Up early with back pain. Toss, turn – it hurts. Get up. Don’t even look at the clock. Stretch. Stretch more. Breathe. Slather myself with Icy Hot. Look at the clock: 6:44. Brush my hair. Put on some pants. Go downstairs. Unplug the slow cooker full of oatmeal, scoop out a bowl for Ali, put it in the fridge, so it won’t be too hot. Grab the ice pack from the freezer. Turn on the monitor, put it on the window sill facing out through the open window. Grab the blanket, grab my laptop, head outside. Sit on the donut cushion I just ordered, ice pack wedged in the back of my pants, making me numb.
It hits me: TIRED.
I thought it would be peaceful outside at this hour, and it is, but it’s not quite early enough that I get to see the sunrise (the real gift of early waking) – it’s just early enough to feel like everyone else is asleep. Of course, some people have been up for hours; I can’t see them, though. All I can see is houses with dark windows, signifying days not yet begun.
And here I am.
I never thought I’d feel so old at 38.
Pain makes me feel old.
Growing up, I thought 40 was old. Now, if you’re 70, I think maybe you’re getting up there. I have generous feelings about these things. But as always, external labels -“this is old, that is not” – fall short in the face of internal feelings, such as: “My back hurts, and I am sitting on a fucking donut cushion with Icy Hot slathered all over my back and an ice pack wedged in my pants instead of sleeping in my warm, cozy bed.”
I’m tired, you guys.
And I hate tired.
I fear it, actually.
For me, “tired” is the monster under the bed. The phantom threat of it grips me with an irrational fear. When I’m tired, I’m sad, and even angry, and things feel desperate. No one wants to feel that way.
Sleep is like turning on the lights, making the monster disappear.
Pain gets in the way of sleep.
Pain is the monster that’s real.
“Carry me,” my daughter says, and I have to beg off: “Mommy’s back hurts.”
I want to be strong for her. Vital. I want to show her that women are strong. I want to be alive for her.
See? The link between pain and mortality. It’s not a subtle one.
What is “old”? Yesterday I read an article about a 101-year-old man who still works four days a week, fixing light fixtures. That man is not old.
If we feel our lives have purpose, and if we can pursue that purpose, we are not old. Or, we’re old, and “old” is no longer a death sentence — just a point on a timeline.
Old isn’t the monster. Pain is the monster. Because pain makes us feel unalive.