a work in progress

my first concert…in at least five years

Saturday marked a big day for me: I attended an outdoor general admission concert. As a twenty-nine-year-old this may not seem like a big accomplishment, but for someone who has been in chronic pain for over a decade, it was nothing short of a triumph.

If you’ve been in pain for long enough there are probably some activities that you don’t even consider doing any more; you found out at some point on your journey you can no longer _____________ or attend a _____________, and you don’t even entertain the idea. Concerts are one of my not-in-a-million-years activities. The long walk to my seat and going up and down stairs each time I want a refill or to use the bathroom (because of the refills) is going to take its toll on me. But I’m in the middle of a new treatment right now, and not only was I anxious to test out whether it was working, I also wanted to say yes.

So I’ve started seeing someone. We’re at that point in our relationship where every date is meaningful, as we’re still getting to know one another. On top of this, he is gone half the time for work and is busy a lot even when he’s home. This concert was our chance to finally have a proper weekend date…and I actually liked the band!

If I’ve learned anything from past “relationships” it’s not to fully disclose my injuries too quickly. I have had guys (plural) literally end the conversation immediately following me sharing this small bit of who I am. And I’m not using literally in the way that doesn’t follow the definition…this actually happened on more than one occasion. So with this guy, I was prepared and have tried to let the truth slowly unfold with our relationship. When the concert plan first came up he had yet to stumble across an activity in which I could not partake because of my hip issues, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready to have the conversation. Instead of taking this, what some may call, obvious opportunity to educate a well-meaning individual about why concerts aren’t a great activity for me, I did what any reasonable person would do and got uncomfortable, distant, and what he later called “pouty.”

That evening I reopened the topic over text message, a much more comfortable form of communication for awkward topics, and told him the real deal. He said he understood and left the decision to me. I did what all we chronic painers do when trying to decide if an activity we know will cause us pain : I weighed the options, pro-conned the hell out of it, and considered this seven hours of my life more than the decision of whether or not I should go to graduate school. I consulted him one more time and purchased the ticket.

Fast-forward to two days before the concert when I get the following text message: Sooo Saturday apparently there is a tailgate out there around 4 and we are gonna go out early. You gonna try to make it out there?

My response : yes 

My follow-up question, one and a half hours later: do you think it’s better if I go to the tailgate and possibly leave the concert early, or skip the tailgate and risk not being able to find y’all?

This conversation is a revealing snapshot of so many of my interactions with others. Step one : Person cautiously approaches with a request they know will be physically taxing. Step two : I respond the way I think they want me to, leaving little room for what I actually want and / or need. Step three : I regret what I said, and either follow through with the agreed-upon arrangement out of guilt (I’m Catholic, after all) or start back-tracking and figure a way out of it. This really isn’t the absolute best way to deal with people, but we all have our shortcomings, right?

 So together we made a plan : I was going to go to the tailgate because it was going to be pretty laid-back, then we would go to the concert and I would stay as long as I could. I made no plans that weekend and stayed off my feet as much as possible in preparation for this single event. I stressed big time and made everyone around me listen to why I was anxious, but I made it happen.

And he was pretty much perfect the entire night. We sat down at the tailgate and drank in folding chairs rather than waited in line to enter the stadium. We sat down in the back on the grass while the opening act played. We didn’t stand up for the band until the last possible moment. He told me before the show started that if I couldn’t make it we could go sit in the back, or even leave. He told me he knew what this night meant to me, and he wanted to make it work just like I did. Sure, I popped pills the entire time and enjoyed the show in a bit of a drug haze, but I had real fun for the first time in an embarrassingly long time.

I spent all day Sunday on the sofa binge-watching Vinyl, but it was a small price to pay…

I guess I know now that I can make certain activities (that I thought were impossible) work. As much as I hate relying on someone else, he was the difference. I wasn’t worried about making my own way home half-way through the show, nor was I dreading the thought of sitting down by myself in the back. I knew that whatever I chose I’d have someone by my side, and that made me feel that no matter how the night ended it was going to be okay.
The last thing I took from this experience was how important it is to not label things as “impossible.” Even if you haven’t been able to do something in ten years, how do you know you still can’t do it today? There’s a fine line between being overly-cautious and being reckless with your body, but sometimes you need to reach your breaking point to know where it is. I guess the important thing to do when you’re putting yourself in a taxing situation is to have an exit strategy. If you plan ahead you can get yourself out of an activity that isn’t working before things get too bad rather than suffering through the end. Sure, that can be easier to say than to execute, but I guess you can weigh your confidence in your plan against your tolerance for pain that day and expectation that things could go well (or won’t). We know that each day looks different so it’s hard to plan ahead, but in this case, I’m really glad I went for it.

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