Tag Archives: anxiety

Physical Therapy.

I had an appointment this past week with a spinal surgeon. When I first got to the hospital, I tried to locate the building with much difficulty. I was told “your appointment is at 450 Clarkson.” 450 Clarkson, they had neglected to mention, was entirely obscured and blocked by a construction shed. I called the office from the street. “Do you see the Emergency Room? 470 Clarkson? You have to go in that entrance and take the elevator to the basement.” OK. So I did that.

Pretty standard initial experience. Filled out my initial appointment paperwork, handed over my X Rays and referral. Definitely felt like I was in a submarine, though, which was weird. It’s an old building, there is no central air in the basement. The lights look like portholes in the ceiling. The walls have metal seams and riveting. The rooms don’t have computers or windows. It’s probably hell in the summer.

The first doctor who came into my exam room told me he worked with the Dr. I was scheduled with, and that he would personally be reporting to him everything he learned and then both doctors would come into the room. (It’s a teaching hospital.) The first doctor was nice, personable, listened to me. Looked me in the eye. Gave me a physical exam. Spent maybe 10 minutes or so with me before he left to consult with the second doc.

Let’s call them Doc and Professor Doc.

Doc comes back in and starts to tell me that there doesn’t appear to be anything surgical at this moment when he is abruptly interrupted by Professor Doc who comes in to the room with his hand extended and his eyes on the wall and introduces himself to me. He’s audibly chewing gum. His black hair is slicked back, his stomach protrudes and he towers over me at at least 6′ 5″.

Doc said, “That’s the back brace they gave her,” indicating toward the object that Professor Doctor had picked up out of the chair, flopping it over in his hand a couple of times, scrutinizing it. “Ok, fine,” Professor Doctor said, before replacing it.

Professor Doc talks like he’s running an auction. He asks me many of the same questions that Doc has already asked me, in rapid fire succession. Never once making real eye contact. Smacking bright green gum the entire time. He makes me bend over, stand on my toes, walk on my heels. He makes me kick against his arms, pull against the pressure of his hands, and forces my straightened leg as far as it will go. “Good, she’s strong,” he tells Doc. I feel like a horse going for sale. Doc keeps reluctant eye contact when he can and tries to interject intermittently but is never really allowed to finish a sentence with Professor Doc in the room. Professor Doc, while he talks, says the phrase, “I’m a surgeon,” no less than three times, as if this statement is complete and meaningful in a way I should automatically comprehend.

Professor Doc says, “I don’t see anything surgical.”

He says, “This is a good thing.”

He says, “It looks like you just have a little back pain,” kind of squinting his eyes, curling his lip, and shrugging his shoulders. I felt like I was boring him.

I couldn’t find any words. I felt completely helpless. Did he miss the part where I can’t dress myself when my back is out? Did he miss the part where I can’t walk, bathe, eat, cough, sneeze, shower or fuck without worrying that my back is going to catch fire and make me contemplate the end? How about the fact that it takes me almost exactly 4 times longer to walk anywhere than it did only 8 or 9 months ago? And always with discomfort? Did he miss the part where I’m depressed, lonely and broke because I can’t work and I almost never leave my house?

Did he miss the part where two other doctors gave me an entirely different impression from reading those same X Rays and reports? Those doctors were the ones who told me to come here, I didn’t decide that myself. Why was he treating me like I was wasting his time and it was my fault? Every doctor I’ve seen from the Emergency Room to Urgent Care to the private DO told me with no uncertainty that I was “weak.” How could Professor Doctor take 3 minutes and decide that I’m “strong”? What do these words mean to these damn doctors at all, anyway?

“It looks like you have a little back pain.” A LITTLE BACK PAIN? I wanted to scream. I didn’t want to cry, I wasn’t going to do that, and I didn’t.

“Physical therapy.”

Professor Doctor, literally and figuratively washing his hands, reminded me that is was a “good thing” that he saw “nothing” before he left the room talking to Doc while not looking at him. Doc looked at me and said he’d be back with those referrals. 6-8 weeks of physical therapy, 3 times a week. After that, follow up with sports specialist for pain management. I sat and put my shoes back on, my scarf, adjusted my hat and held in my tears, waiting for Doc to come back.

