“Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.”
My personal journey with pain
This is scary, and a bit embarrassing, but I'm going to share my story with you. If you are suffering with pain, stress, depression or anxiety, or wrestling with difficult decisions in your life, then maybe something in my story can give you hope that you can be an agent of change in your own life, and create a better story for yourself.
Oh boy, do I know pain!
I know what it means to suffer with neck pain, back pain, hip pain and so-called 'nerve' pain. Labels that have been thrown my way over time include: spondylolisthesis, peripheral neuropathy, Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction, PGP (pelvic girdle pain), disc herniation, sciatica, SI joint dysfunction, disabled, broken, fibromyalgia, lesion of the nervous system, significant degenerative cervical disc disease, hypermobility, & chronic pain, as well as the anxiety and bleak outlook that go hand in hand with the pain experience. Experience and education have taught me not to give too much attention to these labels, so I don’t!! PLEASE NOTE: I only list them here to show you where I have been! I have suffered horribly with pain over a period of 7 years or so. However, the incredible, educational journey I have been on has given me a unique overview of several movement methodologies, all of which have assisted me in restoring mobility, strength, health and well-being and living a full, positive and happy life.
The pain starts
Now 45, I have had bouts of back and shoulder pain since my mid twenties. Nothing serious at first. Just discomfort. I remember age 30, just before I got married, I was having shoulder trouble and had a few visits to a Chiropractor, who told me that some bones in my mid-spine were 'fused'. Anyway, she sorted out the acute pain I was having and I got back on with life, enjoying married life, my teaching job, my social life and exercising regularly.
A fall and hospital
Exercise kept my symptoms at bay, made me feel better and became quite a passion. I worked out at the gym and went to yoga and Pilates classes. I decided to train as a Pilates teacher. I started exercising harder and I after a year or so I developed mild sciatica. It was annoying but manageable. Then I fell on a slippy, mossy flagstone. Nothing serious, but I came down hard on my left hip. The next day I had lost sensation around my groin and buttocks. I was admitted to hospital with suspected cauda equina syndrome - a potentially serious nerve condition.
An MRI scan revealed a spondylolisthesis. This is a spinal condition that many people have without symptoms. In my case the impact of the fall had brought on acute and potentially serious nerve symptoms. The medics argued between themselves whether surgery was needed and kept me in hospital for observation. The symptoms reduced after a couple of days and I was cleared to go home. Physiotherapy was prescribed, but was not effective. I was given exercises to strengthen my core and glute medius. I did them routinely, but I wasn't getting better. I now had constant, nagging sciatica, back and neck pain and weird, uncomfortable sensations. I felt constantly like a had on a twisted pair of tights that were 2 sizes too small. It was starting to get me down. Pilates didn't seem to be helping any more. I wondered whether focusing on yoga could help. I got so interested in it that I decided to train as a teacher. (Notice a theme? :-D)
Pregnancy - and the turning point
after a year or so of this I was thrilled to find out I was pregnant, and in terms of my health, it was a good opportunity to discover and explore the stress-relieving benefits of yoga. Then I had another fall. This time on a freshly-mopped floor at work. I was 4 months pregnant and started to bleed. I went to A & E and was told I had probably lost the baby. I chose not to panic, and drew upon my yoga skills to stay calm. The bleeding stopped. An ultrasound revealed the baby's heart was still beating.
As a result of that fall, I developed a new pain, all through the left side of my body, from my foot to my neck. It was hot, urgent and searing - I had never experienced anything like this. My growing belly was limiting my sleeping positions, and lying on my sides exacerbated this new, horrendous nerve pain. Sleeping became a real problem. I couldn't take medications due to my pregnancy, and I was struggling at work. Not only was I like a zombie through sleep deprivation - I couldn't sit for long enough periods to prepare lessons and mark work. I had to take time off work. Doing gentle yoga, breathing and relaxation helped, but I still wasn't sleeping. I made it to the Christmas break, and as my due date was January, I started my maternity leave.
A traumatic birth
I kept in good spirits in the run up to my due date. I had hired a home birthing pool and relaxed in it every single day. A water birth was the plan, but I wasn't too attached to it. Whatever way the baby entered the world was fine with me!
An emergency c-section it was - but we had a healthy baby boy, whom we callled Xavi. I'd had 2 epidurals and a spinal block, so I was pretty 'out of it' for the first few days in hospital. Xavi had been quiet as well - after all - he'd had the same drugs as me. Then he stopped being quiet. He was a colicky baby it became clear that he had reflux which took 18 months to resolve.)
