Just over a year ago I was in so much pain I could barely move. For months I had been suffering from back pain. My official diagnosis is Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD), spinal stenosis, and two bulging disks in my back. I had daily nagging pain, but more difficult to deal with was a sensation like someone was jabbing a knife into my back. This sensation would happen out of no-where both during waking hours and at night. It was severe enough at times to drop me to my knees. The pain I experienced started out mild and intermittent, but increased slowly over time. At the point I am writing about today, I could not sleep, exercise, or even hug my nine year old without pain shooting through my back. My career, my hobbies, all of it seemed to be a thing of the past; I thought life as I knew it was over. My outlook on life fell from optimism and joy towards a very dark place.
The truth is I had had enough. There was not a day that went by during this time that I didn’t consider ending it all. The pain was like a grey cloud that just continued to grow, obscuring the colors in my life until everything became a thick gray mess. Each activity I had to give up, from running to simple things like emptying the dishwasher, felt like deep loss. My children were used to a mother who could run and play and hug them with all her might, but soon all I could manage was getting up in the morning. I felt like a failure.
I clearly remember the day I hit what I refer to as my bottom. It was a cool spring morning and I was waking up from another difficult night. Several times between one and four in the morning I woke to pain shooting through my back. One attack was so sudden and powerful I screamed aloud, waking my husband. I can remember the worry in his voice as he spoke. “how much longer can you do this?”, “you need to make an appointment with the surgeon”, and “Will you call tomorrow?” I didn’t answer. Instead I cried a little while trying to adjust the pillows so I could fall back to sleep. Eventually I did sleep, but when morning came and I found myself lying there wishing I didn’t have to get up. The sheer act of moving to the side of the bed and bringing my body to a standing position seemed like too much. Just as that thought went through my head, my 10 year old daughter came into the room. She was standing there, her hair a mess from the night before. I saw a brush in one hand, an elastic held tight in the other, and felt my heart sink. I knew she was going to ask me to help her with her hair, and though I wanted to want to help her, I honestly didn’t. What I really wanted was for her to pull the blinds, close the door behind her and leave me be. These were thoughts I’d been holding back. I told myself it was okay to be tired and sad, and sometimes even mad, as long as I kept getting up and going through the daily motions. On that morning, however, I felt like it was over. The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness were there, more troubling and difficult to contain than ever before.
That was the day her father learned how to make a pony tail. It was also the first day in all of my suffering that I gave myself permission to stay in bed. I cancelled my clients for the day and pulled the blinds down on every window in my house. My husband got the kids off to school and kissed me goodbye. His eyes looked at me with deep concern, and again he asked me to please call the surgeon.
I laid in my bed for a long time, feeling nothing but the pain, and I cried. I cried for a long time that morning, but somewhere in-between the tears I felt a shift. I don’t know what is was, but something told me to get up out of bed and take care of myself. This was a very different from the ‘suck it up buttercup’ message I had been telling myself for years before. Each time the darkness was almost too much to bear, I’d tell myself to get up and get on with my day, constantly comparing my pain to others suffering and telling myself it could be worse. However, laying in bed, riddled with pain, my tears had brought me a tiny glimmer of self compassion. In that moment I decided to compromise with myself. I decided that for this one day I could try something new. I told myself if I didn’t feel better by tomorrow I could call the surgeon, or if I wanted to, I could end it all. But for that morning at least, I needed to get up and do something to try to feel better.
This was the starting point of recovery for me. Until then, I’d always been one to talk about how important it was to look at things positively and stay focused on gratitude in life. That morning when I woke up I couldn’t find anything positive, and gratitude was not a word I’d used in a while. That reality frightened me. Somewhere between fear and grief I reached my lowest point that day, and I chose to do something about it.
Self-compassion was all I needed to begin feeling relief. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was something. On that day I had a glimpse of hope for my future again.
It has been a long and challenging road. It wasn’t easy, but it WAS worth it! Today, the pain I feel is often mild enough that I can easily perform normal activities of daily life. Other days are more challenging, but the change in my attitude and response to the pain has made all the difference. Today I know how to care for myself, allowing my body to slow down, rest, and recover. Self care has made all the difference in the world, and while it does require effort, I’m no longer resentful of the extra time it takes to have a good day. It wasn’t all that long ago that I could jump out of bed, tie my running shoes on and hit the pavement for a 3 mile run. Mornings these days are a whole different story. The first 30 minutes of my day are devoted to stretching and moving slowly to allow my body to ease into being upright. I can’t sit down and leisurely sip a cup of coffee when I first wake up the way I used to. Instead I need to traction my back, stretch my hips and spend a few minutes paying attention to my body. That is really just the beginning of course. I have to pace myself, and take it easy more often. I need to keep up on my diet, exercise, rest and meditation. Massage and other self care treatments are also a huge parts of my recovery.
This experiences has taught me just how easily chronic pain can rob you of your happiness. When you live every day with pain it’s exhausting physically and emotionally. It can leave you feeling miserable, and in cases like mine, helpless and hopeless. Today, just a short year later, I’m not completely healed. I have yet to have surgery, and I’m choosing to avoid it for as long as I can. It’s important that I tell you I am not pain free, but the level of pain I experience today has diminished significantly. The difference lies entirely in the way that I respond to my pain. I don’t ignore it, nor do I deny the impact it has on my life, and I see absolutely no value in pretending to be some kind of superwoman. I’m not perfect; I can’t claim to never be frustrated or to never feel sorry for myself. I’m a work in progress after all. Today I wake up stiff and sore, but ready to face the day. I don’t retract from the pain, instead I have learned to treat it the best I can, and live with whats left.
Perhaps you can relate to my story. Maybe you are still in that dark miserable place I was in. If so take a moment to imagine what it would feel like to love your life again? What if you could get through most days with very little pain? What if you could do some of those things you’ve given up again? If you are someone suffering from physical pain and you’re ready to do something about it, contact me today to see how we can start you on a journey to wellness. There are no miracles, it takes work, but it’s possible to feel better and to reclaim your full life. If you’re not quite ready to reach out but you want to learn more then sign up here. I will be posting more information on my journey, and how I came to find happiness again. You CAN too!