What an injury has taught me about myself

Which will I choose: A back brace, or a broom?

I’ve always had a strong sense of self.  But like many women, when I became a mom, I lost a lot of it.

It’s not because I give my son unconditional love and as much of my attention as I can (and as seems reasonable – I want him to know how to have fun on his own, as well) – that, I always knew I’d do:  I’m not particularly extroverted, but to the friends and loved ones in my life, I’ve always given so much of myself.  I’d already expected my son to get even more.

No, it was other things that slipped away.  For example, I’d always been known as someone who’s almost obsessive about housework.  But with my son’s arrival, I found myself slacking where I could.  I might still regularly do the wash (although, as I’d been warned, with a growing family, it does seem to get out of hand), but my weekly deep-clean of our bathrooms has been relegated to twice a month, if I have the time.  Only the sink areas, floor, and a brief bathtub wipe-down are what I focus on more frequently.  I’d always kept up with hand washing the many fragile dresses I own, but now they’ve piled up so much that our laundry hamper is unusable. 

Not that I could have worn many of the dresses anyway.  After being a chubby kid and teenager, I had spent nearly a decade at average weight, and was disciplined enough to get myself back in gear whenever I wavered into heavier territory.  Now, due mainly to stress eating and a lack of sleep, my weight has put me back into the eyebrow-raising borderline heavy category.  It’s hard to accept when you’ve grown used to putting on most clothes and looking at least okay, and it’s even harder to love my new self living in Paris, France, where fat shaming is far more abundant than those mythic French poodles. Lately, I’ve been judged by everyone from my mother-in-law, to a new gynecologist (interestingly, neither one of these women is particularly thin – in fact, the gynecologist and I could have shared clothes).  I’ve gone from someone who was curtly accepted into the mainstream, to a person who seems like she’s let herself go.

And then, I pulled out my back.

It seems like such a minor thing – something that happens to people all the time.  And maybe because of that, you think it’s just a matter of lying on the sofa for a few days, taking it easy.  But that wasn’t so easy to do with a two-year-old in my care most of the time. And that wasn’t the only thing.  Because whenever I started to feel better, I found myself getting up and doing housework.  And when I’d feel bad again and have to lie down, I’d feel upset that I couldn’t continue.  I felt frustrated I couldn’t get back to my treadmill runs, which I’d recently started again.  

Hurting my back has made me have to strip everything down to what’s essential. I can’t fold the laundry because I need to save up my strength for taking my son out of his crib after his nap.  I can’t bend down and pick up toys because I’m going to have to bend down and feed the cat.  I used to blame these chores on the life I’d chosen, on motherhood and wifehood.  But as I find myself trying to do them even so, I start to remember who I was.  

On Sunday, I was feeling better and went into a moderate cleaning frenzy.  By Sunday night, I was lying on the sofa, tears running down my cheeks, in severe pain despite the regular doses of codeine I’d been taking.  And yet, on Monday, I got up, felt a bit stiff, but still found myself picking up cookie crumbs and feeding the cat.

I’m realizing that who I was – and who I am - is also more than I thought. I’ve always looked up to my mom for how she surpasses pain, not just brushing it aside, but even defying it.  When she was here for a visit a few weeks ago, she often had trouble climbing the steep hill to our apartment.  It’s understandable: In remission for stage 4 breast cancer, she’s taken her share of blows. But when I’d suggest we sit down on a bench for a while, or, at the very least, that I push my son’s carriage the rest of the way up, she’d shake her head and say, “No. I want to do this.”

I always thought I was the opposite: If I can, the path of least resistance seems like what I’d choose.  But here, with my injured back, I have every excuse to stay seated or lying down, and yet, I jump up and try to do everything I can.  Maybe there is something of my mother’s perseverance in me after all.

