When my friend Ellen and I met for coffee recently, I learned that she too has back problems. I hadn’t known. Sharing our physical issues, as older women friends tend to do when we get together (another friend calls this practice “organ recitals”),  made me feel less alone with mine.

This aching back of mine just won’t go away. It’s with me wherever I go now. Like a difficult, big, old dog, I take it on daily walks (whether it’s up to it or not); it won’t allow me to sit still for long stretches (forget airline travel); and it disturbs my sleep. But, like it or not, I’m attached to this old dog. I can’t get rid of it.

It’s something of a cliché, I know, but old bods – like old cars that have spent their lives whizzing up and down all sorts of roads and not cosseted in cozy garages – begin to break down. Yes, a good mechanic [doctor] might be able to do some impressive repairs, but let’s face it: These mechanisms weren’t meant to last forever.

I’ve been doing a little research lately, and I’ve learned that an estimated 10 percent of the world’s population suffers from pain in the lower back. To quote a recent study, “one in ten people around the world are afflicted with LBP [lower back pain], making it the world’s leading cause of disability.” This finding was based on over one hundred studies of 780 cases in more than eighty countries.

In other words, at any given time, hundreds of millions of people worldwide are suffering from LBP. The majority of those people are adult women.

Knowing this now, I really feel less alone.

Oh, and here’s another jolly tidbit I gleaned from my research: Back pain is the most common cause of pain-related suicide, followed by the pain related to cancer and arthritis ( ).

But I digress.

The point of this post is not, ultimately, painful back stories but rather the value of backstories. To borrow from the literary use of the term “backstory” and apply it to the everyday, I mean those stories about a person’s past that impact their present lives. These are stories we may never learn about another person unless they care to share them and we care enough to listen.

Doctors, lawyers, therapists, counsellors, and some teachers (I’m thinking especially of Creative Writing teachers), learn of others’ backstories professionally. Again I remember the backstories of young female recovering addicts (when I was, briefly, an alcohol and drug abuse counsellor in New Mexico) who had turned to illicit drugs to dull the unbearable pain and shame of their childhood sexual molestation. And how can I forget the heart-wrenching backstories shared by my older Creative Nonfiction writing students at UNM-Taos who were working on writing their memoirs?

Living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, now as a retired person, I observe my many fellow-expat retirees the way I observe the beautiful, stark, exterior architecture of this city, wondering as I pass by: What’s behind those facades? We all, for the most part, came from somewhere else, after having lived full lives elsewhere. What brought us here? I’d like to know everyone’s backstory.

A typical street scene in San Miguel’s centro that begs the question: What’s behind those enigmatic facades?
Sometimes what one finds behind the front door is a vacant lot; but more often, it’s a lovely courtyard filled with color, beauty, light, and life.

As with the literary device, backstories provide fuller character development, more understanding, and, I would add, more compassion on the part of the reader or listener.

Compassion is the key word here, I think. Compassion as an antidote to the competitiveness that seems to be baked in to the norteamericano ethos. Imagine if by learning each other’s backstories – oh, and back stories, too, while we’re at it – we, as caring, trusting, noncompetitive friends, gained more compassion for one another. Many more of us certainly would feel less alone.

12 thoughts on “Backstories”

  1. Bonnie – I love this piece! I built my memoir on the backstory construct. Did you know Bowing to Elephants is now out and available? I think it’s doing well so far…. Would you consider ordering it on Amazon (kindle version cheaper) and reviewing it?

    1. Thanks, Mag. So glad this post resonated with you! Yes, I’ll consider your suggestion. Ah, and how about this quid pro quo (a term that is hot these days): Would you order my new book, Jamie’s Muse (e-book version also less expensive), and review it on Amazon? 🙂

      1. I would love to read (and review) your book! Will get on it right away…. am off to Taos for a reading w SOMOS on Nov 1. Will be fun to see old friends there. Thanks for your willingness to support my book!

  2. Bonnie I’m sorry to hear you are still suffering. Yes at this age those aches and pains keep me walking slower but also make me peer into places I used to hurry by.
    A blessing in disguise?

  3. Hi Bonnie – I have a degenerative disc disorder L4-L5. My Go To Remedy is two fold: Thera Med gel ice packs – I keep two in the freezer at all times; and the magic Serola Belt. If these two items aren’t in your pain management arsenal you should run not walk to Amazon and the Serola website. This approach will always get me up and out the door, which is key to getting over an acute attack as I’m sure you know. Good luck – hope this information helps you. Best, Jan

    1. Thanks so much for your excellent suggestions, Jan! I do wear a back brace (called a faja here), which helps a lot. Like your Serola Belt, this brace makes all the difference for me. And as for backstories, since you and I have known each other since our adolescence (or even before?), we already know each other’s backstories!

  4. Beautiful, Bonnie, and I am sorry your back pain is still with you. Don’t give up hope. I had a lower back problem that I assumed would be with me forever. But it was a soft tissue pull and it went away after about a year. Yours may also!

  5. Sorry to hear about your back pain, Bonnie. Lovely way you turn the topic to backstories. I’m a hospice volunteer and the joy in this work is learning the backstories of people whom I never would have met otherwise. Keeps me humble and reminds me that the one common thread in all of our backstories- that which makes us all alike – is that our backstories always are about love – whom we love(d) and who loved us.

    1. Oh, Leslie, your comment just took my breath away. How lovely that you do this type of volunteering and that it gives you these sorts of blessings. Thank you for sharing. I hope everyone who reads my new post will read your comment too.

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