"Deny" is a Four-Letter Word
I could scarcely believe it when I looked over at the wall clock and read the time. 2:26 p.m. The doctor had just glanced at her own watch and I suddenly wanted to shut down the conversation and let her get on her way, but she wasn't having it. We'd already been visiting for just over an hour, beginning with the most thorough medical history I've ever provided (at least verbally) and soon ending with the most unfortunate of vague diagnoses: chronic back pain.
I wasn't disappointed by the news, but rather relieved, especially when this new osteopath suggested a more holistic approach to pain management. She implied, and in some ways confirmed, that my anxiety was exacerbating both my low back pain and my bladder issue--the interstitial cystitis I was diagnosed with around age thirty. She informed me that she often sees these two conditions in conjunction with one another. Unfortunately, my desperation to resolve these two ailments had done a number on my outlook for a "normal" life. The pain was not only physical, it was now mental.
Just after my IC (interstitial cystitis) diagnosis nearly twenty years ago, I eagerly followed all of the suggested protocol. I took medication, tried the dietary changes, and attempted to reduce stress. It subsided for a while, or at least became manageable. When it returned full-force in Arizona, I started down the path of treatment again but ultimately just chose to ignore it. In my heavy drinking days, it was easy to chalk up frequent bathroom runs to the effects of alcohol. In my dehydrated state the following day, it was easy to deny I had a problem at all, not unlike my alcohol use.
When I got sober in 2018, I expected my IC to disappear altogether. Instead, it returned with a vengeance. Plane rides became miserable, the limitations, exhausting. No water an hour before a flight. No liquid after 8 p.m. Trazodone to allow me at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep.
As if this weren't frustrating enough, the following year brought sciatica. I was at a tradeshow in Las Vegas. Every step I took sparked a burning sensation down my right leg the likes of which I'd never known. I had experienced discomfort from prolonged standing for my entire life (the one teenager in the world who couldn't "shop 'til she dropped"), but this was misery. My yoga repertoire included legs-up-the-wall pose, so I employed that each day after the show. When I returned home, I called the doctor. After multiple appointments and multiple referrals, I was scheduled for an epidural injection in my back. Knowing I would meet my deductible for the year, I called my new urologist and scheduled a trifecta of minor procedures she wanted to perform as well.
Then came COVID-19.
All elective surgeries came off the schedule, although in all fairness, I had planned to cancel the epidural anyway. In my mind, it was a preventive measure. When my friend in the orthopedic industry informed me that it was strictly for managing pain, I knew it was a big step to take for an issue which had mostly resolved (for the time being). And that's where I sat for a long time, in this state of "mostly resolved." With no plane travel, I didn't have to deal with the painful IC symptoms as often. I met with the spine doctor again to address a new tailbone pain brought on by so much sitting, but a round of strong anti-inflammatory helped it subside. And me, with the stubborn genes I write about in my memoir, pretended that pain measuring just a "one" a 1-10 scale was too insignificant. Other people have it much worse. But a "one", every day for 365 days (more like 600 at this point), adds up.
When I wrote about my severe back injury in July, I did seek out immediate treatment. At the same time, however, I set up this appointment with the osteopath in my husband's office. I'm so glad I did. With her diagnosis of "chronic pain" came a plan: address the anxiety that I am denying is at an unmanageable level and up my yoga to daily, both for movement and mindset. I have my first online talk therapy session next week and if I find that I need it, we will go the route of medication. I'm pretty excited, however, that she considers yoga a first line of defense.
As we wrapped up our hour-long appointment, this new doctor suggested a concept I know all too well from recovery: acceptance. With Wikipedia defining this state as "a person's assent to the reality of a situation," it means I can no longer live in denial of my medical conditions or the effect they are having on my mental wellbeing. Like millions of other people my age in this world, my disc disease will progress. Like an unknown number of IC sufferers, my bladder may always be hyper-sensitive. There is no cure and little research being done for the condition. My mind, however, has a right to find peace.
"Your mind, emotions and body are instruments and the way you align and tune them determines how well you play life." ~Harbajhan Singh