I'm feeling like an old lady today. And I hate it. Hate it.
It's my knee. And a few other things (ok, a lot of other things, but they'll have to go in another post, because there are far too many to cover here), but mostly my left knee, which has recently given notice: no longer will I be supporting all your crazy activity. Sprinting down hills? Really, sister? I mean, WTF? How old do you think you are? Twenty?
My knee--in fact, most of my joints--have been bugging me all spring in a barometric sort of way. Bad weather coming? Humidity on the rise? Barometric pressure dipping? My body lets me know. Many a-mornings have I awakened, hair all dewpoint-curly, to steamy weather, river fog rising, sun burning through, and my knee, all stiff and achy, making me wince as I get out of bed, and take my first steps of the day. And on those days, swampier air settling in by the hour, the knee moans, and then screams, and I feel old.
Plus, there's the little something I did to it several weeks ago. Running hills. Trying to stay kickass. Pushing it a little too much. Pop goes the knee. I know, I know. What's the big deal? I've been through so much worse. This is nothing. Just a little blip on the screen. A speed bump, for chrissakes. So what's the problem? Suck it up cupcake. I mean, really.
There's nothing quite like your mother having a heart attack to put it all into perspective.
Yeah, so, I'm trying hard not to complain, but the shifting sands just won't stop, and it feels like the universe is talking to me. Again.
And my mom? She's doing okay, but dang, she deserves so much better.
Here's the thing: at my age (gah!), there's a whole lot of stuff that starts to happen, and it comes in waves, hitting you and those you love in equal, crappy measure, sending you to crash against the rocks, scrape up against the barnacles, and consider just giving in. Whatever the ensuing wreckage, and wherever you wash up, things shift immeasurably, irretrievably, and suddenly, a sort of unwelcome bump into the next phase of life. You're suddenly afloat, alone, on an iceberg, slowly but decidedly drifting into whatever's next, screaming, "I'm not ready!!" You find yourself having crushes on 25-year old farm boys and sprinting down hills full speed. Yep. I remember being acutely aware of going through such a passage when my grandmother died. Two days after the memorial service, my mother starting walking with a limp. A year or so after that, she had both hips replaced. I broke down visiting her in post-op, where she lay all wrapped up in white blankets, the bed swallowing her whole. Nothing would be the same. We had both moved up. Next!
And there's this: "Nobody gives a shit about old ladies. We remind everyone they're going to die." ~ Orange Is The New Black
You first notice how different everything feels. There's more anxiety to manage, more imagined peril, more preoccupations with what might happen next. Especially if you're on your own. And people start to see you differently. Or maybe, they stop seeing you at all. You start to become the Invisible Woman, gradually erased into nothing. "You're small," my son has said to me in a fit of anger, "you're nothing." It's how you start to feel. And yet, you realize, too, that you started this process yourself, when you chose not to follow your dreams, not to step completely into yourself. You're giving up your power, your mother used to say. And you'd brush her off. Oh, the irony. You feel yourself being pushed to the margins again and again just as you are screeching to take center stage in your own life. Is there any use? Is this the beginning of the end? Is this it? Is there ever any going back?
I can't help but wonder, will I ever be able to ski hard and fast again without worrying about my knee? Sprint down hills? Run down mountains (my favorite part about hiking)? And there's more, too: will I ever feel eyes on me attractive again, abuzz with dopamine, the nectar of longevity, the sweet honey of youth? Will I ever feel invincible again, or just invisible? Not worry about my mother? My children? Will I ever be able to think about her--and myself--in the same spots along the generational trail, within the aging loop, than I did just a few months ago? I once believed that this too shall pass, that I could apply that to most everything. Most things (and some would argue, all things) are temporary, after all. Even a messed up knee. But a heart? Add to the mix Parkinson's and lung disease, and you start to worry, all the fuckin' time. And it hits me, too: if I feel old, how does she feel? Mom says that she's "no longer the Bounce Back Baby." I suppose if there's one definition of aging, there it is.
And, of course, I want nothing more than for her to bounce back. To regain her 3-Day strength and stamina. To walk on. And I want the same for me, too. Right?
