level of success with this typically wavers with such variables as the phase of the moon and whether my roommate asks if I want to order a pizza for dinner..

Having my back get fucked up is somehow beyond all of this, and yet it’s all related. I think about back injuries and slipped discs and I think about visiting my grandfather in the hospital after his back surgery, or my dad after his back surgery, and my stomach does a flip-flop. From what the osteopath I saw last week said, it sounds as if she’s hopeful that physical therapy will help me strengthen my core muscles and bring me back to a place where I don’t have to worry that sitting up in bed is going to cause major injury to my spinal column. Which, you know, is the kind of place I’d like to be.

I don’t know if you pay attention to horoscopes – I’m not a huge believer, though I find them interesting – but I’m a Libra. The scales. In other words, balance. One of my challenges in life has always been finding balance, whether it be in academics, a social setting, my work, the time I put into friendships and interests – that false dichtomy of “all or nothing” is something I fight against believing in with almost every decision and every course of action I make. I want to write a novel? Watch me put everything – everything – else in my life aside while I focus on that one goal and churn out a first draft in a month. I want to save money? I’ll go four days without spending a penny then suddenly lose it and blow $50 on knick-nacks and nail polish at TJ Maxx. I don’t just put all my eggs in one basket – I throw the kitchen sink in there, too. And then I get upset when the eggs get crushed and the kitchen sink gives someone salmonella.

This started out as a blog about feeling miserable and trying to pick myself up, but the longer I type the more I think maybe it’s actually about living with more intention, focusing on what I really want, making those things the center of my actions.

I want to be writing. To do that, I need to be healthy and strong and clear-headed and aggressive with my belief in my work and myself. But I also need to keep reminding myself that I’m only human, and I have my limits, and the pace I kept at 15 is of necessity going to be a much different pace from the one I keep at 32. I have to practice holding on to my successes, and not just working blindly to keep adding to the pile. I have to remember that I’m not going to a few classes then writing at night – I’m working a full-time job and then writing at night. And that the people in my life deserve at least a little bit of my attention, too. 😉

I titled this blog “Raising Spirits” because I’m pretty down in the dumps at the moment, and I needed somewhere to write a bit about why, but also because this particular situation is inviting more than a few ghostly whispers back into my life: decisions from the past, questions about the wisdom of paths I’ve chosen to take, questions about blaming myself and my actions for what winds up happening when I get injured. Talking about it last week, I confessed that I was terrified of sitting up and having something else snap out of place, and moreover that I was mad at myself for being worried about something so irrational.

“But that’s how it happened,” said my listener. “So that isn’t irrational.”

It was comforting. And true.

One of the problems a person faces when anxiety is a part of their everyday life is figuring out what occasions actually warrant a certain level of concern or panic, and which ones don’t. In this case, I had convinced myself that my fear was irrational — wasteful, pointless to use energy being concerned about. To hear that this wasn’t the case was helpful to a point, but still didn’t solve the problem.

All that’s going to solve this problem is time. And physical therapy. And somehow finding a way to drop a few more pounds and improve my posture, both when standing and sitting.

Having a total freak-out is not going to solve the problem. But denying myself a small freak-out, letting off some steam before coming back to the situation with a clear head, isn’t going to help either. Somewhere in between, the right level of freak-out for this situation exists.

It’s just up to me to find the balance.



If you’ve made it to the end of all that, you deserve a reward. Here’s a scene from  Fight Club, with Tyler Durden digitally removed. Poor Ed Norton’s character. Talk about a guy in search of balance:

Fight Club minus Tyler Durden from Richard Trammell on Vimeo.

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