An inspiring account of one lady’s journey with chronic pain, and how she learnt that sharing struggles with others can in fact form a strong basis for emotional healing.
Part One: The Injury
In 2015, during a lovely yoga session, I fractured the pars interarticularis bone located in the lumbar or lower region of my back. This injury has turned my world upside down and become the barometer for almost all the decisions I made since then and potentially for the rest of my life.
You see, eventually my initial injury developed into a pretty severe and life altering condition called Spondylolisthesis. In short, one of my vertebrae is slipping over the one below. As your spine is a complex and integral part of all movement and surrounded by important anatomy, like nerves, it’s a tough place for things to be shaking around.
Since the injury, I’ve been in chronic pain. The pain changes and can move around my body but is always present in my lower back. Some of the other symptoms I have experienced include spontaneously falling, leg weakness, nerve pain, pain to the touch in my lower back, pain or stiffness in my upper back and shoulders, numbness and tingling in my feet, and at times, numbness all the way up to my hips. All these symptoms have varied over the years and the intensity can change on any given day – you have no real sense of what you’ll wake up to. Spondylolisthesis is like an ever-changing fingerprint: it’s not only unique to you but the print itself is constantly changing.
In addition to the physical ailments, this condition has had many life altering impacts, such as an inability to work, do regular household chores, have a family, and of course, has made my mental health a ceaseless challenge I must continuously try and overcome.
All attempts at conservative treatment approaches made my symptoms and quality of life worse, which left surgery as the only possible alternative for improvement.
On June 10, 2019 I underwent spinal fusion surgery as a means to help improve the quality of my life. I am still in the thick of recovery but at this point, my pain has only become worse. In spite of this, I continue to work with my medical team to improve my condition and chances for future success.
Part Two: To Share or Not to Share?
Throughout my health crisis, I have continuously weighed the consequences of sharing my serious health realities. When I initially considered posting my story, my feelings of fear, shame and potential negative reactions from others fiercely stopped me in my tracks.
There were so many unanswered questions about sharing such as, “what if I am seen as just a sick person? What if people feel sorry for me or see me as a failure or weak? What if I am alienated because people don’t know what to say to me? What if people base their surgery decisions on my story…and once I was out of my proverbial closet, could I ever go back in?”
Part Three: The Decision to Share
On May 26, 2019 I finally decided to press post and disclose the very scary and not so pretty side of my life. My ultimate decision to come out, was motivated by a number of things that may resonate with you.
First, I needed to place some sort of “be back in 5” or more like “a year,” note on my “life door.” I wasn’t sure just how long I would be out of commission but I knew that it would be long enough that I would need to prompt a greater audience.
Second, leading separate lives and pretending to be healthy was tiresome and disingenuous and as my health declined, it became harder to sell the fantasy that everything was “o.k.” I yearned to live sincerely and wondered, if my physical abilities got worse, would my acting have to get better? No part of hiding felt wholesome or sustainable.
Third, I wanted a community. Due to the state of my health, there are many periods where I can go days or even at points weeks, without truly interacting with people. I knew that my mental health would improve if I had a meaningful community of people to learn from, relate to and of course, support in return. Since there are no government funded programs for people living with chronic pain, I knew that connecting with people would take some creativity.
Part Four: Sharing as a Form of Healing
Since revealing my health struggles, I have stayed committed to sharing a true representation of my life and the perpetual obstacles I face in regards to my chronic pain and spine disease. As it turns out, sharing more of the “self” behind the “selfie,” has helped create a completely new way of interacting with the world and has lead to powerful growth, connectivity and healing. Here are a few ways sharing has enriched my life.
- Connected me:
Thankfully, sharing has helped create meaningful, useful and lasting friendships with individuals facing similar health challenges. These connections have lead to relevant conversations that provide me with useful knowledge, motivation and hope. More than ever, I know that I am not alone and this sense of camaraderie has given me increased courage to face my daily physical and mental health battles.
- Satisfied me:
Is there anything more gratifying than knowing we have the power to truly serve others? Sharing has given me a chance to turn my personal struggles into a way of helping others with theirs. Although I still feel anxious about sharing revealing posts, it is definitely worthwhile when I receive a message about my post saying, “Thank you, I needed to hear this today.” Sharing can be a way of offering something of substance and value that not only empowers you, but may also enrich the lives of others.
- Positioned me:
While sharing put me in a position to be judged, it also put me in a position to be supported. Sharing my struggles has given my networks the opportunity to comfort me, offer me wisdom, send me cards and give me love. If I hadn’t shared, I would have never received all the amazing energy and contributions of others.
- Liberated me:
Releasing myself from the shackles of social expectations and pressures to present my life and self in a certain way has been a very liberating experience. I am not just a smile, filter or a happy moment captured in a photo, and neither are you…we are so much more. The second I decided to no longer “play the game,” I realised that I had won my life back. Opening up and being truthful about who we are connects us to others. It reminds us that we are human and that it is ok to not always be ok. In addition, diversity and different ways of living needs to be celebrated, supported and shared at a political, professional and public level. I want to stop reinforcing the shackles that create fear of rejection and ultimately divide us and continue adding to the content that connects us.
- Created opportunity for me:
Chronic pain is a growing epidemic across the world and those suffering often are victims of stigmatisation, discrimination and inequality. Pain is not currently a priority at the political, professional or public level. Since it is often an “invisible disease” it is often under cared for and disregarded. The more I connected with individuals struggling with chronic pain and chronic illness, the more I realised I wanted to become a voice of support and change for this community. Sharing has helped me find a new passion and provided me with opportunities to be on podcasts, write articles such as this, be showcased online and work on business projects that will help benefit the chronic pain community.
- Healed me:
No, sharing my story has unfortunately not healed my condition, BUT, it has created an opportunity for me to spread light on parts of my health that needed the attention the most. It’s so clear to me now that the things we don’t share and often hide, are the areas that truly need support, love, encouragement, knowledge and positive energy from yourself and others. The more I shared, the more I was profoundly reminded that my illness is as much a part of me as my hand, my mind and my heart. Feeling ashamed of things that are part of who we are and that we can not control, only leads to mental instability, self condemnation, conflictual thinking and unfortunately, dysfunctional behaviours that can result in more issues. Sharing has pushed me out of hiding into exposing my disabilities and given me the opportunity to readjust my social and personal interactions. Through the process of opening myself up and putting the spotlight on those areas that need it the most, I am learning to accept my whole self and heal through liberation and love.
Jennifer Is an entrepreneur who is currently focusing her energy on recovering from spinal fusion surgery and learning to live gratefully and happily with severe disability and chronic pain. Throughout her wellness journey, Jennifer has developed a strong passion to connect with other individuals living with chronic illness and chronic pain and hopes that by sharing her story and experiences, she can help to serve this community while at the same time learn from it as well.