Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Settle for Average? (or, How My Physical Therapist is Helping Me Become a Better Author)

Hey there. So nice to see you again. Please excuse the lengthiness of this post, but methinks we have some catching up to do.

A lot of you have asked me, privately, where the heck I've been lately. And even more of you have wondered about it in silence, I'm sure. Suddenly I cut back my blogging and tweeting and, dramatically, and I mention a thing or two about some kind of physical therapy I'm doing, and those of you who didn't freak out were at least scratching your heads.

First, let me apologize for freaking you out. Let me clarify that I'm okay. Mostly. I'm sorry if you were worried--that was not my intent when I quietly slipped away from the public eye. My intent was to focus on more important things, but in doing so I forgot that there are a crap-ton of people out there, all over the world, that care about me.

Thanks for reminding me that you care. I love you all to the moon.

The explanation for all of this is neither easy nor succinct. It started with some problems in my shoulder that would not go away. I was in a lot of pain. My hand was tingling, going numb. This is not normal (obviously), and I knew I couldn't just keep treating it with medication but for some reason that's what I kept doing. For months. And months. Then the pain got so bad in August that I went back to my doctor and she referred me to a physical therapist.

This scared the ever-living snot out of me.

Fortunately, the place she referred me to is not so scary. It's actually fun. And informative. I'm learning and improving. I met my physical therapist (henceforth known as my PT) exactly 2 weeks ago, and in that 2 weeks I feel like a completely new person. But I don't mean physically, because physically I still have a long way to go. I mean my outlook has changed, and that makes all the difference.

Today is my 35th birthday. This is a milestone birthday for me. I finally feel like I know what I'm doing, I know what I want to do, and I know what to never repeat. Yet, during my initial consultation with my PT, he asked me what my life goals were, and I couldn't answer. I passed off the question with something lame, like, "Right now I'm just surviving."

Which isn't a false statement. But it also isn't entirely true.

September is the month that I usually reset myself, and this year I embarked on the biggest reset of my life. Fall is my favorite season. It refreshes me. I like to set new goals in September that carry me through the doldrums of the coming winter. When we're talking about short-term goals, I can answer that up and down and all around. But long-term goals? I get stupid and tongue-tied when people ask me about my future.

Part of the reason is that I feel lucky to have survived this long, and most of the time I'm content to just take things day by day. Who cares about 5 years from now, or 50 years from now, I'm focused on the next 5 days, 5 weeks, maybe 5 months. But as my life (hopefully) veers away from the hard times, toward (hopefully) better times, my viewpoint needs to change with it. It's time for me to start thinking more of the long road ahead.

I realized this when my PT said, "You've only lived a third of your life. You're too young to be feeling like you have only a third of it left."

Now, I often joke that I'm "old" but I know I'm not actually old. Yet it still took hearing a stranger say it to my face to realize just how much life I have left. How do I want to spend those years? Not in pain. Not stiff and sore. Not hunched over, leaning on a cane. Not popping pill after pill after pill just to get through the day.

But let's back up for a minute. Before my PT even asked me about my life goals, he told me the reason I'm having these problems. It isn't just a shoulder problem. It's a spine problem. The issues with my shoulder are a side effect of something much more serious.

I'm pretty sure my face went fifteen shades of awful when he said this.

My mother has had 2 back surgeries in the last 20 years, with the possibility of more in the future, depending on how long she lives. I love my mother, and I take it as a compliment when people say how much I look like her and act like her--she is intelligent, driven, beautiful, fun, everything I would ever want to be--but the one thing she is not is healthy. I can't even list all the things she has wrong with her, and her back problems are the worst of them.

I do not want my mother's back. She was wheelchair-bound before her last surgery. So to hear that my own spinal issues are so bad that I could be headed for surgery if I don't fix them now was more than a little frightening.

My PT asked me what I do every day. I said, "I'm a writer."

"That explains why you're slouching," he said. And then he did a perfect imitation of me sitting at my laptop, slouched over the keyboard, typing away all day.

