Changing Pain

I’m more than work and physical pain. There is movement and creativity—all experiences better when shared.

I’ve been looking back at my blog this year and notice how often I work to mention joy. I can’t deny the impact of Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights on my perspective. I think about his work, and many others I’ve read this year, while reflecting on what I’ve attempted to do in 2019. Which has turned out to be a lot. One of the difficult things I’ve learned in therapy, and well, all my fucking appointments, is how hard it is to undo thought patterns. 

Much of my time this year has been spent at doctors: pelvic floor physical therapy, gynecologist, acupuncture, therapy, orthopedic physical therapy, general practitioner…I’m exhausted. In November, I was at multiple doctors a week. I burned out, cancelled a bunch to get back to some basics and have social time. Trying to pack all the appointments for my health ended up becoming more stressful than helpful.

I’ll echo what many have said about chronic illness: it’s isolating and exhausting. Managing your health feels like a full-time job. You’re always calculating your time. You look at other people and feel resentment that they haven’t been to a doctor weeks, or even years (that’s probably a bad move on the opposite side of the spectrum). Every social interaction and choice become loaded with the question will I make my symptoms worseWhat will I have to do to undo this event?

Talia Hibbert puts the isolating feeling in perspective in Get A Life Chloe Brown, “Her body was vulnerable enough without her heart following suit.” Chloe Brown has fibromyalgia, and after her friends and fiancé have left her, she’s convinced herself she’s better alone. Que her writing a list to be more adventurous. Relationships are already vulnerable. Add constant pain, unpredictable energy levels, and a social life feels more like a let-down. But like Chloe, that’s not what I want. I’m more than work and physical pain. There is movement and creativity—all experiences better when shared.

The shift I’m feeling isn’t only from the books I’ve read. I can’t tell if it’s the annoying phrase, getting older, or the perspective change with time. Or therapy. After writing a book about not wanting to be vulnerable, maybe now it’s easier to see the importance of relationships. My partner is incredibly supportive, I’ve had a chance to collaborate with all sorts of creatives and change-makers at work, I can make time for friends, my family sticks around—maybe it all will be okay. I can change how I react to pain.

In order to intentionally find more joy and spend time with loved ones, I’ve decided 2020 will be The Year of the French Fry. I LOVE potatoes (ask friends that went to The Woods writing retreat about my 2018 potato poem). I also love exploring different parts of Baltimore with people. So in the comments, please suggest your favorite fries, from Royal Farms to upscale restaurant. French fries have diverse pleasures. Just like Baltimore. 

The book I was thinking about while writing this (obviously, perhaps):

Stay sweaty and glittery.

Something to Know

One of these times, if I get the words in the correct order, if I retrace more precisely the lines of history, I am convinced I will learn something I need to know.
– Rebecca Makkai

There is no better time to write than during a two hour wait for my tires to be replaced, am I right? Eleven months into blogging about endometriosis, and I have more frustrations than answers. I’ve heard countless authors talk about this, read countless essays about this—there is an idea that you can write your way out of something. I should say something about obsession here.

What else don’t we know? The universe may be one billion years younger than projected. This is the ultimate I thought it was Friday, but it’s only Wednesdaymoment. I white knuckle through the day and feel the thrill of bronzer tricking people about my health. It’s the sinking thrill of the phrase you don’t look sick

Memories are a haunting. I feel the ache start to grow in my pelvis and panic, then try to breathe. What have I done wrong this month to trigger symptoms? Why did my surgeon say there was nothing else he could do? Is my mood at this point in the cycle because of medical trauma? Why can’t I deflect with some jokes right now?

Still, I’m not interested in the theory that endometriosis is caused by trauma. The theory allows doctors to dismiss pain as all in your head, or even with the best intentions, make the pain some part of an individual suffering narrative, rather than an illness to be treated with medical intervention. I’m interested in how we (general public, doctors, researchers) will cling to any vague theory that may provide a reason. Then I remember—I don’t want to shake from exhaustion and pain any more. I want a reason, or an answer.

Here’s something to know—the holidays are difficult. I think about limitations as I drive to visit friends and family, yet end up distracted and in pain during the visits from these drives. Yet I spoke up recently. My parents drove, and I slept under a blanket with the heat in the car blasting. Small steps.

Some books that explore trauma in different ways which I was thinking about while writing this:

  • The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
  • Music for Wartime, Rebecca Makkai
  • Felon, Reginald Dwayne Betts
  • Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams

Stay sweaty and glittery.

On Spontaneity

Unfun confession: I am not spontaneous.

