Recently, I got a cortisone shot in my right elbow to battle increasingly painful tendonitis, or tennis elbow. “This is gonna sting a bit,” the doctor said before injecting the needle, then grinding it in and around the sinewy tissue, trying to inoculate the tendon in a fight to the death. “Holy cannoli, Doctor!” I screamed, loud enough to startle the nurse. “’Sting’ was a bit of an understatement.” Like saying Jack the Ripper was a bit cranky.
Around the same time, my mother told me of the cortisone shot she received in her hip, the hip she’s had since birth, as opposed to the man-made prosthetic implanted two years ago in the other side. The moment she mentioned the size of the needle – large – I pictured something the length of a knitting needle forcing its way through to her hip bone and almost fainted.
I am not a connoisseur of medical stories, a lover of blood, or a fan of pain.
Yet I do acknowledge that pain makes us feel alive, assures us we’re not dead. Or depressed. I’ve long battled Depression (to me, my Depression, just like the Great one, warrants the capital “D”). In my worst moments, I picture Depression as an endless bully of a tsunami intent on pulling me under and suffocating me with its massive pillows of water. I am not a good swimmer and am succumbing to its power, being sucked under the tide of brutally crushing waves. Depression’s only anathema – its Kryptonite, if you will – is distraction. That distraction can come in various forms – hope, exercise, pain. Clearly, hope is the best – that flicker of possibility which buoys my head enough to prevent irreversible drowning. And exercise is second best (according to my physician exercise in adequate proportions is as effective as antidepressants in treating depression, or, even, Depression). But I can’t always stir up a dose of hope, and exercise is generally as appealing to me as a root canal. So sometimes I am left with pain as my only distraction.
Now, to emphasize: I am not a pain junkie. I don’t abuse myself to feel “alive.” If anything, as a giant wuss, I am a no-pain junkie. Plus, I bruise like a sumptuous, but delicate, Georgia peach. Still, I am a terrific klutz and I’ve learned to see that as the “glass half full.” Stub my toe while walking past the coffee table? Holy fudgesicles! At least I’m distracted from the maze of repeating mind games swirling in my head. Slice a finger while cutting a bagel? Cheese and crackers! Better to bandage the finger than to keep focusing on today’s obsession of cleaning out every scintilla of my belly button lint. Poke myself in the eye while putting on my glasses? Mother of Mayonnaise! Time to rinse out my ocular orb and stop angsting over the telemarketer who hung up on me rather than listen to my diatribe about the commercialization of America.
Sure, there are times when I like to milk my Depression and stay in bed, live in pajamas, and generally enjoy my pity party. But, overall, I don’t want to be a stereotype in an antidepressant commercial. I don’t want to leave my partner glaring at me from a poorly lit corner of the house while I cancel yet another social engagement. I don’t want to leave my dog moping gloomily with his leash in his mouth while I deny him yet another walk in the fresh outdoor air. And I don’t want to leave another meal uneaten because… oh, who am I kidding… I only wish being unable to eat would ever happen to me (notice that even all of my curse phrases include food).
Still, since I’ll be battling Depression for the rest of my life, it’s nice to know I’ve got all these tools in my arsenal and, even, that pain is one of them. After all, what’s the old saying? “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Hello, Pain, my frienemy.