The first good morning in a while

When I was about 9 years old, I fell in the bathtub during a shower and hit the faucet just to the right of my spine, in the muscle next the shoulder blade (called the rhomboid).

My mother thought I popped a lung, because it took forever for me to recover my breath. We went to the hospital (a common part of my young life), and they said there was no real damage, but that the muscle was severely bruised.

Around the time that I started playing sports, that spot in my back had become a chronic pulling sort of pain that I'd learned to live with. All throughout high school and what little of college I attended, every sport - every day - I had to just expect that, when I entered my stance to snap the football, or got into referee's position in wrestling, or executed any throw in Judo, my back was going to pull and tug and it wasn't going to be pleasant.

With every surgery or injury, I'd visit a physical therapist, and I'd tell them about my back. They'd work on it in addition to the injury site, tack on the 30 minutes to my bill, and have insurance pay for it. Every doctor and trainer told me that what I had was equivalent to shin splints, but in my back. There is an injury site in the muscle, and as I work out and exercise, muscle is tearing and building (that's how they get bigger - they literally tear at the fiber, then heal themselves and grow larger). So, as my back developed and continues to develop, my muscle grows "around" this little spot of scar tissue and a sort of cyst forms.

So, every year and a half or so, I'd have the knot worked down and, once or twice, it felt like it was gone completely... And it was a godsend. But the last time any trainer has worked on it was around 1998, so for nearly 10 years, I've just lived with this gigantic tugging pain in my right rhomboid.

Without question, the worst point of the day was the moments just after I woke up. As we all do, when I slept, my muscles did whatever muscles do when you're asleep and I woke up tight and needing to stretch and get the blood flowing... But that one little place in my back was always a pain in my... Well, my back, I guess. It was always tight. If I looked left and brought my chin to my chest, I could feel a really tight pulling back in that right rhomboid.

Until this morning.

Yesterday, I went for my first ever massage therapy session. The therapist offered me a session in return for helping her fix her broken laptop, and I was hesitant... But she's a trusted friend of my friends, so I forewent my whole "I really hate strangers touching me" thing and tried it. I told her about the place in my back, and for the better part of an hour, she worked on it and hammered at it and pretty much kicked its ass.

She told me at the end of it that we'd gotten through what she considered the "first layer" and that the next session would really yield great returns... But I'd consider my life VASTLY improved today, as I woke up, sat up, and for the first time in TEN YEARS, actually got out of bed without having to stretch my back. And it was a serious shock to me, because I only realized it when I had both feet on the floor and was walking toward the closet... I realized that the only reason I stretched every morning was because of the little reminder to do so in my back, and that this morning, I seemed to get started a little quicker.

Kinda strange, huh? When we're in pain - any sort of pain - all we can think about is how we wish to God it'd just stop hurting - and if it did, we'd cherish the feeling of having no pain... But the second it stops, it all exits our minds. Twisted ankles, neck-cricks, bruises... Once there's no constant reminder that there is pain, there's no awareness of how great it feels to have none.

I don't know why my mind is going this direction but it's causing me to analyze far more about my life than I really intended when I opened up this editor and began typing.

Most of my daily timesinks and distractions have been removed from my life this year. It has been unquestionably my most productive month in a VERY long time... And in January, I didn't once wonder "What the hell am I going to write about?" or dread the coming Monday and the opinions of my work that came with them. I didn't sit around and feel sorry for myself about anything negative in my life. I didn't feel like I needed to "work through" or confront anything or anyone.

I just sat down each morning and began working. And all of my work, I enjoyed producing - even the stuff that didn't turn out how I liked, I liked turning it out. And when I was done working, I stopped.

When the pain is gone, you don't remember HOW miserable you were... You just remember that you were miserable. Maybe that's why it's so easy to slip back into bad habits... You forget just how bad they were TO you as well as for you.

Happiness is diligence. Happiness is work - but it's not mindless, robotic, unsatisfying work. It's not moving dirt from one pile to another pile. It's work in the way that sculpting and painting and singing and learning the drums is work - it's effort. But it's rewarding effort, and the reward doesn't come when you look back and see the end result of the effort. This sort of work rewards you with every second you work at it, and enables you to carry forward the work you do outside of it.

I have little notecards around my desk with little sayings on them, things that I always found very poignant. One is Henry Ford's classic, "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." Another, a sticker from Hot Topic (of all places), says "People too weak to follow their dreams will always discourage others." Another quotes Mr. Zach De La Rocha as saying "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me."

Lots of bolstering, empowering stuff. External motivators... Textual reminders of how I wish I could feel all the time, meant to remind me of feelings I've had in the past that make me bold and whatnot.

I just threw them all out. Just now. All except one:

"Enjoy the process. The product is a result of the process, and if the process isn't great, what you make with it can't be."

I don't know who said that. I just remember writing it down about a year and a half ago, on the back of a Taco Mac napkin. I was sitting there discussing story ideas with some people I once worked with... And the process was so tense. There was this unspoken drama between everyone and myself, and the entire project formed around it. It was painful and agonizing and I had to constantly refer to sayings like that one to keep things on an even keel.

I feel like, on a creative level, January 1 was the emotional equivalent to what I experienced physically this morning, the first good morning in a while. And just like realizing several moments after the fact that I'd gotten right out of bed and on with my day, I just realized that's what I've been doing so far this year. I just stood up and got on with it... And it's feeling WONDERFUL.

But just like my back, there's more work to be done to truly keep the problem away. I've only chipped away that first layer. Removing distractions, allowing myself to proceed regardless of positive and negative opinions, and focusing on the work are all great steps. And they removed the symptoms of the true problem, and allowed me to get going. But there's more work to be done. There always is. And the trick is to not allow myself to fall for the same old patterns, where I forget how big a problem there was and only remember that there was a problem.

Never again. That's my statement going forward.