Two weeks ago on Saturday, I was really in the mood to blow off some stress with hard physical exercise. It was a long work week. We walked the dog a couple of miles, as is our Saturday morning habit. We had plans to attend an introduction to Tai Chi in the afternoon, but that would be mellow and a little behind on my step count, so I went to Zumba. It was a great, great class. My favorite teacher. A vigorous routine. And in the end, as a cool down song, we danced to Royals, my current favorite song (song of the book for Book 2 in my NA series), using a lot of Nia* steps, though I was probably the only one in the class who knew it and knows that the teacher used to be a Nia teacher at the Y. I was sweaty and happy at the end, although I’d sort of ignored my knees a bit and had a feeling I’d pay. My spirit soared, my mind was calm.
Within an hour, my knees said, “What the eff?” I sat in my favorite chair and iced them, as I often do. It usually calms them down. I knew I didn’t have to do anything but the tai chi class later, so it would be fine. It’s the trade-off I’ve been making lately: if I dance, I probably won’t do anything else that day except a lot of reading. Fair enough. I bargain with my knees like they are sentient: I’ll just go to Zumba once a week, and the rest of the time, I’ll do whatever I can to make you strong and feel comfortable.
Well, that Saturday they spoke back. They said, STOP DOING THIS! with pain. That’s what pain is, a signal, of course. I sat in my chair and tried not to cry, not sure whether I was crying more because I might have to give up Zumba or because it was hurting so much.
We headed to tai chi. It was an intro class, mainly a lot of talking, and it was fine. We went through a few exercises, so easy and gentle, all balancing, all meant to get blood flowing throughout the body, through the joints and all the meridians. It was wonderful, and Christopher Robin loved it even more than I did, so we decided to sign up for classes. The only one we can take together is at 9:45 on Saturday mornings, which means Zumba is impossible. At least that class. I wavered for once second and then said, “Let’s do this.”
Friends, I’ll tell you that by the time I got home, I could only hobble. I knew exactly what had happened: a torn meniscus in the left knee got caught, the knee swelled because of all the activity, and then it couldn’t get free. The more it hurt, the more I tensed, and the worse it got. The right knee has torn menisci, too, but there’s no point to undergoing the knife for just that; as my orthopedist says, it’s like throwing a cup of water on a house fire. I found some vicodin left over from dental surgery, collapsed in my girl cave and watched movies, and by morning, the knee was feeling normal. At least normal-ish. I was hobbling. My BFF at church said, “You know, you’re always unconsciously rubbing your hands in circles over your knees.”
Christopher Robin said, “How long are you going to keep putting off doing something about this?” as I limped around a walk the next morning.
My massage therapist, not even knowing about my bad day, said, “You know I love and honor you right? You are totally throwing your entire body out of whack with all the compensation you’re doing for these knees.” Right there on the table, tears leaked out of my eyes. I wrecked my knees roller skating (speed skating, actually) as a child and teen, when I loved nothing better than flying so fast around that floor that it really did feel like flight. I took the inevitable injuries with a grain of salt, and nearly all of them were crashing into the floor with knees. Bad knees (bad joints, actually) run in my family, and my sister had to have hers completely replaced by the time she was 38.
But the dialogue I’ve been having with myself was a Good Wolf/Bad Wolf, the Exercise Edition. Bad Wolf kept saying, “Get out there and exercise, you lazy sloth! Of course your knees need to be replaced. Because you are fat! If you get thin enough, you won’t ever have to do this stupid thing.” Good Wolf would say, gently, “Let’s just go for a nice long walk, maybe sit in the hot tub afterward, and have a light supper.” Bad Wolf would roar, “What’s wrong with you? Come on, lift those weights, get out there and huff and puff.” Good Wolf would say, “Baby,” (because that’s how my good wolf talks to me, in the voice of a Southern, aging black woman), “your knees are hurting. Let’s take it a little easy today, huh? Cook something. That’ll feel good.”
Bad Wolf has nothing to do with Zumba. I purely love moving, dancing. And roller skating. I love hiking so much it’s like a song in my soul. I do it because I am so sad when I can’t.
The next Saturday morning, we went to Tai Chi after we walked the dog (during which I had to stop twice to stretch out my hips, getting too tight because of compensation). As I went through the entire warm-up, I could actually hear my body, feel how exhausted it was from trying to keep everything in good order for me. My lower back, my aching hips, the weary knees. My left foot, my shoulders and neck. Everything, too tight, off-kilter. As we moved, so easily, so gently, so slowly, so deliberately, I could feel things ease a little, here and there. Blood flowing through my wrists, into my lower back. I could feel the click and scratch and swelling in my knees. And I said, “I’m sorry, my body. I am going to take better care of you. I promise.”
I don’t know what’s going to happen, or when. I know that I’m weary of having to give things up because it hurts. I’m not willing to become a hobbling cripple before I commit to the challenge of surgery and recovery, which is not that easy. I do know that I’ve kept the muscles in my legs and knees as strong as I can, with the help of the wonderful Tabor, who knows how to help me. He’ll also be there for me afterwards, helping me get strong again. And maybe then I can dance every day if I want. Or at least once a week without crying afterwards.
I’m also going to stick with Tai Chi for awhile. CR has a sports injury, too, plantar fasciitis (that is a bugger of a word to spell!) and he found some relief in the movements. I’m going to try to pay attention to the things my BODY is saying every day. Do I need to walk or swim? Is my body hurting and what will give it ease? That doesn’t mean I’m giving up hard exercise, understand. On Monday, I really needed the stress relief of a hard work out and when he texted, asking about my knees and what I I felt like, I texted back that my knees hurt a lot, but I needed to sweat and work hard. Possible? He said, “Absolutely.” So we did a vigorous work out that didn’t hurt my knees at all. I can swim as much as I like. It never hurts. And I can walk a ton, of course. Always.
Sorry to be so long-winded. Sometimes, a story needs more words. I’ve committed to being real here, and maybe my story resonates with some of you.
Do you listen to your body? Or is it your mind you hear? Right now, stop and take a second and scan through your precious, beautiful body. What does IT say to you?