The Carriage Held but Just Ourselves

It all started with the damn raspberries.

I have nothing against raspberries, but it’s my belief that there are enough well-mannered plants in the world that I shouldn’t have to spend my time bleeding while I’m working in my own yard. (I feel the same way about roses.)

Although we managed to dig up a batch of raspberry canes when we first moved here, the roots suckered up through a shrub about twenty feet away. After several years of backyard neglect, I once again have huge, droopy, thorny raspberry canes–absolutely laden with berries.

I went out yesterday morning and picked a bunch, with the intention of digging up the canes again as soon as they’re done producing. I wondered as I munched if anyone has done research on what happens to people who eat spiderwebs, since I was ingesting a fair amount of them. I also wondered how the heck anyone has the patience to pick enough raspberries to make jam or pie.

And because I’m absent-minded, and because they tasted so good, I lost track of how many I was eating.

Like all people with interstitial cystitis, I’ve had to learn how to modify what I eat. I read about one nutritionist who said she wouldn’t tell her IC clients not to have certain things because it sets people up for unhealthy obsessions with food. “I’ll tell them they can have a quarter cup of fruit at a time or so,” she said.

I don’t know how many raspberries I ate, but it was way more than a quarter cup. I’m guilty of the unhealthy obsession thing, too—I love acidic stuff like vinegar and citrus so much that sometimes my better sense gets completely shanghaied.

So after my raspberry fest yesterday morning, I spent the rest of the day on my hands and knees being ordered around with delightful two-year-old imperiousness by my niece Ava. (At one point I was playing the role of Choco, one of two baby kitties that a pink baby kitty in charge—Cotton “Ava” Candy—was serving frosted blueberry muffins and milk.)

I’m so used to ignoring bladder pain at this point that often it won’t dawn on me that things are getting bad until the ache starts to radiate to other places, like my lower back and hip joints.  At first I thought my back was bothering me from crawling around on the floor,  and I decided to hold off on taking Advil until I left for Wenatchee that evening (a friend and I were meeting up to see an improv comedy show).

That was my second mistake.

By the time I found a parking space downtown and got out of the car in Wenatchee, I was nearly in tears. I’d already had to stop twice on the 75-mile trip up. Although I had looked forward to going to the improv thing all week, the pain was so bad at that point that didn’t think I could manage to sit down for the show. The friend I was meeting doesn’t know me very well, and of course there is no way to work this kind of thing into casual conversation. “Oh, by the way, I can’t sit next to you thanks to my pelvic disease.”

I thought about leaving, except I would’ve felt like I’d stood up my friend, and the thought of getting back into the car made me want to scream. I decided to walk around a couple of blocks to see if I couldn’t get things to settle down. I wasn’t sure the ibuprofen had kicked in all the way (although that’s all I’d had for dinner), and I know from experience that sitting in the car can sometimes make the pain seem a lot worse than it really is.

I walked past a string quartet playing on the sidewalk in front of an art gallery opening on my way to the theater. People were really happy… it was the start of a long weekend, of course, and the summer evening was absolutely glorious.  Some folks even smiled at me as I threaded my way through the crowd.

Sometimes when the pain is this bad, I can’t believe it’s not written all over my face. I don’t want anyone looking at me—all I feel like doing is hiding. Or shrieking.  Or throwing things. Whatever—anything but being out in public and pretending everything is normal.

The worst thing about chronic pain is that it’s like living with a thief. Every time you turn around, something else is missing. Your dignity. Your interest in life. Your ability to stay in control of your emotions.  The future is gone—the only thing left is YOU and THE THIEF. No room for anything else.

As I walked, I went past a seated bearded man and a young blonde woman. His long hair was dirty, and he looked like he might have been homeless. But she was the one really who caught my eye. She was wearing a white tank top and shorts, and every inch of the skin on her arms, legs and face glowed deep red with sunburn. She didn’t look up at me, but I caught so much naked pain and unhappiness in her expression that I almost flinched. The guy was gazing into her face. Neither one of them were saying anything.

