As I sit to write this article, the autumn sun is casting a warm glow in through my window, the sky is blue and a flock of starlings have just landed in the tree outside to snack on those ripe red berries, that they love so much.
Today I feel ok. I can feel it niggling at me, the twinges of pain, in my back, the constant change of position as I can never be confortable, but it’s far from a bad day. Which makes this quite hard to write actually.
For most of my life, I have suffered with back pain you see. Being one of the tallest in my class throughout school, my posture was terrible and as a teen I was diagnosed with scoliosis. This was obviously painful and caused numerous headaches, made breathing during sport, very hard and my first jobs in retail, very miserable.
In 2012, Age 24, now living in France, a friend introduced me to a specialist surgeon who agreed to operate. You see my Drs in the UK, refused to help . Claiming that by the age of 18, I was too old for spinal surgery of this kind, although by then the pain was already making my day to day life, less than tolerable.
The surgery was hard, both physically and psychologically but was an overall success. We stopped the curves in my spine from inching any closer to my heart. Amazing! I was 3months in hospital and 9 in recovery, during which time I somehow produced a fashion collection and held my first show (micro link here), before slowly returning to my job. I then had 3 years of observation, physiotherapy and follow up appointments.
Just hours after surgery / 6 weeks after / After Xray.
But alas 2015 came and went, yet it was far from over. The back ache continued, which lead to fatigue which culminated in depression. I had to work to pay the rent but every moment that I didn’t work, I had to rest or be at some medical appointment. I had no energy to move forward with my life.
As the years went past and I was still taking pain killers daily, I had to start taking medication, to protect my stomach from the pain killers!
This is when I knew something had to give. I was so stuck in my rut of exhaustion and pain and just getting through each day, that it took me another 2 full years to get back on track. Largely because I finally gave into the nagging of an osteopath friend of mines and made my first appointment at his office.
You see, one of the things I now struggle with is making medical appointments when I need them. This is largely due to the many hours spent bored, sitting in uncomfortable waiting room chairs, wasting away my days off, for years..
Side note: WHY are hospital chairs so uncomfortable? Surely they should be the BEST chairs in the world, given that they are being used mainly by the sick and disabled, anyway, I digress…
So that man changed my life.
I will forever be grateful because in one hour, he gave me back my freedom. He didn’t just listen to my complaints, he HEARD me. Granted, he had to make me scream and cry to relieve my pain, but as the old saying goes “No____ no gain” right? Right!
Who knew that massaging the roof of my mount would: A) be so excruciating in the moment and B) take away the agony and allow me to tie my shoelaces again?
I slept for a full day after that, then for the first time in years, my body was temporarily silent. It was deafening.
You would never guess, how much pain I was in.
In 2016, still trying to manage my health, I reached burn out. I fell into a spiral of hopelessness and self-loathing, constantly sick and catching every virus that came my way. Regularly imagining how nice it would be to never wake up again, before scalding myself for such horrible thoughts.
With the help of my amazingly supportive husband and medical professionals, I was finally able to leave my physically demanding job and take a break by early 2017.
Having the time to rest, taking afternoon naps and to rediscover myself, not as a sick, weak person but as a new -and by that time – more mature adult, gave my body and mind some much needed rest bite.
In 2018, I was ready to go back to work. I got an offer from the company where I’m still happily employed, but it almost came crashing down, one week before my first day.
In the midst of a summer heat wave I found myself having flu-like symptoms. All over muscle aches and an inability to stay awake or to carry my own weight. By day 3 I was walking with the aid of my hiking sticks. Determined not to see a Dr, my husband gently coerced me to try some things which would normally work in relation to my back pain.
He slowly walked with me in the sunshine as I used my sticks, enticing me with the promise of a freezing milkshake as a reward. He ran me a hot bath, despite the soaring outside temperatures and put me to bed early. The next day, I woke up feeling somewhat better and that’s when I realized that it was all coming from my back.
Instagram vs reality of that day.
As the months went on, these symptoms came and went. Finally I went to my GP, who prescribed me a fancy new chair for my office and….Can you guess…Stronger pain killers!
No one could answer the question of exactly why I was experiencing this new issue. No scans or blood tests shed light on the matter. Therefore no one could really help me. If I am suffering so much now, then what about in ten years? I felt so alone and put all of my hope into this new product that I kept hearing about from bloggers and youtubers in the USA. CBD.
Getting any information out of the medical profession was damned near impossible. No one could tell me the legal or health implications of using it here in France
I did however find a supply shop in Central Paris. . Le Lab (www.lelabshop.fr. )The guy there was able to advise me and I left with my first bottle. As soon as my feet hit the street after my purchase, I doubled over sobbing uncontrollably. Like I had put so much hope and effort into this tiny bottle and the joy of finally having it in my hands just released all of the heartache and worry Ide been silently supressing for months, even years.
We are now approaching the end of 2019, Almost 8 years post surgery. My story is far from over but finally there is hope. The CBD has helped immensely as have: my special chair, my awesome osteopath, hot baths, massages, yoga, hypnosis, a heated bed, occasional paint killers and so forth.
I still have bad days and barely have enough energy to make it past 3pm. But in a way that has made me prioritize the things in my life, to see what is truly important to me and where I want to focus my limited energy reserves.
Although I also attribute that to my age, now being 32 and and finally getting my s**t together.
In January, I have my first appointment at the Chronic Pain Clinic. They can help in pain management and prescribe alternative treatments, otherwise inaccessible though health insurance.
I am learning to accept that my life may forever revolve around my health. This still makes me cry and feel sorry for myself. But during my journey I have learned one thing. I am not alone. There are so many others out there, like myself and so many people in my life who understand and support me on those darkest of days.
My change of career affords me the luxury of taking it slow while continuing in an industry that I adore. But I had to share my story with you today because I feel that in our fast paced, overly stimulating, highly demanding, multi-tasking, perfection seeking , crazy world, we ignore reality.
Most people would never know what I go through each day, just to get out of bed at 7am. My instagram feed tells you nothing of that side of my life. My artworks are not so easy to understand and I wear a mask every day, to conceal from you all, what’s really going on.
My artwork allows me to express my most inner thoughts.
So I ask of all of you not to judge your neighbour, not to lash out at people using disabled parking spaces but don’t “look disabled”, not to roll your eyes when your colleague complains of some pain or symptom. We are all trying to deal with our stuff while keeping up with everyone else, which just makes things that little bit harder.
No one is asking you to slow down for us. Just keep yourself grounded in reality and know that behind every Instagram photo, every painting, every binge drinking episode, every bitchy remark, or selfish act, there may be something else going on.
As I sit here writing this, I can feel my back stiffening, my joints & neck starting to ache and my hips locking. On that note, I better sign off here and do some yoga before getting on with the next item on my to do list.
I extend special thanks to my osteopath Warren, who for a short time became like a God that I worshipped.