MY CHRONIC PAIN JOURNEY
On June 25, 2009 at the age of 19, my life changed with a bang. Literally. What was a normal drive to school turned into a nightmare that would change my life forever. I will never forget the moment my life flashed before my eyes.
I was rear ended with such force that my car jolted forward, missing the semi-truck I was yielding for by just a few inches.
That image, that bang, that highway on-ramp all replayed over and over in my head like a movie stuck on replay in the weeks, months and years that followed.
Just hours after the accident, I was given what would be the start of heartbreaking news. “Based on the way your body looks just a few hours after the accident, I can tell you for sure that this is not going to be a quick recovery” said my doctor. His words hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember sitting in his office crying profusely, gasping for air. “This can’t be happening” I repeated over and over again, still in complete shock. “You’ll get through this. I know you will. You are a tough one” said my doctor.
In that moment, you could have said anything to me, it didn’t matter.
In that moment, nothing made sense to me. My body was stiff as a rock, I could barely walk and the pain was attacking my body with a vengeance.
That night was a struggle. The first of many sleepless nights. Cue pain and nightmares. Drugged up on pain killers, I managed to get some sleep. I remember waking up the next morning feeling like I had been run over by a train. I was in so much pain. I couldn’t move. I simply sat in bed crying for my Mom. I became dependent on my parents for everything. Without them, I never would have been able to overcome this nightmare.
I spent the first week in bed, in complete shock and high on pain killers. But eventually I had to get back to school, to work, to volunteering and to life really. I quickly realized that I couldn’t do anything on my own. I was dependent on everyone.
My independence was taken from me. My vulnerability stripped naked for everyone to see. I didn’t want sympathy, I didn’t want help, I just wanted my life back.
The weeks and years to follow were full of hell. Neck pain so bad it felt like I had bricks on the back of my head. I was incapable of moving my neck in any direction. There were times I thought my neck would permanently be bent forwards. Back pain so bad that it would completely seize and spasm without notice. I would drop to my knees and lay on the ground crying, unable to move until the spasms stopped. Extreme jaw pain to the point I couldn’t chew. Cue my obsession with smoothies. Ringing ears to the point I thought I was going insane. I struggled to see, often seeing doubles. My vision was so bad it made my headaches even worse. Numbness in my arms that caused things to simply fall out of my hands. I couldn’t walk more than a few minutes. I couldn’t stand or sit for long periods of time. Imagine me constantly alternating between sitting and standing at the back of the lecture hall. Taking transit to school was too painful and I had too much anxiety to even consider driving. My parents had to take turns driving me to school, 1.5 hours each way. I couldn’t lift anything. I couldn’t do anything on my own. I felt like a helpless kid, dependent on everyone around me.
My mental health, which was never good to begin with, began to spiral downwards rapidly.
I asked for help and the medical system failed me, denying me the help I needed.
These feelings will pass they said. Talk about a slap in the face. Though never officially diagnosed, I know I suffered from PTSD. Horrible nightmares of the accident and my life flashing before my eyes. Anxiety attacks anytime a car came near my car causing me to pull over on the side of the road. I was unable to drive the route where the accident occurred for years. I started having panic and anxiety attacks daily. I will never forget the stares from all the students in the university computer lab when I cried profusely because the printer wouldn’t work. Crippled with chronic excruciating pain, depression came back into my life with a vengeance. Everything around me was a dark cloud. It felt like nothing would ever get better. Suicidal thoughts late at night became the norm. I felt like I was living in hell. I was full of anger and unable to comprehend how the person who caused all this pain was simply enjoying his life. All the while I was being victimized again while having to prove that I was injured during a long and painful personal injury lawsuit. My health was starting to spiral downwards and I know that this traumatic time was the tipping point of all my health problems but that’s a whole other story!
I was suffering daily but I couldn’t show it.
I couldn’t tell others how much pain I was in. People would simply tell me to stop complaining. They’d tell me that it couldn’t really be that bad. They told me to stop being such a weakling. I knew that things could be worse but that didn’t change the fact that I was indeed dealing with severe chronic pain. I will never forget the criticism and negativity I heard from those around me. I was judged for not giving up my seat on the sky train. I was judged for using the automatic button to open the door at the mall. I was judged for not being able to walk up the insane number of stairs at my university. I was judged for asking for help to my car with my groceries. It didn’t matter what I did, I was judged. I developed a “suck it up and deal with it” mentality. Instead of letting my weakness show, I decided to show strength. Except that didn’t serve me well. I stopped focussing on getting better and started focussing on just accepting reality.
I wasn’t thriving, I was surviving.
Eventually, I hit an ultimate and complete rock bottom. I knew I could not live like this anymore. I managed to get the support I needed to physically rehab my injuries by working with an amazing active injury rehab specialist and a team of therapists. Shortly after starting my recovery journey, I was in another car accident. I decided that there was no way I was going to let this impact my recovery. With time, patience and dedication, I slowly but surely gained my strength and independence back. It was like a whole new world! I was stronger than I had ever been yet I still had this lingering pain. It wasn’t until I released my anger towards the individuals who caused the car accidents that I was able to fully heal. Letting go of your negative emotions and letting go of the past is an important part of healing. You can work for years on the physical recovery but you will never fully heal until you address the mental and emotional aspect of your pain.
My advice to society is to not judge people based on their appearance.
If a young person says to you that they have chronic back pain, listen to them. Support those with chronic pain and help them gain their independence back. My advice to those that are currently suffering with physical pain is to be patient. Give your body the time and space that it needs to heal. Know that it is okay to ask for help and that there are amazing therapists out there who can help you with your recovery. Most importantly, I want you to take time to address and release your emotions. Release the pain, the anger, the helplessness, the negative thoughts. Release it all. Only then will you be able to heal from your chronic pain.
I feel blessed to have been given this new opportunity at life. A life where I can go backpacking around the world, hiking steep hills, jumping out of planes, zip lining through jungles and all the other adrenaline seeking adventures I love so much. A life where I can do everything on my own without having to rely on others. A life where I don’t have to think twice about every action I take. A life where I cannot just survive but THRIVE! A life without physical pain!