"Oh," I muttered and tried to straighten myself, but I had no idea what I was doing, not yet. By the time I left that day, two weeks ago, I was much more self-aware. The main thing being...

Posture posture posture. If you're a writer, especially, always be aware of your posture. While sitting, while standing, while walking, while driving, ALL THE TIME. It wasn't until my PT lifted this crooked wool from my eyes that I realized just how much I was slouching and twisting myself out of sync ALL THE TIME.

I even did this head tilt thing while I was listening to him explain all the wonders of the human spine. I mean, my ear was practically touching my shoulder--because that somehow helps me listen better? I honestly didn't realize my head was tilted at all until he stopped mid-sentence, looking right at me with this funny little quirk of a smile, and straightened my head for me.

"Don't do that," he said. "Keep your chin up, head straight, shoulders back."

"Okay. Sorry. I didn't know I was doing that."

And that's the point. I didn't know I was doing all these wrong things, every day for years and years and years, and not doing the right things to readjust when necessary, and it was slowly ruining my entire body. Then one day my shoulder feels like a knife is driving through it and my hand is going numb and I have no idea why why WHY?

But really, I did this to myself. I can't blame anyone else for the choices I make, even if they are made in ignorance. The good news is, my PT is now helping me fix myself. I'm in bad shape, yes, but I'm not unfixable. He started by showing me how to sit and stand properly. He even showed me how to read a book properly, something I've been doing wrong since I was 4 years old. And then he showed me the stretches...

I am not going to get into the specifics of the physical part of my therapy. But every time I see my PT he says something that nudges me a little further along the positive track. It is never anything groundbreaking in the broad scheme of things. However, as it relates to me and where I am in life and what I'm doing, completely changing course at age 35, developing new habits that will be with me forever... it's exactly what I need to hear.

The last time I was in, a week ago, I started doing a new set of stretches with the giant rubberband that feels like it's going to rip my arm right out of the socket. What I love about my routine is that it's not really supposed to hurt, BUT it's not supposed to be comfortable either.

I was standing there with my left arm pulled behind me in a way that it's never been forced to stretch before, and I tend to make faces when I'm pushed beyond my comfort zone. My PT knows when I feel discomfort because it is literally written all over my face. So when I *don't* make a face, he knows I can stretch more.

This was one of those times. I stepped forward to increase the tension and my face didn't so much as twitch.

"How does that feel?" he said, already knowing the answer.

I said, "It feels okay."

"Go a little bit farther, then."

So I did. And I made a face. And he laughed.

Then he said some other stuff that I don't remember because after that he said, "Why settle for average?"

And that's what I remember most. This statement made me forget almost everything else he said that day because it struck me so hard: Go farther. Why settle for average?

That can be applied to so many things. Stretching, writing, and most importantly, LIFE.

When I put all of this together, it helps me become a better me, which helps me become a better author.

1. Posture, every day, always.

2. Reach for long-term goals, not just short-term goals.

3. Push beyond the comfort zone. Why settle for average?

This is my life now, every part of it.

I have a lot of weeks of therapy ahead, but my PT claims I'll be a new woman on the other side of it. After that, maintenance. Forever. I have no idea when I'll be able to post regularly again, and I've officially gone on hiatus from tweeting and blogging for Writer Unboxed through the end of this year.

In the meantime I'm still working on my novels because that's the priority, and I'm still editing with Entangled. This is all behind-the-scenes work, though, so while it might seem like I've disappeared from the publishing world, I really haven't. And I sincerely appreciate all of your support both publicly and privately as I go through this transition toward a better me.

Love and hugs,


  1. That's right, don't settle for average! :D Oh Lydia, I'm so happy you're on your way to feeling better, hang in there! And know that you have friends out there supporting and cheering you on (even if we do so silently so as not to clog your email with excessive well wishes, hehe!). :D *hugs!*


      (because there is no such thing as too many squeezy hugs)

  2. Happy birthday! I'm glad you're on the mend and changing your outlook on life. I may need a PT of my own to help me adjust my life attitude.

