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Living With Chronic Pain Part II: Monochrome

Everyone finds healing in different places. For me, throughout this whole process, I discovered that my outlet was often poetry. It reined in my spiralling thoughts and forced me to place them all in only a few words. Monochrome is a poem I wrote after a rehab session one day, sitting on the water in West Vancouver feeling pretty depleted with my circumstances. I took one single photo on a timer, then wrote until I felt lighter. These are the words that can outline the darker sides of chronic pain, when my world began to feel like it was painted black and white.

 

Monochrome

Stone against my skin

Grey, everything is grey

Quiet grey encasing the pool of liquid silver spread out in front of me

What would happen if I just

Stepped in

And didn’t stop moving until I found what I was looking for

What would happen

That wouldn’t solve anything would it

 

I sit painted into a corner

Layers and layers of paint

Covering my skin

My muscles

My bones

I am waiting for it to dry

I’ve been waiting a long time

Who decided that it should take two years for paint to dry

 

So much sitting

Looking for an answer

To the question encasing my spine in concrete

Fuck it

Literally just say anything

Why were these colours chosen for me

I never had a say

I don’t want them

What are they here to show me

It hurts too much sometimes to imagine sitting for any longer

 

They look different to everyone else

How I come off

I can’t explain

I want to shed my skin

It’s stuck

Get it off of me

God I hate this colour

 

Painted over my mouth

I can’t tell you why or how

Painted over my nose

Now I really can’t breathe

Painted over my eyes

I can’t even see what I feel anymore

I can’t feel my hands

I can feel my hips

My neck

My spine

My heart

My head

That’s all I feel

Sticky from the minute I wake up

 

The liquid silver enveloping me

Are you here to help

Your barriers

Are they protective

Are they a just a bigger cage

If I scream will you wash the paint out of my mouth?

~

Living With Chronic Pain

On this day two years ago, I was involved in a car crash that would change the course of my life completely. I couldn’t have known then but the injuries I walked away with would only get more and more complex as time went on.

My journey with chronic pain has been an uphill battle, an omnipresent force, a seemingly unsolvable puzzle. What started as a neck and head injury translated into widespread muscular malfunctions, spinal issues, nervous system problems and pain that manifests differently and unpredictably every single day. It has forced me to overhaul my life as an athlete, as well as massively scale back on highly active lifestyle I used to lead.

From the moment of impact up to now, I have used the majority of my energy trying to find any successful ways to heal. I’ve been treated by physios, chiropractors, osteopaths, massage therapists, psychologists, strength and conditioning coaches, naturopaths, more medical specialists than I care to count. I’ve had dozens of needles and injections into my spine, and many assurances that the next treatment will be the solution. I have dealt with so much false hope its been dizzying. While I there have been a few small victories through this process, I continue to press on trying to find solutions to my body’s pain responses that seem to get more complex with each day.

There is no facet of my life this hasn’t affected. I can’t stand still for more than a few minutes without becoming vastly uncomfortable; I can’t sit for more than thirty or forty without often experiencing excruciating pain somewhere down my spine. As you could imagine, being a university student dealt this set of cards has placed additional hurdles in my path. Predictably, this has also led me into a process of having to completely reevaluate my whole identity and what defines me as a person, when many of the things I love can no longer hold such a dominant place in my life.

Chronic pain is something that often goes unseen; to both the individual and everyone around them. I have good days where the pain is more of a hum in the background, but I often have bad ones, where it’s so loud and angry that my energy becomes completely depleted, my moods get ridiculously unpredictable and my body needs a lot of care, attention, and rest.

I have bad days that sometimes look like breakdowns in the car or Physio office, but I’ve also had dark times that stretched into months of anxiety and bouts of depression.

However, in order to maintain my own sense of sanity I often find myself striving to project an image of vitality during the manageable moments. But it’s always the same pattern, one way or another the symptoms will bounce back like a boomerang and manifest in ways that can be debilitating. I kept trying to claw my way back into the life I had before, the life where I felt strong and could work hard without giving things a second thought. The life where I felt comfortable in my own skin and in control of my own circumstances. In the low moments I felt like I had lost myself completely.