“I don’t feel like he heard me at all,” I said to Doc when he came back into the room. I was about to burst. “This pain has ruined my life, and he said it was ‘just a little back pain'”

Doc desperately and kindly tried to reassure me that Professor Doctor has a certain style but is excellent at what he does. I rolled me eyes at him, not rudely, but exhaustedly and frustratedly, more than once with a heavy sigh. I just couldn’t believe that Professor Doctor heard me. Doc’s eyebrows were raised as he talked and I could tell he felt guilty that I had this experience, but I could tell he wanted me to believe that this is all the correct course of action and not to spend too much time worrying about it.

It’s not that I want surgery, I just want to know what’s happening with my spine and joints. I wanted them to look deeper and make sure I can safely exercise. Didn’t they understand I hadn’t felt safe doing anything for months, now? How can they possibly know that without  so much as listening to me or granting me an MRI? This has been years of crippling pain and I was being told I wasn’t stretching properly? I just wanted to hear something and wasn’t told anything. I was given physical therapy, but I wasn’t told why or what that was supposed to do or how they knew that absolutely nothing else was wrong. This felt like the first medical treatment in an episode of House. You know, the one that almost always makes things exponentially worse for the patient? Yeah, it felt like that.

No one mentioned what I should do about being able to work, or even a diagnosis beyond “pain.” Two doctors found evidence of spinal arthritis and herniated disks. Two doctors were concerned about degenerative disk disease. It took Professor Doctor around 20 minutes to decide that I have the spinal equivalent to my period and that it would pass easily. A little back pain. Crestfallen, I stumbled into the waiting room to schedule my appointments.

They couldn’t even get me in until January for an evaluation with the physical therapist, and don’t schedule the sessions until after that happens, which probably means another 2-3 week delay in treatment. The woman at the desk also, somewhat foolishly, pre-booked my 6-8 week follow up with the pain management specialist, despite these delays in my physical therapy. I pointed this out to her, she told me not to worry about it. She gave me a supplemental list of PTs to reach out to if I wanted to see if anyone else could get me in sooner, but couldn’t tell me anything about Medicaid providers (why would they?), which of course are few and far between for things of this nature.

I have felt, for lack of a better word, paralyzed through this experience. I’m not sure if I should go back to my PCP and request someone else, or maybe try to get in again with the specialist and rip his face off. I don’t know if I should just believe these doctors and trust that it’s “just a little back pain” and try this physical therapy, give it a real shot, and hope, somehow, that bending, twisting and stretching is going to magically heal my spine and trick it into supporting me again. I mean, I can’t stand in one place for more than 5 minutes or I start to feel excruciating, debilitating, earth-shaking pain, but who cares. I couldn’t do the stretches the previous DO and MDs had prescribed me because they required so much standing and bending and every time resulted in more pain than they alleviated, even after weeks of attempting to stick to their prescribed schedule.

And what about just the reality of making these appointments work, in the real world? Money is tight, and MTA fares went up. $2.75, each way. 2 times a day, 3 times (or more with other appointments,) a week. 6 x $2.75 = $16.50 x 4 weeks = $66 a month. I don’t even have proper snow boots, at the moment, with which to get to these future appointments in this dangerous weather and I have to find 66 dollars a month to get to appointments about which I am not entirely confident. Considering canceling my dental insurance, despite my myriad issues in that department, to make up at least some of the difference.

Ok, hot tears are starting to burn in my eyes and there isn’t much more to say anyway, so I’m going to end this here, with a perfect Frida Kahlo quote that was brought to my attention by a really swell human being (in no way is my body as broken as Frida’s was through her life, I can’t even imagine her pain, but this thought and her determination is powerful) :

“I must fight with all of my strength so that the little positive things that my health allows me to do might be pointed toward helping the revolution. The only real reason for living.” Frida Kahlo.