I never was—as a kid, the next swim practice was always on my mind. Lists were necessary for everything: swim-meets, vacations, reading, goals, my future house. I was creating vision boards before they were trendy. Every Sunday, I’d cut out my favorite furniture from weekly newspaper circulars for my future house. Could it have been the naming? Or was it having something to look at in the uncertain fog of childhood? Endometriosis has been part of my vocabulary, my identity, for over a year. I have a name for the cloud, but what can I do with it?

I’m still a list-maker and planner. It’s also all about tracking workouts, moods (I am always a mood), self-care, physical therapy, and sleep. Why? I have still been experiencing significant chronic pain and fatigue after excision surgery. Tracking symptoms is a way to see patterns and identify triggers. The scientific collection of statistics is a ritualistic calming. 

As I write this, I still think I should be more spontaneous. Instead, I plan my life around pain. My period is usually regular, so I plan everything—rest, social time, dates, workouts, events—around how I may be feeling. Otherwise, what if I’m caught in public without an arsenal of tampons? What if I’m stuck in a crowded event, in pain and unable to get to a seat? What if I have to cancel on someone because I didn’t anticipate how ghostly my body would feel? What if I’m so overwhelmed by symptoms I’m being a neglectful partner? Some days, I think a cane for high pain days would be a good investment. Yesterday, I barely made it up a flight of stairs before ceding to the elevator the rest of the day. This may be surprising when you look through my Instagram feed. That’s curation. I prefer to celebrate what feeds my soul online, especially when I need something positive to get through the hard days. I’m the master of the lean with the hip-cock. 

I have been turning the phrase by Rio Cortez in my head for what feels like years: “I have learned to define a field as a space between mountains.” Time and space have a different meaning when you’re racing your limits. Energy is collected in an attempt to maintain inertia. That’s not what her incredible chapbook is about, but the title has taken on a meditative role in my life. I will repeat from my Goodreads review: “if we can communicate how history has made us, there may be space to move forward.”

Tracking, naming, and identifying will probably always be part of the process. I’m an amateur adventurer in all of this. At least until there is some sort of cure for endometriosis.

Some books I was thinking about while writing this:

  • Laurel, Tyler Mendelsohn
  • I have learned to define a field as a space between mountains, Rio Cortez

Stay sweaty and glittery.

Joy in the Process

@friendwithendo posted a meme in the beginning of April that brought vague thoughts to the forefront of my mind. I’m embarrassed when I start sounding like I’m saying like back in the day, when I was a collegiate athlete. But my teen years were dedicated to the goal, then I was a Division I student athlete until 22. Shaking the mentality, or more specifically, the mentality that it’s not hard work if you’re not in pain, has been something I’ve grappled with while implementing the lifestyle changes that come with endometriosis.

Credit: Andrea Bell, Chicago, IL

How beautiful is that? Allow discovery and joy in your movement. In the momement. Despite pushing through daily pain with a smile, and doing things like causing a tibia stress fracture, I try to prove to myself that I’m not *weak* and have a high pain tolerance. Wuht?

I think of the line in Michael Downs’s The Greatest Show, “If people understood the full weight of the show they watched, they would be crushed.” Each day is a show I feel like I barely remember the lines to. I do not judge anyone else this harshly, I do not hold anyone else to this impossible, illogical standard. I don’t approach creating this way either. I consider myself a writer, exploring multiple genres, moving between fluid boundaries. Art isn’t limited to the page either. I look to multidiscliplinary artists like Lynne Price, Stephanie Barber, Jordannah Elizabeth, Amanda McCormick, and so many other incredible talents that transcend genre. Why am I not living like this when I’m moving? Is this impossible in running?

I tried something different when I ran the Charm City Run’s Sole of the City 10k earlier this month. A rigid personal best wasn’t on my mind. Since February, I had been on hormonal birth control and physically and mentally spiraling (I have stopped taking it and would like to say, if birth control helps you live the life you want, GOOD! Do you and you should not be limited in your access! It is not something I can tolerate. Yes, I am hard eye-rolling to all past and future individuals that say I should just get on birth control to make endometriosis go away. Read more here about how it is only a band-aid and not a long-term solution).

Even while struggling each day, I wanted to learn from the race. The course has a challenging hill during the final mile that broke me the previous year like the Baltimore Half Marathon broke my spirit in 2011. I’m looking at you, never-ending mile around Lake Montebello. I decided I wanted to negative split the Sole of the City, starting at an 8-minute mile pace that would be an effort but relaxed.

Dare I say the race was joyful? Despite the early spring humidity, the kind special to Baltimore where even your eyeballs are sweating, I was in relatively good spirits. It was probably the last time I wasn’t holding back tears or sobbing all weekend (I’m still looking at you, hormonal birth control). Reading Partners volunteers cheered at 26 points—one for each letter, yay, literacy!—an officer was singing for everyone at mile 2.5, which carried me to Charm City Run Fells Point blasting Kesha’s Timber around mile 3.5. Then I targeted someone a few paces in front that I had seen earlier in the race to bring me to the finish. 