It took a lot of fighting and rebelling against my own body before I begun to explore the idea of accepting my circumstances as they are in the moment, and working towards placing the things that give me relief and happiness at the forefront. My mental health was hindering me – it shaped an outlook that was translating into even more physical degeneration. Luckily, I was still able to receive external help and support from others, helping me realize that my tenacity to heal and bounce back didn’t always have to manifest in fighting. Instead, this part of my life is teaching me that self care is something that is going to be one of the most important resources in my life going forward – listening to what my body has to say instead of fighting against it.

With the presence of sport and activity in my life massively scaled down, I have had to explore some different facets of what makes me happy and keeps me calm – mostly revolving around writing and art. I have tried so many times to sit down and write my story but every time I have, I’m left with pages and pages of what I hoped to be cathartic, but was instead just another pathway into emotional distress I didn’t need. I never wanted to let anyone else read the things I wrote. So I didn’t, until now.

I wanted to share my story somehow because I often felt disingenuous with the person I was projecting myself to be; I was not living as this person in the majority of my day-to-day life. The moments I conveyed were the good ones, where I was able to give myself a little wiggle room to play again and just hope that I wouldn’t wake up feeling completely broken again the next day. Sometimes however, I am lucky enough to see those good moments can spread into good days. Rarely do I have a day without pain, but the good days often come in the form of a shifted outlook. Lately, I’ve been trying to keep those days as dominant as possible, allowing myself to go through the daily processes of pain management while still maintaining as much of the positivity as I can.

Sometimes that can look like going for an hour surf with no muscle spasms, but sometimes it looks like a forced ten minute walk. It’s always a balancing act.

But I wanted to shed some light on the trials of chronic pain, and perhaps shed some light on the incredibly vulnerable parts of who my circumstances have pushed me to become.

I am still in the midst of this puzzle, my body still in a very different way than it was before the accident. But instead of always allowing this part of my life to consume me, I am striving to work with it; reminding myself to check in with what I need in the moment instead of where I want to be. I am lucky enough to have support systems in place and some truly influential people in my life that have dragged me out of some pretty dark places. For this I’ll continue to be grateful.

I am not fixed, but I am also slowly trying to reassure myself that I am not broken, either.

Winter: Three Feelings Before Breakfast

When words, photos, songs inspire fiction.

Hygge (Danish): Taking pleasure from the gentle or soothing things

Song: We Move Lightly – Dustin O’Halloran

I wake up not with a start but slowly, like my eyelids are savoring each second before bringing daybreak into view. I am warm but not too hot, I can tell that my hair is more disheveled than usual, doing the frizzy split-end thing I hate, but I don’t really care. The scent of the fireplace downstairs meets my nose before my ears can pick up the crackle, and the goosebumps that greet the skin on my arms pushes some of the grogginess aside. Smell has always been my foremost nostalgic vice, my fondest memories and most sought-after day dreams coming immediately after certain scents hit my nostrils.This morning smells like smoke and coffee. I look to my right and catch a glimpse of a few candles from last night, melted down and sloped from such a lengthy burn, and thoughts of the evening start to filter in. A sleepy grin paints itself across my face when I hear him shuffling around downstairs. This old cabin does nothing for soundproofing, it creaks and groans with every step or strong breeze from outside. I don’t mind this at all though, I like listening to him mill about in the morning. He’s not always a morning person but when we’re out here he seems to love getting an early start. For no particular reason, I think, other than to just take in the quiet.

I am still wrapped up in the covers and when I roll over to face the big bedroom window, I am greeted with the sight of snow falling with so much fervour that the trees appear as wrapped up as I. I am grateful to him for opening the blinds before I awakened because looking out of the glass this morning feels almost ethereal. I snuggle in even more knowing that I am completely protected in this little house, the perfectly languid energy flows inside and out of these walls.

