One of the hazards of being forty is having a forty-year-old body. Skin begins to exhibit the elasticity of last year’s bathing suit. Joints sound like poppers on the 4th of July. Eyes can only read what’s not in front of your face, and ease of digestion becomes one of the primary criteria for a good meal. I understand these things, so when I did an internet search for “why does it hurt like the dickens every time I try to walk in the morning?” I wasn’t remotely shocked to read that plantar fasciitis was “a relatively common injury for 40-60 year olds.” Hurrah! I’ve arrived in the “common injury” generation.
From what I can gather, I have high arches, and as they flatten out (probably once again due to age???) the connective tissue in the bottom of my foot tears away from its insertion point at the heel. These are just tiny microscopic tears occurring at a cellular level, which nerve cells apparently pay way too much attention to. And since I prefer ignorance over bliss, I have spent the last several months fighting through the first five excruciating minutes of my morning run–waiting for the pain to numb out and the runner’s high to kick in. However, after a New Year’s resolution visit to my doctor’s office I have sadly become more informed. By not treating the plantar fasciitis, all I’m doing is reinjuring that connective tissue every single morning. Even the mornings I don’t run. Just by walking to the bathroom. And he offered a solution.
The solution bites. Essentially, I’m sleeping in a straitjacket. This large, clunky, Velcro-clad beast of a night splint that I am supposed to strap tightly around the offending foot to keep it firmly dorsi-flexed all night long. Keeping the calf stretched and the ligaments long. Sure it looks innocent enough, but when you’re a princess sleeper like me, this is asking for the moon and beyond. First of all, any night-time repositioning already requires adjustment of my neck pillow, my body pillow, and my feather pillow. This is a Herculean feat, I assure you, keeping in mind that I am trying to do it all without disturbing my darling bear of a husband. Add a large leg splint to the equation and moving the vessel of my body requires a captain and a first mate. The first three nights I tried sleeping in it I was up all night, eventually shedding it at 3 a.m. with a loud rip of that blankety-blank Velcro. It was too hot, too tight, too bulky and too wrong.
And the first three mornings, I got up and my foot howled in indignation.
Which made me think of all the other times parts of my life have howled in indignation because I have failed to constrict myself in service of freedom. When I have abandoned the disciplines of my journey because it’s just too darn uncomfortable, too stretching, too constricting. Choosing not to sit and pray or meditate because my mind is taunting me with things to chase in the now. Not opening the Bible because the novel next to it was more intriguing. Not playing with my children because Facebook was calling. Not reaching out to my community because I was comfortable in my own home. Not choosing to do what it is I am here to do. Until I wake up to my soul howling in indignation, “YOU ARE NOT FREE HERE!!!”
Sometimes it takes constricting oneself in certain areas in order to find freedom for the soul.
Now, don’t worry, I do recognize that simply constricting oneself is not a guarantee of freedom. I know this because I grew up in a straitjacket–a legalistic church that would go through your medicine cabinet, your refrigerator and your bank account. A church that would tell you what to drive, what to eat and what to put or not put on your face. So when I hear the word “discipline,” I hear someone requiring a five-year-old to fast for 24 hours, and I buck like a wild bronco. Or I rip the offending boot off my foot.
But even as I wrestle with the idea of spiritual disciplines, I do understand the need to protect the heart and mind from relaxing in a position of pseudo-comfort that leads to pain in the morning. The pain that comes from having too much comfort and not enough containment.
So, for the last week, I have sat on the edge of my bed and asked myself this question, “Susan, what do you want?” And in this case, what I want is to run. I want to wake up before dawn. Tie shoes in the darkness and watch the whisper of warm breathe challenge the chill of the air. Feel the heat of the skin accost the morning frost like a furnace slowing igniting. Delight in the glory of a ruby sunrise, feet pounding pavement in the priceless pre-commuter moments. The song of the parrots heralding my entrance to the dawn. I want to live…dynamically, fully and freely.
But right now I can’t. Now I am harnessed to a very slow plow of pain. So, I have a choice, be a princess and let my foot curl into the comfortable nighttime retraction, or flatten it out into extreme dorsiflexion to keep the ligaments stretched so they can heal without being re-injured every single morning.
So, I made a choice and I’ve learned to sleep in this boot. I’m pleased to say that I’ve made it through the last two nights without waking up repeatedly and wanting to toss it into a fiery pit…and for the last two mornings I have walked without extreme pain. I’m not ready to run yet. I can still feel the whispers of pain reminding me I need more practice in my discipline before I can declare myself free. But the whispers are also reminding me that freedom isn’t always about doing what I want. It’s about wanting what I do to make a difference.
I’ve chosen the straitjacket, because in the end, it will bring me freedom.