What Happens Next?

By September of 2017 I felt more like myself again…feeling no more pain, able to finally walk, run, sit, do whatever I wanted without having to think about how long I could stand it for. Back to normal, so it would seem. The thing was, I was still taking a nerve blocker to help manage the pain. I started to wonder if now was the time to talk to my Doctor about weaning myself off of this drug; I remembered when I started taking it I was told I would have to slowly wean myself off of it, it would not be an overnight change. I wasn’t told much more about it, just that this was something that would help me get back to my life when I was in such intense pain. In that moment, if someone tells you this will work, you don’t hesitate to take it. Anything to make the constant pain disappear.

I started to cut back my dose in October, lowering the amount each month a little at a time. To be completely honest, I had a lot of anxiety around this; I didn’t realize I had become so dependent on this medication to get through my daily life. I’m not normally one to feel anxious or unsure about things so this was a surprising feeling for me. The first few days of my first adjustment were really tough days for me. Every twinge I felt had me afraid that this pain was coming back. Wondering if maybe I hadn’t healed as much as I thought I had….and I did feel some residual pain for that first week. Looking back I know now this was just because my nerves were starting to fire again and it takes a bit for your body to adjust to any kind of change like that. But the anxiety was a lot for me to manage and I started to wonder if I had made a mistake taking this medication in the first place. I was also a little bit angry that my Doctor hadn’t properly explained what it would be like to come off of the medication.

By December I was medication free, and all of a sudden it felt like I had never been taking it. I started to realize my body still had healing to do….I had muscles I had used very little over the past several months and all of a sudden I was trying to use them on a daily basis. My body would protest in small ways – short shots of pain running down my leg if I over did things, tenderness in my back if I spent too much time on my feet, muscles spasms in my left leg from my knee and all the way down my calf (at really random times like when I was sleeping at night), small reminders that I still had some work to do. Exercise was scary for me because of what it had led to last time so I was hesitant to add it back into my daily life and really took my time getting back into things.

Today, I am now able to do my daily walks again (usually they are about 3-3.5km), I can do lower body workouts without having leg spasms, I can do weights, I can use the elliptical, I can run, kneel, jog, really whatever I need to do. This healing took way longer than I expected it too and perhaps I would have recovered sooner if I had pushed myself a bit more but I really felt I needed to honour how I was feeling inside and not push myself too fast.

The final side-effect of this entire journey is that I lost a lot of ground with my physical health. My muscle mass really decreased and as a result I gained some weight. It’s a little strange when you can’t do anything about it for the better course of a year – really does teach you to let go of control and just let things happen, something that can be really hard for a lot of people. I have been learning to accept my body as it is, be okay with where I am right now, wear clothing that I feel good in, and have patience with myself as I learn all of this. I am by no means perfect but I’m working on loving myself a little more every single day – I don’t see how that can ever be a bad thing.

Lesson #5 – Don’t be afraid to ask questions, no matter what the situation is. Even is the person telling you to do something is highly educated, it doesn’t mean you can’t still question things. You are sometimes the only advocate for your life and the experiences you have – the more you know, the better prepared you can be.

Lesson #6 – Have compassion for other people. You don’t ever know what someone else is going through in their life. Chronic pain can really change how you are and how you behave; this really opened my eyes to the reality that people live like this ever day. There is no pill they can take to take the pain away….it has made me incredibly grateful for the life that I live and the freedom that I experience every single day.

Remember to have patience with yourself, whatever journey you are traveling in that moment. Everything will come together as it is supposed to, just have patience and trust in yourself. Everyone is worthy of self-love, and that is an important message to remember when you have people pushing you down every day. Remember who you are and always assume positive intent.

Until next time.

Jo xxox.

The Journey Back to Movement

Part II

Having just realized how much pain I was really in and that I did need some help, I now had to figure out what my next steps should be. I didn’t know the first thing about how to help heal my sciatica so what did I do? I went to Dr Google of course. Doing a google search of any kind of illness or health issue can send you down a very deep rabbit hole if you aren’t careful; often what comes up first is the “worst case scenario” surely intended to scare the crap out of you. That’s how I felt when I first started looking at the information. Reading about people who have been suffering this pain for YEARS really put a fear in me….and then I pulled myself back and told myself that I shouldn’t assume worst case and that I first had to figure out the root cause of my pain.

