I broke my foot once, running away from a girl who accused me of stealing her dog. (I did not steal her dog.)
I refused to accept that my foot was broken, so I waited two weeks before going to the doctor, carrying on my normal life, bookkeeping during the day, bartending at night, taking weekend trips to San Francisco.
Those two weeks cost me six months in the boot.
I continued to live my life with the encased injury; I convinced my doctor to give me a walking cast instead of a plaster cast in order to go on a long-planned trip to Costa Rica, snorkeling and zip lining and hobbling about with my walking cast wrapped in a garbage bag after I got caught in an afternoon thunderstorm at a local shop.
I continued to bookkeep during the day and bartend at night. One slow evening, I let customers graffiti my cast with puff paint we happened to have on hand.
I tried not to let the boot stop me, but I still gained a good twenty pounds, and my immobility led to a months-long battle with depression even after I was able to walk around with two matching shoes.
I eventually found yoga, looking for a low-impact but effective form of weight loss. Now I’m a yoga instructor.
At one of my recent private sessions, I found myself discussing the merits of pain. When one is injured, a broken foot, a pinched nerve, a dislocated shoulder, one is at her most present. Initially at least, there is nothing to focus on except for the pain. And so, you focus:
You describe the pain. Pulling, throbbing, hot, cold? Red or white or bruised?
You experiment with the pain – what makes it better, what makes it worse?
You bargain with the pain – “I’ll ice you if you give me twenty minutes of relief.”
There comes a point when you do whatever it takes to dull the pain.
But you could learn to live with it. There are people who live with pain every day of their lives. Nobody dies from pain, a sensation that exists separately from the injury or disease.
Your pain forces you to go deeper into your senses. You must learn to respect the pain in order to live with it. You must move deliberately, to encourage the pain to release, and gently, so as not to exacerbate.
I try to bring everything that I’ve gained from yoga – strength, patience, acceptance – as I deal with this current injury I took home with me from San Francisco.
Two weeks ago, a driver misjudged the timing of a yellow light just before I made my way through an intersection a few blocks off of Union Square.
Those nanoseconds before impact are so striking in their detail. Seconds I would only have barely observed pass by like epic journeys: I turn to see a car, and it is not slowing down. I look up at my light to verify that it is green. I glance back at the Lexus, coming toward me at an ever-faster velocity. I open my mouth. I inhale deeply. I scream, my esophagus rattling. I’m thrown toward the passenger seat; my seatbelt locks onto my left shoulder. I’m snapped back into my seat; my spine snaps back into a vertical position.
The policemen show up within minutes of impact and are very kind. I have never had any trouble with any police in my life (that’s not to say I haven’t gotten into trouble). They take control of the situation, redirecting vehicles, gathering witnesses, collecting our insurance information. They write their collision report, make sure I have the contact information for the witnesses that offered to back my version of events, and clean up the area.
The car is drivable, so I drive away and burst into fresh tears three block away from the accident. I drive to visit my brother at work, but he isn’t in yet. I almost ask his coworker for a hug, but then decide I can’t handle a stranger touching me on top of everything else.
I drive home to Santa Barbara.
Now I am two weeks past the point of impact, one doctor’s appointment and one set of X-rays behind me, two effective chiropractic appointments sorted out, two glorious massages enjoyed, and now I’m receiving acupuncture, which I’ve never tried prior to this accident.
I try not to think about what my former body used to do. My former body used to transport me thirty miles a week on a bike. It could soar through a 90 minute vinyasa class no problem. It was ready and willing to try anything: throwing its legs over its head, jumping out of an airplane, jaywalking.
This new body can barely get through 90 minutes of the most gentle restorative yoga you can imagine.
This new body, it can get through a long week of bookkeeping and teaching yoga. It can do what it needs to do to pay the rent. It is just as useful as it needs to be, and no more.
This new body, it feels a jab of terror in its torso every time it crosses an intersection.
I used to exercise three to four hours a day. Now, I think twice before moving at all.
I’ve never known pain like this:
Pain that ranges from merely annoying, to completely debilitating. Pain that requires seductive muscle relaxants in order to live a more immobilized version of the life I used to live. Pain that is constant. Attention-seeking pain.
I try a new mantra, one I’ve been feeding my private client as she recovers from her own injury: I have pain. I am not my pain.