the pain clinic

for about a year or so, i was having issues with my foot. if you talk to me on a regular basis, you already know this. you know this story well. you may even know what i mean when I refer to ‘PF’ (plantar fasciitis). you probably got a bit tired of it. but you don’t know how the story ends.

the battle was torturous. the hours spent thinking about it, trying to wish it away, researching evidence-based scientific articles and holistic Chinese medicine, re-reading the same treatment recommendations over and over again in case they change overnight. the physiotherapy, the podiatry, the strengthening exercises, the stretching exercises. the special socks, the hiking boots, the insoles, the running shoes. the night splints i ordered online. the insoles my mom shipped to me from the states. the recommendations from friends – try rolling your foot on a frozen water bottle! – and the recommendations from the doctor – go back to your physiotherapist!

because i hadn’t done enough, i booked yet another appointment with yet another specialist. they have ‘plantar fasciitis’ listed on their website, and at this stage i was willing to throw money at anything with those words on it.

i arrived early, for once in my life. i filled out the new client form. i adore filling out forms – i have always opted to fill them out for myself, even as a kid – but this one was really special. it asked me about my pain, and also about my diet, my interests, what i’m not doing that i wish i could be doing more of – what a joy to be asked these questions! it also asked the beloved history questions – i feel a sense of pride when i tick the box next to cancer. 

one thing to note about this period – i had started talking about my eye with strangers every day. i decided to do something about the dark what-am-i-doing-with-my-life cloud, faced a fear i’ve been avoiding for five years, changed my career path, got registered as a social worker in new zealand and accepted a job as a mental health therapist. it wasn’t easy at first: i could write a comprehensive guidebook on how to turn into an anxiety-riddled puddle on the floor (if puddles can be riddled with anxiety), and then regain arms and legs and become a person again. for now, though, let’s just say it was…eye-opening.

every time i met a new client, i would share some of my own story so they’d know who they’d be working with. my story is simple: my dad died. and i have a glass eye. (i’d say a little more than that, but that’s the essence.) so i’d been speaking about my eye in my first few weeks at this job more often than i had in the past 26 years. pointing it out, drawing attention to it, on purpose. it felt right.

’tell me about this retinoblastoma. looks like you’ve been hacked on quite a bit as a kid.’ i wasn’t expecting this. i came here for my foot. for my foot! and you’re asking me about my eye! i didn’t mind. i like when people ask me about it, it makes me feel special and interesting.

‘yep.’

‘does it cause you any pain?’

YES. i paused. ‘in what way?’

‘does it make you uncomfortable?’

YOU HAVE NO IDEA. ‘i guess i notice that it’s there. i’m aware of it.’

he looked at me. ‘how often do you think about it?’

EVERY MINUTE OF THE DAY. at this point i was losing the ability to conceal the impact his questions were having on me. i hesitated for a long time. i smiled, i held back tears, which i hoped he couldn’t detect in the warm light of the room. ‘pretty often.’

‘how often?’

THIS GUY DOES NOT GIVE UP. ‘like all of the time.’

he seemed astounded, but i think i was the one who was astounded. 

for the first time in my life, i understood what body gratitude is. i’d been trying to practice it for years – be grateful, write down all the things your body can do, swim dance run hug, wah wah wah.

i saw my body going into the first surgery, the enucleation. tiny skinny two-eyed anna at four years old, rolling down the hall in a hospital bed made for children, with big bars that made it seem like a cage. 

i saw my body going into the next surgery. slightly bigger still skinny one-eyed anna at six years old. and the next one, and the next one, and the next one.

i have always always always thought about what my mind has been through. how my eye – as if it’s my only imperfection – has sent me an impossible quest to be perfect. and yet i have never considered the impact on my body. my body has carried cancer, my body has carried nine surgeries all before i turned 16.

i never once appreciated what it has been through, what it has done for me, what it has endured and how well it has survived. how it took me all over the world. took me through 35 days hiking in the desert carrying 40lbs on my back and blistering sun on my skin. 

after i left the appointment, i felt free, liberated, on top of the world. i didn’t even know why. i thought it was because he convinced me he would cure my foot. 

well, in the end, the pain clinic didn’t cure my foot. the guy did some hippy-dippy sound wave treatment that didn’t work. but it didn’t matter. it wasn’t about my foot, it was never about my foot.

so i stopped trying to fix my foot. and just like that, the pain went away.

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