I started a Tumblr of writing prompts for my writing group that I plan to update once a week. Here’s what I wrote for this week’s prompt, Prompt 002: Write about your physical pain, present or past.

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It moves and is hard to talk about. I say it’s in the lower back, but sometimes it feels like the outer hips or front of hips or psoas or IT band or ridge of the back hip bone. It’s not nervy. It’s a dull ache I think, but it changes. It’s a moving target and I go to western doctors and eastern doctors, yoga and pilates, chiropractic and acupuncture. My chiropractor says it’s good for all the doctors to work together, but they all tell me different things. I am told that I overarch my back by the PT and that I round my back by one yoga instructor. I am told to tuck the tail bone, and I am told to arch the lower spine. I am told not to arch the lower spine, that I overarch it and that my degenerated discs are protruding out of the front. I am told there is a piece of my spine on the left side that is sideways, causing unevenness. “I thought my doctor said it was on the right and that it made me lean toward the left,” I say to the PT. “No,” the PT says, “Your x-ray says it’s on your left.” I am told that my erector spinae are very tight. I am told that I do not perform like my charts, i.e. when my PT pushes on my lower back, spine, and erector spinae I can bend forward with less ease when you would think it would create more ease. Then she puts me on my side and digs her elbow into my glute medius and stretches my back into a painful and relieving twist so I can bend forward again from that side. I am told by one of them to leave the natural curve in my back, and by another to put a pillow under my knees, essentially flattening the lower back. I am told to encourage the hip bones and diaphragm to lean toward each other like the ends of a crescent moon, to pretend there is a rod going from hip socket to hip socket and to tighten my abs along that line. I am told to arch the very low back, to tuck the slightly less low back, to arch the chest but tuck the low ribs. To pretend there is a string pulling the navel from behind. I tell myself that some of this helps. I try a new online yoga video for low back pain and the routine feels good. While we wait out one pose, the instructor says that Africa has the lowest concentration of lower back pain because African dancing encourages you to arch your lower back and stick out your booty, so later on I tell my husband this theory and show him the type of dancing she demonstrated and I hurt my back in the process.

Some say that all physical pain is rooted in thought and emotion. I heard a doctor on NPR the other day say that most psychological disorders are rooted in physical pain. Maybe someday we will know for sure and laugh at today’s ignorance.

I question my own instincts. A good friend once said I am “suggestive,” which isn’t really a way to describe a person but I knew what she meant and what she meant is exactly what I am. Easily impressionable. Open to anyone’s else’s suggestion of what’s right. “You do not want a healer,” one yoga teacher said to me, “you want to be able to listen to your own body.” I have listened to my own body’s mixed messages for a long time. It takes forever to know yourself and if you lose interest you can’t easily leave. So I go to silent retreats. I look. I wait. I wait to not be waiting anymore. And I backslide to the healers when I can no longer stand to look alone. The more you know the less you know. The arching, tucking, arching is a choreography of breath and muscle that— is it even what I need? If so, can I learn it? Am I willing? Am I too old for this shit? Like an old dog? But the pain itself makes me feel like an old dog so I keep looking, hoping for some relief, some peek back into space and freedom, and when I come across someone who appears worse off I think, how can THAT possibly be manageable. How much effort before diminishing returns?

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