One of the few guarantees in this world is that I will crack up laughing whenever someone sings the song “Turkey in the Straw.” It’s been this way ever since third grade, when we had an assembly of traditional American folk songs, where I heard it for the first time. Another song I learned at that assembly was the old favorite, “There’s a Hole in the Bucket.” My memory may be dim but I’m pretty certain this is our national anthem.
This guy named Henry has a hole in his bucket and he wants to tell his friend Liza all about it. She helpfully explains how to fix the hole. Each time she makes a suggestion, he counters with a reason why it won’t work for him. After a few rounds, it transpires that there’s a hole in the bucket because there’s a hole in the bucket. The most interesting thing about this song is that there is a version of it documented at 1700 CE; it may be older than that. It may in fact be the topic of the Voynich Manuscript.
There are two perspectives on Holes in Buckets. One, Henry just wants someone, ANYONE, to say, “Bummer, dude. I am sorry you had to go through that.” He’ll wander the earth with his poor cracked bucket, searching for someone to fill it with empathy and kindness and warm gazes and superior listening skills. Two, if Henry would just get on with fixing the bucket, he and Liza could spend the rest of the day picking blueberries, having a picnic, and napping in the shade. At the end of the transaction, he feels misunderstood, she’s exasperated, there’s still a hole in the bucket, the blueberries wither on the vine, and everyone loses.
I have a hole in my bucket at this time. You see, I ran a marathon. I over-trained and developed tendinitis of the anterior tibialis. [cue audience cooing, “Awwwww…”] I went to physical therapy and diligently iced and took anti-inflammatories and did all the rubber band exercises and all the things. It’s been seven months now, and it’s better, but it still gets sore and tired if I walk more than three miles. The other thing that transpired is that I went from very active to very sedentary as I tried to rest my foot. In that time, my old chronic neck and shoulder tension came back, and I have a pinched nerve that causes a lot of pain in my forearm. I’m basically turning into Gollum over here. Can’t run, can’t walk far enough to suit my high-strung temperament, can’t ride my bike, can’t lift weights due to the pinched nerve, can’t do many of the poses in T25 or Bikram. Basically everything I want to do makes me hurt somewhere. SO MANY HOLES FOR JUST ONE BUCKET!
If I had a helpful friend like Liza, I’m sure she would be pretty tired of listening to me by now, but she wouldn’t give up. “What about surgery?” “I doubt that’s necessary.” “What about painkillers?” “Great idea; then I can add ‘pill problem’ to the list.” “I’m done with you, quit texting me now.” Fortunately, I am a possibility thinker and a solution-oriented person. Complaining is for amateurs. I don’t want to wallow in my problems; I want to make them go away. If I can’t do X, Y, or Z, what can I do?
My credo is always to Do the Obvious. The Obvious in this case is yoga. I observed in physical therapy that most of the lab-tested, medically-approved exercises are virtually indistinguishable from traditional yoga postures. I conferred with my PT at the end of treatment, and we determined that my lingering pain at this point had more to do with my tight calves and hips than anything going on in my foot or ankle. I already know this is true of my neck/shoulder/forearm because it’s a chronic problem I’ve fought for over 20 years, related to excessive typing and heavy backpacks.
One of the hidden gifts of chronic pain is that it draws focus inward and amplifies physical signals. The first thing you do when you wake up every morning is review from toe to head: “Where does it hurt today?” While this tends to lead to magnification of sensations that other people routinely write off or ignore, the advantage is that we tend to be more conservative and attentive when we indulge in new activities such as yoga. People have hurt themselves quite badly trying unfamiliar poses or pushing too hard, out of stubbornness or a desire to impress. We, the delicate flowers, generally avoid these problems. We’re here to fix the bucket, not to kick it!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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