The universe is always talking, isn't it? And our bodies serve as conduits for all sorts of messages and meaning, and I'm trying, despite the constant hum and buzz of all-things-at-once, to listen. Trying to consider what simmers just under the surface of this and that, to make connections, and see those physical maladies for the complex emotional, circumstantial, metaphorical, and often mysterious subtext they are. Since I spent my adolescence honing my ability to sniff out the Deep Hidden Meaning, or DHM, for short, I can't not do this.
Perhaps, then, it is simply the collision of so many simultaneous transitions at work here, not just an unsettling injury to my knee, but also having to help my mother start to transition into greater dependence while helping my sons move into greater independence, navigating an impending divorce and all the work of processing, trusting, and letting go it requires, and trying to jump into something new, something that feels better: rhythms, work, relationships, and play, too. And realizing throughout it all just how much I've lost, especially, all those years that I can't get back. There's the nagging, persistent feeling that I lost myself somewhere along the way. I've spent many years now trying to unearth and recapture her, but she's squirrelly, used to hiding out, shy, weary. At times I wonder if she's even there at all. I am no longer that person who submerged herself all those years ago., but there are echoes and shadows that call to me, reminding me to stay feisty, take no prisoners, make those leaps. It'll take some time to come to terms with where--and who--I am now. And yet, I'm not ready to leave it all behind, stop sprinting down hills, skiing hard and fast. Two questions remain: What exactly happened in between and why am I not still twenty?
Whatever it is, dealing with an injury, within the larger context of my mom's health issues, is bringing it all to the surface, a sort of subtle but fiery plea to take a long look in the mirror, to please acknowledge yes that's you, and move on. How can I even imagine taking those leaps if I can't even walk? I'm trying to feel awesome again. Not like this. Fark.
And perhaps there is the idea, too, that I was being prepared for what was to come, what is to come, with my mother. A chance at a gradual reckoning, rather than a slap in the face. Yo, Liz, you're almost fifty. Just sayin'.
And yet, maybe it was just time.
It could be that blowing out (I know, so dramatic of me) my knee was inevitable. After years of downhill skiing with much abandon, biking without a helmet (not that that has anything to do with my knee, but it's the idea that maybe, just maybe, I have used up my rope of invincibility, and now am forever tethered close and tight to the be careful crowd), running down hills, walking endless miles, playing every possible sport, my knees are entitled to be a little cranky. And who knows what else is going on in there. There's a trail loaded with DHM-explosives that I could follow, one trauma leading to the next, and the body, ever responsive, making its adjustments accordingly as each new revision takes shape. I have imagined tracing myself on big paper, and deconstructing, with collage and text and color and anything that comes to mind, all the connected tales, trails, and travails, the scars and aches and joys, too, that my body has become. Bodies are funny that way, and fascinating too: our stories take root in the hollows in between, in all those parts working in tandem, each depending on the other, compensating for each other's weaknesses, or overbearing tendencies, making the story whole. Such a study in the grace and grit of physics, in collaboration, despite what the insurance companies would have us believe. And then there is the emotional piece, too, what do you do with that? which manifests in the physical, hiding out in the shadows, and then bringing light to the complexities of all that symbiotic cross-pollination. So much to consider. Especially when you are an over-thinker like me.
It happened like this.
About three weeks ago, I was on one of my usual 6+ mile walk/runs, which often includes hills and sprinting, just so I won't get too bored. Dance walking hasn't hit the valley quite yet, but I'm working on it. On this particular afternoon, I had just run down a long steep hill and settled in on the relative flats for interval training, walking, sprinting, walking, sprinting, when I made the stupid decision to sprint down a hill. I suppose I was feeling sporty or something. Not my best, as my son would say. About halfway to the bottom of the hill, I felt something go pop! in my left knee, somewhere on the inside, and extending around the back to the outer tendon. I slowed to a walk, started to swear, and greeted the cows Hellooo ladies! who had started to gather along the edge of the fence, drawn, clearly, to the sound of the F bombs I was lobbing with every painful step.
