Please welcome today’s guest writer, Rachel Lenko. Rachel graduated from Calvin in 2017 with a degree in Nursing. She currently spends her days downloading PDFs from the University of Michigan’s extensive library, attempting to write a coherent dissertation, and wondering how to firmly conquer imposter syndrome. When not at her desk, you may find her walking her rambunctious puppy, house-hunting in random cities on Zillow, or searching for the best take-out in Ann Arbor.

On a sunny Sunday morning in mid-2018, I woke up with the worst lower backache I’d ever had. Unlike the escalating back pain of the previous two weeks, it hadn’t faded overnight, and my anxiety began to spike as I wondered how I would get through my first night shift a few hours later. Tearful conversations with my spouse and out-of-state parents reassured me that the pain would disappear quickly. I took some ibuprofen and prayed for quick relief.

Only the pain didn’t disappear. Not after a few days. Not after 6-8 weeks (as my favorite nurse practitioner advised). Not after nearly a year of pursuing X-rays, a brief (and expensive) physical therapy stint, and three different (much cheaper) chiropractors.

My long-term feelings of relative ambivalence about my body shifted rapidly to hatred. I despise rigid constraints of almost any kind (#EnneagramEight), and I felt trapped in a being that prevented me from even sitting comfortably, much less engaging fully with my favorite part of her, my brain. The combination of chronic pain and sleep deprivation from full-time nightshift introduced me to a depression darker than any I’d encountered before.

Two and a half years later, the pain has faded significantly (and I no longer work nights), but we’re still not sure what causes the daily aches in my lower back and right leg. Perhaps it’s my mild scoliosis. Perhaps the Nexplanon I hated but took two years to ditch. Perhaps residual effects from a broken foot in college. Regardless, I will likely never again be able to forget about my physical self for several hours at a time only to absentmindedly come back to her to pour in a few calories and stretch her legs.

As long as we’re on this earth, she and I are stuck together. She is the one who protests vehemently when the Zoom meeting doesn’t offer a 5-minute stretch break, who stayes quiet only on the days after I take her for a run. Her racing heart and shaking hands always announce the anxiety long before any thoughts have time to catch up. She weeps dramatically when the onion’s a bit old and smiles gratefully every time I opt vegetarian. She crumples upon noticing another new, premature gray hair and then softens, thankful for the chance to age. She carries me up mountains and down grocery store aisles. Her privilege opens doors no part of me has earned. She is the puppy’s favorite soft, warm place to cuddle. Someday, she may stretch to carry and then nourish another imago Dei. She knows both pleasure and horrible, wrenching pain. She is wonderful, beautiful, and broken.

I still wish that I could replace the entire lower right quarter of her at least once a week. I seriously doubt that I’ll ever be “thankful that this happened to me” because “I’ve learned so much from it/I’m a more compassionate human now.” Frankly, I’d rather be a pain-free human of average nice-ness than a marginally kinder human who feels like a toddler constantly squirming in her seat. I often anxiously wonder how much additional pain I’ll have to navigate in any future third trimesters or as I approach old age.

At the same time, I am prouder of and more grateful for all of my physical being and the life that she lets me experience more than ever before. Learning to cherish and care for her well will likely always be one of the greatest challenges and joys of my life.


  1. Avatar

    This is beautiful, Rachel. I had chronic pain for several years that still haunts me occasionally. I know the frustration of many attempted solutions not working and the squirming-in-my- seat life. Long airplane trips are still a nightmare. I love how you grapple with, and give agency to, to your corporeal self. It’s a fitting description.

    • Avatar

      Thanks, Chad! I’ve really only recently found the words to articulate my experience. As much as I wish neither one of us knew anything about chronic pain, I’m glad not to be alone in this space. And I agree… long airplane trips are absolutely brutal.

  2. Kyric Koning

    Though I’d like to say as long as you work through your pain and attempt more compassion, things will get better, that’s not always necessarily too. The grapple does tend to comprise most of our time, it seems. Putting words to that and acknowledging it has its place too.

    Thank you for sharing with the post calvin. Keep writing as your heart leads.


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