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The hardest part of discipline

So last week, I let a doctor jam a needle into the proximal joint of my big toe. Then pump cortisone into it. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt pain like that. The only reason I didn’t haul off and punch him in the arm was because he was holding a needle. Stuck into my fucking toe.

Today, it actually feels pretty good. I can wiggle the big toe on my left foot. Which is more than I could say this time last week. I’m doing physical therapy exercises now, which means picking up marbles with my toes, after first retrieving those marbles from the far-flung corners where Tengu has put them when I wasn’t looking. That cat loves marbles.

So I guess this another installment in my ongoing series on how the human body is made of flimsy bullshit.

I ended up at the doctor’s office last week because my back has been bothering me off and on since August. The big toe on my left foot has been almost immobile far longer, and I thought I’d have the doctor look at it while I was there. The x-rays on my back came out fine, thanks for asking. My toe, not so much. The joint is badly narrowed and I have extra bone growth, which is a bad thing. This lead to the cortisone shot and the exercises, and hopefully that will work because otherwise I get to look forward to foot surgery in the near future.

Though I guess, having made it through shoulder surgery, foot surgery can’t possibly suck that much.

But it’s also incredibly upsetting. Because I feel like I did this to myself. Over a year ago, I hyperextended my toe pretty badly while I was practicing kung fu. (Which means, by the way, I screwed up when I was practicing, since that isn’t something that should normally happen.) It hurt like a bitch, so I went to the doctor after a week and got told it was a sprain. I just needed to wear one of those immobilizing shoes for three weeks and give it time to heal. But it didn’t heal.

I should have gone back to the doctor when it didn’t stop hurting. But I figured I’d just work through it. The pain steadily got worse, but just a little at a time so I didn’t really notice. Until I started tap lessons.

I should have figured out already that working through the pain when it’s that kind of pain is a stupid move. Look how it turned out with my shoulder, after all. Maybe some day I’ll figure out that these aren’t the kind of problems that can be cured with tenacity.

I’m big into discipline, into making things a habit so you feel weird if you don’t do them. For me, it’s worked for writing, and it’s worked even better with exercise. But with writing, there’s yet to be a time when doing daily wordcount could hurt me. Maybe that day will come. With exercise, though, there are times when exercising can and will hurt you. Exercising injured may sound like a badass thing to do (keep going on your broken leg! win the game!), but it’s not. It’ll likely just get you more hurt. And while I don’t think you get any prizes if you get buried with all of your original parts, you also don’t get any prizes for breaking yourself into non-functioning pieces because you were too damn obstinate to just pause.

One of the hardest emails I’ve sent in recent memory was the one to my tap instructor, when I told her I wouldn’t be able to continue with lessons until my foot was better. Just like when my shoulder blew out, one of the most upsetting conversations I’ve ever had was telling Shifu that I had to drop out of class for a while. Good teachers, good coaches, are always understanding about these things. Good teachers don’t want you to hurt yourself. They understand.

It’s a lot harder to give yourself that kind of understanding. First off, there’s the disappointment of it, but I’ve had my fajitas (and a margarita) now, and I’m over it. It’s more that I’ve never been any kind of fucking athlete. After fighting so hard to be able to run or do kung fu or dance when once upon a time I could barely climb a couple flights of stairs, I’m just so afraid I’m going to lose it. After going so many places and doing so many things powered by sheer, bloody-minded stubbornness, maybe I don’t know how to deal with a problem that I can’t just wear down. I’m lucky I have friends who are willing to tell me over and over again to stop being stupid and rest.

I have to believe in myself, that when I get injured it isn’t the end of the world if I have to stop and rest. That I will recover whatever ground I might lose, or that I’ll be able to find new ground to cover. But that’s the hard part. The scary part. It’s easier to do something than not do something. It’s easier to stay in motion when you’ve been in motion.

And that’s why this is another part of discipline that I have to learn.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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