The Fear Of Movement
Everyone is afraid of something—everyone. Even the most macho, testosterone-laden tough guy out there has his fears. Some fears are silly, and we know it, but that doesn't keep them from haunting us, lurking there in the shadows of our brains, making our guts churn and burn. I have a sibling who is deathly afraid of bugs—any bugs. I honestly think she would call a total stranger to come in and squash a tiny little spider if there was no one else to confront the little household intruder. She knows it's silly, but she can't help it. She hates and is afraid of bugs. I have a friend who is afraid of the dark. He's over 40 years old and knows there's nothing there in the dark that wasn't there when the lights were on, but he can't help it. His house has a nightlight in nearly every room.
The things we are most afraid of have a root cause. We can't always identify that root, but we're not born afraid. Fear stems from something. Sometimes fear is a good thing—it sharpens your instincts for what doesn't feel right and for when your guard should go up (pick up a copy of The Gift Of Fear by Gavin DeBecker). That deep down gut fear can help you avoid dangerous situations, and should be listened to carefully.
Fear is also what keeps a lot of people out of the martial arts and in their own safe little world. Fear can also keep someone with a lengthy background in the martial arts from stepping back into training. Training can be painful. You get hit, you get thrown, you use muscles you forgot you had, you burn, you ache, you sweat in rivers. You may have been very good at one time, with that strong, enviable shoulder high side kick and a lightning fast back fist that had people seeing stars, but after such a long time out of the arts, you're afraid to go back in. You know that it will be like starting over. You know the pain you'll feel, and the abilities lost to disuse.
It's just easier to find a less involved physical activity. Take up aerobics, or line dancing. Swimming takes pressure off the muscles and joints, free weights don't hit back... Those activities might not be as interesting, but at least they're less painful and no one in the jazzercise class is going to toss your over their shoulder.
Something I've learned over the past several years: easy isn't always the best. Safe isn't always as interesting. Pain free isn't necessarily better.
A little over five years ago I justified my lack of training as taking the time to heal—and that's exactly what I was doing, on medical advice. Allowing a battered body the necessary time to get better, to heal, to be stronger so that I could get back into life and train hard without having to back peddle three steps for every 2 I was taking. When it was later realized that this body wasn't going to get any better, that I was stuck with what is, and that I should consider backing off and finding less strenuous physical activities, I took that to heart—and I became afraid of the very thing I loved so much. I was willing to listen to that fear and back off from even thinking about training in a martial art.
At the time I wouldn't have chalked it up to fear—I chalked it up to common sense. After all, a workout routine that involved letting people batter me with fists and feet and my already aching body flying through the air and slamming down on to the floor could not be a good thing. I'd have to be nuts to keep doing it. With regret—deep regret—I resigned myself to a nonmartial arts lifestyle.
Backing out of the martial arts is not an easy thing to do when several of your closest friends remain in training, and teach as well. They know how to teach around someone else's limitations and don't see you as any different. They're full of advice, and sometimes other things that stink. But, they care, and they don't give up on you. They just hammer away, day after day, with a multitude of well intentioned suggestions and training tips. You might have left training for your own good, but it's just not leaving you.
You find yourself wondering, "Don't they get It!!! Don't they understand I can't do this anymore????"
They do get it. They know that you hurt, you loved what you did, and you won't be happy unless you find a way back, and they're willing to help. And until you take a better look at it, they're just going to keep on being royal pains in the behind.
I really did think I had stepped back for my own good.
The logic was simple: with my condition, repeated injury can cause clusters of trigger points, which refer pain all over the body. The more trigger points, the more pain. The more pain, the lower the quality of life. Sparring can cause trigger points. Self defense training, throwing and being thrown, all those joint locks and shoulder throws, can cause trigger points. That means more pain. No thank you.
What I resolved for my own good was thrown back into my face by a well intentioned friend... "So... just what are you afraid of?"
I am, still, afraid of the pain. I'm afraid of making it worse. I'm afraid of winding up with pain searing through every fiber of my body, unable to walk, or move without crying. I'm afraid of pain so intense I can't think clearly or focus on anything more than the moment. I'm afraid of the unknown.
"Ok... but can you really see your life without it? Is the treadmill enough? I mean, if you could leave it all behind, why do you still think about it, why do you still scour martial arts bulletin boards, why do you still ask questions and ponder training routines? Why?"
Then came the offer out of nowhere: write down every limitation you feel you have, all the things your doctors say you can't do, and all the things you want to be able to do but can't because of pain. Tell me what hurts and where, how it hurts more when you move certain ways. Find your comfort level, tell me all about it, and we'll see what we can come up with. Videotape yourself, show me what you can do now... Let me help.
Even when you're swimming in the pity pool, an offer like that is hard to ignore. Not "if you want me to I'll help" but Let me help. Please. Let me. Let me do this for you. Let me help you get stronger and get back to where you were.
Every fear I had was shooting through me like electricity: this was one of those offers only a moron would pass up, but it also meant confronting my pain, admitting that it was getting the best of me and beating me down in ways I never thought I'd allow anything to. I used to have little fear in the ring.
Suddenly, I was afraid to move.
I wrote what amounted to a dissertation, everything I could think of, I poured into it. I can't jump, not because I don't want to, but because my knees and hips and back can't take it. I can't spar. I can't pick anyone up, or let them pick me up. I can't be caught in a hold. I can't even let someone gently place their hands on my shoulders without getting sick from the pain. I can't run, my knees swell up like basketballs. I can't run from it, I can't hide.
Now, tell me what you can do...
I can still kick. I can still punch. I can still do forms and I can go through defense techniques if no one touches me. I can control my reactions to the pain if I have to. I can still learn.
I can confront what scares me the most...
As of January 31, 2003, I will have spent 6 six years in varying degrees of pain. Oddly enough, the pain is something you get used to. You know, before you put a foot on the floor in the morning, that something is going to hurt. You accept it.
The thing is, I allowed that pain to rob me of myself; even with all the prodding from friends, I never returned to my martial arts training. I wanted to, deeply and passionately wanted to. But even with accepting the pain and getting used to it, the very idea of placing myself in the position of making it worse made me back away from it. I know what I can do, but that doesn’t mean I do it.
I’m afraid to move.
Still, after all these years, I’m afraid to move. I’ve made stabs at it; I took a body conditioning class and thoroughly enjoyed it. I joined the YMCA and made use of their warm water pool, and exercised in it. I tried doing the Body For Life program, but the cardio portion damned near killed me. I tried a lot of things, but it always came back to the fear of moving, the fear of how much extra pain I was going to be in.
So I’m afraid, but this morning I finally said to hell with it. I’m tired of it. I have to do something, before the not moving kills me. I can live with pain, obviously. But if I don’t so something to get back into shape and lose the body fat that has accumulated through the last six year, it will kill me.
I fear death more than I fear movement.
I have to find something and stick to it. I have to push past the pain, past the fear, and do something before the damage is permanent. I just have to.
We're all afraid of something. I am not alone.