Just back from a relaxing and restful few days away and I’m once again experiencing back spasms. While there is generally a physical trigger behind an attack — I think wrestling Carol’s ginormous and over-stuffed suitcase up the stairs one-handed is the likely cause of this latest episode — I’ve come to realize there’s often an emotional component intertwined that exacerbates the muscular misalignment. It’s the difference between a lift, “Ouch!”, and on with the next task at hand versus a lift, “Ouch!… OW-WOW-WOWCH!” and being laid up for a day/days or the occasional week.

Many years ago Carol and I visited her parents for the weekend. It was a long weekend, made even longer by unsolicited offers of advice/lifestyle disapproval (them) and clipped responses/petulant displays (us). Long story short — we stayed a day longer than we shoulda. We were loading the car while in escape-mode; jamming everything in as quickly as possible so we could get the hell outta there. I went to put a suitcase in a tight spot in the backseat and gave it a solid push with both hands. I felt a twinge in my lower back that radiated along both sides. I stopped and stood up straight; the pain subsided and so I returned to the suitcase and gave it one more substantive jab to get it wedged in and SPROING! my first memorable back spasm. I couldn’t stand up straight, couldn’t catch my breath, felt a mixture of physical pain and mental confusion over what was happening — and then burst into tears. Carol came running through the garage out to the car and asked what was wrong. I could barely speak through my sobs and gasps for air. To her ever-lasting credit she took me by the arm and gently guided me into her parents’ living room, where she applied ice and utilized some gentle massage and manipulation (for those of you who don’t know Carol, she’s a PT) in an effort to get the spasm to settle down. As I hobbled past my mother-in-law, she looked at me with scorn and asked, “What’s wrong with HIM?” The tension and distress over the sour visit, I am quite sure, transformed what should have been an “oops!” moment into an “OMG!” trauma.

[Brief diversion in the name of harmony/evolving maturity: I had a wonderful relationship with my in-laws, loved them dearly, thought of them as second parents and miss them both. But that one visit…]

I quickly (within a day) recovered from that first notable spasm, but over the years found myself experiencing them on a regular, if not frequent, basis. And often, when I had the presence of mind to be reflective, I’d realize the spasm settled in after some kind of upheaval: an argument with my wife; stress at work; financial pressures; other personal issues. We all have our crises and deal with them as best we can, but sometimes our best is insufficient based on the tools or techniques then at our disposal. We learn, we grow, and I think I’m now quoting the lyrics to an Alanis Morissette song. I’d like to believe over the years I’ve learned how to be a better-functioning person, acquiring improved coping mechanisms and able to express my feelings openly and constructively and all that crap… but still those moments come where I let anger or disappointment get the better of me, and if those moments coincide with some poor musculo-skeletal posturing (often flagged by hearing me exclaim, “No, I don’t need any help with it!”), then I risk tumbling yet again into the Chasm of Spasm.

This current discomfort was “caused” by springing out of the car after sitting for 2.5 hours and then clutching Carol’s steamer trunk overnight bag and carrying it into the apartment. However, the underlying issue was unquestionably the feelings I’d been wrestling with since last week about a career set-back; nothing earth-shattering but some news regarding an opportunity that was not what I’d been hoping to hear after waiting for several months, and thoughts about which I couldn’t completely resolve even while being away on vacation.

So, today I’ll be taking it easy — ibuprofen, an ice pack, repeating my mantra (“Those people are IDIOTS…”). And next time we go on vacation, I’m looking into FedEx’ing our luggage back home.