 

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Selfie 6

I made my appointment with a spinal specialist and will be seeing him next week. Spent the day kind of reeling, still, from everything. It’s hard to see how the rest of my life looks from here. It’s hard to concentrate on law school applications when I don’t know where I’ll be 6 months from now. It’s hard to think about the fact that we booked a flight to Puerto Rico and 12 days in a beautiful artist’s retreat in Viejo San Juan for an extremely belated honeymoon (not to mention the first vacation we’ve ever taken in our adult lives, ever,) when I have no idea what it will be like to be alive during June 2017.

Just got to keep all of my parts together.

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See: Selfie 5

Moratorium.

I have desperately been trying to avoid social media in the last few days. My pain has been bad and I find that every single time I’m doing the cycle on my phone (Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, repeat repeat repeat…) I get more and more anxious. Reading posts on Facebook almost immediately makes me anxious, sad and angry. It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree, I just do not seem to be able to handle reality outside of my own kind of tiny, currently dark world. My anxiety and anger, sadness and frustration only feed into the discomfort.

It’s so hard right now to stop myself from a quick CMD+T to check Facebook. For what? For what?? 

I am always in the apartment. Standing in line for anything is enough for the pain to come and ruin the rest of my day, maybe week. There isn’t anything too close to our home right now. The nearest coffeeshops and so forth are roughly a half a mile away, which used to mean nothing to me. I used to walk to work, 3 miles every day. At this time 2 years ago, I was jogging home with my backpack, 1.7 miles 3 days a week. Now, even a short walk in the wrong shoes can lead to later agonized immobility. I AM SO FRUSTRATED. If I do get out of the house, for a doctors appointment or something, I can’t even keep up with a New York pace any longer. I take short, careful and measured steps. I have a steady pace and think about every step. Curbs are often a challenge. A step down taken too hard can be the end of my journey. Sometimes it feels like the only thing I can do is surf the web — checking the same sites over and over again. It provides almost complete and utter, empty brained distraction.

I feel broken, socially. I feel like I have nothing to share, give. It feels difficult to provide conversation. I’m not sure, when someone asks me how I am doing, if they really want to hear my answer. At the same time, the fear of missing out is so real. I miss being at the bar, at our favorite haunts, with our wonderful friends. I miss being ridiculous. I miss dancing. I’ve only really been laid up about 5 or 6 months, but it’s really put some shit into perspective. I feel so silly for not moving more when it didn’t hurt so bad. Things like standing in lines has been throwing out my back for around 8 years, now. But at least back then I could still dance, run, somersault, swim, jump, play and wiggle. I want a magic cure, I want a time machine,  I want to feel like a normal person.

I can’t even begin to imagine what people who have been in worse pain for longer are going through.

Fuck, what a thought.

Even the projects I do want to start, that could potentially keep me busy, are seemingly impossibly out of reach. See, it turns out that doing stuff actually costs money. And when you can’t work or walk, money gets super tight and those kind of things go out the window. You are mopping the floor with dish soap — you aren’t buying podcast equipment or books for law school. Or even applying for law school, because it turns out that that costs a buttload of cash, too. It just adds to the cycle, the stagnation, the sometimes overwhelming feeling of failure and frustration.

Man, this has been pretty therapeutic, really. If someone actually reads this, thanks. Just going through it right now, hypothetical dudes.

Pain.

This came into my life and I think it should be required reading for all human beings, and posted in every doctor’s office. LETTER TO PEOPLE WITHOUT CHRONIC PAIN.

Yesterday, while looking at my battered slippers on my socked feet, I started to cry. My mind had immediately jumped to my dad and all the physical pain he experienced as an adult. For weeks, sometimes months on end, he literally couldn’t move off of the couch or out of a hospital bed that was directly next to my parents regular bed. I thought about how for a long time, the only gifts we could think of to get him on holidays or his birthday were things that he could wear or use when he was laid up in this way. It was always new bedclothes, slippers, or  something like an extender-grabber for when he dropped things since he couldn’t bend or get off the couch to retrieve items for himself.

