My Wife Says: ‘My Body Doesn’t Like Me’
My wife’s body is a mysterious battleground of pain.
I have been married to her for 25 years and during the whole time I’ve watched her battle her body. Or rather, I’ve watched her body battle her. It seems to be fighting against itself, as if it had a bad management team or an absent CEO or something.
I don’t know why. And I don’t know if I should be worried.
My body is different from hers somehow. My body, as compared to my wife’s, behaves as if it were on my side. My friend and ally. My body and I get up and go about the day’s business and along the way we enjoy a couple of meals, have a good poop and a glass of wine. Then we put ourselves to bed for a good night’s rest. No harm no foul. No conspiracy.
Let me try to describe the situation.
My wife is no lazy bones. No couch potato. She homeschooled our three children for five years, and taught herself how to be a great teacher. Later she put the icing on the cake and got certified on paper. She soon got a job in the school system and has been teaching kindergarten and/or music ever since. Both of those jobs are stand up/walk around jobs. And she’s an excellent teacher; very conscientious and compassionate. She is a respected leader on her school staff team.
But my wife is always in pain.
I’m convinced that her body is in some state of warfare. If her body systems were different army divisions, then there are daily incidents of collateral damage and friendly fire.
In the battleground of her body, she has aches and pains that come and go mysteriously, or linger for months or years without a known source or cause. I have heard her say on many occasions, “My body doesn’t like me.”
Today at the breakfast table she was kneading the skin on the top of her forearm right near the elbow joint. She says, “It’s the fascia; the connective stuff. It’s not the muscle and it’s not the bone. Sometimes it stops completely, and then it starts up again.” The mysterious sore arm has been bothering her for about two months now. Like it really, really hurts.
There is a place in her opposite shoulder that has been tied up in a tight, painful knot for two weeks. It too began mysteriously, and she’s been at its mercy ever since. I see her shrugging her shoulders as if to stretch and shake off some monster on her back. When we have a moment after dinner she says to one of the kids passing by, “Oh great! You want to take a minute and rub my back?” If she’s lucky someone will take a stab at the spot. But it doesn’t fix it. At bedtime I’ll stick my knuckles on it and try to make it surrender. But it always comes back. And she sees the massage therapist monthly. It helps, but doesn’t stop it from returning somewhere else at random.
My wife’s hips are constantly stiff. So she has this funny way of doing stretches where she lifts up her heel and rests it on the kitchen counter. Our kids imitate this to make fun of her, because she’s always doing it.
My wife and I know that all of these muscles and ligaments and nerves and bones are connected. They are a system. We understand that the human body is an intricate and wonderful connection of cooperative systems.
Our food, our attitude, our environment all have a part in determining what our overall physical health is like. We’re wary of the simple cure, or the quick cure for anything. And we know that life is often strange, inexplicable, and painful.
But I’m still confused about her pain. I rarely have pain of any type in my body. I just don’t get it.
Years ago my wife began having back pain during her first pregnancy. It was brutal, as if the baby was pressing constantly against her lower back. The only relief she could get was for me to make a fist and push directly into the small of her back. So that’s how our nightly routine went for about four months straight. After the baby was born the back pain persisted and we went to see a chiropractor.
Long story short it turned out that her discs were degenerating and putting pressure on some nerves. Could we reverse the condition? We were told no, it’s basically a genetic thing. How then could we deal with it? The symptoms could be mitigated through exercise and physiotherapy by strengthening the core muscles and staying flexible. So out came the yoga mat, the exercise ball, and the routine began.
Together we began kickboxing classes. After a couple of years that regime began to wear thin, and it was getting kind of expensive. So we stopped kickboxing. But recently we bought our own kickboxing practice bag. It gets used mainly when someone feels like punching someone’s lights out.
Over time my wife has learned to stay active in various ways to battle the ongoing tendency towards stiffness and pain.
She took dancing classes with her friends and our daughters. Belly dancing. Yoga. Water fitness. Walks on the waterfront trail.
She had foot pain that got really bad in the morning, and then would fade away as the day went on. She found out that her shoes weren’t fitting the soles of her feet and that she had plantar fasciitis. The podiatrist said her back pain and neck pain could be related to bad feet and the resultant improper posture, so she got orthotics. No more sore feet, but the other issues didn’t go away.
