It's Saturday at 7:30AM and I can't go back to sleep. My neck is bruised and a little swollen from yesterday's steroid injections and my stomach still feels the queazy warmth that knocked me down after the shots hit my system. Instead of rushing out of the house to a coffee shop to push through my homework today, I'm laying in bed eating dry, gluten free toast with butter, and surrounded by two half-empty cans of 7UP, two prescription bottles that I haven't touched in days, and a vase of flowers that my husband gave me because he knew I needed the encouragement even though I hadn't asked for it. As per the doctor's orders, today, I'm taking it easy.
I normally pride myself on my ability to keep functioning, or keep up a good front, while dealing with stress or pain, but as I answered the doctor's questions yesterday, I felt more stubborn or foolish than tough or responsible.
"So, your neurologist wants us to administer an occipital nerve block. It should help us diagnose, and treat, some of your pain. And you've have had these intense headaches and dizzy spells for how many years?" He asked with polite surprise.
"They started about three or four years ago."
"Well, we should be able to help today, but you'll have to return every few weeks to get it under control. If it's gone on this long, there's no way it will disappear after one treatment. Why has it gone on so long?"
I justified my answer: "I've gone to a bunch of different doctors and they all had different thoughts on what it could be. Some of the symptoms went away when we discovered I had a gluten allergy last year, so I was just grateful that things were getting better. But some of the symptoms only kind of faded, and they've come back with a vengeance in the last few months." I realized that ultimately, the justification didn't matter. The now undeniable fact is that healing will take longer because the problem has gone on so long.
Why has it gone on so long? In the last 4 years, I've seen over a dozen doctors, and I always wondered why they couldn't help me find a solution more quickly. What clues were they missing? What specialist should I have seen earlier? I know that some of the delay was due to the fact that there were several unlikely causes all working against me at the same time, and causing confusing overlapping symptoms. Then again, since I kept pushing through and trying to "tough it out," I guess I shouldn't be surprised that even my doctors didn't realize how often I was in excruciating pain.
Whenever a doctor asks me to rate my level of functioning, I always feel this pulling inside between what I AM functioning at and what I SHOULD be functioning at in lieu of the pain. Hobbling through my dance lessons with a fractured foot for four months, teaching from a seated position through four years of dizzy spells, two years of rushing to the bathroom between classes to deal with flu-like symptoms before the next class began, squinting through the piercing lights and blurred lines of my homework to hopefully make out what words are saying...None of these count as "not able to complete my work." So I usually say "it is often difficult or slow to complete my work." But I guess I shouldn't have been so stubborn that I kept up those actions either.
And it's the same in all areas of my life, so what is it about us stubborn people? Why can't we just call in sick when we need to? Or call an expert before we break what we were trying to fix around the house? Or leave a toxic relationship before it tears us down? Or end a stressful conversation before we find that elusive resolution? The focus on how life could be at the end of that stubborn road seems to eclipse the fact that we're sending ourselves down a painful road just to get to the end that we think we should find. As if that ending would bring things back in line to "the way things should be." But I always seem to forget that the ideal ending will likely be tainted by the pain I put myself through along the way.
Call it what you want--perseverance, strength, resiliency, stubbornness--I'm realizing that it's not always the ideal solution I once thought it was. Now my problem is how to go about changing it. How do you begin to change the your inner wiring? How do you change your lifelong habits? How do you change the expectations that people have of you? And since, I don't have much practice at choosing when to be strong and when to give in, I guess I also have to ask...How do you know when to stay strong and when to bow out?