Gluggaveour (Icelandic): Weather best enjoyed through a window

Song: Promise – Ben Howard

I swing my legs off the bed and pull on some pyjama shorts and my softest hoodie. He always pokes fun at me for wearing shorts around the house in the dead of winter but I like to think it creates the perfect opportunity to wrap my legs up in the softest blanket on the couch without getting too hot. I can hear the jingle of the dog’s collar downstairs and assume there’s already more than a few paw prints in the fresh snowfall outside. As I tip-toe down the staircase, I try to avoid the creaky spots so I can sneak up on him from behind. He’s wearing jeans and the cozy long-sleeve I always steal from his closet – I can tell he’s already changed out of his first outfit of the day, likely wet from the thick falling snow outside. I swiftly wrap my arms around his back, clasp my hands across his chest and bury my nose into his shoulder blades. He’s startled at first, his whole body jumps a little, but quickly relaxes into my arms. He sets his cup of coffee on the counter and runs his hands along mine. I can feel the immediate warmth in his palms from the mug but his fingers are still cold from the outside. I take a big breath in, savouring every bit of his smell in that moment. He turns around, brushes some stray strands of bedhead out of my eyes and leans down for a long, slow kiss. I can tell he hasn’t taken a sip of his coffee yet because he still tastes like peppermint, my favourite flavour. He hands me a mug, earl grey tea with a bit of almond milk (he knows tea makes me feel cozier in the mornings), and I saunter towards the living room. The dog is curled up beside the fireplace and lifts his head when I reached down to give him some good morning head scratches. My eyes are still glued to the window, it’s somehow snowing harder now than it was when I woke up only a few minutes ago. I walk a little closer, bring my mug to my lips for a sip and watch as the glass pane steams up almost instantaneously upon my exhale. My mind intrinsically wanders to the mountain adventure possibilities this snowfall will bring, but keeps me still just watching. Today it seems, is a day best spent inside.

 

Chrysalism: The amniotic tranquility of being inside during a storm

Song: Master and a Hound – Gregory Alan Isakov

I feel his chin softly rest on the top of my head from behind. I’m not sure how long I’ve been standing there for, eyes jumping from snowflake to snowflake, watching as they weave themselves into the fabric of white settled over every surface. He muses that I must be staring into space but I tell him I’m looking, observing the patterns that take shape outside these walls and simply processing the spectacle of it all. He gets it. He understands the type of child-like wonderment I get from the marvels of nature, because he feels it too. I’ve always been able to tell just by looking in his eyes. He follows me to the couch and I laymy feet in his lap and finish the last few sips of my tea. I begin to drift back to all the moments that have led me to this point here. So many late-night conversations about our shared fantasy to one day spend winters out in the trees, my insistence on building a shed outside for all our outdoor gear and his inevitable acceptance that it would be worth the effort, our monthly weekend trips to the mountains that allowed us to fall in love with waking up to a foot of fresh snow. I spent so much time as a young woman day dreaming about mornings like these, I let the utter comfort of this moment completely envelop me. I have been relatively pain free for almost three years now, cherishing each minute that goes by without it. With the dog by our sides, my feet in his lap, and memories of the night before playing on loop behind my eyes I let out a deep sigh. Today I will let the snow fall around us and crystalize the windows. I will let the logs smolder and the keep the kettle hot. Because for once, I know that this is exactly where I should be. I am happy, free.

 

Under the Guise of the ‘Chill Girl’

The following is inspired partly by an article I recently stumbled upon, but mostly rather by a massive period of self-discovery and introspection I was forced to face over the last couple months. This article put into words what I simply couldn’t over the summer, when I adopted a version of myself that was so focused on appeasing others, I started to resent the parts of my personality that make up who I am. I’d like to think that this response is almost my reemergence into trying not to give a fuck about the constructed ideas people have of me, and instead, actually speaking my truth again. 

