...and braving a return.
How does a person know when they hit bottom? This is not a joke, but a question I am seriously asking myself—unrelated to the bottom of the barrel or bottle, or a down-on-the-luck sort of bottom. But the actual bottom. As in the buttocks.
For the past two weeks, I’ve experienced a throbbing in my lower gluteus maximus. A literal pain in the butt, which to distract myself, I learned one Italian translation might be mal di culo. This might be too much information for my kids. But we do learn from our pain. This is the story mine is telling me now.
A month ago, I spent a week in Oregon, beginning some revision work on a food memoir manuscript. A deadline of July 1 loomed for me to pass the manuscript along to my editor. When I returned, only one week remained to complete the task. This edition was not meant for copy editing, where someone would catch all my grammatical errors. It was designed to be a draft where someone would ask me some of the eternal, essential dreaded questions: Is there more here you want to say? Can you say it in less words? (The answer is always “yes” and “no”).
I hit my deadline. Soon after, I felt an ache in my lower cheeks whenever I sat. (Another translation in Italian might also be dolore al sedere, ache of sitting) I popped some Advil, reevaluated my stride (I’m a fast walker) to see if my posture was correct, stretched on some mats at the Y. I should stop going to boot camp. I should hit up my Yin yoga. A ticker of all that I should do ran continuously through my head. My body needed rest—the perfect prescription for when my husband planned to travel out of town.
The pain persisted. I wrote through it, at work on a draft for a different manuscript. I wrote my blog and my freelance assignments, prepped for some upcoming classes and presentations.
Then, the pain overwhelmed. My focus disappeared, washed away in a downpour of rain. I found myself rolling around on the floor. I knew I had been pushing. For what? There existed these deadlines to complete certain tasks and work. I guarantee I was the only one with the deadline in my head.
As writers, it’s important to have goals and set realistic guidelines for achieving them. Goals take us down too. When I had nowhere left to go with the pain, I went down—to the bottom. I just didn’t know what kind of bottom it was.
I’m married to a doctor. He has performed admirably over the years with his diagnoses of all sorts of family or friends’ ailments. He tolerates texts that say, I looked this up on WebMd. Or he tolerates my more touchy-feely diagnoses I often apply to myself.
No matter how I tried to explain this pain, nothing came out but anger at everything. Anger I had pushed myself this hard. Anger I only had one month to my son’s wedding to feel right. Anger that I couldn’t figure it out. The injury didn’t made sense. It wasn’t an outgrowth of my knee injury from several years ago. My hams were tight. My quads too. But not my hip flexors, where I typically have issues. Resolutions swirled in my head, but didn’t translate to my body.
When we were kids at the public pool, we dove toward the bottom of the deep end. You aimed to touch the bottom. To shoot back up to the surface though, you had to use the bottom to spring upward and let your body do what it knew how to do.
My body still didn’t know.
I needed to be more direct in my research, not wanting to be the person walking into a doctor’s office and say, “All I know is that it hurts here.” The combination of internet search terms fluctuated: Pain, sits bones, muscle, ache. An endless supply of results was returned, including ischial bursitis.
Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa sacs, little sacs that sit between our muscles and tendons. When overused, they become irritated and swell. The Ischial bursa is a deep located bursa over the bony prominence of the Ischium and lies between the Gluteus Maximus and the Ischial tuberosity. Ischial bursitis occurs when one has spent too much time sitting on a hard surface, amongst other activities. This summed up my past few weeks perfectly in symptoms and cause.
Do you want to know what else is it known as? Weaver’s Bottom. Tailor’s Bottom. And now for me, Writer’s Bottom. I had hit bottom. And also, the jackpot, in finally identifying the source. An ailment I later described to my doctor (and my husband). Both of whom confirmed my deduction.
Now knowing my opponent, I could prepare for battle.
The week prior, I had been gulping down Advil, off and on, as well as Tums from the upset stomach created by the NSAIDS, taking the occasional bath, walking and stretching. But now everything was shaded with a new sort of optimism.
I dug out my laptop riser stand so I could still work, and discovered one of the buttons to move the riser lever was stuck. After several tries, my husband, who is equal parts McDreamy and MacGyver, fixed it.
What else did I do? Something I already knew how.
In the Happiness Lab podcast, organizational psychologist Jamil Zaki, author of The War for Kindness, talks about our need to be brave in this post-pandemic (but currently still in it) world, to reconnect with others and ourselves.
“Bravery means doing something we haven’t done before. Like climbing El Capitan. A lot of us have been in a giant valley over the past two years. We’ve lost altitude. But one thing I want to emphasize is also it’s brave to return to where we were. People need to give themselves credit not just for trying new things, but for going back to old things too.” Like stripping off old wallpaper and paint and getting back to the blank, plaster walls.
I unzipped the cover of my green yoga mat. Ran up and down stairs to locate my big rubber ball, and the small yellow one for my hip adductors too. The strap was retrieved from the laundry, where it had sat cast off for over two years. And the Styrofoam roller. My heart groaned. I had been here before. “It’s also brave to return,” played through my head.
In my office, I moved around furniture to set up the implements, the ones used for recovery after getting hit by a car.
It’s not a big office. It’s a room of my own. And my cocoon. In here, I know how and where to go when in pain or experiencing joy. My first thoughts and final ones are delivered over to type here. I am kept remote from the world in order to focus. Here, pain is just another word for nothing else to lose. Here is where I restructure a poem or essay, and also my posture and gait. Here is where I revise a work and also a life.
The thing is, I knew there had been something wrong. I felt it in my gait and forced myself to stand up straight, hearing in my head when my mother would yell, “Ette, stand up straight,” every time I noticed it in myself. I kept wondering, why can’t I get this straight literally?
There’s a scene in the Lincoln Lawyer where Mickey Haller is being driven by a young woman, Izzy, he helped escape a few criminal charges. Both are recovering addicts. Izzy tells Haller (I’m paraphrasing), “Recovery is figuring out what is it you’re recovering from.”
I’m confident the next few days will offer more relief as I continue down this path with more medical advice and self-imposed physical therapy. During one of my more creative translation attempts, my app translated male di culo as bad ass.
I’m carrying that with me to the mat where, in the stillness, I’ll figure out which bottom I’m recovering from.