I was crying because I’ve been married 3 months to my wonderful husband, and out of work for roughly 4 months because of my back and this absolutely debilitating pain. Money is tight, stress is high, and I am literally in pain 100% of the time. I can’t keep my own house clean, I can’t make us dinner if it means I have to stand for over 5 or 10 minutes at a time. When I do get out of the house, it’s carefully planned and easily canceled if I’m in any sort of pain. There isn’t another option. I have to take cabs, the closest bus and subway is half a mile which is just too much right now. Making the decision to attempt a walk somewhere, or to hope there are comfortable seats available at a restaurant or bar, could mean that I wind up in a pain that I still don’t have words for, unable to dress myself and bawling in the fetal position for 6 to 9 hours with absolutely no relief.

This, as you can maybe imagine, causes major anxiety. Anxiety causes muscles to tense up, making pain worse. Anxiety and tight muscles make it hard to sleep, which makes anxiety worse, which makes pain worse. Tossing and turning has, more than once, been the cause of a day of hellish agony. Being unable to work, being stuck at home, causes depression to develop/reawaken and worsen with each passing day. And this doesn’t even go into the guilt, the weight of being truly shiftless when one desperately wants to be a part of productive society or get back into school. Forget the loneliness. People forget how to talk to you if they don’t just forget about you entirely. It’s too much for them to deal with. I don’t blame them.

My back went out for the first time 8 years ago, the day after President Obama was elected. We had thrown a party in our Lower Haight apartment on election night and, as you can imagine, there was a lot of standing around, being excited and running into the streets, and wild abundant celebration. The next day I couldn’t walk. I remember, really, barely making it to the polls the day before, I was already feeling pain in my lower back. I didn’t fall or have any kind of accident, it just started. It’s never been looked at by a doctor, because those first 4 years or so, the pain entirely disappeared with a days rest.

It came back with a vengeance when I was working at a jewelry store, but only really caused extreme discomfort rather than knocking me off my feet. (But it was still  horrible.) It was when I was tutoring in Manhattan that I woke up for the first time and couldn’t get out of bed to use the bathroom. I couldn’t move, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t feel or move my legs, and my lower back was on fire. The pain is impossible to describe. It starts small and gets big, fast. Aaron had to help me to do anything, everything, and after a day or two I made it to an out-of-pocket doctor who gave me drugs and wrote me a note to get me out of work for a week. She told me I had a pinched nerve and to rest, take baths, and it should sort itself out. It was the first diagnosis I was ever given about my pain.

Since then, it’s been hit or miss. I managed to get a degree at a nearby enough university that I didn’t have to be on the train for more than 20 minutes, and never really had to wait more than 10. I had a job at a wonderful imports gallery, but it turned out to be a less than perfect fit. Worked at what has totally turned out to be my favorite job ever at a beautiful florist in Park Slope, that sadly turned impossible due to the physical nature of the job (which was my favorite fucking part of the whole thing, really.) I’d much rather be moving than sitting. Even at home (before all of this,) I find it hard to relax when I am on my own and would wind up cleaning the house from top to bottom on sometimes a twice a week (or more) rhythm.

My back has gone out 7 or 8 times in the last 5 – 6 weeks. I feel it all the time. A smile on my face or getting out of the house for one afternoon or evening does not mean I am feeling better. The ability to get down the stairs a little easier does not mean I am feeling better. It means I am making it work, and nothing more. I am in pain every moment I am awake. It is the first thing that occurs to me in the morning, and the last thing I worry about while I arrange my body to fall asleep comfortably as possible. I wake up all night, every time I turn over, because of the simple fact that it hurts. If I wind up on my back during sleep, I might not be able to get up in the morning.

In fact, I’ve taken a small break from finishing this particular post and in that short interim my back has gone out twice. The last time was after waiting in line to vote in the election. 10 hours of misery as the results rolled in. I still haven’t quite found the right words to turn my pain into literature. To be absolutely frank, it’s the scariest thing I think I’ve ever gone through. I don’t know what’s happening, and when in the throes I have some of the ugliest, most frightening thoughts I’ve ever experienced. It often feels like it would be easier to give it all up than go through another moment of torment. I’m not trying to be dramatic or ask for help at this moment, just honest as fuck with you.

