Complaining week 22
A disaster has befallen Cycling Week. It turns out that my numb, burning leg last week was likely the result of a slipped disc in my lower back – which, by the way, is one of the most old-fashioned injuries a person can have. It belongs to the same category as gout, ricketts, shingles, and – worst of all – ‘a fall’. Also, the idea of discs in the back is a lot to get your head around. No one should have to think about discs all lined up in there like doughnuts in a vending machine, let alone think about one of them being jostled out of position.
Anyway, I can’t ride my bike, or at least not with this useless hanger-on of a leg. The problem with cycling is the forward tilt, which puts pressure on the lower back. Anything that involves a forward tilt is out, including running and fast walking. This is a challenge. I do everything in life with a forward tilt. I get it from my mother, whose forward tilt when walking is legendary – when I picture her, I see her at a forty-five-degree angle to the earth, tottering towards a garden centre. If you’re a forward-tilter and you get a slipped disc, you’re condemned to a few weeks of miserable uprightness. The world just comes at you, instead of you pointing at it head-on.
It’s funny how quickly this injury has reframed my way of seeing people in motion. When I see people out running, they look like horses – a whole other species, with incredibly powerful legs. A road cyclist looks more like a rocket, or a rollerblade, than a person. To be able to propel yourself along at such speeds... it all looks like special effects.
The prescription for most slipped discs is ‘rest’ and ‘gentle activity’. Now, I have a fractious enough relationship with rest – especially when the days are cold and sunny as they are right now, as we slouch towards winter – but even worse than being prescribed rest is being prescribed ‘gentle activity’. Gentle activity! When I think of those words, I think of ‘pottering around in the garden’, I think of ‘dead-heading roses’, I think of ‘shuffling out to the letterbox’. I think of death. If I had to choose the worst gentle activity, though, there is no question that ‘gentle yoga’ is it. Gentle yoga might even be the worst activity, full stop. When attempting to do gentle yoga, I seem to grow more alien to myself. It’s like I'm a ship slowly being overcome by a giant squid. But if that squid, somehow, were desperately boring.
I know that my aversion to rest and gentle activity is likely the problem. Maybe too much aggressive activity, followed by long bouts of sitting – hunched and shrivelling over my desk, as is natural – has caused the slippage of the disc. Now that I've accepted this, I need to figure out a way to get more comfortable with rest. And learn to get up earlier so that I have time to walk – slowly, as upright as a runner bean – to work instead of cycling.
In the meantime, for the next week at least, Cycling Week will morph briefly into something else (I'm not sure what yet), before hopefully morphing back to its vigorous old self.