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.