I made an appointment, I finally have my insurance. I have an appointment on the 23rd of this month and I’m nervous as hell and very excited all at the same time. Excited might not be the right word. Maybe anxious, to get started. I have to keep reminding myself that this first step probably won’t tell me anything at all, but it will hopefully get things rolling. A referral for an X-ray would be most excellent. Renewing my prescriptions through my insurance would be incredible, paying out of pocket is not an option.

 

 

Apologies.

When you live your life scared of almost everything, you tend to have to give a lot of apologies.

Lots of apologies sent when breaking plans. Social situations make me incredibly anxious. It could be 1 person or it could be 30, it doesn’t matter. I’m anxious. If  there is free/cheap/any booze to be had, I will be having some. I might accidentally over drink just to make things manageable, rushing through my first cocktail, making awkward jokes about “social lubricants” and laughing at myself. Then maybe I drink too much and I become unmanageable. I might say some stupid things. I might embarrass myself. And then all of this new embarrassment feeds into the next time I’m in public. It cycles. Like everything.

But, also, it’s hard when you have a lot of pain and you aren’t sure if you should or shouldn’t go out on a particular day. It’s hard to know if that’s a valid reason to break existing plans. It’s hard to know if insomnia is a good reason to break plans. It’s hard to know if massive anxiety is a good reason to break plans. It’s hard to tell people the truth when you don’t know what they’ll say. It’s hard to know if what they say is the truth because you can’t read their mind.

There’s the apologies after I ignore my phone for the umpteenth time. The phone sucks. I don’t know what happened between the phone-OBSESSED years I spent as a teenager I experienced and the absolute, heart-jumping fear I experience when the phone rings, now and for the last ten years. Part of me thinks that it’s about the time that landlines became a thing of the past and suddenly people could call you anywhere you were. We’re not alone anymore, we’re being stalked every day. You don’t go to the park and leave your TV, computer, and phone at home — you bring them with you in the form of a tiny infinity box. You never left your living room and you’re going to get a sunburn. I miss when leaving the house meant no one really knew where the hell you were. Like, you told your parents what your plans were… but how would they really know?

I send a lot of apologies because I don’t respond in a timely manner to things that make me anxious even a tiny bit. A person I’m nervous about, a subject I’d rather avoid, something I’m feeling particularly sensitive about that day, or because I am in such an ugly place that I literally can’t handle any part of my adult life and spend the day cleaning the house, crying intermittently.

I feel like I might have to apologize for this entry. There are always the inevitable people with whom I attempt to share my fears with who tell me “Oh, but you don’t have to feel that way with me.”  And that makes my heart speed up. That makes me clam up. I’m done sharing with this person because they clearly do not understand how this silent terror tends to operate. The anxiety grows when they message me. They must be thinking that since we had our conversation and they assured me I had nothing to worry about that I’ll pick that phone right up! No ma’am.

And maybe they aren’t thinking that, but I don’t know that. I don’t know anything other than the crushing fear of potentially embarrassing situations. I don’t know anything other than the remembered pain of past regressions against some invented and unreasonable standard I’ve placed on myself and reality.

I’ve missed weddings. That hurts so many people. I feel awful. I stay up at night thinking about things that happened a decade ago, wondering how I could have changed them, fixed them, or lived them differently. I’ve missed graduations and deaths, births and birthdays, and didn’t even initially pick up the phone when my mother called me from my dad’s cell to tell me I had to come home and we were losing him. I still don’t know exactly how I feel about that. Some things don’t feel remotely appropriate to even attempt an apology, so I just stew and feel horrible and know that I messed up and continue to feel helpless.

I apologize for apologizing so much. All the time. For everything I do, say and think. I apologize for my very existence sometimes. At least that’s what it feels like. Like, I have to apologize to the people in my life constantly for the mere fact that we are existing on this same terrestrial plane and they have to deal with me. 

