My good friend Becci is probably one of the strongest people I know, outwardly she’s always been super confident, kick ass and totally up for anything. I love her because she’s brilliantly funny, quick witted and doesn’t live life in the slow lane.
But until recently I didn’t realise the daily struggle she’s experiencing in dealing with the constant pain of an ongoing back injury. Long term pain is something a lot of people live with, but the toll it takes on your body and your mind is a real concern and speaking to her recently I felt her story should be shared. I’m sure she’s not alone!
Becci is the first guest writer for Inside the Oyster, and I hope to incorporate many more experiences, stories and insights from my lovely pool of talented and amazing friends and family.
This is her story…in her own words
An injury can spring out of nowhere and catch you completely unexpectedly, or at least what you think is unexpectedly. Chances are your body has been showing you signs for years that something is wrong and you haven’t been listening. Take me, as far back as 10 years ago I was getting bad backs which would last a few days and force me to rest from exercise. I would rest, get clicked back into place by the chiropractor and then go back to exactly what I was doing before. I remember on one occasion in my first job having to go home just to lie on the floor … not ok. I wish I knew then what I know now, but I do believe everything happens for a reason so there has to be a reason why it turned out this way.
In April 2017 I was referred to a spinal consultant to “rule out anything disky” after seeing little improvement with physiotherapy … in my head it was exactly that, to rule out anything too severe. Never did I expect to walk out of that consultation with any appointment for an MRI after almost leaping off the treatment table when I was prodded in my lower back. That would be the disc then. The MRI confirmed it, a degenerate disc in my lower back that was bulging and pressing on a nerve. A pain in the arse … literally.
A degenerate disc is not something that happens overnight, it wasn’t one event that caused the injury. It was years and years of moving wrong until finally the disc decided enough was enough. Over the course of a few months I had 2 rounds of spinal injections which gave me some relief and allowed me to push harder with physio and rehab exercises, but I drew the line at anything more invasive and declined having a discectomy.
I would love to say I have approached my recovery with a plan and a strong mindset to attack this with everything I have, closer to the truth would be toys being thrown out of the pram. I’d gone from someone who’s alarm goes off at 5am every weekday to get in the gym before work, to someone who’s activity could be likened to that of an OAP.
Progress is relative, although I still have days when I go into complete meltdown and cry that I’m still unable to be as active as I’m used to, if I compare where I am now to not being able to sit down properly or walk any distance at the beginning of the year, I have progressed leaps and bounds. It’s not easy to see progress when you’ve been so used to training in a way that shows progress on paper. This kind of progress is so tiny and slow that week to week you don’t even realise you’ve moved any further forward.
I’m still working through the emotional roller coaster that is injury recovery, so for anyone reading this in the same boat here’s what I’ve learned so far along the way.
- Comparison is the devil.
Whether this is a comparison to your pre-injury body (I did this a lot initially) or to fit bodies on your Instagram feed, don’t do it. Have a clear out on social media and follow pages that make you feel good and motivate you, and start learning to love your body for where it is RIGHT NOW. Whether you are injured or not, we are always a work in progress so we have to learn to enjoy the journey.
- Everyone has an opinion, you don’t have to listen.
I don’t doubt people’s hearts are in the right place when they try to give advice, but they don’t know you or your injury history. You have to listen to your body, listen to the experts you trust, and educate yourself on what could help you.
One thing that has grated on me is fitness professional on social media commenting on injuries. I do not think it’s an opportunity to “diet”, what I do believe is fuelling your body for its current challenge. Injury puts your body under stress, it needs fuel to recover and you have to expect your body composition to change. Staying lean or a certain weight is not a priority, health and recovery is. Equally, I don’t believe training around an injury is always wise. I can’t speak for everyone but I think a logical place to start is making sure you move correctly inside and outside of the gym. Remember the song “your head bone’s connected to your neck bone, your neck bone’s connected to your …” it’s true. Your knee pain might not actually be an issue with your knee and you might want to consider looking at your glutes and your feet.
- It’s ok to not be ok all of the time.
The number of people I’ve wanted to punch in the face for saying “keep positive”. It’s not always easy to stay positive at the best of times, let alone when you have a long term injury. If you’re not ok, that’s ok. Cry it out, get frustrated and plough on anyway.
If you’re anything like me, training is therapy. I train when I’m happy, sad, stressed and every emotion in between. Being active is good for your mind not just your body, and to not have an outlet during tough times really sucks. If your injury allows for an alternative activity, do it.
I hold my hands up at this point and admit accepting alternatives has not been easy for me … going for a swim doesn’t exactly have the same stress relieving properties as a good heavy dead-lift session! Training has been part of my life for so long that it became part of my identity, that realisation is fairly new to me and dealing with it is still a work in progress. I’m not ashamed to say that this, along with some other stuff, has got too much for me and has lead me to therapy (but that’s a whole other blog!).
- Be patient.
I say this with an eye roll as being patient is not one of my strong suits! Being back on your feet is not going to happen overnight, you have to be patient and consistent with your recovery. Rehab exercises aren’t sexy or exciting but needs must if you want to get back to the good stuff. Rushing ahead could result in a set back and you really don’t want an injury to drag on any longer than it has to!
I guess like anything in life, you just have to embrace the journey knowing that you’ll come out of the other side having learned something about yourself.