These are some of the ridiculous things I worried about when I could not raise my left arm above my head:
- What if I got arrested while my shoulder was still borked, and the police get angry that I won’t raise my arms above my head? If they handcuff me behind my back, will my shoulder really start to hurt? Would they listen to my complaints that I had a shoulder injury and be more gentle? Given that I live in Texas, this last question was more whiny than rhetorical, since I knew the answer would likely be “no.” I love my adopted state, but its law enforcement and prison systems are not known for being super nice to people who enter the criminal justice system.
- What if I had to have surgery on my shoulder? And what if something went wrong? Would it affect my ability to type? My job is a variation on “transcriptionist.” I would be out of work if my ability to type normally was compromised for more than a month or two. Typing is necessary for much of modern business, so what would I do for the rest of my life if I couldn’t do that – greeter at Wal-Mart? Shoe model? Politician?
- With this shoulder injury, I will never be able to play softball again! I loved playing third base and outfield back in the day. I made many awesome catches with my gloved left hand, and my glove is still sitting in storage in my house, the pocket wrapped around an old softball, waiting for either the day I join some grown-ups lazy softball league or the day I wake up, Peggy Sue-style, in my teenage body.
- Will I ever be able to wear a normal bra again? The only upshot here was longline bras (which can be uncomfortable if worn on a regular basis and tight around the waist if you’re overweight like me) can be found online for about $40 USD in my size and usually fit; I feel more comfortable getting fitted for regular bras at department stores, and those suckers always cost upwards of $60-70 apiece due to my size.
The worry about getting arrested is probably the most ridiculous, in terms of plausibility; I don’t anticipate doing anything so bad that it could be me arrested – I am working very hard on my road rage – but the mind likes to embroider. That is followed in silly speculation by the loss of softball, a sport I haven’t played in over half my lifetime; I did think about it every time friends mentioned activity teams they were on and every time I came across my glove in the course of going through our storage, but losing the potential to play a variety of sports was the crux of this one.
The others are ridiculous because they are addressable worries, bridges that could only be crossed once I started on the road to healing. But did I do anything about allaying those worries with action? No, I let them eat away at me for two years. How unproductive. How useless. What a black hole for my energy.
Waiting for your body to get better when it feels so wrong is only advisable if you know what you’re doing or you’re under the care of someone who knows what they’re doing. Researching endlessly on medical websites and forums, talking to friends about it, working around whatever’s wrong, ignoring it entirely, and never getting professional help – does this do anything besides let you spin your wheels? Nope. Do these activities give you the artificial feeling of productiveness without you having to reach any goals or feel any better? Yes.
- Dismissing the bouts of lower back pain over several years and self diagnosing with kidney stones led to emergency gallbladder surgery, something I never even considered. If I’d gotten myself diagnosed years earlier, I could have reduced my fat intake, changed my diet, and maybe gotten off hormonal birth control in time to prevent infection.
- Failing to do anything about my anxiety led me to spend over a year waking up in the middle of the night thinking I’d heard noises, walk around the house with a stick to use on intruders, and be unable to go back to sleep for sometimes more than an hour, sometimes not at all. It poked a hole in my rest every single night, made nightfall alone in my house hellish, and drove me to be unable to sleep without earplugs.
- Failing to treat my shoulder injury gave me pain, led me to change the type of bra I was wearing, made me stop walking my dogs, forced me to sleep on just my right side every night (and my left arm was getting complainy).
The coping devices we put in place to work around the things that bother us are astoundingly ridiculous in hindsight. I spent more time finding ways to avoid treatment than I spent on the actual treatment and recovery, for the most part.
Acting on awareness of my responsibility for my own health has been on my mind a lot lately because it’s October, which is breast cancer awareness month, and I’ve been exposed to a lot of media about it that encourages proactiveness. I’ve gotten the message that self exams are a great way of knowing your body and being able to track changes, and every woman should get mammograms and generally not be in denial about the need to get screened if it’s been a while, or if you feel like something’s wrong. Like a lot of people, I’ve had people who are close to me have to deal with cancer, so I am on board. I walked with friends for a second year in the Komen Race for the Cure, and our team raised funds for mammograms for low income women, research, and education. I do self exams, I talk to my doctor every year at my well woman exam about breast health, and I’m going to schedule my first mammogram shortly after my 35th birthday (though I’m hoping ultrasound technology is available to me at that time). I am on it.
But I think I’m more proactive about this responsibility because while I’m very aware of the threat of cancer, it has yet to directly threaten my own health, and thus the threat seems less immediate and less scary. It can be easier to take care of yourself when you don’t think anything’s wrong. When you know something is wrong, the threat can seem bigger, the possibilities frightening in their enormity. But major problems with your body can’t improve with being ignored. You are issued one body during this lifetime, and no one is going to take care of it better than you are, if you are lucky enough to be able-bodied, so do your damn best.
Finally, let’s address the major stumbling block to taking care of yourself: cost. Getting access to health care in the United States can suck, and if you’re uninsured or underinsured, one of the working poor, or have health problems bigger than your income can handle, it is even more difficult to talk yourself into getting to a doctor. There are some low-cost and free programs and clinics out there, but the system overall has serious flaws and places where people can fall through the cracks, and it will be a long time before the government or private sector can ever get a solution in place. I am very grateful to have had a job with good health insurance over the last couple of years; I would have been completely screwed by my gallbladder surgery, and I am not sure I could have talked myself into getting my shoulder fixed, which is ridiculous, but it happens. I have family who are uninsured or underinsured and have lived with treatable physical and mental health conditions because they can’t afford surgery, regular therapies or treatments, or prescriptions. This lack of affordable health care is one of the elephants in the room when people encourage others to get their bodies looked at. It can take a lot of sacrifice to get coverage, and sometimes, even the best effort fails to pay off at all, because life is fickle.
Be grateful for your health, pay attention to it, get screened, get things fixed, and stop worrying fruitlessly. There are a lot of other places to put your energy besides denial, speculation, and dancing around a problem.
By the way, I guess I am now ready to be arrested! It may be a while still before I’m ready to play for the Rangers, but I’m working on it. And I couldn’t have done it without making that first phone call to my GP.