Then there is the topic of her cysts. When my wife was a child, she had a big cyst that formed in her throat and it was surgically removed. She’s fine. It was big. She said it had roots down in her stomach, but they got it all. Years later during our marriage, she had another cyst form in her thigh. A lump the size of a golf ball. It was removed. No problem. A couple of times a year she’ll get cysts in her breasts and they really hurt. Then the pain fades away. Her breast exam which was done when she turned 50 was clear. She says the cysts swell up and the pain comes and goes because of hormones.
I don’t know what to think.
She’s going through menopause. Her periods were ridiculously painful and heavy. She had a uterine ablation performed which has slowed things down. But now she thinks her hormones are confused. She gets premenstrual cramps and other physical symptoms, but now there may or may not be a period.
Her daily mysterious aches and pains are always there.
My wife has concluded that her best bet is to keep active and keep a positive outlook. By being active she won’t stiffen up, and she will think less about where it hurts. Her motivation for exercise is not so much burning calories anymore, as it is maintaining a good balance of mental health and physical health. She is on her feet and in constant motion, care, and conversation for eight hours a day in her job.
My wife became is so tired after her work day that she doesn’t have the slightest inclination to get up and do more work. She just wants to lay down and rest. Going kickboxing, or setting up the exercise mat, or dressing up and going to dance class wasn’t mentally or emotionally rewarding. It was like going to work all over again. If any of those routines succeeded for a short time, it was because she did them with someone she loved and they both enjoyed the time together. There was emotional payback.
But something was still missing.
Recently my wife made a discovery. She took up horseback riding lessons twice a week with our daughter. The reason wasn’t to find a good way to get physical exercise, but rather to satisfy their love for horses. They tried a couple of different stables. She liked the stable with the motto “sharing God’s love through horses.”
Since she has been learning how to ride a horse my wife has seen a big spiritual and mental benefit. It’s hard to explain, but I noticed it immediately. She has come to know one horse in particular. His name is Franklin. Somehow, spending an hour in connection with such a sensitive and trusting animal, and learning how to communicate with him, sit on his back, ride him and direct him by balancing and using her body has been a wonderful gift.
The big bonus is that the time my wife spends with Franklin is also excellent physical exercise! It is unlike any of the other healthy activities she has tried. It strengthens her mentally and physically.
To steer Frankie she has to be carefully balanced on the saddle. To help stop, start and steer him, she needs to use subtle or not-so-subtle pressure and squeezing motions with her legs on his sides. She needs to be sitting up tall and using her core muscles correctly, because he can sense every wiggle of her butt, and he can tell which way she is leaning. She can’t get away with being physically weak or lazy while riding Franklin. He demands her complete attention. And the best thing about riding Franklin is that it is restorative to my wife’s entire being.
She comes home from her horseback riding lessons renewed in spirit, and physically tired like from a full body workout. And she’s happy because she knows that Frankie trusts her and looks forward to working with her. There is a great sense of purpose.
Now after 25 years of trial and error, with the inexplicable aches and pains continuing, my wife has simplified her approach to her physical health.
After all, she is an AMAZING woman.
She bought some wearable technology, a wristband which measured her daily footsteps and her sleeping patterns. She averages 12,000 steps a day. On most nights she sleeps fairly well, although she occasionally has nights where she has numerous wake-ups or long periods of light sleep. She always eats a decent lunch, monitors her number of daily steps while at work, and she tries to get a good night’s sleep. She is generous and honest at work. She has learned to not quit until jobs are done. When she comes home, if she sits or lies down, she may fall asleep. She’s not afraid to nap.
We go out for a walk together a few times a week. She looks forward to her times riding Franklin. It has been the missing piece in many ways.
But the puzzle of her mysterious aches and pains remains unsolved. I see how it drags on her every day, like a sea anchor. It doesn’t seem to be going away at all. IT DOESN’T SEEM FAIR.
My wife is generally happy. We talk all the time. We share similar hobbies and interests. Our marriage is good. We’re going on our first extended vacation in 25 years. I think we’ve got a lot going for us. We don’t have anything to complain about, really.
But those aches and pains are as mysterious as ever to me, and I don’t know what to think.