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  • Writer's pictureM. Linda Graham

No Pain - All Gain

Retirement Day # 1602: This is a little awkward – I don’t want to brag, but….

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling rested, light, content, and consequently baffled. From whence sprang this fresh joy? Stepping on the scale revealed that I had not lost any weight. [damn!] Yet the feeling of lightness & freedom was delightfully unrelenting. I realized [surprise!] that, for the first time in over 25yrs, I felt no physical pain. The condition was not drug induced.

I literally howled with joy, much to the dogs’ distress.

I’m 65- a [semi] retired dancer, teacher, and choreographer. I’ve spent my life professionally training in and exploring physical movement. Like any professional athlete, such a career means learning how to work with and through injury- because there’s always something “off.” I began to experience pain as a constant in my late 30’s, when a stressful divorce segued into symptoms of menopause and the onset of migraines. By my late 40s, just as I was getting the migraines under control, my left knee became so painful from chondromalacia that a cartilage transplant aka a Mega Osteochondral Allograft & Autograft Transplant with Osteotomy [fancy!] was performed in 2007. To make a long story short, between 2007 and 2022 I played whack-a-mole with joint pain, as a right knee cartilage transplant and two hip replacements followed in succession. Last year, even as I recovered from the last hip replacement, the other began to experience a suspiciously chronic tendonitis.

Until now.

To be clear, I have not lacked in delight or joy over the last 25yrs. “Pain” is a massive subject, a double-edged sword that is both warning and curse. Moderate chronic physical pain seems to be an inevitably of aging – somewhere between 60-75% of Americans over 65 experience persistent pain. * It is also an unspoken burden and a potent distraction - a kind of incessant “body-grief.” It is said that it is easier to find volunteers to die rather than endure pain with patience. I can believe it. While I’ve experienced brief episodes of remorseless pain [i.e. migraine headaches lasting 3-4 days], most of the time the pain was bearable- like an obnoxiously bad heavy metal band playing next door 24/7.

Like many of us, I was taught to “toughen up” “walk it off” “quit your bellyaching” “grin and bear it” - be the resilient survivor and keep going despite the pain. Above all, “never whine.” This stoicism served me well, helping me to survive. But survival and aging needn’t condemn one to be the victim of pain. Sometimes we can’t do anything about our pain, but sometimes we can. And when we can, we should. I was lucky, blessed, and determined to at least lighten the burden for as long as possible. I’d also forgotten what a life without pain felt like.

Today, I remembered. Deep down, I don’t think I ever thought I’d experience this. What contributed to relief? Yoga/Pilates + Horse dancing + Contradansing? Weather change? Or maybe just getting enough sleep.

Today, I am so grateful for my health care insurance, and for the surgeons, therapists, trainers, family, and friends who have made this period of physical pain-free wonder possible. It may be fleeting, but I feel a fierce urge to adapt to this new and breathtaking paradigm.

May you ALL be blessed with many pain-free days. I think I’ll go for a ride.

Argo on his favorite bed - the image captures how I felt this morning

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