Aches and Pains: From Denial to Acceptance

Seems that in this so-called midlife I’ve been fighting surrender on a lot of fronts.

But lately, I’ve been at the losing end.

For instance, I have a bum left knee. I first realized something was wrong a little over 10 years ago, while visiting Paris. It was my first European trip and I was determined not to let anything ruin it. Not the torrential rain we had. Not the record cold temperatures. Nothing. Not even the fact that we went to the Louvre on the one day it was closed.

A few days into the trip, my knee gave me a sudden, sharp jolt midway down a steep set of subway steps. And it continued to ache throughout the remainder of my trip, but I managed to mostly ignore it, instead choosing to concentrate on the buttery croissants and bottles of sumptuous red wine.

By the time I got home, croissants and resveratrol behind me, the knee screamed out to be front and center. No longer able to ignore it, I made an appointment with a specialist, who, after reading the X-ray, told me that I had “worn cartilage.”

I thought back to my days on the front lines of aerobic and step classes, questioning my judgment. But, when you’re young and agile, you think your body parts will last forever.

“If you were 10 years older, I’d call it arthritis,” the doctor solemnly uttered.

At the time, I didn’t see the sense in that—but now that more than 10 years have passed I realize that he was trying to placate me. Why upset me with the bitter truth before my time? And secretly, I can’t deny feeling a bit relieved—his euphemistic choice of words soothed me.

When people looked at me questionably if I limped when my knee acted up (I could go a good long time in between flare-ups), I’d simply shrug it off and say, “Oh, just some worn cartilage,” and I’d nonchalantly  carry on.

But now that 10 years have passed, and my knee acts up more than it behaves, I’m trying to come to grips with certain truths about aging. Like, maybe it’s time to surrender and stop with all the euphemisms. Maybe it’s time to stop living in denial and accept what is.

And yet, I refuse to abandon exercise because if I don’t move my body—even if it hurts to move it sometimes—I will go out of my mind. I’m the kind of person who needs to be in motion; in fact, I probably would do better on a treadmill desk than squirming in my chair all day while trying to concentrate on my writing and ignore my sore butt at the same time.

Now when I exercise, I wear a stretchy knee brace (that is, when I remember to put it on). And when you live in an apartment building you can’t hide much. When I wear shorts with my knee brace, my neighbors notice.

“What happened to you?” 15C asked.

“What’s wrong with your knee? Skiing accident?” inquired the tenant who recently moved into 8A.

If only.

“Oh, just an old pesky injury,” I answered.

And then I nonchalantly limped on, just like in Paris.

Only this time I could no longer indulge in buttery croissants and gulp gallons of red wine without thinking about the consequences.

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