Screenshot from my Garmin 235

My ability to hold pace was a pleasant surprise. As reference, when I’m not doubled-over from endometriosis and related symptoms, my tempo run pace is comfortably at a 7:20 per mile pace. Keeping a relaxed mind helped me hold the sustained moderate effort. I sort of approached the Charles Street 12 this way in September 2018, but if I’m being honest, I thought it was going to be a rare approach. I had excision surgery in April 2018 and I was cured, right? RIGHT?! Cue the reality of chronic illness.

I’m learning from the Baltimore Flow and incredible healthcare providers—shouts to Sustainability Wellness and Indigo Physiotherapy—to listen to my body. To look at it as more than something broken. To approach athletics how I approach creativity—with an eye for discovery. I have to be creative as I continue to chase a sub-20 minute 5k goal. I have to trust that when I feel well, the work will fall into place. While I’m not, there is a process and joy can exist in discovery.

Stay sweaty and glittery.

What is endometriosis?

I have been reading Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, enjoying the energetic weaving path of his mind. How he sees the world and translates that on the page invigorates my love of the short essay. So does another book I loved in 2018, The Baltimore Book of the Dead by Marion Winik. The essayettes read like poems, therefore I was not surprised (rather, delighted) when I learned that Winik started the project as poems. Our boundaries are not as tight as we think.

In the spirit of boundary-less writing, I have been writing flash essays (paragraphs?) about endometriosis, meant to distill the daily struggles. Reading a symptom list has never been enough to explain living with a chronic illness. For a medical definition, read conflicting explanations of endometriosis online (because there is no cure and the cause is unknown). I’m here to share a piece of what it’s like to live with endometriosis.

So what is endometriosis? It is a disease that can be treated with watchful waiting. It is endometrial tissue ignoring boundaries and doctors unable to explain the migration. I am being a poet over here. This is a current definition from one of the top surgeons in the United States. The problem is, very little is known because there has been little listening and study. You’re told symptoms will go away with menopause. You’re told take the pill to pause your symptoms. You’re told try Lupron to shut down your hormones. You’re told take an antidepressant to shut up.

Endometriosis is rethinking simple pleasures. No conferring with friends until 2a.m., eating pumpkin muffins, going to a restaurant without meticulously studying the menu and looking up ingredients without fear of bodily revolt.

Endometriosis is taking four Advil before work telling yourself this is fine. You’ve been prescribed 800 milligrams of Motrin to survive these days in the past.

Endometriosis is pulling over sobbing in the middle of a 12 hour car ride because your worst period day fell during planned travel. It was already three days delayed from travel stress. You need to change your tampon every hour and a half and you’re in so much pain radiating from your pelvis through your legs that you can’t concentrate. Every bathroom in North Carolina has been filthy, lacked toilet paper to clean up the bloody mess, and you feel like you failed your partner because you cannot contribute to the driving.

Endometriosis is journaling as much as possible because on many days you’re in too much pain to think past clichés. You’re afraid the energy you trying to smile through small talk will take away from your ability to remember.

Endometriosis is taking up circus arts. The callouses on your hands, bruises in your elbows, and hardened bumps on the top of your feet are leading to something. That physical pain means you’ll do something dazzling, like hang upside down from the tops of your feet with a serene smile. As Zadie Smith says in Swing Time, “But elegance attracted me. I liked the way it hid pain.”

Endometriosis is wondering why there is so little research unrelated to fertility. How can you think about fertility when you can barely make it through the day? Why do women’s bodies only matter if the concern is about children? Cut to every horror movie where a woman finds her strength because she is pregnant. What about the rest of us? Watch I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) again.

Endometriosis is trying anti-inflammatory diets, then eating dairy and gluten for a week because it’s the holidays. You have the worst pain since before excision surgery and decide to recommit to following the diet. You add weekly acupuncture, hip stretches, and syncing your running cycle with your pain cycle because despite all this exhaustion, you are still an intensely competitive athlete looking for a thrill.

Endometriosis is longing for quiet time in the morning. Let me rephrase. It is longing to not have to think about rationing time throughout the day. Karen Lord wrote an incredible long essay about the day to day pain, stress, and impact as someone working in the health & fitness field. She digs into the frustration, “I’m lucky that after all the tests are run in the ER they tell me I’m the healthiest person they’ve ever seen. I mean except for this, right? Right.” Like the endometrial tissue, your symptoms continue to color every moment.

I hope this gives you some insight into the day-to-day of living with endometriosis. Stay sweaty and glittery.