a large rock jutting out of a grassy field
a rock, for comparison

My neck has been a real jerk since my birthday six weeks ago. I’ve been trying to keep doing all my usual stuff in spite of it, because I know from my back issues that not using it just makes it worse, but it’s not getting better either. So I went to physio yesterday.

It was illuminating. My physiotherapist spent half an hour trying to loosen up my left trapezius muscle and could not budge it. So I have some exercises to do (of course) and a follow up appointment (naturally), and she told me that essentially the muscle is so tight that it has pulled my upper rib out of place and that’s what’s causing all this garbage pain.

I put my tension into my shoulders, and always have. I don’t remember a time when my traps haven’t been completely solid rocks at the top of my shoulders. If it lingers there for too long, it travels down my spine in a nifty zigzag, creating a network of rib misplacement, causing me to hunch away from the pain, thereby disengaging my glutes and sending my lower back into spasms. Neat! It’s been very interesting, as I practice lifting heavy-ass weights, to see how my body wants to use my neck and back muscles (small, made for stabilizing) instead of my glutes and core (big, made for power). I have always tried to pretend I’m not a giant person – 6’2 is really tall, and there’s nothing I can do about it but try to make myself smaller. A great way to do that is to not have negative feelings. Except I do have them. I hide them. In my shoulders and back.

I’ve been in counselling for most of the past 15 years, taking breaks here and there. I decided in the fall to take a break again – maybe I’ll blog about that whole thing one day – and get a gym membership instead. I had a suspicion that really getting into my body might be therapeutic, and lo, it is. Lifting heavy weights has all but eliminated my back pain, because I am very careful about my form and I’m getting really strong, which is brilliant. It’s also been interesting and elucidating to see what feelings have come up. I have to be assertive enough to walk over to the squat racks and claim one amongst the grunting bros (luckily, there aren’t that many at 9am). I have to take up space to do the movements effectively. I’m anxious when I arrive but tired and proud when I leave. I have to carve out space for myself, and I have to push back against everyone who wants to know why I’m lifting, whether I’m being careful, whether it’s safe. I’ve always tended to err on the side of safety, so it’s a big deal that I’m pushing myself to the edge of what my body is capable of.

And now I have to confront the tension in my shoulders, because it’s getting in the way. It’s safe to put my feelings there, but it’s not healthy. So here’s to finding a way to turn my shoulders from rocks to powerhouses.