Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cysts of the Soul

I injured my knee last weekend. In the process, I stumbled into a metaphor for emotional triggers. So grab an ice pack, put up your leg, and join me in a little mental exercise. I promise no stairs.

I'm happy to report that I am recovering, and it is likely not serious. But for a couple of days I was really scared that I had torn a ligament or cartilage. I thought back to what it cost me to break a pinky finger last year, and I started to freak out about the time and money and effort that might be needed for surgery and physical therapy. I was, for a couple of days, trying to figure out how I was going to
shower, since my shower is on the 2nd floor. I very dramatically explained to my children that they were going to need to help out more around the house if they wanted to eat. 

Which, when I think about it, is still true. Definitely some rearranging of household chores is in the pipe.

But and however, my knee is healing up, and it appears to be something called a Baker's Cyst. When it ruptured on Sunday night, the fluid leaked into my joint, causing everything to swell up like a balloon and mimicking other possible injuries. It was very scary.

I had been dancing with some students at a karaoke gathering. Someone was up singing Uptown Funk, and I walked over, delighting in my students' dancing. I decided to join in, because so often I am too busy with logistics to get down and silly with youth. It was a perfect moment with nothing else expected of me, so I wandered over and did a little dance.

Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up
Uptown funk you up uh

Right about on the uhhh, I suddenly felt like someone had kicked the back of my knee twice. I dropped to the ground, surprised, thinking I'd been attacked, but when I looked around, there was nobody who could have kicked me. All of my students were staring at as I yelled in surprise, "Who kicked me??" And of course, nobody had. And they wouldn't. We've worked together a long time, and this was so random.

A few kind folks helped me over to a bench. The students asked if I was ok, and I waved them off. I wasn't really, but it wasn't their fault and they couldn't fix it. So they went back to play. The EMT's came by with their radios and an ice pack. They asked if I'd hit my head, but no, that wasn't it either. 

I told them it felt like I'd been kicked, but there was nobody there. They asked if I'd made anybody mad recently (and of course I have, I'm sure). Everybody nervous laughed. I insisted there was nobody there and that I'd be fine. Then I remembered that we were at a haunted festival on a farm...for a minute I wondered if a ghost or demon had come back through the veil. It was probably...never mind. The list of possible ghosts is long.

I rested and iced my knee. I googled knee problems. The internet scared the daylights out of me. Later, the knee started to swell. By Monday morning, I could barely walk.

I limped into the doctor's office, and after an x-ray and explaining what happened, he suggested a Baker's Cyst. Baker's Cysts work something like this:

They are a fluid filled cyst in the back of your knee. 
They form usually after a previous injury. Sometimes arthritis can cause them.
The cysts can hide for years--how much attention do you pay to the back of your knee?
You might have no symptoms whatsoever.
One random day, you do a little dance and WHAMMO!
The cyst ruptures. It feels like a baseball bat to the back of your knee.
A few hours later the fluid swells up your knee and calf.
You freak out, thinking you have a serious injury. It hurts a whole lot.
And, occasionally the ruptured cyst can cause more serious problems and infection.
But mostly it resolves.
It usually points to an old injury. 
Sometimes it means there's another current injury.
It can come back and happen again
Overall, it's a nuisance. And it's scary. And then it passes.

As I lay in bed last night after this relatively benign diagnosis, it occurred to me that it is a lot like emotional triggers.

Life is just full of injury. Not everyone experiences those injuries the same way.
Not everyone will get a Baker's Cyst. Not everyone will find themselves triggered emotionally.
Occasionally, a traumatic event will form a fluid filled cyst in our souls.
It might sit there for years, with no symptoms.
It might hide in the back of your knee (or in the depths of your soul).
And then one day you are dancing or sitting in class or talking to a friend and WHAMMO!
You've been triggered by something someone said or did.
You weren't expecting it.
You're not sure what happened, but it feels like someone just hit you with a baseball bat.
And everyone around you is looking confused.
They didn't mean to shake loose your Baker's Cyst, y'all were just dancing.
But there it went anyway.
And you're in pain, and the emotions swell up, and it feels like you're in terrible danger.
And there's nothing there.
It's a nuisance. And it's scary. And then it passes.

But it was really hard to tell in the initial day or two that this wasn't a serious injury. IT FELT SERIOUS!

The pain is real. The difficulty walking is real. But there wasn't anybody with a baseball bat.

I don't know. This isn't a perfect metaphor. But it helped me reflect.

Last week, a woman acquaintance walked past me and touched my face in greeting. I think it was an affectionate move, one she would use with her children. I don't really like having my face touched--it's pretty invasive to me. Probably I'm not alone in that preference, but random face touching sets off a panic in my body and soul that is all out of proportion to the event. It is a leftover panic from old, old things.

This week, I felt the trigger when she touched my face. But it was like an echo now. She didn't mean what my body thought. She couldn't have known. I didn't panic. I didn't need the emergency room. I know what that cyst looks like. And when it ruptures, I don't worry too much about it anymore. But it's still there. It's a nuisance.

I think I'll do some emotional examination this week. If I'd paid attention to the back of my knee, I might have known the cyst was there. Maybe there are emotional triggers lying about that I've forgotten about--old injuries I don't remember still shaping my everyday life. Maybe there are some things I could drain of their power before they rupture.

And, you know, maybe not. I'm sure I'll be surprised again. But the longer I survive these things, the more surprise gives way to curiosity instead of fear.

And if I can take that learning from emotional triggers and put it back towards my body, I think I might be on to something. Perhaps I might move my perspective on my aging, changing body from one of fear to one of curiosity. Perhaps I might meet these physical changes and deteriorations with curiosity and gentleness rather than fear and rage.

Hmm maybe. And I suppose I'll just keep dancing. You know, like FLOTUS.

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