Walking to the car, I was afraid I would not make it safely locked inside before the tears came. The car was stifling, and as the engine came alive, I sat with my face in my hands crying big, hot tears of shame, and then something else.
I had just come from one of my last sessions of physical therapy. Last November I had my first total knee replacement and this July I had the second knee done. It has been an arduous year of pain, healing, and regaining strength and balance. And after all of that, here I am reduced to tears in the parking lot of my physical therapist, right next to a Bed Bath and Beyond and a Party Pig.
If I am to tell the truth, which, by the way is a very vulnerable place to be, this is my first bout of tears since I started this transformational journey. I have not cried since I made my resolve to complete the surgeries. I could not waiver, I had to stay the course and commit to the nineteen-month-long process. There would be no turning back.
In my mid-thirties I began to feel pain in my knees that was unexplained. I was told to do strengthening exercises, and possibly have arthroscopic knee surgery to remove cartilage fragments. But, as my thirties gave way to my fifties and sixties the x-rays showed osteoarthritis in the kneecap. One doctor said, “You have the knees of a thirty-year-old and the kneecaps of an eighty-year-old. Someday you’ll have to get your knees totally replaced.” I have taken Rooster Comb (Hyaluronic acid) shots in my knees, cortisone shots, Celebrex and Aleve in large doses, and I’ve rubbed on every kind of ointment, even purchasing ‘Blue Emu’ cream, heralded as a miracle cure by my little Auntie Sue.
But, finally what made me ready for surgery was the excruciating pain and the even more excruciating embarrassment of not being able to walk down a flight of stairs, or go on hikes, or play on the floor with my grandkids. I felt like an imposter as I waited in line for the elevator with those who obviously needed it more than me. I was ashamed of my disability.
I want to be able to climb the bleachers of my grandson’s ballgames and dance with Boo at our 50th wedding anniversary. I want to play chase with my grandkids and ride bikes until our heart’s content. I want to enjoy what’s left of my time here on earth and if possible, if I am granted the blessings I may not deserve, to do all of that without pain. So, when my orthopedic doctor said, “I think you’re ready.” I mentally prepared myself for the road ahead.
Arthritis is a cruel disease that affects your joints causing inflammation or degeneration of your joints, creating great pain. Sometimes, Osteoarthritis of the fingers, knees, or hips follows an injury. I badly injured my knee while in college, by falling down a flight of stairs, but who can know for sure if that was the beginning culprit, only that it happened.
All of these things were not in my thoughts as I sat in my car after physical therapy. Only minutes before I had been standing on a 3-inch-high wooden block, shaking like a leaf. It had been two and a half months since my surgery, but it was time to tackle the stairs. “I’m scared to bend my knee, I’m afraid it won’t hold me,” I said.
The fresh-faced, twenty-something-year-old physical therapist stood in front of me saying, “I’m right here, I won’t let you fall.” And as silly as this might sound to you, I knew I had a choice. I could try and keep trying or I could cower away in fear and settle for less. After all, I am a grown woman and if I say I’m not ready, I’m not ready. If I don’t want to put myself through the pain and soreness, I don’t have to.
My choice, though, was not to waste my pain. I’d come this far and the thing I wanted most was right in front of me. But, I was afraid, and I was ashamed that this young girl was having to help me when I should have been able to do it myself. I felt like a whiney baby, a scaredy-cat afraid of a 3-inch step when there are so many people who would be happy to be in my place. My journey of pain and rehabilitation was finally coming towards a pivotal point, and I knew I had to find a way to push through.
Sitting in my car, I was feeling months of hard work, pain, and the shame I have carried for a long time. The shame surrounding what I should be able to do, shame at something that was not even my fault. I am not a crier by nature, but I am tenderhearted, and sometimes that can serve me well. At that exact moment, I needed a little compassion. I wanted to say, “It’s ok to be afraid, you can do it. Give yourself some time.” But all I heard in my head was negative. “You’ll never be able to do this. Just give up.”
The walk to the car was like a walk of shame until I sat down, and the tears fell. My tears cleansed a part of my heart that had been overgrown with fear and anxiety. My tears were a release of the gratitude I feel towards my God and my surgeon, my family, and my friends. My heart overflows with thankfulness that I am healing well, getting stronger, and relearning to climb stairs. I am grateful to have less pain. I am grateful for insurance and Medicare. I am grateful for all of the kind, compassionate people who have been put in my path during this medical odyssey.
It is not easy to let yourself be vulnerable. You must first accept your truth, without judgment, and without comparing yourself to how you think others would behave. Brene’ Brown, a famous professor, lecturer, and author actually wrote a book about vulnerability, Daring Greatly. In that book, she says that “Vulnerability sounds like truth but feels like courage.” And that is exactly how I felt.
After the tears slowed, I drove home debating whether to tell Boo about my ‘meltdown.’ I was already trying to make light of my feelings by using that derogatory term. But, right before bed, I told him everything and to my surprise, I cried all over again. He listened, almost like he has never done before, and held me tight like a little child. It seems Brene’ Brown was absolutely right. My vulnerability to share my truth felt so courageous and Boo could feel the truth and openness as it went from my heart to his. My willingness to be open transformed everything. The gratitude I feel for health and healing allows me to be afraid and do it anyway. The willingness to be vulnerable gave way to gratitude and that has made all of the difference.
“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” Brene’ Brown