My partner and I decided to split up this morning after losing a quick 2-6 set. (Maybe it was 1-6 and I’ve blocked out some of the horror.) We had confessed to each other before we started playing that neither of us could move laterally today – a circumstance that is easily compensated for in day-to-day living, but one that is suicide on the tennis court. She was having gall bladder pain; I still have an ailing hip.
“Who do you want to play with…Hemorrhoids or Migraine?” asked one of the winners, as we readied to switch partners.
We’ve all gotten into this groove of starting off tennis by naming our Malady of the Day. It makes me feel a little better (that we’re all ailing) because often I assume it’s only me. I’m the oldest in the group and therefore it seems logical that I would deteriorate more quickly.
But today, as we delved more deeply into one player’s hemorrhoids (so to speak), it occurred to us that perhaps they were related to the fact that her son finally picked a college to attend next year and her concurrent realization that her oldest “baby” is actually going to be leaving home soon. She spent a few stoic minutes recounting the stress of it all – how her eye’s pop open at every day at 4 a.m. with that special variety of anguish that you can muster once you’ve become a mother.
We all quickly moved the conversation on to our own physical impairments, because those things we can laugh about. Kids leaving home, not so much.
Years ago, I started to suspect that many of my physical problems were about something other than structural atrophy. I’d suffered from back pain for years and have been going to a chiropractor since I was in my twenties. After reading a book by Dr. John Sarno (Healing Back Pain: The MindBody Connection) and actually going to see him as a patient, I came to understand that a lot of my problems were coming from my brain, not my spine, and with this realization, my back pain began to fade away.
But there’s always something there in its place. When one thing clears, another emerges. Carpal Tunnel … bladder infection … I spent all of last weekend thinking I had some fatal lymph node disease.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve felt good for a single day since the middle of February, shortly following a local tragedy where a teenage boy in my town died suddenly one morning before school. Hmmmm.
Dr. Sarno’s theory is that our brains create these ailments within us to distract ourselves from really difficult feelings – he says “unconscious” feelings. That when we must attend to our backaches or our hemorrhoids or our hives or our migraines, we are, in a way, protecting ourselves from the debilitating feelings that come with losing love. In whatever form that loss takes. Sometimes this explanation seems crazy and simplistic, except it’s really the only thing that makes logical sense: why are we all able to hobble onto the tennis court in various stages of duress and completely forget about our UTIs and our gall bladder eruptions. Is it maybe because tennis serves the same distracting role? That our malady is not needed for that hour and a half?
“Hemorrhoids or Migraine?” Hemorrhoids asked me this morning.
“Yeah, heads or tails?” said my partner, Gall Bladder.
I couldn’t choose. So Migraine led us in a Rock/Paper/Scissors type of game.
I ended up with Hemorrhoids, and we played ok. Gall Bladder and Migraine won, but not by much.
Afterwards, Hemorrhoids told me that she spent the in-between-points time talking to herself. She told her body that she appreciated what it was doing for her, protecting her from feelings that were both scary and unspeakably sad; from thinking about a situation that is both heartbreaking and inevitable. “Thank you,” she said to her body, “but it’s really not necessary.”
And just from her sharing that, my hip pain is starting to feel better already.