  3. So much love, and so glad to hear you're taking care of yourself and reclaiming some of your time for yourself. Nice to see you back, though! <3

  4. Thanks so much for sharing. I can imagine how scary that was and is! Glad to hear you're taking care of yourself! Best of luck with everything!

  5. This is wonderful! I love what you've written here. And I love the attitude of "why settle for average." I think I embraced that long ago, truthfully, but the WAY you said it here kind of reminded me of WHY. (Also, I had a posture nut for a typing teacher and TO THIS DAY I sit how she told us to, remembering that she kept saying how we were going to be sorry one day if we got into the habit of slouching. One of my friends told me the way I sit and type rapidly makes him think of Data from Star Trek.)

    I'm 35 too. I love this and it reminds me of how much I want to reach past average, again, every day.

    1. that's so awesome, Julie! Now every time I type I'm going to think of Data, haha. I'm so glad you connected with this--here's to the next 35 years!

  6. The importance of good posture really can't be emphasized enough. I recently got an ergonomic desk chair and started writing at my desk, sitting up straight, instead of hunched on my couch. I get headaches often, but I've found that I'm getting way fewer now after making this one change. I'm glad to hear you're feeling better, and keep up the good posture!

  7. So glad that you figured out what was going on. It's crazy the things that posture affects. I had chest pains that were going on for YEARS - like a stabbing sensation right over my heart. I went to the doctor 3 times about it and they couldn't find anything wrong. Finally this past year they figured out that it was my posture! My rib cage is actually out of alignment from sitting slumped over so much. Anyway, so glad that you're doing well with the PT. Keep up with it.

    And I love your new attitude on life!

    1. Angie, that sounds so familiar, ugh. I had the same chest pains too, but they weren't as bad as the shoulder pain. It's all connected, though. One of the first things added to my routine was to stretch my chest muscles. They were crazy tight, and even after just a couple weeks of stretching them daily... it feels wrong to slouch now. My body naturally wants to sit upright.

      I'm glad we both got the help we needed! ~hugs~

  8. Oh goodness, I'm so sorry to hear this. But it's good that you know and can now take steps to fix and improve your life. I appreciate you talking about it, too, because it's a wake up call for all of us who spend all day hunched over a keyboard. I'm sitting up straighter even as I type this. I've been trying lately to spend more time away from the keyboard, and this is another push to get me to do just that. Thanks for the nudge! Hope you're feeling better faster and kudos for the new outlook :)

  9. Very cool! - but sorry about your back. :(

    As soon as I read the word sloughing I straightened up!

    1. yay, I'm glad everyone is sitting up straighter after reading this!

  10. Heh, sounds a bit like my arm/hand/neck problems... when I got x-rayed, they discovered I have a reverse curve in my neck (from looking down at my screen), so I am also on a daily regiment of stretches/etc to correct that.

    Also, posture. Yes...

  11. Wow, I hope you get straightened out! Pilates is really good for that! It's helped my posture a lot, not to mention core strength. Thank you for all your posts!

  12. Definitely inspiring. I loved my PT guy. He was great and I still do the exercises to keep my back and neck limber. My posture when walking is good but I do slouch a bit when I'm working on the computer. Not hunched over ( because I can't if I'm to keep my wrists aligned properly) but not Emily Post with my back two inches from the chair back. :-)

    Regardless of your age, when you look at how many years you could live it sure puts things into perspective. Why waste it?

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  13. Hi Lydia! Great post. It is so good to raise awareness about our bodies! A great phyical therapist can make such a difference and it is awesome that you found him. I have a rare disease called Dystonia so have a pt and am always working on my body - my therapists have made a huge difference in my life. Thank you for sharing your story. Very inspiring!!

  14. Hi Lydia!

    What a great reminder about our posture and ergonomics. I think we all forget it since we spend so much time at the keyboard, plus are generally so busy. We don't even think about it. Sounds like you found a really good PT. Hope you get everything worked out.
    I didn't realize you blogged for WU. I just recently discovered it and it's so fantastic. Just joined the FB group too. And cool about Entangled! I hear they're great as well. Sounds like you're just blogging less, which I think all of us are.


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