I first started by going to my chiropractor and telling him what I had been experiencing. He recommended I start coming by about 3x a week for a couple of weeks so we could see how things went. For the first few weeks, I felt like I was getting better with each visit and thought “well, this will be over in no time”. Not so fast. After about 3 weeks the pain started to return. After one last visit I realized that this was no longer helping and I was now falling deeper into the pain spiral. I quickly realized this was happening because my muscles were so tight that they were pinching my nerve off and realized I would have to do something more drastic. So I started acupuncture treatment. Most people cringe the minute they hear the word “needle” but it has been a treatment that has helped more times than I can count and I recommend it to many people as an alternative that really isn’t considered often enough.

I happened to have a friend that is an acupuncturist so I called her up and explained what was happening and we scheduled an appointment. After my first treatment she said my muscles were extremely tight and it was going to take some time to progress through this. I started going once a week hoping that if I was consistent with the treatment it would help me get back on my feet again. The second thing I did was make an appointment to see my doctor and explain what was happening. She confirmed that I did have sciatica and was able to prescribe a nerve blocker to help me get back on my feet. With both the prescription and the acupuncture I was hoping that I would soon be on the mend. I need to digress a bit here to explain a few background pieces – at this point I could not drive myself anywhere. I could not sit up for any length of time, I could only stand for about a minute before the pain became so intense that my legs would give out, the only relief was when I was lying on a hard surface on my back. So I spent the majority of February laying in bed and my husband would drive me to all my appointments that I needed to get to. While my husband was driving, I would lay my seat all the way down so I wouldn’t be in pain. When we would arrive, I had to think about how far away I was parked from the door and how long it would take me before I could lay down again. Every movement took so much thought and planning it was exhausting. I could no longer pick the kids up at school, go to the grocery store, make supper, clean the house, do the laundry, walk the dog, I was completely dependant on someone else to get everything done. Even putting on my shoes was a lot of work and I often had to lay down partway through in order to relieve the stress on my back. If you have never experienced debilitating pain like this, I hope you never do – I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone.

The good news? The acupuncture started to work. Before long I was able to drive short distances as long as I had my seat tilted back a bit so I wasn’t sitting straight up. I know that the nerve blocker was certainly helping as well, the combination for me seemed to help me get to a point where I could participate in my own life again. When you have been relegated to laying in bed all day because you can’t do anything else, this is a huge accomplishment. I still had to plan things out very carefully – I would drive to the grocery store up the road and then lay back in my seat for five minutes until the pain dissipated. I would then go inside and grab the few things I needed as fast as I could (walking fast was impossible at this point) and then checkout as quickly as I could. By the time I was back at my car I would need to lay down again for 5-10 minutes until the pain disappeared again. By the end of March, I was able to stand on my feet for a couple of hours at a time, though sitting was still difficult for me. This felt like a huge accomplishment.

As the months progressed, things just continued to get better. By the beginning of May I was feeling very little pain but I was still a long way from the end of the journey. I went to an acupuncture appointment one Friday and all of a sudden I was feeling intense pain again the next day. Somehow, the acupuncture had stopped helping and had started hurting. So I stopped going to acupuncture and decided my body was just telling me to take a break and give my body time to heal without any other intervention. It took a few weeks to get back to the point where I wasn’t feeling the pain anymore but time and patience got me there. I was still on medication at this point so I’m sure that was a big part of why I was feeling so little pain but I wasn’t ready to lose my crutch just yet, and I don’t think my body was ready for it either.

One thing I did realize, I really enjoy moving. It doesn’t matter what that movement looks like, I just like having the freedom to move when I want and where I want. When this is taken away from you, all of a sudden you realize how much you appreciate it. Getting back to movement on a regular basis was such a huge milestone for me – celebrating these milestones became very important to me. It meant I was moving forward and getting better. It was something I could measure my progress against. This really helped me keep my mind in a positive place.

Lesson #3: Chronic Pain changes your life. You become a different person; you feel helpless, you feel like you are bothering the people that need to help you do your daily tasks. Having experienced chronic pain has given me a completely different appreciation for how much this can change someones life. Often they will not say how bad the pain is but if you really pay attention, you will see it in their eyes. I have more compassion for people that live with this, who can’t find a “quick fix” like I did with acupuncture and medication.

