Last week a co-worker asked if I could stay after school for a meeting. I apologized and awkwardly explained that I really can’t, on any day, because of how many doctors’ appointments I have each week. “You don’t really have that many appointments, do you?” “No, really, I do.”
Since March 21st of last year, my life has revolved around appointments with doctors.
In my endeavor to manage CRPS, I’ve built my daily routine around my job, treatment, and daily activity–a necessity in beating CRPS. This lifestyle hasn’t made me very popular. And last August, a few days before starting a new teaching job, I bit down on a piece of metal hidden in my scrambled eggs at a local restaurant. I’d spent the spring and summer juggling appointments with specialists, searching for CRPS-related answers, and suddenly there were new appointments to schedule, this time for extensive dental work.
While friends make plans for brunches and outings, I’m perusing my planner, looking for slots to fit in appointments after the school day. On the weekends I schedule other appointments, ones that aren’t associated with my diagnosis, like eye exams. I keep a tight schedule, leaving work as soon as the duty day is over to be treated by the doctors who keep the burning in my limbs at bay–a gentle chiropractor and a no-nonsense acupuncturist, mostly. Meanwhile, my social life dwindles.
At first, I cared. Deeply. Last fall, despite the pain in my mouth caused by temporary veneers on my two front teeth (from August to October) and flare ups in my arms and legs because of stress and lack of movement, I continued scheduling social events as though nothing had changed. Sure, we’ll be there! Wouldn’t miss it! Unable to drive myself farther than 35 minutes without a flare-up, I’d ask Scott to drive me, ignoring the fact that sitting for more than 20 minutes causes my feet to swell and turn purple, and creates a burning sensation that can last for days.
I’ve always been a social person. The oldest of five kids, I was raised on activity and interaction, two markers I equated with love and connection and I prided myself on “being a good friend” who was always “reaching out”. But in November, after a full fall at a new job, classes, painful dentist appointments to remedy a broken front tooth, the development of painful lumps throughout my arms and legs, and nightly flare-ups that kept me from sleeping, I was ready to admit that something had to change. The CRPS symptoms were spreading to my arms and the ramifications of these health complications were frightening. I felt challenged to turn my attention to myself instead of managing and maintaining the unhealthy norms that had long since developed. I came across wisdom from Anne Lamott, who wrote,
“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.”
Her words challenged me deeply. I removed Instagram from my home screen and stopped posting. I resisted the urge to check in on everyone. I became my own priority.
The results were noticeable. There was so much silence. It was uncomfortable and trying, but I was determined to make room for change.
Around the same time, a Body Pump instructor at my gym, who was in school training to become a nutritionist and health coach, generously offered to meet with me weekly. A few days after Thanksgiving, with her guidance, I cut gluten and sugar completely from my diet and watched in amazement as an anti-inflammatory diet radically changed my daily experience with pain.
(A restricted diet will make you about as popular as someone who has doctors’ appointments every day.)
In December, as my focus shifted inward, I started to say “no”, thinking that a couple of weekends off from social commitments would be enough to make up for the hectic schedule of the prior eight months, but the lack of busyness was addicting and, as I began to feel better, the bar was raised for what I would consider saying “yes” to. I’d gone from having multiple priorities (a misconception) to one: my health, and with that single focus, I began to see growth in every other facet of my life.
I’ve since realized that, for now, my norm had to be quiet. Prior to that, it was not unusual to have a month of weekend plans and coffee dates scheduled throughout the week, on top of multiple appointments. It was uncommon for me to have a Saturday free and I (thought that I) thrived off the busyness.
Everything is relative. I was nowhere near thriving, nor was I truly content. Instead, I was over tired both physically and emotionally, but had no baseline to gauge whether or to what extent I was flourishing.
We’re a week and a half away from April and these few months of restricted yesses have created a space for me to focus solely on Getting Better and, even as I spend my afternoons with doctors instead of friends, I’ve begun to flourish.