I think 28 is going to be a good year for me. Maybe even great.
It’s been a rousing success so far: I bought my first house, adopted a dog, started a great new job- only one thing missing: finding a way to get rid of my chronic pain.
Chronic pain has not always been part of my story. I was born wild and free- emphasis on the wild.
I had to sleep in a “big kid bed” before the age of two, following frequent (and successful) escape attempts from my crib. As a toddler, I felt napping was for babies and preferred to dance in my living room to my dad’s classic rock records, or sneak outside to climb onto the shed roof in the back yard. At three, on my first day of swim lessons I shocked the instructor by taking a running leap into the pool yelling “Cowabunga!” before the lesson had even begun (oh, and before I knew how to swim- whoops!).
It was not long before my parents helped me channel my energy into sports. I competed in my first mountain bike race at the age of 10. I was fearless. At one particular post-race interview for the local paper the reporter asked me how I felt racing was different than casual riding. Without a flicker of hesitation I reported: “it hurts more.” This was the only suffering I knew- the type you inflict on yourself as a competitive athlete.
Unfortunately, I learned a new kind of suffering well before I was ready.
In high school, I had shifted my focus from mountain bike racing to soccer. As an incredible klutz by nature and after an enormous growth spurt (side note: I am a giant), I was not surprisingly, a highly injury prone athlete. After four knee surgeries, a handful of torn muscles, and severely bruised pride, I begrudgingly gave up my spot on my college soccer team and ended my competitive sports career.
Letting go of soccer was pain like I had never felt before. No amount of self-inflicted gut-wrenching athletic events could have prepared me for the way I felt. I had lost my passion, my identity. My spirit had broken alongside my body, and even though I had stopped playing soccer my physical pain did not subside.
In an ironic, but maybe obvious plot twist, my injuries brought me to a new passion and I applied for physical therapy school.
When mentioning this choice to a family member who also worked in healthcare (and also has a chronic health condition) she warned that this career might be too rigorous for me. Of course, in my early twenties, this advice was essentially in one ear and out the other. I used to climb mountains on two-wheels- I think I could handle lifting up someone’s leg to stretch it!
In some ways, I was right. I learned I was strong enough to endure (almost) anything.
Physical Therapy school is so tough! Mentally and physically. But so was I. Despite this, I can admit that as an adult, working full time as a physical therapist, I am still in pain everyday.
Some days dealing with chronic pain really gets to me. My tailbone, low back and neck ache as I try to sit still and write this.
Being in your 20’s you don’t expect that heating pads, orthopedic cushions and Lidocaine patches to become key members of your squad.
My journey with chronic pain is far from over but I have been fortunate enough to find ways to manage my pain and maintain the lifestyle I want to live (most days). In some ways I even view chronic pain as a blessing as it makes me a much more empathetic person and I believe a better physical therapist.
Chronic pain is part of my life still, but it does not define me. Do not let it define you or the life you want to lead.
Join me in finding ways to be the driver of the party bus that should be your life, sticking chronic pain in the back seat for a change.
Stay strong! We can do this.