Going Back

July 15, 2012

I’ve had a spate of experiences lately that have forced me to admit that moves I made — changes I was actively excited about — were bad for me. And not course-adjustment-bad, turn-around-and-go-back-to-where-you-came-from-bad.

This spring I saw an optometrist. We talked about the usual — my stunningly-poor eyesight, for the most part. But then she told me the insides of my eyelids were severely irritated — they looked like the eyes of someone who lives with cats but is allergic to them. When she pointed it out, I realized I’d been waking up most mornings with slightly swollen eyes, and occasionally when I was sleeping I’d be jolted to consciousness by a burning sensation that could only be soothed by eyedrops and some intense rubbing with facial tissue. But cat-less, I was at a loss for ideas about what might be causing such problems.

In another realm of life, since my freshman year of college I’ve been trying to be a runner. It started out as a psychological experiment, more than anything: I am by nature quite averse to running. Have been since I was a kid. But I wanted to see if I could make myself learn to enjoy it. And while it took about five years (of admittedly on-and-off effort), during 2010 something finally clicked and I… became a runner. Suddenly I could run 5 miles without thinking much of it; I stopped thinking of the phrase “just two miles left” as the epitome of insanity; I found myself actually looking forward to the exercise. For my birthday in 2011 I asked only for a pair of Vibram Five-Finger shoes. I was quite a fan of their premise: run the way our bodies evolved to run. Not with an inch of padding and a pound of extra weight. Just run. And once I got those lovely shoes I found I absolutely adored the sensation. I felt light and playful. There was just one problem: after a mile or two out, I would get extremely painful blisters on the bottoms of my toes. Debilitatingly painful. Often I’d have to limp home and then limp through the ensuing days. Having gone through a decade of dance in my younger years, I was quite familiar with blisters, and kept expecting callouses to form and the pain to desist. For several months I made a point of running at least five times a week, and going just far enough to toy with the line of pain, but not enough to cause damage. It worked, sort of — I got up to about 3 miles. But then life got crazy and I spent a few weeks (really, weeks — not months) not running, and when I got back out on the pavement found myself back at square one. Since this past winter I’ve found myself only decreasingly motivated to even try.

In yet another realm, for Christmas this past year I received a very nice mattress pad from my parents. My father (who has had back troubles) swears by his, and wanted to share some of the glory. A memory-foam wonder, when I placed it atop my bed upon returning home after the holidays, I promptly laid down and fell asleep for the night. I awoke to find my back feeling as though it had… air in it. My spine felt as though it had decompressed. Clearly this was a good sign! Every evening afterward I relished in laying down on my little cloud.

(cough*seemingly*cough) unrelated, I’ve been having significant trouble for much of this calendar year with my comfort at work. I’ve been finding myself unable to remain comfortable for long periods of time, experiencing new immobility and frustrating weakness. It’s what I’d imagine “getting old” to feel like.

Over the course of about three weeks, I’ve now had three little epiphany-moments, suddenly linking previously-unconnected aspects of my life.

First was my pillow. In addition to the mattress pad, I also received a memory-foam pillow for Christmas. I picked it out; it was extraordinarily comfortable, the perfect thickness and density, and I loved it. But one recent day out of nowhere I realized my problems with my eyes seemed to be related to sleep, and while I couldn’t pinpoint the onset of my symptoms, I couldn’t remember ever having experienced either problem before last winter. Culprit: new pillow. That night I switched from the fancy pillow to a $4 cottonball I’d bought from Target to have for guests, and haven’t had one swollen or stinging eye since.

A few weeks later (a mere week ago), I realized I could say the same thing about my back problems — I didn’t remember ever being bothered by it until earlier this year. I ripped the mattress pad out from under my sheet, slept on my comically-cheap mattress that night, and the very next morning didn’t feel so wobbly. (I’m still pretty messed up — I do think this issue transcends one quick answer like a sleeping-surface switch and will involve some lifestyle adjustments and considerable time (and money) at a chiropractor, but I also don’t think it’s crazy that this silly piece of foam served as a catalyst to jar a whole bunch of conditions previously lying dormant into action.)

And just last night, I decided to go out for a freakin’ run and leave the Vibrams at home. Instead I wore a light pair of Nike sneakers I’ve had for years. They’re more meant to be stylish shoes — not designed for exercise — but I figured that could be perfect, allowing me to retain my forefoot-first running style, but also leaving space for a pair of socks and not so much friction against my skin. I put in about three miles and felt just fine. Unfortunately, since it’s been over a year since I was able to do long (“long”) runs, my stamina — both mental and physical — is back where it was before I had my Runner Moment, before things clicked. I find myself certain I can navigate my way back there quickly though, and my will to do so will be greatly enhanced by getting rid of this one element — the shoes that annihilate my feet.

So there are my stories. Three items that I thought would make my life better, in fact made it worse. But because of a disconnect between my expectations and reality, I was pathetically slow to see what was going on, and allowed things in all three realms to go way too far before taking the very simple acts necessary to fix them.

Sometimes… stuff just doesn’t work. And it’s fine. Life’s basically one big experiment anyway, but these few incidences occurring in such quick succession are reminding me to not get attached to outcomes, and to remain objective about what works and what doesn’t. And if it doesn’t work… stop. Simple, trivial, silly. But a truth I clearly needed to be smacked over the head by. Here’s hoping I won’t need it again.

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