Following a four day intensive course in aerial harness dance, I met my dear friend Nicola at Gatwick airport and flew to Knock. Another friend drove us back to Nic's current residence - a beautiful little yoga studio retreat type affair, with hot tub, sauna, amazing views etc - and we settled in for some serious relaxing. Whereupon, I was promptly stuck down with sciatica.
Now, I've never had it before, although my sports massage guy had been warning me for sometime that if my back muscles didn't slacken off I was in danger of developing it. It is a shocking pain. I've been very fortunate in my life to be born with a healthy body and to have avoided major accidents, so the worst pain I'm familiar with is menstrual which, for me, ranges from an annoyance to having to do some more serious meditative breathing.
Sciatica is a bright white stabbing/shooting pain that never quite goes away. It made me catch my breath, stopped me sleeping and meant I couldn't really walk for three days. It was very lucky that I had Nic to care for me, and that I didn't have anything I needed to get done - I was officially on holiday.
I've being doing a lot of reading about pain experience as part of my dissertation. The author Ariel Glucklich introduced me to the idea that pain is experienced very differently depending on its context, or the way it is being understood.
So, you might understand a pain to be a punishment from God. You might frame it as a healing, cleansing pain. You might be getting a tattoo done and be experiencing the stinging burn as exciting. In aerial I experience pain as potentially transformative - if I bear with it, I will be stronger.
It seems, in certain circumstances, how we frame our pain can genuinely alter the physical, embodied experience of it.
So, although the initial intensity of my sciatica has gradually subsided, I've not
trained in aerial for three weeks. I think that is the longest I've ever had
off since I began two and a half years ago. The interesting thing was I didn't miss it nearly
as much as I thought I would have. What made me sad (and slightly
panicky) was insomnia, pain inspired midnight thoughts of never being
able to comfortably go for all day walks again.
It made me
realise that all day walks in sun, rain, snow, whatever nature has on
that day, are what I love the very most about being mobile and fit.
In this instance, pain brought my priorities sharply and unexpectedly into focus for me, for which I am oddly grateful.