-N

https://www.vogue.com/article/how-to-let-go-of-chill-girl-persona

 

Under the guise of the “chill girl”, I misplace the parts of me that want to scream and dance and speak truths. All of a sudden all eyes find me and every word that is uttered as I leave the room becomes an attack – at least in my mind. I am to walk with my head up high not because I feel true confidence but because it is a way to sew in another a piece of armour, a badge to show just how unbothered I wished to be towards the world around me.

But this mask was my demise.

The vulnerability that wanted to escape so badly banged and thrashed against the walls of my plastered on smile, authenticity slowly siphoned out and replaced by a rudimentary set of expectations dictating that I was not to reveal my disguise under any circumstances.

We say yes to the billboards on our foreheads that scream “This girl has it together, she’s everything you’ve ever wanted and she’s never been more nonchalant about it.”

We change our costumes from the baggy “I am infinitely unbothered” to the tight-fitting “I am the pinnacle of confidence” a few times a day, only to step out of our skin at night wondering why we feel so itchy.

“I never expected this from you, I always thought you were just a cool, chill girl”

Variations of this swing around my ears and I cringe knowing how many have put me on a shelf, smacked a sticker on my forehead and decided that this is what I’m worth. Every facet of my personality cowers in the corner and hangs their heads knowing that it will not be safe to come out.

I work to slowly revise the words written all over my skin. The words that have become tangled in messes pushing back in forth between the vulnerable and the safe.

I have been taught that safety only lies in hiding the real.

We are not on this earth to be your puzzles, your codices to unpack and solve. Why do you chase us and convince us that our worth only relies on our ability to keep you guessing? Why is it that so many of us stand convinced that our feelings are fundamentally undesirable, only to come out of the woodwork when given permission?

Death to the chill girl, I think to myself.

But how can something disappear when it doesn’t even exist in the first place?

Fuck your reading habits.

I’ve always been the preliminary girl

the intermittent girl

the escape girl.

The one kept on the back burner

the one used as a vessel for things that cannot be expressed

to the ones they actually attach themselves to

What is it about me that screams

Use me as the prologue to your love story

Use me as the magazine you read to pass the time

Use me as the dirty novel you hide under your pillow.

These pages are my own

Bound with a discipline

That could only be learned through sewing back in

The pages that have been carelessly ripped out

I am not your old, overdue library book

I am the riveting fiction you can’t put down

The true story that inspires you

The poetry that changes you

So do not place me in the depths of your nightstand

Only to open me as an escape from the reality you grow tired of

I am a work of art

Sprung solely from my own fingertips.

 

-fuck your reading habits

 

 

 

Self Affirmations

Your body is strong, dear girl

For not only do you carry the immense weiht of your own thoughts

But hold tight to the thoughts of other as well.

 

Not many will know what it’s like to feel the world the way you do, sweet girl

With soft eyes and a tender soul, resilient yet often victim such anguish

Not many will understand what it is like to feel with their whole existence all at once

 

From the depths of your belly to the hairs on the back of you neck

You feel

And you mustn’t fall for the tricks of those who cannot taste pain in the backs of their mouths

Or feel the sunshine course through every synapse and nerve

 

You must learn that those who are meant to stay will not look at your naked heart with fear or misunderstanding

But rather

Will sit down next to you

And ask if they can show you theirs too.

 

Intangible Aches

I am not broken
You cannot see lines
Cracks
Fractures
But I feel it
The pain that runs along my pathways
Coursing behind my vision
Ebbing down my neck
Filling the spaces
Between the top of my head and my toes.
You cannot feel a scar
The bruises have faded
But every time I lift my head from my pillow
I am forced to relive that single impact
And face what will hurt most today.
It’s the invisible force without a face
It lurks
In the shadows
I can feel it pulse through every vein
Nerve
Fibre
Slowly collecting pieces of me for itself.
I am not wonder woman
Though sometimes I like to think I am
And some days it’s me holding the golden lasso around its neck
But some days it turns the noose on me instead
You cannot see lines
Cracks
Fractures
Only the pain in the shadows
With a rope in its hands.

– when injuries become intangible