Saturday, March 26, 2016

Can Thorns Be Beautiful?

I really don't know how to start this. There are so many places where I could begin. I am learning that stories do not always have a real beginning. A time when the story didn't exist and then it began. It has always been there, its just that we haven't been able to see it. Its like saying a rose bush doesn't exist just because you haven't seen the blossom yet.

I'll begin with the roots.

My father used to play drums, piano and guitar. My mother used to make explosives in her backyard. 

I played piano and jumped out of trees.

So my parents decided to put me in gymnastics.

I enjoyed my days at the gymnasium and found a safe outlet for my wildness. I would run laps around the mat, do stretches, climb the rope, swing on the bars, jump from the vault, and balance on the beam. I learned flips and tricks and handstands. I could do cartwheels on the beam. First at floor level then little by little higher until I was at the highest level. Next up was learning to do handstands on the beam. I could already do them on the mat. But I began to collapse. In the middle of cartwheels or handstands my arms would give way and I would crumple into a pile on the floor. At first I thought it was a balance issue so I kept trying. My instructor and parents were concerned, and when my arms and wrists began to hurt I realized too that there was a problem. I quit gymnastics and began to visit the doctors.

We went to countless doctors. All of them ignored my problems and told us it was growing pains. They told me to wear a wrist brace indefinitely. We went to CVS and tried on different braces and picked out black ones. As soon as we checked it out we opened the package and I put them on. It was a relief for my injured wrists and I was glad to have them. I wore them all day, everyday. I went to bed with them on, took showers with them on, I played baseball with them on. I never took it off. My skin inside the braces began to turn white and softened and the whole thing stank. We began to take them them off to wash them but while they were off I would sit quietly and not move. My muscles began to atrophy.

I was no longer allowed to do simple tasks such as carrying a gallon of milk, or watering cans or open our big heavy suburban doors. I wasn't allowed to swing the bat in baseball any more and at times I couldn't play at all. I wasn't allowed to swing on the tree branches any more or play on the zip line in our backyard. Any action that could remotely be considered stressful on my arms or wrists I was not allowed to do. My siblings began to complain that I used my wrists as an excuse to get out of work. In reality I tried so hard to do the things that they could do. I did as much as I could but when my wrists began to hurt too much I was forced to stop. I often went too far just because I didn't want to feel inadequate or get accused of lying about the pain. There were times when I would hide and cry because they hurt so much.

All this time I was still playing piano. I would sit at the piano and stretch out my arms stiff and straight. I sat like a soldier at attention. My fingers stuck out of the braces like the tentacles of a sea anemone. I played the keys with a hammer like motion, solid, exact, and inflexible. My arm and entire body motion was restricted because of the way my fingers stuck out of the brace. I was never able to come at anything from an angle, my arm had to line up exactly in front of the keys I was tying to play. Additionally I was not able to stretch my fingers to comfortably reach any interval beyond a 6th or 7th. Playing octaves was almost impossible. My finger muscles became stronger while my wrist muscles grew weaker. One day I took my brace off and found that I could no longer hold my hand up on my own.

Once the support of the brace was taken away my hand immediately dropped limp at the end of my arm. This scared me. I told my parents about it and they decided to try taking off the braces and to begin building my muscles back. We started this process very slowly. The search for answers began again and we visited more doctors who told us the same old story. Eventually we visited a specialist in sports medicine. I still remember what he looks like! He had black hair that had some kind of styling product in it. He had a kind face and a nose that wasn't soft and round like my own. His eyes reflected the pain I described to him and when I saw his sincerity I could't help but tear up. He was the first doctor that ever listened to me. He commended us for beginning to take off the braces and told us the other doctors shouldn't have told me to wear them for so long. He showed me stretches I could do to help build back the muscle. He asked about x-rays and when we told him we had already had them done so many times before and they showed nothing wrong he believed us and didn't insist on the pointless scan like all the other doctors had done. Instead he said he would do a CAT scan and we scheduled one for a few days later.

The CAT scan was a little intimidating. My mom and I didn't go to the same place we had met the kind doctor the first time. Instead we came to some black steps that led up to a little door opening directly into the room with the large machine in it. It was a warm day. I stomped up the stairs, the sound rang around the concrete floor and walls around me. I was wearing a new pair of capris with a pink belt that had little metallic beads. I had a matching pink shirt with a sparkly black outline of a cats face on the front of it. The nurses were unsure if the belt had real metal in it so they gave me paper pants to wear just to be safe. They told me how the machine worked and warned me that there were going to be loud sounds all around me but that it was normal and it was still safe. I climbed onto the table and lay down. Slowly the hard bed retracted into white tunnel. I lay perfectly still inside the big machine as all around me people hit walls of iron with steel headed hammers. At first I was nervous but eventually I got used to it and I actually fell asleep. Once I couldn't help myself and my arm jumped. I was afraid that we would have to do it all over again. Ages later a nurse called to me from the end of the tunnel. "Lydia, you're done! We're going to slide the table back out now." Her voice startled me from my restless dozing but I was happy to finally be done. The praised me for being so still and gave me a 3D chess game for the computer.