When I think of it more, I guess it’s always been there. From living abroad, away from my family, to choosing a career where it seems nearly impossible to make a decent living and is full of rejection and criticism on the daily, my choices have actually rarely been the easiest ones.  It’s just that they seemed right, motivated by my passion, making me forget the difficulty, or brush it aside.

It turns out maybe I’ve also been willingly climbing a hill without help for a very long time.

My back should be better in a few days, at least if I rest.  And while I can’t say being unable to do much has been particularly convenient or pleasant (definite “Nope” on both accounts, in fact), I’m grateful, at least, for what the experience has taught me about myself.

Views: 327

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on July 13, 2016 at 7:13am

When the universal condition of human vulnerability yanks us back as if w a choke collar, it's, yes, an arresting moment, many moments.

Heal fast, friend, and take the vulnerability as a sign to fight hard.

Comment by Phyllis on July 13, 2016 at 9:31am

Take care of that back, you really don't want permanent damage. All of this stuff that you think you need to do will still be there once you're healthy again.

Comment by nerd cred on July 13, 2016 at 9:34am

First of all, everyone has different pain threshold. Don't compare yourself to your mother. My sister, because of her disorder, has such a high pain threshold it can be dangerous and a medical problem. I'm kind of hyper-aware of the concept because of it. Even slight variations.

Now I will talk to you as an old woman. You had a baby, you gained weight, you live in France - your exercise is mostly walking, I'm guessing. Also you're lifting that baby a lot, aren't you? Are you using your legs? My point: stomach and, especially, back muscles. I firmly believe stomach muscles have as much or more than anything to do with back pain. I'm having the first real back pain of my life (at 67) (I feel like starting to express my age as 67howthefuckdidthathappen?) so I feel like I know whereof I speak.

Will the vaunted French medical system let you see a physical therapist? Might be better than codeine. Might. (I am not a doctor or anything else capable of giving a reasonably good dx. Just some know it all busy body old crone.)

Best of luck. Take care. Let us know. Back pain is the worst.

Comment by Arthur James on July 13, 2016 at 9:37am



I consider 

givin' free 






I an in perpetual 

ach and sore to the

bone marrow. No 

pain? no Be huh?



Pain Is Pain

ouch... I

teach how

to do sore


and Sorest

Yoga too.


I am familiar

with Pain... I

Know Others

have More than I

do... Pain is Pain


Comment by marilyn sands on July 13, 2016 at 12:16pm

If one lives long enough - emotional growth comes often - just sayin'.

Feel better & keep your spirits up... knowing the cat is fed is always a good sign. R&L

Comment by Boanerges on July 13, 2016 at 2:01pm

Alysa, it's been an education following you over the years on Open and here, and I'm glad you've been on my friends' list on both. You remind me of another Anglo writer (indeed -- an Englishwoman) who wrote a blog for several years about similar situations, including having a child in Paris, and the difficulties of what she experienced. 

Do as Nerd Cred advises -- see a medecin straight away. (Or rapidement, if you prefer.)

Comment by Sheila Luecht on July 13, 2016 at 3:10pm

Sometimes that back thing can get really bad and life seems to come to a standstill. I hope you will get an MRI or whatever you feel good about in the way of medical care to discover any issue surrounding your back. I have some experience with all this and back surgery too. My daughter was three and my twins five when it was necessary. It has been fairly remarkably well ever since. I hope you can get some help if you need it. I wish you the very best and I send you love and light.

Comment by Arthur James on July 13, 2016 at 3:25pm

& ugh
@ OUR ? HUH?

Comment by Heidibeth on July 13, 2016 at 5:24pm

Motherhood has been teaching me who I am, where I'm from and what I'm made of from day one. I love that we now get to read your insights as you walk this new way.

Comment by Token on July 13, 2016 at 7:23pm

I came by all my pains honestly, by being "Bulletproof" when I was younger. Now comes the payback, when getting out of bed takes a serious mental effort. Sometimes the effort takes longer than others, but I always find that I feel better doin, if I can only get started.


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