Already in my head I’m thinking, “I’m going to have to take this entry down,” because it’s just too embarrassing. It’s too self centered, or something like that. It’s too painful and weird. Someone is going to have something to say and they must be right, right? But that all goes back into the cyclical nature of fear and how it can affect the human mind. My human mind, specifically.

Scared.

I’m not sure when it happened or why, I’m not even sure there was a particular catalyst that ended my prolific content assault on the internet. One day I woke up and it just felt really hard to be honest and open online.

When I first joined the internet, it was through AOL. My screen name was CandyJRT. I lived in chat rooms and quickly started seeking out social websites to join like Bolt and, later on, LiveJournal. I made friends over AOL Instant Messenger when I was 16 that lived on other other side of the country that stayed so relevant in my life that they wound up in my wedding just a few months ago. I got in all kinds of arguments on Bolt — from reproductive rights to right to die laws. At one point, getting into flame wars with strangers online was my one singular joy. I would be up all night, and wake up before the sun. Then it was Gay.com, fighting with the troll bigots that would sneak onto the site just to abuse people. I was barely sleeping. But DAMN I was writing like 5 or 6 posts a day. Forget about it when MySpace came around. THE SURVEYS.

I don’t think I can name the one thing that happened that changed my online world because I think it was a number of things.

There was, first, that inevitable growing-up time, with all of it’s associated pains. Lots of people tend to lose some of their very best friends in their early twenties. People grow in different directions, others move, goals change, loves change, life experiences happen and judgements are made and we all say a bunch of stupid shit to each other. On the other side you come out the stronger for it and surrounded, hopefully, by those that were always supportive and loving. This period of your life, however, can be made particularly strange with the invention and connection of social media. I changed LiveJournals 3 or 4 times, back then. I’ve edited privacy settings from public to private more times than I could possibly count, for phantom reasons. Then there was that whole Facebook thing that really spoiled everything that was wonderful about the internet. Suddenly parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends, cousins, teachers, pastors, exes, choir directors, school administrators and everyone else was on the web that you wouldn’t necessarily let in on every aspect on your life — especially your internet life.

When I first got on the internet it was because I was a HUGE FUCKING NERD. The “cool” kids weren’t asking if you were on AIM during my freshman year of high school. The “cool” kids weren’t teaching themselves basic HTML and building geocities websites or creating custom LiveJournal layouts and pretending to by Britney Spears in their spare time. There wasn’t even a word for that, yet! Catfishing? Jesus. People looked at you like you were some kind of freak if you spent all of your spare hours staring into a screen chatting with people you’ve never met in real life. It was a safe haven for weirdos, before cyberbullying blew up. It was where I made some life long friends. I bonded with people in real life, learning how to take apart our PCs and put them back together again. A trip to Fry’s was a treat, purchasing an upgraded video card or a new monitor.

But, everything’s so easy now. Macs really changed the accessibility game and they’re still at it today. I still think there could be a swing back toward PCs, it’s just a matter of hitting on something magic. That’s what happened to Apple with the iPod, because lord knows it wasn’t the candy colored iMac that brought them back in to the mainstream. So, now, everyone calls themselves a nerd, sometimes “ironically”. Everyone is on the internet, all the time. There is no tight community, there is only now a virtual representation of the most fucked up parts of real world, concentrated on several huge, epic social networks. Bullies alongside language policing and “you shouldn’t really post that on Facebook”s and all kinds of other garbage clog the flow of information. A lot of us used to say things on the internet and DARE anyone to come for us on the subject. Now, I just don’t feel the same way about it all. Some people do. I don’t.

Like, my dad used to think that every single person I talked to on the internet was a phony. And before he passed away he was cruising his smart phone like nobody’s business. I woke up yesterday to an alert that my mother had joined Twitter.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is I experience a lot of anxiety and fear when I sit down with the intention of writing in a public blog, now. This is especially true if it’s something that other people will have equally strong, but dissenting opinions in regards to the matter being discussed. It just so figures I would be most passionate in situations of injustice and inequality. It’s not like that gets people all fired up or anything.

I figure I better end this because those feelings are creeping up on me and I don’t want to back down. So I’m going to schedule this post and move on to something else in my day.