Thursday, March 21, 2013

Looking for the Ease

This blog is only one day old, and already I'm in touch with others like me. Worn out, painful hips, technically 'too young' for hip replacement. Is this a new phenomenon? Did people's hips seize up like this a hundred years ago? I wonder now if my Grandpa with arthritis who walked with two canes, after a fall from an apple tree suffered as I do. Still, by the time he had the fall, he was 80.

According to the nice physiotherapist at the Joint Replacement Clinic, arthritis is hereditary. That means that I can't blame teaching 20+ aerobics classes per week in the 80's, or doing thousands of grands battements (that's dance language for high kicks) in my favourite butoh/contemporary fusion dance class. It can't be penance for binge dieting in my 20's, or living concurrent fitness fanatic and party girl lifestyles. The pain that keeps me from dancing has been in my genes, waiting to pounce, no matter what choices I made. Good thing I dove full-on into life while I could!

Not that I don't continue to be as active as I can manage. My partner, Zack and I practice yoga together every morning. Almost every morning... We do a variation on the Vijnana series, taught by Orit Sen-Gupta. Standing Poses on Tuesday, Backbends Wednesday, Seated Poses and Twists on Thursday. On Fridays we do a flow that suits what we need. Saturday and Monday we do Restorative practice (ahhhh...) and Sundays we sleep in.

I do my best in my practice to focus on the good stuff. To accept the pain, work in alignment, and look for places of ease. It's hard not to hear in my head and body the echoes of what I could do before. It's a big switch, after a lifetime of stretching, to exercise with diminishing returns. Certain stretches, Pigeon pose, for example, feel more like an exercise in patience than a stretch. I can exhale, breath energy, imagine softening till the (sacred) cows come home, and nothing happens.

Still, this morning, towards the end of our practice, I found some ease. I found the joy in the seated twists, with my legs propped and still. I felt my pelvis sending roots into the earth, my spine singing into the twist like the robins heralding the coming Spring. I remembered the joy of lifting my heart in the dance, for just a moment.

Which brings me to gratitude. Because it always comes back to gratitude. Though I'll have to live with this for up to a year, eventually there is a solution. I've talked to plenty of hip replacement 'survivors' and they all report this: 'NO MORE PAIN'. I'm not stuck with daily pain forever, like plenty of other folks. For that I give thanks every day.

And I do my research, so when the time comes, I can make informed choices. Here's a column that appeared recently in the the Globe and Mail. A not-so-happy ending.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Journey into Pain

Well. Let's start in the middle. Why begin at the beginning? Too normal for me. Too usual. Let's begin in the middle. With pain.

I've always had what's known as a 'high pain threshold'. This means that when I was 10, standing at the sink waiting for my Mum to take a sliver out of my finger with a needle, I passed out from the pain before I felt it. This means that as a young dancer I danced on bleeding toes, and thrashed around on stage with wild abandon, despite a fever of 103. I spent the first 30-some years of my life pushing through pain, either ignoring it, or sitting out of dance class because I couldn't trust myself to care for my body. 

Dance for me was about flying, jumping, whirling. In later years it was about weightlessness, about losing track of which way was up. All my life, my body has been strong and capable, flexible and facile. As everyone, I had small limitations, and big insecurities. Still, the photo of me hanging upside down from  rope swing at about age 11? That's how I've lived my life until recently. With a big grin and a 'sure, let's try it!' attitude. 

I'll tell you the longer story later, but my right hip has been funny for years. I tore my right hamstring too many times as an aerobic champion in the early nineties, and sometime 2005-ish it started giving me more trouble, despite my regular yoga practice.

In June of 2011, I was diagnosed with severe arthritis, and told I was a candidate for a hip replacement. Of course I cried. Somehow before that, I thought it was something temporary. I'd tried chiro, physio, osteopathy, yoga, Feldenkrais, massage, Gestalt, Rolfing...I thought I was just short of finding the right thing. I wasn't ready to entertain the idea of an operation and foreign objects replacing my bone. But I had to.

Cut to almost two years later, and the pain is my constant companion. I pop Tylenol Arthritis three at a time, but they don't seem to do much. Once able to sit on the floor with my legs wide and drop my chest to the floor, now my legs separate a scant couple of  feet.

It's tough telling my step-daughter I can't go skiing or mountain biking. Until recently, I did, but the fear of falling is getting too real. The wearing in my hip, along with the pain, make it impossible for me to bend my knees or back much. So getting down to the ground and back up again is already difficult - and pretty impossible on skis. 

I feel like an old woman, and I"m only 50. I practice yoga every day, but I"m not even maintaining. I'm losing flexibility, but doing my best to keep a positive attitude, to accept where I'm at. To live with the challenges life has handed me. It's not easy.

I have a hip replacement booked for October 30th, but I'm hoping to get in before then. Stay tuned...