Lesson #4: Patience is required. I have always considered myself to be a patient person, and then I had kids….haha. And then I had to journey through chronic pain and recovery. Hoping this would be a small blip in my world, I soon learned this would be a much longer journey. I had to be patient with myself and my body. I had to be patient with my expectations of what I was physically able to do, and be okay with a more limited reality of what I could actually do. I had to be patient with people around me, knowing that they really couldn’t understand how much pain I was in and that was okay. I had to be patient with my mind and give myself permission to have good days and bad days. I’m still working on the patience piece, probably always will, but I believe that we are given certain experiences that we need for our souls to learn new lessons.

The final part in this series will be about the final months of recovery and where I am at today. Thank you for taking some time to read about my life and my lessons. I hope they will help someone who really needs them.

Until next time.

jo. xxox.

Let’s Start at the Beginning

I’ve had an interesting journey over the past year and it has forced me to re-evaluate my life in many ways. Life was moving right along; work was busy, family time was busy, I was still able to fit in personal time for fitness, and I felt very happy with my life. Everything came to a screeching halt in January of 2017 (though, if I’m honest, it started long before that), when I ended up in the emergency room one morning. I wasn’t in an accident of any kind, it wasn’t something that was threatening my life, but it was something that was going to take me on new journey.

I had suffered the entire night with intense pain shooting down my leg and across my back. Now, I have suffered from back pain since I was 18 (due to an unfortunate work accident) so I have always been aware of any pain that I feel in my back and always tried hard to avoid doing anything that would aggravate it. For the past year I had been doing workouts at home, specifically focusing on weight training; my goal was to strengthen my body with the thought that it would help with my back pain. Stronger core, stronger back. I was doing really well – finding time to make sure I kept to a schedule that I created, also making it a priority in my daily life. I felt like I was finally putting myself first in a small way and I had never felt better. Towards the end of the year I started to feel more pain in my lower back – something I attributed to the amount of travel I was doing, and the amount of sitting as a result. Thinking I just needed to do a little self-care, I scheduled an acupuncture appointment at the end of December. That felt like it helped a little so as January progressed I just kept moving forward with my life, my workouts, my everyday tasks. And then…..I ended up in the Emergency Room.

Every movement hurt. Sitting was impossible, as was standing, so I was trying to lay down in different positions but the pain just kept shooting down my leg and across my back. I had never experienced pain like this before. I only got about 3 hours of sleep that night as I tried everything to alleviate the constant shooting pain. By 6am, I had to wake my husband up and ask him to take me to the hospital; my first visit to the emergency room in my entire life, this was serious!  On the way there, I had to lay in the backseat – that was the only way I could stop the intensity I was feeling. Once there, it took about 40 minutes before I could be admitted and that was probably the longest 40 minutes of my life. I had tears pouring down my face and I could not concentrate on anything, just kept praying for the time to pass so I could lay down again. Finally, they found a space for me and I made my way to the bed. Never have I felt such a relief to lie down again, even though the pain was still intense just taking the pressure off my back seemed to give me a smidgen of relief. They gave me a double dose of some strong narcotic (the first I have ever taken in my life) which made me feel sick to my stomach so they gave me some gravol to counteract that. After all of this they told me there was nothing they could do to help me; the only thing that would relieve the pain was time. I was sent on my way with a small bottle of the very strong medication they had given me and told to go home and rest. Not very helpful and really gave me no clue as to what the real problem was.

I had sciatica, to be specific it was a pinched nerve due to a tightening of my piriformis muscle deep inside my glute on the left side of my body. Sciatica can be caused by the pinching of the sciatic nerve due to a compressed disk, or it can be caused by the tightening of the piriformis muscle in your bum. All of this work I had been doing over the past year had actually been leading me to this “health crisis” rather than making me feel better. All of this information I learned as I investigated on my own – I wasn’t able to find the support I needed at the very beginning of this. Ironically, the day I ended up in the emergency room was also the day I was supposed to go to my Doctor so she could help me figure out why I was in so much pain.

Lesson #1 – Ask questions, do research, but don’t leave a problem so long that it becomes a chronic issue. If I had reached out for help sooner, I might have been able to stop this in it’s tracks and reverse some of the damage I was doing to my body. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and self-care.

Lesson #2 – If you are working out, make sure you dedicate as much time to stretching as you do to the actual workout. My issue was because I wasn’t stretching enough to actual loosen my muscles after the intense workouts I was doing. I now do stretching on a daily basis, even if I’m not going to be working out.

This is where I going to leave things for this first post, the beginning of a journey I am still on. Next time I will talk about how I made it through this and some of what I learned along the way.

Thank you for reading

jo. xxox