Tag: shoulder

doing too much, doing too little

In retrospect, i entered this whole “getting surgery on my shoulder” with a lot of hubris. Most of it was fueled by desperation, my arm was in so much pain it had been rendered useless. A few days before the actual event i had written in my journal that without doubt i would be back to work within a weeks – at the very least writing and drawing and getting my online store up to date. i would be back quickly because of how deeply i grieved over the time lost to the injury over the summer.  i needed to redeem my life, prove myself useful. “Yeah,” i wrote, “No doubt. i will be back before a month is out.”

Predictably, i was thwarted – or rather, i proved to be insane in my expectations.  What i wound up doing, by in large, was crawling into a hole and waiting for friends to gently toss provisions down at me. In-between injuries and spells of terrible health, i forget: pain keeps the brain from working well, healing takes energy that would normally go toward other things.  Fighting the need to rest brings on even greater despair than the pain already stokes.  Sometimes a hole is exactly where one needs to be, to have quiet and stillness and time to sleep and get better.

It has been six weeks since surgery. Because i am wildly motivated to have two working hands, i already have nearly full range of motion in my arm, but i am terribly weak.  The muscles have no endurance.  An hour in the studio yesterday and another today has left my arm sore and completely exhausted. Inside the joint there is a deep, empty ache and the muscles all grumble angrily. Add to that another round of bronchitis-like symptoms that began a week ago, eerily similar to the affliction that leveled me this time last year (those same friends were begging me for a trip to the hospital during their visits this weekend), and i have had even more days added to this long pause when living feels like it is on hiatus.

i recognize that right now i am a fragile flower. Anything unexpected or extreme will make me wilt and lose my petals. i can do some work – clients’ projects slowly come back up to date, i wrote about a dozen poems today, i am rebuilding the world of my novel in my mind – but physical activity remains limited.  Each time i do a little too much, i fall back down on my generous behind.  i am seeking balance in a body whose needs are shifting wildly from second to second. This can be a dance, trying to maximize what i do and not destroy myself in the process.  i cannot claim success, but i am truly understanding how much of my self esteem still hinges on my ability to make art. Down to my soul, i have learned that the reflexive hatred i feel for myself when i am unable to work is not just useless, but corrosive. This is the habit i cannot let take hold.

For now, i have to be aware of where i am inside myself.  i have to be kind and gentle, dismantling the nagging demand that i justify my existence through ceaseless motion and effort. That way, i can treasure the things i manage to get done – like verse, and drawing, and just making it through another day.

cleaned out

IMG_3946Not quite three weeks ago, i went through surgery to get my left arm working again. My entire shoulder had to be cleaned out. The pain since June had been increasingly crippling, leaving a path of destruction through my attention span, my memory, my strength, my mood and my endurance. A large number of blogs charted this descent, long before i realized how much the disability was effecting me. It had been months since i could throw without tears. Sculpting proved to be too much. The novels i’d been writing (a series, going forward in an odd way but still moving at a delightful and brisk pace) suddenly stalled, my mind unable to hold their complexity.  The characters continued to swim in my imagination, but their movement was languid and impotent; i could not fix them to the page without some focus.

Already, those problems have begun to shift.  Almost immediately after surgery, the pain was already less than it had been before the repair.  Today, i was able to drive and function like i have not been able to contemplate for months. As i made my way home from several errands in Bangor, i was singing with joy.

Of course, i still have a lot of healing left to do.  My attention span still wanders more than normal.  The fatigue can be overwhelming, even after gentle activity.  My other health issues have not been solved.  Also, a lot of tasks are still quite difficult, but i am getting better at them all the time. (Case in point: tying shoes.IMG_3979 Who would have thought the shoulder was involved in that? i figured a back-clasped bra would be next to impossible, but extending down or reaching out if i’ve raised my foot to a chair, turned out to be unexpected pain.) Every sign of improvement leaves me overjoyed. Indeed, my personal hygiene after using the bathroom has already reached my pre-surgery standards, for which there is endless rejoicing.

It is the simple pleasures, really.

My friends have come through for me with such shocking kindness that i have been unable to articulate my full gratitude even in prayer.  i have spent so much time writing about loneliness and isolation and feeling like the other; this experience provided testimony to the miracle of friendship.  People sat with me the first day after surgery; a steady stream of food and gifts made their way to my doorstep; calls, messages and email came in a small flood to check to see if i was ok.

There were nights alone, when i held a small pity parties for myself because i was alone, partially immobilized and in blistering pain, but then i realized, even if i were married or living with someone, the impulse to whine would remain.  Pain itself was the cause of the wallowing.

Last week, i pushed myself too far.  This past weekend, i did very little but sleep and draw.

A large stack of drawings became evidence of that first great swelling of creativity. This is the art of recuperation.  i drew each on mat board, heavy enough to stay in place.  My left arm rested while my right hand moved the pen.  Until yesterday, i had not the strength to word.  But, three poems, a few cover letters, a further revamped resume and this blog have encouraged me.  The writing has started to creep back.  i have had the image of a character walking through my imagination all day today, asking me to finish their story.  He’d just met someone, after all, i think he wants to know where that relationship is going.  With every bit of art, i feel like i am coming  back to life.

It is the simple pleasures, the patient kindness of friends, the sense of hope that comes over me when i make art – even when it’s small and frivolous.  Love has been pouring through my life, for a lot longer than i realized.  Like the insidious effect of pain, love has been there, too, on the edges, moving through me, changing everything without my conscious mind realizing it.  My life is rich with friends, with fellow artists, with innumerable blessings. The outpouring of kindness had left me unsettled.  Honestly, i knew i would get help but had no idea how much would flow my way.

After nearly three weeks of addled introspection, i realized with shock that too many awesome things had been dismissed or missed because i was too stuck in my old stories.

First there was the story of the lonely, frightened child. Then the awkward teen who had no idea what to do with people and no confidence in herself. Then, the woman who had weathered first debilitating illness and then the rejection and pain of a divorce.  After that, the long loneliness.  All of it is laid bare in this blog. i have written post after post about feeling like the other, feeling alone, feeling isolated.

Well, when i was in need, people came.  Those stories, while potent, were not the absolute truth of my life.

So what replaces otherness?  What stands up in the space where loss once loomed?

i looked at myself through another’s eyes and saw someone wildly blessed with creativity and stubbornness. This spell of injury and recovery happened when i was at my lowest, when i felt like everything had completely fallen apart, and yet, here i was sitting in a pile of my own drool, just a day and a half after surgery, drawing.  i drew because letter could not follow letter in that stupor. Nearly every day, i drew another few pieces. Then this weekend, the engine of art started roaring back to life, filling all my senses. It happened without force or effort, proving again that art is a quiet compulsion leaking from my fingertips.

When i challenged myself for a new story the one that presented itself was a deep truth: i am an artist, who can’t seem to surrender her art. Perhaps i am too mad.  Maybe i am simply too obstinate.  Either way, i keep melting into image and story.  Despite other jobs, and injury, and illness, and discouragement, and poverty, and failure – i have continued making art. Thin lines of ink have woven themselves through my healing.

i am so ridiculously grateful.