I wanted to be up and out with the other new Mums. I was in a lot of pain after the op and wasn't sleeping at all. I found it so difficult to move, that I stayed in bed for 3 weeks, crawling to the toilet when needed. My husband would bring me sandwiches up the bedroom before going off to work. It sounds awful, but actually, it was a gift. It slowed me down and made me rest. I got to spend time with my newborn. I talked to him. I sang to him. I held him.
Recovery was slow. I kept getting infections and in retrospect, with what I know now, I see how the prolonged lack of sleep I'd endured for the last 5 months pf my pregnancy had affected my immune system and been a huge contributing factor development of chronic pain. I now felt in pain ALL THE TIME. Everything hurt. It hurt to move. I could get some brief relief from yoga, but the effects didn't last long. Unable to drive, home alone all day with a new baby, living at the top of a steep windy hill, far away from friends I felt depressed. I phoned the Samaritans. It's incredible for me to write this now, but at the time I seriously suggested to my husband that it would be better if I went away, to live on a commune or something like that - give him the opportunity to find someone who was able to take care of Xavi, as I clearly was not going to be able to. I wished myself away. I contemplated taking action that would remove me from this world.
The best thing I did was get these feeling out in the open. I had the support of loved ones and I sought counseling. I turned a corner. I realised how well I had been doing despite the situational adversities I was facing. Though I still had pain, my body was starting to heal and I was getting out and about, meeting other new Mums and enjoying motherhood.
Pain management and returning to work
I sought help with with managing my pain. I was referred to physiotherapy and the pain management clinic. I was told I was 'broken', 'disabled', had a 'lesion of the nervous system' and physiotherapy 'could do nothing more for me'. The killer blow was being advised to 'start using a wheelchair'. I was sent home with medication and some pamphlets on chronic pain. I was determined to try another avenue. I knew that movement and a positive mental attitude was important, and I had great support from my husband. I was doing yoga myself and teaching classes, and I returned to work 2 days per week. Despite the pain it was manageable, though the marking and preparation would bring on symptoms.
I cant go on like this
I felt utterly miserable when I went to work. I felt 'out of it' due to medication. I was out of the loop with colleagues and I had given up extra responsibilities I'd had. Being there only 2 days, I didn't have my own classroom, and relationships with kids just weren't the same. Preparation and marking were uncomfortable. I was struggling to cope and had to take some time off. I heard people making snide comments about me due to this. Nobody knew what I'd been going through and it really hurt that people could think I was being weak and pathetic! I wondered how I was ever going to cope going back full time. I realised I couldn't and did not want to do that.
During some time off work, when my body felt like lead and nerves were burning with pain, I discovered Somatics. Everything I read about it made so much sense – describing the awful tightness and restriction I was experiencing, and seeming to promote releasing tension as opposed to strengthening ‘weak’ muscles and building ‘core stability’ as I had been advised.
I tried some Somatics movements from a YouTube clip and the relief they gave me was incredible! I found somebody who did DVDs. There was nobody in the UK - this lady was from the States. I wanted to buy a copy of each of her DVDs and get them shipped to the UK, so I wrote to her. She e-mailed me back straight away. She was actually in Leeds, running a workshop - 20 minutes or so away from my home in Yorkshire! Though the workshop was full, I got an appointment with this lady, Martha Peterson, and had my very first Clinical Somatic Education session.
It was weird and different to anything I have ever experienced! I lay down on a therapy bed, and she did various things with a light touch, but I had to do things all the way through the session as well. It was long - around 90 minutes, and when I got up I felt dazed and a little confused - but had no pain! I felt light, comfortable and free! I had not felt like this in literally YEARS! This feeling lasted for days. It gave me hope that there WAS something more I could do to help myself.
Taking a leap
I plucked up the courage to tell my husband that I didn't think I could go back to teaching full time, and that I was interested in finding out more about Somatics. To my surprise he urged me to go for it! One bold decision suddenly led to another, and then another - and in a matter of weeks, I had signed up to do Martha's 3 year Clinical Somatic Education training course, we had decided to move to Loughborough (to be nearer to family), put our house on the market and handed in our notices at work! And now here we are!
There's so more I could tell you about my recovery, and I will do. I think I have learned important lessons that could really help others. But I'll leave that for my forthcoming blog.
In the meantime I urge you, whatever is going on in your life that has brought you to my site - to believe in your own power to change, take control of your life and steer yourself in a better direction.