When I got home, I swore some more, iced the knee, and took arnica, sprinkling those magical little pellets onto my tongue with the same kind of eagerness as if I had been dropping acid at some music festival. (not that I've ever done that, but nearly every time I've administered a homeopathic remedy to my kids, I've been reminded of the scene in Hair when Bukowski gets in line in the groovy-trippy-music-in-the-park-scene, on knees, and sticks his tongue out, waiting for his tasty dash of LSD.)
For the next few days, the knee felt really unstable, like it could go any minute. Boom pow. I babied it, staying off of it for the most part (haha!) and walking with attentive apprehension. And then, one afternoon, at home, doing nothing more than puttering about, I sidestepped the cat and the knee gave out, totally and completely. Instant, intense pain. Could not put any weight on it. More F bombs. The cat gave me a look, "Really, again?" Just the week before I had cut my finger badly on a hand saw outside by the old, recently felled pear tree, which I was attempting to carve up for winter wood. Blood dripping all over the kitchen, a bit of rage (ok, more than a bit) thumping through my gullet, out it came: FUCK FUCK FUCK (so sorry, but it really did feel good at the time). And so much more, too. The cat, Mischief, and not above throwing a good tantrum herself every now and again, had not appreciated my noisy display, and ran to the door with a look in her eyes I hadn't seen in awhile. Let me out now. I couldn't help it, and after all, why should I? There is scientific proof that swearing out loud several times over when you're hurt can help you manage pain, anger, frustration, and whatever else you might be experiencing. But like so many other things, we probably didn't need an expensive study to tell us what we already knew. I used to tell my kids to save their swears for when they really matter. Like now. No sense in wasting them on the stupid stuff.
There's nothing like being on crutches when your -ex comes for a visit for your son's graduation, and you want to feel powerful and super hero like, because that's what the last twelve months have required you to be, after all, and you've been all that and more, but instead, you feel--and look--weak and old, powerless and ineffective. Hey! Doing great, just can't walk right now! Uh-huh.
Of course, maybe the knee giving out was telling me that I can't keep carrying all of this myself, that I need help, that I am only so strong. Nah. Screw that. I got this.
I am constantly amazed at how quickly and seamlessly my confidence can be dismantled--by an injury, or an offhand comment, a certain look, or by any small bit of dismissal or unresponsiveness that works its way into my day. Yours, too, I bet. There's simply no way around it. And some days I can fend it off brilliantly, and other days, it wraps its fingers around my throat, and I can't breathe.
Finally, finally, after the useless x-rays (just what I need: more radiation), and the requisite wait while the doc got approval from the insurance company, I had an MRI. "Have you ever had an MRI before?" "Oh, yes. Quite a few." "Would you like to listen to music?" "Just give me more cow bell, please."
No results yet, but I'll see the ortho-guy in a couple of more weeks. And in the meantime, I am wondering how best not to feel like an old lady.
I am certain there's much I could, should be doing to mend, strengthen, heal. And, as always, I am ever grateful for the resources that I have to figure it out for myself. But what about all those people who don't have those resources, whether a network of support, or access to equipment and help to start rehabbing? What do they do? What do the insurance companies expect them, us to do while we wait? Double up on the pain killers? On the whiskey? The F bombs?
It's absolutely nuts how our health care has been hijacked by insurance companies and a system that has absolutely NO stake in our well being.
I am, though, so much better, and that's a very good thing. I do need to be strong and able for my mother, for my children, for me, too, or at the very least, present that way. That's all that matters. I need to be there for them, to show them that I've got this. Glad to be done with the crutches, the ace bandage. Glad to be done, for the most part, with the tin-woman-rusty feeling, except for damp weather days like today. On dry days, it feels oh-so-much-better. I can bend, walk without any noticeable limp, pretend everything is working right. Add to that a little deep tissue work and yoga to keep things in balance, and I've been feeling pretty good, hopeful even, around fifty, maybe, which is still old for me, since I usually feel about sixteen. And I have been known to over-do. Who, me? I might have played a little stand-and-reach badminton, did an hour of yoga before bed, let myself get duped by the feeling that everything was going to work out just fine. And then, the damp settles in, and I feel about eighty. And, oh, look, there's some new grey in my hair. Halle-fuckin'-lujah.