Drugs, I thought, and I had the immediate urge to say or do something to help. But what? That’s not what city people do. You mind your own business.

I circled around the block, and by the time I came back around, they were gone. I was relieved, and a little ashamed of myself for feeling that way. But why was I relieved? Because I wouldn’t have to feel guilty as I witnessed her unhappiness?

Or was I just the tiniest bit reassured to know someone out there felt worse than I did? Call it selfishness, call it a reality check–but it was enough to crowbar me out of my miserable state of mind.

The music from the quartet floated down the block between the old brick buildings. I could hear water from the big fountain and passed by people selling handmade jewelry in front of the theater.  I started to feel a little better, like I could stand up straight again.

My friend and I had both won tickets to attend the show, and as I had suspected, we both got picked on right away (we had to provide sound effects for the actors, who were pretending to be firemen at the scene of a fire).  Of course my friend did a great job and I didn’t, but I was laughing too hard at the stuff he came up with to care.  Plus, I figure if I can adequately portray a baby kitty eating imaginary blueberry muffins, then I probably have developed all the acting skills I need to get by.

It wasn’t until intermission when I realized how much better I felt. Maybe it was the Advil. Maybe it was walking around for a while. Maybe the worst of the acid from the raspberries had finally been washed away.

Or maybe it was being able to laugh. In one of my favorite movies, My Neighbor Totoro, the family shoos away the bad spirits living in their new house by laughing at them.

I couldn't find a good image of the spirits in the movie, but this is from one of my favorite scenes.

My old mare, Dicey, tends to keep weight off her worst front foot, so by the time she’s due for a trim, the hoof she’s guarding will be really overgrown…and that of course makes it harder for her to limp.  I’d file it down for her more often, but since her other front foot is also painful (and I’m not deft enough to make it quick) it’s probably easier on both of us to just leave it for the farrier.

Sometimes when she’s due for a trim, and the pain is really getting to her, I’ll see her shake her head before she takes a step—it’s like she has to release that anger and irritation before she can do what she needs to do.

I wonder if people should learn how to do the same thing.

“To truly laugh, you must learn to take your pain and play with it!” ~ Charlie Chaplin



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4 responses to “The Carriage Held but Just Ourselves

  1. Excellent post and very recognisable! Unfortunately, chronic pain is like a black hole and you’re right, it is so not a conversation topic if the source is not a neat package (Crohn’s in my case). Thank you!

  2. You seem to have a knack at getting to the heart of things 🙂

    I was in pretty intense pain for a year from a herniated disk, it was torture to walk more than five feet. I remember gritting my teeth and blinking tears from eyes hoping that nobody would notice how much pain I was in. The pain was awful but somehow it would have been worse to have somebody notice.

    You do end up getting used to the pain, as you said, but it sucks all the joy out of your life. I’m lucky that I was able to get a surgery to take that pain away but I have the greatest empathy for people that are stuck with it.

  3. I think we don’t like appearing weak in front of people because of our survival instinct. You never know who might try and take advantage of you while you are down. And then there’s the unsolicited advice on how to solve your problem, which is worse in my opinion. Ron is good at saying unhelpful things like “no matter how bad you feel, there’s always someone else worse off than you”, which may be true, but does nothing to make me feel better, and makes me want to share my pain with him in a most unpleasant way!

    Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  4. Yep, P., sometimes there is nothing worse than well-meaning advice. I’ve been at gatherings where people CANNOT accept that I can’t have x food. I can get away with eating small amounts of some foods, but there is stuff I don’t touch under any circumstances (anything that’s got chilies in it, for example). Once at a dinner party someone noticed I wasn’t eating the enchiladas. I said, politely, “Oh, they just don’t agree with me.”

    This woman suggested if I didn’t eat the enchiladas, I’d offend the hostess. I remarked that I was enjoying plenty of the other food she’d made, but this woman would not drop it. I felt like Bartleby after a while…”I prefer not to…I prefer not to…I prefer not to….” (getting angrier and angrier all the while) and finally I asked her why she felt it was her business to put me on the spot about what I was eating. She got offended. We avoided each other the rest of the evening.

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