I set down the phone after an early morning conversation with the neurosurgeon. He has signed off on a surgical reprieve. We can kick the can of the mess in my neck down the road another 6 months or more. Hopefully more. I've had multiple surgeries to address the progressive spinal cord malady they cannot fix, and I navigate all the medical PTSD that comes with that. I've waited 4 months between imaging and this conversation, it will take all week to metabolize this news. Slowly, so slowly, the boa constrictor of dread will let loose of me.
Swimming in all the relief about being able to make actual plans for the rest of the year I am aware of an undertow of sorrow. Just past my 60th birthday, in a body that has been painful to live in since childhood, I should not be surprised by the absurd disappointment I feel. I have always known that medicine has no cure to offer, but knowing doesn't keep the little glimmer of irrational hope from camping out in the way back of my mind (which is as close as I let it get these days).
It is my ten year old self that I pull onto my lap for an anchor. She was the one who began to understand that life in this body was different from life in other bodies. Ten year old me was catching on that the 'activities of daily living' don't hurt for other people. There was no one to complain to, my dad was a suck-it-up kind of guy when it came to discomfort. Ten year old me figured out how to fake it. In my imagination-game she leans in and sighs, wiping away the tears that are slowly dripping down my face. This is a wordless conversation, its all been said before. I have always been my own best friend when there is a need for solace.
Gimpy on the outside, frisky in the middle. If I could I'd go out into the yard, bow to the trees, and bust out some moves in a wild and sacred dance celebrating this existence. As a kid I could do that, even if it hurt. At 60 the best I can do is to sway, gently, for the little while it takes for my feet to get so numb that swaying might topple me right over. And still I'd rise.
That boa constrictor I mentioned, it may let loose some but it will not be slithering away. I can't remember a time it has not been here, getting older with me. I notice the pattern of it's scales have become more complex with age. It feeds on suffering, so I try not to. Suffer. Maybe it is just my mortal coil along for the ride, getting heavier to carry but not an appendage I can set aside lightly.
Breathe, says ten year old me, then breathe again. I begin the gentle ear massage I learned from a friendly yogini wearing lipstick on YouTube. It works by activating vagus nerve receptors around the ear to reduce anxiety (Star Trek fans will appreciate the added benefit of laughing out loud at the pleasure of my inner Farengi). It is best to do this some place quiet, when you have time to settle into relaxation. In my experience it is also helpful when you have pulled the car over to the side of the road for a few minutes to manage stress, because we can't always be in the right place when the PTSD gets triggered.
I breathe and the boa loosens another inch. The cure-sorrow recedes and my mind begins to wander, stepping through the doors that open. How will I adapt to the next changes my body has in store, and suffer less? How can I get that tricky bit of work done, with a little stamina left over? How should I pace using my few precious spoons, to avoid sticking a fork in my aspirations? I tug my ear up and away from my head gently, feeling the skin stretch in small pleasant ways. Letting the thoughts pass across my inner screen without answers. Another breath, a little flow of gratitude, a memory of dancing with abandon. My recipe for solace.
Gratitude for Self Reflection, D. Stander, 2006
Chipmunk sketch, D. Stander, 2020