A week or so later we met with the kind doctor again who had the results from the CAT scan. He showed us the pictures and pointed to tiny grey lines. They ran up and down the bones in both my arms. He said they were hair line fractures. My mom explained to me they were like the grey lines on my grandmas porcelain plates. I don't really know what became of all this but at least we knew what the problem was now. We continued to wean myself from the braces.

This is me when I was around ten years old. I am flying a kite in this picture. I remember the tug of the string making my arms sore. I didn't tell my parents because I really wanted to fly that kite!
Throughout all of this, I injured my wrist two more times. Once in a fall while attempting to do a trick on the bars like I used to at gymnastics. The other time was in a game of soccer after church. I was never much for soccer and loved to play basketball instead. It was hard for me to remember to use my feet instead of my hands. One of the older boys kicked the ball and it came right at me. I tried to stop the ball and stretched out my hand. The ball hit my hand and didn't touch any part of my arm. (This was later on when I was not wearing the brace as much.) The impact from the ball caused my wrist to go further back than it usually does. I dropped to the ground bawling in excruciating pain and cradled my wrist in the other hand. In that moment I felt so many emotions all at once. Terror that I had actually broken my wrist, embarrassment to be seen crying, anger because the boy who had kicked showed no remorse and told me I shouldn't have tried to catch it with my hands, and despair of my arms ever healing. My siblings went screaming for my parents and the other kids crowded around me. I sobbed, snot everywhere and cried, "Its never going to get better! Its never going to get better!" My mom came and picked me up like a limp rag doll and carried me inside. I kept crying and repeated incessantly, "Its never going to get better!"

Years went by. Eventually I stopped using the braces completely. I gave up all sports so that I could keep playing piano. With my arms and wrists as weak as they were, it was impossible for me to do both. My piano teachers wondered why I had such poor technique and I never realized it was because of the habits I had learned while wearing the braces. They did their best to correct me though and I improved a little. My arms and wrists still hurt. I've been living with this constant pain for about twelve years now. Some days are worse than others. I still avoid some of the simplest tasks. I am careful when opening doors that need to be twisted. I don't write letter by hand anymore and I've recently given up writing in my journals. I don't chop certain vegetables when cooking and I pick different items up in a particular way because of my wrists. My entire body is effected. I am sore all over almost all the time. I've been to chiropractors which haven't been much help. I've taken supplements to encourage bone growth in an effort to heal the hairline fractures but I have never been consistent enough to see any improvement. Currently I have just taken up swimming. I hope this will work to align my body and relieve the tension that is always there. Swimming is low impact so it will be perfect for me.

Yesterday was one of the bad days. I hadn't even been sitting at the piano for ten minutes when I began to hurt like I had been practicing for three hours with bad technique. I came out of the practice room completely exhausted. A friend was standing in the hall. The door shut behind me and I collapsed against the wall and slid down to the floor saying, "I can't do it." My friend was concerned and talked with me and tried to comfort me. I acted like it was helping and put on a fake smile and pushed the pain away like I always do. I suppose he did help some, I appreciated his concern. Later I threw an apple in the air and when I caught it I flinched. Most of that day went to waste because I couldn't bring myself to do anything. Everything I did made me hurt and when I wasn't doing anything I still hurt.

Dealing with this pain is emotionally exhausting. I never know what to do. I don't talk about it very much. Sometimes I think people will think that I am just a wimp. Sometimes I think people will think that I am trying to get attention. When I do talk about it I treat it cavalierly because I don't want other people to know how much it hurts. Even if I tell them only a little bit about it they react either in shock or pity. I can deal with the shock because I'll just laugh but when they pity me I cry. I try my best to avoid these conversations. I try not to think about it very much either because I fear that I will fall into the "victim mentality" and feel entitled to peoples sympathy or that I will lower my expectations for myself. When I physically can't do what I need to do I feel defeated and sometimes angry. I try not to get upset but it is so hard for me. I get depressed, sometimes for days. My biggest fear is arthritis. I still hide and cry because of the pain. Wondering if I will physically be able to learn my jury pieces for the end of this semester in the music program is a legitimate concern for me. I doubt myself on how much I am taking on musically. Will my body be able to handle it? The thought of not being able to scares me. I constantly remind myself of the difference between my dreams and my purpose. I ask myself if I will be able to take care of my own family some day. Will my arms be strong enough to pick up my little baby or toddler? Will I be able to feed my family? What if I'm home by myself with the kids and I can't open a jar or pick up the frying pan?

And that't the end of it. I don't have any lesson for you, I don't have any fancy conclusion. It just is. I hurt and I'm trying to deal with it. I wrote this because recent'y I've felt like I've been pushing it away too much and haven't been facing it. I was beginning to tell myself that I was imagining the pain. I am acknowledging to myself that this is a real problem, and that there are real reasons for it.

The rose bush is in full bloom but right now all I can see are thorns.

Where are the flowers, Father?


  1. Dear Lydia,
    Christ is our strength. We can not trust our own arms to save us. Look to Him and He will give you healing. Trust in Him and He will give you strength, for even when our own arms fail us, His never will.
    I love you and hope this encourages you.
    Love, a sister in Christ


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