When I was young, all I wanted was to fit in, to be perfect. To do what adults expected of me. I never had a single cavity, I never missed the school bus. I was always teacher’s pet.
Then, when I hit adolescence, the reverse. My depression; my eating disorder; I couldn’t function, couldn’t fit in to any kind of mold. I missed school; my grades suffered. A few teachers saw who I really was, but in general, I don’t think anyone would have considered me teacher’s pet.
I (mostly) came to terms with these issues…. right around the time my health issues began. So, really, I have always had trouble fitting in to some kind of external mold; to meeting the expectations of those who’ve never known what it’s like to physically suffer.
Even as a patient, I have come up against the feeling that somehow, I am not meeting someone else’s expectations. My once-favorite doctor once grew frustrated with me for still saying I was in so much pain, and told me she had patients with much worse problems than me, and basically told me not to come back to her office.
(I have been meaning to write more about this doctor, because it’s from reading copies of her office visit notes that I first came across the term “central sensitization.” Yet she never actually said the phrase to me– instead, she was one of the people who told me there were psychological explanations for my pain, and kept telling me to go see a therapist. It’s so strange–she knew the term, but didn’t seem to fully understand what it meant).
I had a similar experience when I was “lucky” enough to become a patient at a well-respected pain management clinic run by a major Boston hospital. I ran into conflict, right off the bat, with the physical therapist who ran the exercise sessions, because she didn’t agree with my rational for wanting to do a warm-up before exercising.
This is something my high school running coaches– in fact, even my gym teachers, all through school– had always drilled into my head. Do a warm-up, or you’re much more likely to get injured. Yet here I was, at a place for the already-injured, having someone tell me that I was “causing problems,” simply for wanting to take care of my body. (There wasn’t enough time for me to do a warm-up and get through all of my exercises… which I later came to understand that she probably needed me to do, in order to get reimbursed by my insurance company).
So basically, from the age of 14 on, I have been familiar with the feeling of not meeting other people’s expectations… of not even fitting into any kind of mold they can understand.
But you know what? I’m okay with it. Because it’s this constant feeling of not fitting in, of being forced to look outside of what’s conventional, that has driven me to discover new things.
How long would it have taken me to discover the term “central sensitization” on my own, if I hadn’t decided to take matters into my own hands and request copies of my records? I have no idea. I do know it never came up in any of my science classes, except for about a 5-second mention in one of my neuroscience lectures. (And if I wasn’t already familiar with the term, I might have missed it).
I do believe that I will have the power to help people someday as a physical therapist, and I think my specialty, if you can call it that, will be to help the “hard cases.” The people who couldn’t be easily helped, and who, like me, didn’t fit easily into some kind of mold.
And it’s my experiences of not fitting in, of being forced to look “outside of the box” for answers, that will allow me to empathize and help them the most.
…my seeming failures were really just weird-ass portals to something beautiful… all I had to do was give voice to the story.
I am including this amazing talk by the writer Lidia Yuknavitch above, because ever since I discovered it the other night, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it, and she really inspired me to get my thoughts down into this post.
In her talk, Lidia describes how the many “failures” in her life were actually just the beginning of something new… it just took her time to begin to see them that way. And, she says, if she had given herself permission to “belong,” to believe in herself sooner, she might have been able to recognize them for what they were sooner.
She has so many great quotes– you really have to watch it for yourself– but here, I want to make sure I record:
There’s a myth in most cultures about following your dreams. It’s called the hero’s journey. But I prefer a different myth, that’s slightly to the side of that or underneath it. It’s called the misfit’s myth. And it goes like this: even at the moment of your failure, right then, you are beautiful. You don’t know it yet, but you have the ability to reinvent yourself endlessly. That’s your beauty.
If I could, I’d go back and I’d coach myself. I’d be exactly like those over-50-year-old women who helped me. I’d teach myself how to want things, how to stand up, how to ask for them. I’d say, “You! Yeah, you! You belong in the room, too.” The radiance falls on all of us, and we are nothing without each other.
That’s it, right there:
The radiance falls on all of us, and we are nothing without each other.