Don’t think about the elephant

On Tuesday, I walked down a flight of stairs without thinking about it.

I don’t mean without pain. That’s also true, though less remarkable. What I mean is that I walked down a flight of stairs without stopping to think about whether there might be pain.

I remember clearly when that happened with my achilles, the last injury I had that nagged more during day-to-day tasks than it did when I was doing the thing that ostensibly caused it. It was maybe two months after I’d first felt pain, and the only thing that still bothered me was walking downhill. The unfortunate part was that during those two months, I was taking a grad school class that met at a building that left me with a 1-mile downhill walk to my train. This particular day, it was raining, and I was carrying a lot of stuff, and I was mad at the world and thinking about how my rain boots were rubbing my heels and how much I was ready to be done with grad school and what I was going to have for dinner, and it wasn’t until I hit the last crosswalk to the BART station that I realized: Hey. I didn’t think about my foot.

That’s what happened on Tuesday, and the circumstances were equally mundane (involving a sudden tamale craving and an unexpected round-trip to the grocery store). The bottom line is that I realized I needed to hustle to make a train, so I gathered all my stuff and bounded down the stairs, and it was only as I was boarding the train that I thought about what I hadn’t thought about.

When I was a kid, I read this book about a girl who gets a kidney transplant (what? I read all of those Lurlene McDaniel One Last Wish books, too, and there were like 50 of those, so I wasn’t the only morbid child. There’s a whole article about the phenomenon. I massively, massively digress). ANYWAY, in the kidney transplant book, there’s a line about true health being when you don’t have to think about whether you’re healthy or not. Come to think of it, that’s a platitude that’s probably found in a lot of places, not just a young adult novel about a girl who gets a kidney transplant, but that’s where I learned it and I think of it every time the sentiment enters my mind. And I remember being so happy that day when I first realized I didn’t think about my achilles, because while it didn’t mean I was healed, it meant I was inching toward the beginning of that.

The funny thing about not thinking about an injury — or, more precisely, the funny thing about that realization plus my brain — is that it immediately becomes the only thing I can think about. So going down the escalator at my building, or going up the Muni stairs, or taking an errant step to avoid a guy with a huge box trying to get out the coffee shop door prompts the same kind of obnoxious overanalysis that strikes when I first feel a new ache or pain. Did I feel it then? Or what about now? Can I go down the stairs without thinking about it again? Don’t think about it!

And, just as when I first got injured, I start looking for explanations for the sudden uptick. What did I do differently over the weekend that made me capable of going down stairs without thinking about it on Tuesday? The first answer is nothing — I ran, I rolled, I iced, I stretched, I drank a beer — but it can’t be nothing, right? So I latch onto the silliest things: Was it the calf raises I started doing when I come back from a workout? Or the cherry juice I drank because Teh Interwebs told me it was a good anti-inflammatory? Or, wait, I took a Mucinex before I ran on Sunday — did it fix my sinuses and my leg? Ooh, I know: things seemed to get better almost immediately after I whined on the internet! I should whine on the internet more!

Of course, most likely, it’s nothing specific. It’s all the work I’ve been doing slowly starting to come together. It’s time. It’s chance. It’s the strange routes that healing takes.

And it isn’t over. It’s been a tough week of lifting, swimming, running, and more swimming since Tuesday, and I’m feeling it. But I’m also feeling progress when I thought there was only stalling out.

Now I’m just going to try not to think about it.


3 thoughts on “Don’t think about the elephant

  1. Linda says:


  2. Kristina says:

    Good luck with the “trying not to think about it” plan!
    What I’ve found interesting regarding my own injuries is that if I have major trauma (which I’ve had in the form of a broken ankle and torn ACL), I can wrap my mind around the idea that I have an injury and that I have to recover from it. If, however, it is a nagging ache or pain that eludes any specific diagnosis but impacts my daily life, then I drive myself NUTS as I try to figure out what happened and, more importantly, how can I get better and when will I get better.
    Maybe it was the whining? Whine more.

  3. Katie says:

    Shut up! My friend and I were JUST DISCUSSING the Lurlene McDaniel books. SO EFFING MORBID! I read them all, of course.

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