And what's with all the new wrinkles, too, that just seem to keep showing up? They certainly aren't helping me feel any younger.
Here's how it starts: you go to bed and everything is dandy. And then, at some point in the middle of the night, you wake up because something is not quite right. It hurts to lift your knee to turn over, to straighten and bend, and the creak and grind of the rusty hinges have re-appeared. You go to bed feeling youngish, and wake up in the morning feeling, quite suddenly, old. (Actually, I think I woke up to the sound of my son and his friend raiding the freezer for ice cream, the big whoosh of the drawer in and out, the clink of metal scoop on marble, and the heavy thud of 6' 6" big boy footsteps startling the quiet of the house.) There's the godforsaken pillow-between-the-knees, the scheduled meds, the grocery bag boys calling you ma'am. You find yourself cursing your way out of bed. Old, old, old. (with no offense to those who are, actually, by definition, "old," though as they say, you are only as old or young as you feel).
Hobble, hobble. Everything takes so much time! And you feel so gimpy, spastic! It seems like it all snowballs: your knee goes and suddenly, you lose your coordination, your balance, your amazingly fast reflexes. Good grief! Slow, slow is not my usual speed (and maybe that's partly the point). My 102 year-old great grandmother moved faster than I can. And she was partially blind and mostly deaf. Didn't complain or whine about anything. Liked her scotch at 5 o'clock sharp. She had it going on. And all her own teeth, besides. Something to aspire to.
But I am going a little crazy--such massive lessons in patience, in asking for help, in realizing the ridiculousness of my own vanity, of my righteous claim to invincibility, an invincibility that I worked so hard to get back. Do I have the right to feel invincible again? Isn't that what feeling young is all about? Lose that, and you're old.
And there's this, too: that sweeping new terrain that sits and shimmers before me, full of rich possibility, and all for the taking? It scares me. There's an abyss between this life and the next. It requires a leap. And even before that, a need to pull myself out of the deep loneliness and longing that has filled the space in between heart beats for far, far too long. Suppose it's a challenge: so you've got a bum knee. Climb out of the hole--you're strong enough--and then, leap. Leap with all your might. You are able-bodied and whole, despite all the scars that map your stories and the sadness that runs through your veins. You'll get there. My mother has told me, There is power in your story; use it.
I suppose one can never fully understand the full scope of what this world, what one life, truly demands, and just how much we can carry. But honestly, some days, the shit is so heavy, I've just got to put it down.
Usually, I walk it out, my go-to way of lightening my load. The fact that that I haven't been able to do this, nor any of my usual--run up and down the stairs, move nimbly through my days, bust out a dance move whenever the feeling strikes, and walk, walk, walk, through the beauty and the sadness, shedding the shadows, the heavy boots, the detritus of life, to feel light, restored, expansive--that is starting to weigh on me. Anxiety works fast--opportunistic, relentless--igniting insecurities, second guessing, and overthinking, opening the door for the dread to creep, creep in. And there's my mom, too. Worry, worry. Stuff that keeps you up at night.
It's amazing how badly I miss my walking, being active, mobile. Walking has been so essential to my recovery, my daily rhythms, my sense of well being. After all, it was walking that saved me, that brought me back, that feeds me, still. It was walking that enabled me to regain a bit of invincibility, sense of strength, and self, and that keeps me moving through the headwinds, the sea changes, all the shit Life doles out. And, most importantly, perhaps, it's been walking that has enabled me to slow down and take notice, of the tiny, glinting bits of beauty and possibility that reside in those moments that stretch out and fill slowly and completely with joy. At once healing, empowering, and liberating, walking helped me get my groove back.
No doubt, I will get it back. Again. But for now...
...I'm feeling like an old lady. Way the F*#k before my time.
Oh well. This too shall pass. Time to Suck it up, cupcake.
Soon, soon, I'll be running hills again. Feeling like I'm twenty. Why stop now?