Feeling it in my bones: A reflection

When I published a series of poems in the journal Poetry at Sangam last October, I could not anticipate how prescient the following passage would be:

a shiver of unease
runs its course across
my shoulders, shudders
down a rocky spine
to dissipate
through fissures
in this sleeping
mountain
mine

The vertebrae of my imagined backbone have come to haunt my movements this past month; I am suddenly aware of every step as it reverberates through my skeleton. A bone scan in January, ordered by my psychiatrist, revealed I have osteoporosis. I knew it was a real risk—my birth gender and family history have always figured in my calculations—but I assumed that the possibility lay somewhere in the future, when I was older, or, that is, older than I already am. I was, however, unaware of the impact on bone density of a medication I’ve been taking as a mood stabilizer for over twenty years. My family doctor, scrolling through his cell phone during our appointment to discuss the test results, insisted he could find no sign of a connection. It is there, I have since checked, but it’s now too late.

Coming as it has with a dreaded milestone birthday on the horizon, I met this diagnosis with sadness and a new kind of fragility.

I’ve resisted sharing any details publicly for a while. As upset as I was, I feared it might be discounted—I mean, it is something you can live with and my condition is essentially borderline at the moment; my upper lumbar region scores just within the osteoporosis range, while my lower lumbar and hips are in the risk range. But anyone who has observed the physical disintegration this disease can cause, who has been close to someone who has fractured bones and lost mobility, cannot help but fear a future in which they too are hunched over and hobbling along. My mother was increasingly crippled by osteoporosis and, although she lived to the age of 82, by the end she was a weary, frail little bird, ever at risk of falling, with a spine ultimately so twisted that she basically suffocated slowly during her final weeks.

All my life I have struggled with a deep discord between my body and my existential sense of being—my self—a disconnect that transition from female to male shifted but did not resolve. Of late I had taken to mediating it through movement. When a stride flows smoothly I feel good. There have been plenty of times in my life when walking was difficult for a variety of reasons, but since I moved to a location with a network of challenging paths and trails snaking across the embankment just minutes from my building, walking, hiking, and short bursts of running have become vital to my sense of well-being. My first thought when I learned I had osteoporosis was that this might change. Weight bearing aerobic exercise is essential to building bone, or fighting off further loss, but many of the online sites I visited warned against hiking and jogging, suggesting instead walking and ballroom dance.

Excuse me?

If I wasn’t feeling instantly aged with the bone scan report, I suddenly felt antique.

So, in addition to adding calcium and vitamin D supplements (and taking a few risky forays into the woods on dangerously icy trails because I refused to give up gracefully) I made an appointment to see a physiotherapist at a sports medicine clinic. It’s been great. We’re working on appropriate exercises to increase joint flexibility, core body strength and balance, with the goal of allowing me to develop a set of regular stretches and a weight training routine to complement my aerobic activities.

And the best thing? She doesn’t see why graded jogging or running cannot be part of my overall effort to slow, even reverse the bone loss.

It’s a strange thing, this recent shift in my relationship with this body, this space I was born into that has always been such an uneasy fit. I’ve struggled with a mood disorder, come to terms with my gender identity and survived a cardiac arrest but somehow this feels different. It feels like coming into a new awareness of the fragility and the strength of my skeletal frame has offered me an opportunity to grow into an new organic connection with my body. To truly take ownership of it as I head into this new phase of life.

To finally wake this sleeping / mountain / mine.

Blue Monday meditation: Thoughts on writing a life (again)

I took a long walk today for the first time since crippling pain seized my lower back on January 2nd, followed by a week of temperatures in the -28 to -35C range that kept me close to home for the first half of the month. Now, with temperatures above zero under heavy grey Chinook sky, it felt good to be moving again.

Since Christmas I have had to guard against a seasonal tendency to slide toward despondency; on occasion I even found myself drawn down dangerously dark corridors. I am ever more aware of growing old, feeling isolated from the culture around me, and concerned that I have lived a life completely out of step with the rest of the world.

I’ve always been anachronistic when it comes to television or movies or music, but nothing makes me feel stranger than the complete alienation of my own experiences as a differently gendered person from the transgender dialogue that has become so prominent recent years. I don’t understand it. I feel that it has taken my voice away, invalidated my reality as someone who transitioned twenty years ago without the supports, protections, or pronoun politics of today. And worse, I fear it has stifled my ability to be honest about the costs of the path I’ve chosen.

So what about my reality? Does it have any weight at all? And when does a lived story begin to take shape, begin to make sense?

Over the past few years I have asked myself these questions, entertained scenarios, crafted neat narratives tracing crisis to closure. But every time I imagined I was nearing not only an answer but more critically a direction to guide my desire to examine this life in writing, something would happen to unspool the thread I’d been so carefully winding.

An unforeseen opportunity would arise; an unexpected twist of fate would knock me off balance.

I have long wondered what to do with this existential morass, slowly and steadily accumulating more days, months and years as I found myself unable to do more than collect, in fits and starts, stray notes in a random collection of books and files. Hidden, tucked into closets, real and metaphorical.

The other day I finally started writing in earnest. I would like to confess that at last a path has opened up before me, that a map has made itself clear, a puzzle into which all the various pieces of my story have suddenly fallen into place.

But, of course, life doesn’t work that way.

Life is not a novel. It cannot be edited; it can only be lived. And if any narrative construct can be observed, it can only be seen in retrospect, buried under all the diversions, denials and delusions we rely on to get through the responsibility of living in the moment—the messy business of being in the world.

And is that evolving target I am writing toward. All that I have been. All that I am. Whatever I may yet be.