A Common Foot Condition
I love to hike nearly every day, but recently I went about it the wrong way. I was working far too many marathon hours at my desk, and I started hurrying my hikes in the park and not even enjoying them, because I felt I needed to get back to work.
Then my right heel started to hurt – a lot.
A little internet research confirmed that I have plantar fasciitis, which is a painful inflammation of the inner heel tissue (along with. probably, some micro-tears in the ligaments). The information I gathered was not entirely reassuring. On the one hand, plantar fasciitis – which is very common by the way; about 1 of 10 people get it – is not a chronic condition. It does go away. However, apparently, it can take anywhere from a month (if I’m lucky) to years.
Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus out there about how to treat it. Some say to ice it; others say don’t do that! Some say stretch the toes upward; others say that stretching the toes upward will worsen plantar fasciitis – the right thing to do is to stretch them downward. I saw a youtube video where a very credible-seeming doctor insists that plantar fasciitis is not really a foot condition, though the pain is in the foot. But the inflammation, according to this guy, is actually in the calf. Deep stuff.
Some other foot expert genius doctor on youtube says that curing plantar fasciitis is all about diet. Eat more eggs, he says. Don’t eat chocolate.
Don’t eat chocolate???
Okay. So I sent a note to my doctor at the Center for Natural Medicine, asking his advice. He wrote back that rolling the heel over a frozen water bottle has been known to help.
For now I’m just using an ice pack I have handy. I’m not sure it makes a difference.
I Can Live with This, I Guess
I should mention that I am certain I brought this on myself with my unmindful walking. It was my foot’s way of saying something like, “Hey, screw this. If you’re not even going to enjoy me, I quit.”
So I decided I would frame this “episode” as a gift: my body reminding me to enjoy my hikes, to be grateful for every blessed step. And truly, I have started to enjoy walking again, even through the pain, which waxes and wanes.
The pain of plantar fasciitis is worst when I wake up for the day, and I have to shuffle and clutch the wall to even make it to the bathroom. So the first few minutes are excruciating, but the rest of the day … well … it’s a reminder that my body is vulnerable and thank god I’m not in TERRIBLE PAIN like so many poor souls in this world. Even at its worst, this is pain I can “deal with.”
I even imagined at one point, about a week in, that it was already getting better. Then I took a long walk with a friend and later that night and the next day …. OUCH!! That’s the tricky thing about plantar fasciitis. It often doesn’t hurt that much while you’re walking, but a little later, after you stop — HELLLOOOO!
Still, I was clinging to the notion that I was NOT going to let this thing cramp my style, not in the least. Fuck it, I was still going to hike, especially now that I remember how pleasurable hiking is. I was just going to ignore the pain, and in fact, sometimes I felt like I could make it go away with my mind.
But … I’m not quite that evolved after all. I noticed, for example, when I drove somewhere last night, I hesitated to get out of the car because I knew that first step was going to hurt a lot. That hesitation was an involuntary reflex. So this phenomenon of physical pain in my life does indeed cramp my style; there is no getting around it.
But Is It a Gift Anyway?
Let’s say that every time I notice myself hesitating, for fear of pain, to stand up from sitting, or to roll out of bed, or to get out of the car, I use that moment to contemplate all the miraculous ways my body (and my mind too, I think) works just fine … and maybe even send some compassion out to people in much worse physical (or mental) pain, all over the world, and right in my neighborhood. That would be a gift-like use of the problem, I suppose.
Actually, it’s a gift simply to have pain that I can even contemplate working with as if it’s a gift, as opposed to, say, intolerable excruciating chronic pain that would make me want to die, which a lot of people do have (and, by the way, I deem such unfortunate souls to be entitled to a swift, dignified, peaceful death if that’s what they would choose).
In fact, sometimes I can make my heel not hurt simply by shifting the position of my foot a little, like when I’m driving. Sometimes I think I can even change it with my thoughts. And sometimes I even notice my heel “go off” when I’m having really negative thoughts, which is strange, but maybe not that strange.
A dear friend of mine shared with me an essay he’d written recently about moods. It inspired me to look at my own moods more closely, and I’ve been seeing how my thoughts give rise to my moods. So now when I’m restless or agitated or grumpy, I check my thoughts. And I realize, OH, that’s why I’m feeling shitty! And I can change my thoughts, or even just shift them a little, and then my mind and soul don’t hurt, kind of like shifting the position of my foot on the gas pedal can make my foot not hurt, or not hurt as much.
I can ask my moods what they are telling me. That really works. Maybe I’ll also start asking the pain in my heel what it’s telling me and see if it has anything to say except “OUCH!” I’ll try to train it to be more articulate.
It’s such a luxury to write about physical pain in this cavalier way. I almost feel like I’m tempting fate. Maybe it’ll get worse now, just to humble me. And then I’ll be really mad and I’ll curse the pain and curse God or Whomever. I mean, even if this goes on for months just as it is, I’ll get sick of it real soon, and less philosophical.
But for now I get to at least pretend it’s a gift.
And actually I really do think it’s a gift.
In the clearest frame of mind, is it possible that everything – or nearly everything that happens – is a gift?
Like I say, the pain isn’t too bad right now. In fact, at this very moment, it’s gone. Almost.