It all started a few weeks ago. I was prepping for a photo shoot and I noticed a strange pain in my chest muscles and shoulder. My left hand was tingling and intermittently numb. “I’m too young for a heart attack,” I comforted myself. “It’s probably just a little carpal tunnel”. Like most problems I don’t want to deal with, I ignored it. I was right about one thing: I wasn’t having a heart attack – although one should not take that possibility lightly – but the sensations didn’t get better either. In fact, they got worse. When the discomfort disrupted my sleep and the tingling spread to my right hand, I was finally freaked out enough to call the doctor. The triage nurse didn’t seem impressed with my inability to get in right away but she also didn’t seem inordinately alarmed. I’d never been sent from reception to a triage nurse before, so I decided to drag my reluctant, tingly self to immediate care.
Not to ruin the surprise, but the ending of the story isn’t very dramatic. The nice lady at immediate care poked me a few times and sent me over to X-Ray. As it turns out, I have degeneration in a few of my discs. The primary issue, however, was that my back muscles were so tense that my spine lost its healthy curve. The Doc suspected the tension was influencing the ability of my nerves to properly do their thing.
I know on particularly stressful days my lower back aches, but I never noticed how much tension I carry as a norm until I had a few doses of Aleve and an “addict friendly” muscle relaxant. (I define “addict friendly” as one that doesn’t influence state of mind. I’ve had wilder nights on a normal dose of cold medicine. If you are in recovery, I recommend having a trusted friend, spouse, or sponsor help keep you accountable for taking medication as prescribed. We are only as sick as our secrets). Despite the fact that the warm pins and needles, numbness, and pain have mostly ceased, I am still left to wonder why my muscles were so tense. Without the aid of medication, why does my spine stand at attention like a soldier waiting to be slapped across the face? How am I going to stay relaxed when I stop my regimen of pills? This isn’t a drug seeking question so much as one that stems from a desire to get proactive. It’s embarrassing to be told that you are sitting on an exam table, one tier short of the ER, because you can’t relax.
This has lead me to ask, both literally and figuratively, “What am I feeding myself”?
What does my diet have to do with it? Well, a lack of nutrition is certainly detrimental to one’s overall wellbeing but I am also talking about what I feed my other senses. What do I feed my eyes and ears? How am I nourishing my spirit?
In my last apartment, I didn’t have a television (I didn’t have the internet for awhile either!) I loved it. Granted, I acquired Netflix and Amazon Prime on a tiny Kindle Fire, but I wasn’t constantly inundated with commercials and the fear mongering news media. Someone once compared my home to a treehouse. Nestled in the back of a huge, antiquated residence and bordered by leafy treetops, it was falling into disrepair and yet airy and full of beautiful filtered light. It had a window seat and a painted copper ceiling. Despite the stabbing in the neighboring house and the girl who sobbed in the bathtub behind the bedroom wall, it was somehow a disconnected, elevated safe haven… until the disrepair become too much to abide, a raccoon the size of a small bear took up residence under the stairs, and the neighbors played the same techno beat all night long…on my one evening off from the night shift. (I have to chuckle at the fact that it was the techno rather than the stabbing that pushed me over the edge.)
I do not blame the television for my present stress – although I do think it has the propensity to distract me from making more fulfilling or holistic choices with my time – but I strongly believe social media, namely, Facebook, is one of the poisonous culprits.
Unfortunately, Facebook is a necessary evil. I use it to promote and run my photography business. I also use it to reach others with this blog. The key for me is distinguishing between a useful tool and a drug.
Facebook has been truly disgusting lately. There has been an explosion of nastiness and the masses spread it like a pandemic. I don’t say that in a self righteous way; I have probably participated. Scrolling through my newsfeed, I can feel my heart filling with hate. In any given moment, one can be confronted with some hideous example of white supremacy and then simultaneously experience the hypocrisy of someone who is constantly shouting about the racism of others but who is also clearly racist himself. (I used to think this kind of hypocrisy was called “reverse racism” but someone kindly pointed out that this term is antiquated and offensive. I am still a student of life!) I truly felt awful every time I opened the app on my phone. It enflamed anger and hatred toward my fellow man. In sharing my struggle with a group of supportive people, I coined my affliction “human race-ism”: the feeling I get when I hate everyone and want to move to a compound on an island.
This desire to escape is scary. Isn’t it the very reason many of us drank and drugged in the first place? The craziest part is that I knew it made me feel terrible and yet I continued scrolling as if stopping would somehow mean missing out. And that, my friends, is a prime example of addictive behavior.
I’ve decided to look at myself as a battery in need of charging. It’s not enough for me to abstain and go to meetings. I need to be wary of where I “plug myself” in the world. Is my battery energized or drained? Facebook drains my battery. Popular music drains my battery. The news drains my battery. Eating horseradish pub cheese with a spoon fashioned out of a wheat thin drains my battery (not because pub cheese isn’t delicious…but because I’m about to turn thirty and my metabolism has had enough of my gluttony).
I know that assessing the current “outlets” in my life isn’t going to completely solve my back issue. I expect I will have to “plug in” to new habits; perhaps regular massage, acupuncture, and yoga. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to honor the memory of my old apartment and “unplug”. For me, this means only listening to classical music or CDs in the car. It means doing a sugar detox with my beautiful spouse. It means less coffee and more water (UGH!). It means following Buddhist teachings on Twitter rather than the latest hateful trend on Facebook. It means strictly adhering to guidelines around what I post. (Guideline 1: Is it related to my business? Guideline 2: Is it related to my blog? Guideline 3: Is it something my grandmother would enjoy seeing?)
In the past, I would condone staying angry and “plugged in” to the wrong outlets by claiming that I was being an advocate for change. I am learning that I can evoke positive change in silence. I can go to the polls. I can recycle. I can be the kind of person I want to meet. And that is enough. Railing angrily against injustice not only helps no one but it also hurts me. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate.
If things in the world don’t turn out the way I want them despite my best efforts, it’s not because I haven’t done enough. It’s not my fault. It is because things are exactly the way they are meant to be in that moment. Why? Because if things were supposed to be different they would be different. It is such a simple concept and yet one that is so hard to accept.
When I choose not to plug my battery into certain outlets, I am not choosing ignorance or choosing apathy. I am choosing peace.