LOVE HATE

My Back Is My Enemy

Back pain is worse than the asshole in middle school

Josh Wolk
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readDec 3, 2018

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Illustration: Chloe Cushman

HHaving a chronically bad back in middle age is like having a bully in middle school: You’re always on edge, fearing some horrible surprise is about to sneak up on you from behind. A bully could abruptly kick your notebooks out of your hand or stuff you in a locker, triggering an afternoon of shame. The bad back abruptly triggers a spasm when you bend down to get something off a lower shelf at CVS, and sends you hobbling off to bed for three days.

But at least you eventually escape bullies. Bad backs, on the other hand, never relent. And they only grow more powerful as you get older, perpetually hovering right over your shoulder. I should know. My Back has bedeviled me for decades, escalating its assault from mere twinges of pain to far more sinister and wide-ranging tactics. Chiropractors, physical therapists, John Sarno acolytes, and Alexander Technique-ians have assured me that if I can just make peace with my Back, everything will be okay. How naïve. My Back and I will never be friends. Our rift goes too deep. Ironically, my Back does not have my back.

I’ll admit it: I started this never-ending war, however unintentionally, drawing first blood with an emotional strike. It began when I was just a young teen. Spotting my first sprout of chest hair, I beamed with today-I-am-a-man pride and joyously monitored its bloom from individual wisps into the pubic hair-like puffy throw rug it remains today. Meanwhile, just over my shoulder, my Back overheard my gushing praise and did what any neglected, second-favorite child would do: it desperately and less charmingly tried to mimic the precociousness of its star sibling. As I hyperfocused on what was in front of me, beguiled by my blossoming masculinity, a messy patchwork of back hair began to spread behind me. It staggered in all directions, creeping up over the berm of my shoulders (the DMZ of social acceptability) and migrating down toward my rear end.

I was unable to look over my own shoulder without a sneer of disgust at this unwanted social handicap, and my Back would never forgive the shunning.

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Josh Wolk
Human Parts

President of Fixate Digital. Vulture/EW/Yahoo alum, and author of “Cabin Pressure: One Man’s Desperate Attempt to Recapture His Youth as a Camp Counselor.”