Look, Ma! No hands!

My junior year of college, I was sitting in the library, typing away on my laptop, trying to finish up a term paper, when it happened: my hands froze. Not good-God-the-library-is-cold-I-wish-I’d-brought-a-sweater froze. Not even kill-me-now-I’m-never-going-to-finish-this-paper froze. No, I mean my hands physically froze, as in the muscles from my neck through my shoulders through my elbows through my forearms through my hands froze up, so that I couldn’t move them. And they stayed that way for a week. I couldn’t brush my hair. I couldn’t bring a fork to my mouth. All I could do was lie in bed, terrified that my life was never going to be the same again.

And it wasn’t. In the last 14 years, I’ve seen countless doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors. I’ve tried Western medicine, meditation, and acupuncture. I’ve had a variety of diagnoses. Fibromyalgia. Repetitive strain injury. Myofascial pain syndrome. And my personal favorite, “It’s all in your head.” Yeah, right, Buster. You try experiencing the kind of pain that makes you curl into a fetal position and scream, and then tell me that I’m imagining it.

Still, I tried to continue down the path I had set for myself, the one that was respectable and practical. In spite of the confusion over what was wrong with me, I knew one thing: one of the main triggers for my pain is typing. So I hired a typist, installed a voice-recognition program onto my computer, and got permission to take my exams – even the bar exam – orally. After graduating from law school, I went to work at a corporate law firm. I was miserable, but everything was progressing according to plan. And then I had another flare-up.

Another round of doctors. Three more months flat on my back. Six months of physical therapy. Six months of disability leave. In the midst of this pain and anxiety and suffering, I realized something. My body wasn’t punishing me. It was talking to me, in a way that I could not ignore. It was telling me, Get off of this path. This isn’t what you’re supposed to be doing.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had one dream, one passion – to be a writer. But parental expectations, discouraging teachers, doubtful friends, and “prestigious” opportunities made me set this dream aside.

I think the voice inside me was sick of being ignored. It had to speak louder and louder until I finally listened. Until I finally understood that I had to pursue my dream. For if there’s one thing that I can do in spite of this disability, it is write – or more specifically, dictate into my voice-recognition program. I can “write” sitting in my recliner, so that my head and shoulders are fully supported. Or, when things are really bad, I can “write” flat on my back underneath a glass coffee table, my laptop face-down on top of the glass, while I dictate into my microphone.

Fourteen years ago, I never thought anything good could come from this pain. But there has. The pain reminds me on a daily basis to listen, really listen, to the voice inside of me, the one who knows me better than anyone else. The one who has the power, finally, to make me happy.

What does the voice inside of you say? Do you struggle with contradicting outside forces? What made you finally listen to your voice?