Morning begins with curse words. I slide myself to the edge of the bed. I draw circles around both knees with prescription lidocaine gel. I rub it into both knees until the skin is warm.
Next, the girding begins.
I pull on compression socks up to the knees.
I strap on a brace on the left knee, still recovering from surgery to remove two bits of torn meniscus last month.
I pull on a compression sleeve on the right knee, which just has the usual amount of arthritic pain.
Then I stand.
I am not a dad, but I make dad noises.
I’m uncertain at first, timid.
Sometimes the tendons in the left knee are so tight I can’t get full extension.
Sometimes I wobble and sit back down.
Eventually, I find enough support to walk to the bathroom.
I take small, mincing steps. There are no bold strides in these legs now.
I worry there never will be again.
I am in physical therapy.
I do exercises to loosen and strengthen the atrophied legs.
The cartilage tear in the left knee came in late June, but it only exacerbated the degenerative arthritis condition in both knees.
I can’t remember the last time I took a step with confidence.
I am obese.
That gives others cart blanche to judge me, to tell me what’s wrong, to offer their unsolicited solutions, or simply to scold.
I could explain that obesity is one of many symptoms of trauma. I work on it actively with my doctor and behavioral therapist.
But why bother?
Being fat is a sin in country where millions of people are fat. I have arthritis. I must deserve it.
It’s like going to the funeral of someone who died of cancer and asking, “Did she smoke?” If so, is the grief any less?
I wrote about my downtrodden mood a while back. A reader wrote in to say she didn’t contribute to my surgery fund to hear me say “I can’t.” Or it was something to that affect. I deleted the comment.
I never promised anyone who donated to my surgery that I wouldn’t struggle, that I wouldn’t have bad days, and that I wouldn’t write about them.
I only promised I would get their surgery and do my very best to become a good teacher in whatever community hires me. If the expression of pain and sadness is a disappointment, I apologize for nothing.
These paragraphs are always raw emotion.
If the message was meant to be a “ha, ha” poke, a lame attempt at inspiration, or some other uplifting note encased in sardonic wool, it hit me exactly the wrong way at precisely the wrong time.
The fact is I hurt.
I hurt a lot.
And it’s not just the knees.
I’m humbled by using a walker. I shouldn’t be. There’s no shame in using tools you need to get where you need to go. Where I need to go is class so I can finish my degree and become a teacher.
I struggle with my obesity.
I hate it. I hate that I didn’t recognize the connection between my psychology and my eating habits years earlier when it would have been easier to build new schema to negotiate the world.
The thing that frustrates me most often about obesity is the idea that people think it’s tough love when they tell me how fat I am.
Do they think I did not notice? Or perhaps they thought I was proud of my body that barely works and hurts all the time.
I don’t know.
All I ask of people is that they respect each other’s dignity. If I want to talk about my health, I will. I’ll reach out. I’ll confide. It’s my call.
I’ve got a doctor. I’ve got a therapist. If I am not progressing at a rate that satisfies others, well, how do you think I feel?
There are not magic solutions.
I get it. Some people try a diet and, boom, they lose a bunch of weight and they feel great. They want to pass it on.
A couple of things: No solution is universal. If it was, pharmaceutical and other medical companies would have bought up the rights to these programs decades ago and they’d be prescribed by doctors.
I tried a program recommended by friends. I gained weight. I dumped it and went back to what I was doing: cutting calories, eating better foods.
Secondly, these programs are often expensive. I’m living off unemployment and that ends this week. After that, who knows what I’ll do. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be signing up for an expensive commercial diet plan.
If this reads a little angry, it should. I am angry.
I’m angry with myself.
When struggling, the tendency is to look back and see every mistake we made and blame ourselves for not recognizing the dangers, not planning better, not having a back-up plan, and so on.
I know that’s fruitless. I do it anyway. I’m good at beating up myself.
I’m angry with others, too.
I share here. This is public. People can comment. Almost everyone is positive. But every now and then you get a sock to the jaw from someone you know — and even someone you don’t know — and it really stings.
I try to avoid assuming bad intentions. I learned this from my friend Ross Peterson, the radio host and relator.
I choose to believe these things are said to be inspirational or out of love. They’re just expressed imperfectly. That I understand. I’ve worked with letters most of my life and I still struggle to express myself precisely the way I want.
Here is what I want people to know:
I’m dealing with a lot of shit right now.
I’m taking some classes that aren’t easy for me.
I’m recovering from knee surgery.
My arthritis hurts bad.
When unemployment runs out, if I don’t get approved for an extension through the federal government, I must appeal to an administrative law judge. That’s a lot of stress.
But despite all the stuff I’m dealing with, I am trying to be better.
I don’t want to just be an adequate or good teacher. I want to be a great one. I want to be the teacher that students look forward to seeing each day. More than that, I want to be the teacher students learn stuff they can use from.
I’m actively working on my physical and mental health. I’m in physical therapy. I’m in behavioral therapy.
I may complain. I may groan. I may cry out. I may make dad noises.
But I promise all of you I’m doing the best I can.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
I can understand your frustration. Receiving unsolicited advice about how to handle our own health from someone who has no idea what it is like to live in our own bodies is incredibly infuriating and just insulting at times. It leaves us feeling angry at ourselves. For many reasons. But just know you got this! There are going to be good days and bad days. And I enjoyed reading this, it was raw and real, and I resonated with it. Please keep writing!
As my Mom always told me, “If you are doing your best, that’s all anyone can ask of you.” So, good on you for finding the right help to enable you to keep doing your best! That takes courage.
HOLD ON…..ANY CHANCES FOR A MOMENT WITH CRUTCHES…OR A THIRD LEG FROM NAPA PARTS…EASY.. SOUNDS LIKE NEED SOME TIME AWAY…HOW ABOUT A CHEAPPY OFMEVER,,,,CAN YOU GER TO minards,home depot or lowes…greatn little put putt cars…and wide aisles…check out stuff, Lifts mind and spirit,,,..whatever,,,cheap night out,…take care Dan must run.
I want to tell you things about teaching that might keep you excited about your future. I always view the real start of the new year as late August. That’s when I make my New Year’s resolutions because that’s the real start of the year: it’s a new beginning, full of promise and excitement. Walking into class on the first day is absolutely thrilling as you look at the faces of the young people who will teach you, inspire you and whom you will grow to love. When you are a teacher you’re always thinking “how can I make this more clear?” “How can I make this content interesting and exciting?” You look at movies, TV, books and magazines differently because you are always alert to stories and items that will illustrate something you want your students to learn. You learn to recognize when particular students are tired, sad, or struggling and you, with a word, a note, or a shared joke, can make the day brighter and create a bond that lasts for years. You will have the thrill of seeing students’ faces light up when they “get it” and you’ll learn to encourage the shy students to contribute, and to control the “dominant discussers” so everyone gets to participate, Once in a while, you’ll see admiration and respect in your students’ eyes when you’ve explained something well, or cleared up a confusing concept or said just the right thing in response to a question. You will learn the amazing talent and intelligence and creativity of the students you teach and you will be awed by their strength and resilience. Teaching is not just something you do, it’s who you are, and it is a gift and a privilege.
I wish you the very best.