Several weeks ago, I began to feel an ache somewhere in my right wrist. I tried to ignore it, thinking it would go away. My aunt, however, had heard (and experienced) this all before. She told me to see a doctor. Like, right now.
I stalled for a bit, hoping it would get better. Maybe I just strained it. I’ll be back to normal in no time. I can’t afford to be sick. Not today.
After a few days, however, I could no longer work as much as I wanted to without debilitating pain. It became increasingly clear that the recovery I anticipated wasn’t happening.
At the doctor’s office, a simple test revealed that I had a condition called de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, a repetitive stress injury caused by the chronic overuse of my wrist. Apparently, over years of typing and drawing and all other tasks involving repetitive wrist movements, the channel through which my tendons passed had become sore and irritated. My condition was still at the inflammatory stage so the doctor gave me medications, told me to rest and to come back after about a week or so.
What followed was probably one of the most depressing periods of my life. Granted, that’s not saying a lot. While I am a naturally anxious person, I was never one predisposed to melancholy.
Back when I was a teen, I would often say “I’m so depressed” during my sadder moments. Until a friend who was actually legit depressed talked to me about what it felt like to be depressed. The way she talked about it, I felt as if I was on the seashore, shivering at the the cold waves licking my ankles. She, on the other hand, was way out in the sea, treading for dear life. Nothing I’ve ever felt even came close. I never used the term to describe myself again, because I knew I’d never do it justice.
But then, here i was, constantly frustrated that I could no longer do the things I wanted to. After about ten minutes of work, I’d feel that dull ache in my wrist and my arm. Every time I pressed a key, I felt painful electricity bursting from my fingertips.
I tried typing exclusively with my left hand, but then I was working at less than half my normal rate. Even worse, my left wrist began to hurt as well. I gave up on that, afraid that I’d end up with two injured hands, which was pretty much the only way I thought things could get worse.
I tried speech recognition, but that required total silence and lots of patience. Even a dog barking or a car starting would ruin my input. My “writing” was far from spontaneous. It was like spreading frozen butter on a slice of bread, not as smooth as I would have wanted. Needless to say, editing was a pain.
This was ridiculous. For Christ’s sake, I had bills and taxes and outstanding loans to worry about. And I was set on finally winning NaNoWriMo this year. AND I had plans to build a portfolio for my website by December. All those dreams I had at the beginning of the year lay, battered and broken, at my feet. Heck failing all that, how could I even afford the medical treatment when I could barely write an article a day?
I fought vehemently against it. I forced myself to work, sometimes making promises I couldn’t keep. On a whim, I would draw relentlessly until my wrist hurt so much I couldn’t move it for hours. But none of that helped at all.
It was then that I realized that I’ve built my entire life with my hands. My craft was both my passion and my livelihood. Heck, it was even my happiness. Without it I felt worthless, defeated and, well, depressed.
Once the inflammation had subsided, I was referred to a specialist in rehabilitation medicine.
“What do you do?” she asked, after doing another assessment of my hand.
“I write,” I said. “Sometimes I draw.”
“It must be wonderful to do something creative for a living.”
“Yeah, well… I think I did too much of it,” I replied, raising my right hand slightly.
“It’s all just the consequence of doing something you love,” she told me, handing me my prescription for physical therapy.
The consequence of doing something I loved.
Now that was a pretty darned beautiful perspective of my condition.
After weeks of misery, she was saying that all that came from something that was intrinsically good. Sure, this might not be pleasant. Sure, I could do better to prevent it next time. And yes, I did need rest. A lot of it. But ultimately, this happened because of who I am. The result of being truly, authentically me.
Physical therapy may yet save my hand, but I think the doctor’s words saved my sanity.
I became aware that so many people get sick everyday from working thankless jobs or, sometimes, for no reason at all. Even as I struggle to type this (as I have for the past three days), I feel privileged, honored even, to do things I love so much that it literally hurt.