I’m not training for a marathon. I never have. I probably never would have. Apparently it involves a lot of pain and work and people all around and the possibility of peeing your pants (or worse). Even if I were in tip-top shape, that’s not my idea of a good time.
But I liked that I had the option… that I didn’t do marathons, simply because I didn’t want to. Alongside thousands of other opportunities I never knew I valued. Not the doing, but the choosing. The happy delusion that one day (if I wanted to) I would climb every mountain, ford every stream and follow every single damn rainbow.
I realize now that I’ve been downplaying it for years. “Just bad knees.” After injuries and surgeries and therapies I’d gotten used to the snaps, crackles and pops. The sounds really gross my kids out, which is always fun. Even the doctors made light of it – “might have a little arthritis, not much you can do…”
I’m knock-kneed and flat-footed and at 19 the orthopaedic surgeon told me the structure of my knee was “weird.” I knew I could anticipate arthritis eventually.
Frankly, arthritis seems like the kind of eventually that happens to old people. Maybe I’d get it at 60 instead of 80. But I honestly didn’t anticipate hobbling around on my 40th birthday.
I went to the doctor this week expecting surgery, perhaps more drastic than before, but still – the man’s a surgeon, isn’t that what they do? Snip, snip… take it easy… back on your feet in no time.
I did not anticipate him telling me that the injury I’d gotten last month was the least of my worries. Driving home the point was the sound of bone grinding on bone as he noted the complete destruction of all the cartilage under my knee cap. There’s a few treatments: physiotherapy, lose weight, Tylenol, shots… but it’s all symptom management. Eventually, when it is too painful to walk, they’ll replace my knee with an artificial one.
In the meantime, I fell back into old habits. Downplaying. “This is so annoying! I don’t have time for this…” I said (as if it’s merely inconvenient). I declared myself grateful not to be a hard core athlete (glossing over the activities I actually do enjoy, like: hiking, kick-boxing, skiing, dancing in the kitchen with my kids and walking up the stairs one foot at a time). I told everyone that this is the least of our problems (how dare I cry over this when there’s cancer in our home, when others are dealing with so much worse). There’ll be good days, when everything works and feels better (don’t think about the bad days, don’t think about the bad days…). I tried to act like it didn’t bother me. I tried to feel that way too.
But it’s not working.
I just turned 40 and I’ve got degenerative arthritis. I have to wear a knee brace to walk and it hurts like hell and it might never get better. No matter how I play it, to myself or others, I’m actually freaking out. Frustrated, worried, disappointed, and sad – with undertones of embarrassed and guilty (not sure what that’s all about).
I was working on a blog post titled “Lessons from the Vortex” the past few weeks. It’s the kind of writing I find easiest to publish. ‘Look at me, all wise and heroic, finding order in chaos.’ Isn’t that nice?
Woman-in-process material is a lot less inspiring to others, less flattering to me. I’m not feeling particularly eloquent on the matter. The only words buzzing around my head these days are: can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t…
It sucks. I hate it.
I’m not ready to mine it for lessons. Or pretend that ‘God never gives us more than we can handle.’ That’s not a real thing, by the way. I’m sure the woman in my online cancer mom support group can attest to this – while one daughter is in hospital with a cancer related illness, she’s at another hospital giving birth to a stillborn baby.
There are so many stories like this, far worse than mine, far more overwhelming. Life is full of horrible shit, layers and layers of hurt and loss. Those of us trying to swim to the surface can’t bluff our way out. Though some try, and take longer than ever to surface, the truth is… we’re drowning.
Eventually we lose our grip on ‘nice’ theology, a first world philosophy of life where the only people who fail are the ones who just didn’t try hard enough or believe the right things. What’s left in its wake is sturdier and more compassionate anyway: knowing that we all get more than we can handle at some point. That’s the human condition.
My whole life is a marathon these days. Apparently it involves a lot of pain and work and people all around (some of whom are peeing their pants regularly). I’m hobbling and barely keeping pace, but I’m still moving.
Maybe I’ll see the lesson in that tomorrow.