A series of unfortunate events at the turn of the new year led me to take up strength training two mornings a week with a personal trainer. It has been a surreal experience, I’m shocked how much I’m enjoying it, and I’m becoming incredibly aware of my body in aways I wasn’t before. I’m aware of more of it at once.
When I was in Christian Science, I was passively aware of my body. It was there, but not hugely important. When I hurt myself or was ill, I downplayed my injuries or illness — they weren’t really part of me, they didn’t need to impact my day-to-day. Anything too extreme warranted a call to a CS practitioner, who would tell me that 2+2=4 and God is Love, and I am God’s Spiritual Idea and therefore I am Perfect, so whatever I thought was wrong, was just that, an erroneous thought that needed to be fixed. The human body is really good at fixing itself, so most of the time I recovered in a reasonable amount of time, but sometimes the passive awareness (and flat-out ignoring the problems) was more problematic.
Passive awareness led to a mildly infected cuticle, it was a minor pain, nothing to worry about, until it spread down the length of the entire finger. It hurt to bend my finger, it hurt to move my hand. The nail was pushed out of place. My mother called the local CS Nurse, I soaked my hand in warm water with epsom salts and put a bandaid over the error. Eventually the puss ruptured out the side of my finger, the nail falls off, and the school nurse is horrified when I showed up one day needing a bigger bandage. A friend whose father was a doctor went with me, she’s freaked out about the infection spreading and the possible loss of the finger. I find the pain and her freaking out mildly annoying. Thanks to religious exemption laws, there wasn’t much (anything?) the school nurse could do. I got a new bandaid, the trip to the nurses office also means I get to meant out out on running the mile in PE. It was a win-win situation. Later I realized just how lucky I was it didn’t get worse.
Passive awareness leads to “walking off” the hard fall-and-slide down an icy hill. Downplaying the fact I can’t really walk properly, but I also can’t get back up the hill because it has iced over, so you may as well walk to class. Really, it hurts a bit, but it isn’t that bad. I’ve had worse, even if I can’t remember when. Get up, walk. Eventually I sort-of forget about it until you see the giant bruise in the shower, but that’s not real, neither is the pain of sitting, with the fabric of my pants pressed up against it. Ms. Eddy had her fall on the ice and found Christian Science, the least I can do is go to class. Totally ignore that MBE was in bed for a few days and claimed to be near death after her incident — she hadn’t found Christian Science yet.
Anatomy declares man to be structural. Physiology. Man not structural continues this explanation, measuring human strength by bones and sinews, and human life by material law. Man is spiritual, individual, and eternal; material structure is mortal. Science & Health p. 173:17-21
Passive awareness of my body didn’t help things when I started birth control for the fist time. I didn’t have the language to communicate with the Planned Parenthood staff about my concerns and needs. I was terrified of becoming pregnant, and part of me thought stating the issues I had out loud would make them real. I used birth control for a year, faked okay-ness though the side effects, and promptly quit as soon as my prescription expired because I didn’t want to have to try and find a new doctor or go back and talk to the ones I’d worked with before. In my mind, on some level, I knew turning from Christian Science is what caused all these problems, if I’d prayed about it and continued to only use the barrier methods (or better yet, abstain from sex entirely, it is a distraction) it wouldn’t have been a problem. Really.
Passive awareness caught me off guard when my wisdom tooth came in awkwardly and promptly got infected. I didn’t know what was going on, I sort of knew things felt “a bit strange” and then one morning I woke up in extreme pain and realized I had to find a dentist who could do an extraction ASAP. As if the combination of pain and dental issues wasn’t enough, the codeine they gave me to help with the pain after the procedure made me hallucinate.
Passive awareness of my body really snowballed when I got pregnant. I was suddenly very aware of different sections of my body. The way I couldn’t eat bananas or handle raw meat. The massive uncomfortable expansion of my breasts. The awkward pelvic exams. The aches and pains I didn’t realize were problems so I never spoke up about them until I ended up with an emergency c-section at 35-weeks. God is Love. 2+2=4. Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. My terror brought this down on me.
Question. What is man?
Answer. Man is not matter; he is not made up of brain, blood, bones, and other material elements. The Scriptures inform us that man is made in the image and likeness of God. Matter isn not that likeness. The likeness of Spirit cannot be sound like Spirit. Man is spiritual and perfect; and because he is spiritual and perfect, he must be so understood in Christian Science. Science & Health p. 475:5-12
The week in the hospital was somewhat a turning point in bodily awareness. I had to answer questions about my vision, pain levels, and any number of other things that all felt so foreign to me. It was frustrating, I couldn’t answer their questions, and when I tried to explain, I felt I wasn’t being listened to, and I felt I was losing my mind.
It has been a little over nine years since those days in the hospital. I’m still struggling with passive awareness, and appropriate responses. I can be acutely aware of the tension headache, and do nothing to alleviate it. I can be aware of the near-debilitating mensural cramps, but the thought of taking a midol or some ibuprofen is not the first thing that springs to mind.
So where does that leave me with strength training? After my first session I was incredibly aware of every last muscle that I’d used. My trainer has encouraged me to be open about any injuries, strains, and stresses, that might impact my performance and over all wellbeing. He asks how I’m doing and how the last session was. He has me rate the difficulty on a scale of 1-10 mid exercise. He makes sure things are properly aligned so I don’t hurt myself. I’m learning to speak up and ask questions. “Is my body supposed to be reacting this way?” Sometimes the answer is “yes” sometimes the answer is “you need to put your elbows down.”
I’m working on finding the words. The other day I shared that “my hip hurt” and he had questions: Was it muscular? How did it feel? etc. I looked at him blankly. Apparently “it hurts” isn’t really enough of an answer, and to further frustrate, I was unable to figure out how I had hurt it. My range of motion and ability to do the workout were not impacted, but I’ve made a mental note to take better mental notes.
I have selective bodily awareness. I can go into detail on the finer points of breast tenderness related to my mensural cycle (I’ll spare you the details), but straining a muscle? Not so much. How many aches and pains do I talk about? The ones that go away, the ones that linger? The tension headache from trying to deal with two kids and dinner, or the strained lower back muscles from carrying an upset child up the stairs? I suppose this will be an ongoing learning for both of us.
When I share these stories with my fellow ex-Christian Scientists, they nod knowingly. They also cringe because they have similar stories to share. Sometimes they share their stories too. It helps to know we weren’t the only ones. When we share these stories with outsiders, they look horrified. It is easier not to share the stories with outsiders, and sometimes we really should.