Pain woke me up at 5:30 in the morning. I had only been asleep for four hours, and yet through my blinds I could already see evidence of the sunrise. A massive earache and toothache not only woke me up, but also kept me up. By 6AM I stopped trying to rest and did the only logical thing I could think of: call my mother.
The word “ache” comes from the Proto-Germanic word “akaną” meaning “to be bad, be evil.” In the moment, all aches are shitty. Headaches. Heartaches. Simply: they are bad, and make you feel bad. The Greek word “ἄχος” meaning “pain,” seems to sum it up. Samuel Johnson, a lexicographer (aka someone devoted to words…I mean, he spent nine years writing a dictionary; I bet you haven’t had a relationship that long), mistakenly attributed the root of the English “ache” to “ἄχος.” Perhaps though, after further consideration, the true reason we ache is more positive in nature than meets the eye.
Stomachaches let us know we ate something wrong or ate too fast. Muscle aches tell us we’ve worked too hard, and are possibly injured. In my case, my severe toothache and earache forced me to seek medical treatment. I was convinced I had an ear infection, which I was prone to as a child, and considering my winter sinus troubles, it seemed obvious what the problem was. At 8AM as I waited for my Lyft driver to take me through the snow (my car was covered in the driveway still), I thought to myself, all I need are some antibiotics. Simple. Easy.
After waiting almost thirty minutes at the local CVS Minute Clinic (no, I don’t have a Massachusetts doctor yet) and spending over $200 (no, I don’t have Massachusetts health insurance yet), I waited for my Lyft ride home with ear drops, Nasicort, budget Sudafed, and Lindor Dark Chocolate truffles with the diagnosis: common viral sinus congestion. In short, all I could do was keep fighting.
“Keep Fighting” should be my middle name (I don’t have one, you know, not legally, anyway—the Catholic Church has other ideas…). “Nevertheless, she persisted,” sings a similar song, and has been my mantra as of late, too. Adjusting to change is painful, but not evil; and at the end of the day, I know I can do it.
Heartache, however, is a slightly different story (or it’s the same story, just in a different language at worst, accent at best.) Heartache is a phenomena I think I recognize—I’m a smart enough gal—but somehow it creeps up on me without my ability to stop it. I think I have a handle on things, and then all of a sudden I feel the ache. I hope that even this ache is meant for some good.
[For clarification, I’m using heartache in a broad sense, and not necessarily restricting it’s meaning to “a romantic love that is now over.” Heartache can be (is) feeling a sense of disappointment/let-down from a relationship changing. That relationship could be with a person, place, idea, etc. Like a physical ache, my body is recognizing that something is not normal, and says, “I don’t like that; I need to let Livia know it’s not good.”]
We all, as busy modern people, at some point fall into a routine. We become accustomed to the cadences of daily life: whom we speak with, when we wake up, what we eat, etc. When that routine is disrupted, personally, if I’m being honest, my heart becomes devastated. Many others have better bounce-back abilities; I admire and respect them greatly. I wish I could be more go-with-the-flow. Bruce Lee, one of my idols, encouraged us to “be like water.” I try but I cannot. Then I try to not try and I still fail.
As an over-analytical person, I’m prone to anxiety from that heartache. As a sensitive person, I’m prone to depression. (I use this language because I haven’t been medically diagnosed.) But despite the pain, despite the ache, I am trying to wrap my head around the idea that maybe this experience is good for me. Still more or less in the moment, I’m having a little trouble. I’m fighting instincts that have been fine-tuned with routine. I need to assess why I do what I do, and how to develop a life that is truly best for me.
One day on my commute to work, I was reading on the T. Headphones in, eyes glued to my book, I wasn’t exactly paying close attention to my surroundings. I was aware, peripherally, that we were at a stop, the doors were open, and passengers were boarding. I recognized an elderly man with a cane come onto the subway car, and immediately I stood up to allow him to sit down. It was instinctual; of course I would let him sit down. A woman said, “That was very kind of you,” and I nodded. To me, it wasn’t kind but appropriate. Expected. Then I looked at the man more closely. He smiled and thanked me. I realized after a few moments that he was probably homeless; disheveled clothes, a few missing teeth, uncombed hair. I hope the woman didn’t just say something because I was courteous to a “bum.” It didn’t really matter to me who he was; I was more capable of standing than he was, so he deserved the seat. It didn’t matter that I had a bad knee; my ache was manageable.
That weekend, I ran 3.25 miles—farther than I’ve ever run before. And the run included a giant hill up Packard that took me to the top of Tufts. I ran slowly, but felt great. Maybe I needed to commit to such a pace in order to go that far.
February has been a month of aches: some physical, others not so much. I often ache because I don’t know what to do; I ache because I’m stuck in between my thoughts and my feelings. And I rarely ever find specific answers as I move through them, or carry them along through bigger aches, but I am determined to continue. Because aches aren’t inherently bad, they are just a friendly little phenomenon called change. And when facing change, as long as I dig deep and act as my true self, all will be well.
“Try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign languae. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. ANd the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, from Letters to a Young Poet, 1927