(Justin ⇒ Jasdev, 11/16/20)
> Have you ever navigated an injury or medical issue? Are there any words of reassurance you would give younger Justin as he handled it? > > — Jasdev, in letter #25.
To be honest — not really! A running joke between H and me is that I have never been injured and thus am setting myself up for a very, very rude awakening.
There’s the line from The Sun Also Rises — “‘How did you go bankrupt?’ ‘Two ways: gradually and then suddenly.’” — and I am worried that is going to apply to my body’s physical bankruptcy. Much to my continuing surprise, I’ve never had that much wrong with me: I’ve never broken a bone, I’ve never had any disease or sickness worse than a particularly bad fever, and I’ve never needed surgery for anything more dramatic than wisdom teeth.
This has, I think, instilled some particularly bad habits, because none of this is out of an abundance of caution or self-care or “treating my body like a temple”-type ombudsmanship. I’m awful at stretching; I don’t monitor my weight or diet. This has, for a long time, been mostly fine; I tend to eat well, I tend to get exercise, things tend to work out fine.
To take a very current example of why this is a bad habit…I forget if I told you this, but I have a weightlifting rack in my backyard. This has been an elixir for my quarantining sanity! Especially in the first few months of the quarantine, when I was desperate for anything resembling normalcy, the ability to go out in the spring morning and, rain or shine, proceed through my lifting routine of choice felt like an important tether.
Lately, though, I’ve been having to pull back a bit. It’s never a good sign when you have to Google “sharp pain in left leg near quad when squatting,” but that’s the position I found myself in — a whole bunch of my lower body work was causing me pain (and not the fun genre of pain, like being unable to go up or down stairs after a particularly tough deadlifting day) to the extent that I had to modify my routine altogether.
So I did what H (who, with two major knee surgeries and an encyclopedic family history of leg issues) recommended: I rebuilt my form, de-loaded my weights, and tried to take it easy.
And it worked for a while — until last weekend, when what I’ve recently learned is my IT Band started acting up again. So I’m going through the actual precautions now: long stretching sessions before and after each workout, heavy use of cold baths and foam rollers, constant reminders that being able to walk on two legs is more important than setting a PR.
None of this is the end of the world. The worst case scenario is that I can’t seriously squat ever again. But I am thinking a lot recently about the things I tend to take for granted, and “ability to treat my body like a playground” is one of them.
As I was sifting through some notes while writing, I came across this highlighted passage from a Murakami book in which he talks about his love of long-distance running:
> Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive–or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.
I remember reading through this at the time and nodding along at a surface-level — a verbose bromide that melts down to “no pain, no gain, bro!” Reading it now, though, I’m struck by how useless it seems: of course there’s a joy that comes from overcoming pain, but now that I’m in a position where my enemy is not pain as a manifestation of my limits but pain as a manifestation of my capabilities (or to put it in nerdier teams, pain as a scalar vs. pain as a vector) the entire passage feels facile.
Are there any books (or, perhaps more broadly, sentiments) about which you’ve changed your mind?