“Those who are trying to transform a world are required to modify themselves in order to proceed within that world.” -Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life
I walked across my apartment floor, for the first time in 4 months without pain, and it was glorious.
My legs sill wobbly from disuse and wheelchair-fatigue, I felt like a colt trying to use my knobby knees for the first time in forever. But I could stand to stand it.
Miraculous, right? Let me fill in the gaps.
I was just gearing up for my eleventh week of class, here in my final fall semester at Ohio University. Another weekend of lonely afternoons in bed, watching the (weird) warm weather roll by from just beyond my windowpane. (“I guess that’s why they call it window ‘pain'”)
It was Sunday afternoon. I had met my friend for brunch earlier in the morning, diverting my normal eggs-milk-and-oatmeal breakfast (the recipe for fast-healing bones, I was assured) for a bakery-fresh polenta instead.
Grocery shopping and essay writing later, it was nearly 2 o’clock by the time I was ready for lunch. I reached for my crutch and my knee braces, bracing for the moment of impact like every other day gone by since August, when suddenly… no pain.
I squeezed and poked, carefully prodding along the knee cap like I’ve done all semester, waiting for some moment of fiery-hot pain. Nothing but a faint tingling.
I shot up in bed and froze, my over-caffeinated mind on overdrive. What does this mean? What is happening? Is this some kind of sick joke? What did I do different from yesterday to today?
All my motions had been virtually the same: just another normal weekend in ‘recovery.’ My stretches, routine at this point. I had even abstained from my swimming class on Friday. I thought and thought, my mind whirring through my last 2 days. What gives?
Struck by some divine intervention, I realized the only change I made from one morning to the next: I didn’t have any milk, or dairy, yet in my day.
Instead of reaching for my scrambled eggs and glass-of-milk, I scrambled to the Internet food blogs — a realm one should admittedly tread with caution. What I found, according to numerous vegan and holistic-health bloggers, shocked me: a milk (and dairy) allergy can sometimes show up in the JOINTS and cause massive inflammation.
I wasn’t always ‘lactose intolerant,’ but I have been in recent years. I can practically track my body’s personal aversion to dairy-products like a negative-trend chart, starting with grilled-cheese staples before 8 years old; bloated and gross-feeling stomach issues before 15 years old; and now, apparently, a total total-body inflammation attack before 22 years old.
I replayed the saga that had become so familiar to my ‘injuries’ over and over again in my head: “It feels like my knees are on fire.” “I drink 2-3 glasses of milk every day and nothing’s getting better.” “I’m tired all the time.” “I don’t have any energy left at the end of the day.” “I’m sore and achy all over.”
Well, no wonder! If my body was fighting off a newly labelled foreign invader at every mealtime, it’s no surprise I didn’t have any energy left over to be a blossoming full-time student.
And, like my decreasing milk-and-dairy tolerance, my dramatic increase in milk products, after being a vegan all last year, looks like a slope going the other way — starting the very same month my knee pain went from tolerable to unbearable. (“My diet looks night-and-day different from my diet last year,” I assured my mom every evening on the phone. “I’m eating what I’m supposed to be eating.”)
I was convinced all that time that I wasn’t eating enough of the “right” foods for protein and appropriate calcium intake. Turns out: I knew what was ‘right’ all along — I just couldn’t hear my intuition from underneath all the red-hot-very-very-painful inflammation.
I’ve learned many things since the start of my leg ‘injuries,’ but I have to say I didn’t give my own body enough credit.
I convinced myself for many moons that I was broken, broken without repair. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t healing, and blamed my own eating disorder woes for the mess I found myself in day-in and day-out. I came very close to total despair — a rocky emotional terrain I have only ever traversed once before.
Now, it seems, I was poisoning my body day-in and day-out — unbelievably with the stamina to withstand a full-time student course load, cooking and cleaning myself, and living as ‘functional’ as I was. I could’ve seriously ‘overdosed’ and found myself unconscious, suffering chest pains or cardiac problems, without a clue as to why I was reacting to an allergic reaction I didn’t even know I had developed.
This week, I’m happy to report I walked (albeit with the steady assurance of crutches) into classes Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I’m still addressing some disuse discomfort in my legs, seeing as how I haven’t used them much without pain since early June, but I’m getting there.
I’m walking confidently in the direction of my dreams. I have hope in conquering my destiny, again.
As I emerged from the pool on that fateful Monday afternoon — my first full day without throbbing pain — I heard the radio and smiled.
“Stronger than yesterday | Now it’s nothing but my way | My loneliness ain’t killing me no more | I, I’m stronger…”