When I could no longer trust that my left leg could support my weight, I realized that I really needed to figure out an alternative to the countless medications that only masked the real issues. In my early 20s, there were days that I was walking with a cane, it was impossible to even walk around the block and I couldn’t sit or stand more than 15 minutes at a time. I remember going out to dinner with my family and having the awkwardly get up and sit down over and over just to get through the meal. I vividly remember how accomplished I felt when I could actually get up a flight of stairs or stand long enough to wash the dishes. I felt like an 80-year-old woman stuck in the body of an early 20-something. After months of limping around, I had an appointment with a well-respected neurologist who recommended a spinal fusion if things didn't start to heal on their own. He did advise that the fusion would stabilize my lower spine, but at the expense of putting more pressure on the already bulging discs throughout the rest of my back as a result of limited spinal mobility. This procedure would greatly increase the chances of frequent spinal surgery throughout my life. I knew that this was not the path I wanted to take if there were other options out there.
I finally asked my pain management doctor for a referral to physical therapy. The sessions always started with electrotherapy (TENS therapy) and massage and usually ended with a couple painful minutes on a stationary bike and several stretches done with resistance bands. After about 6 months with little to no improvement, I told the therapist I was not seeing any results, and we agreed that I would not continue sessions if they were causing me increased pain. When I think back, perhaps I could have tried to push a little harder to rehabilitate while in therapy, but at that point I thought I was trying as hard as I could. Anything that increased my levels of discomfort was too much for me to handle. Instead of powering through, I gave up. At this time, I was fully convinced that I was never going to recover.
Sometime after trying physical therapy, I also tried myofascial release and traction therapy from another therapist. This was way too painful for me to get through because the scar tissue and nerve compression that had developed post-surgery had left my lower back ridiculously sensitive. It already hurt enough to have fabric brushing against my scar, and this massage therapy applied pressure directly on a highly sensitive area. I left every session with tears in my eyes and had to sit in my car for long periods of time before I felt strong enough to drive home. Needless to say, after my allotment of insurance covered visits ended, I stopped this therapy as well.
For a while, I continued pain management and continued to take the prescribed dosage of narcotics daily. I don’t remember the exact moment when I decided enough was enough, but this realization came sometime in early 2013. It was then that I realized that I needed to start taking my mental and physical health a little more seriously. I couldn’t keep living pill to pill in a fog, missing out on all that was going on in the world outside my apartment. I was so sick of spending hours lying awake at night because it hurt too much to fall asleep. I needed to be stronger than the pain. I started out slowly. I spent several mornings a week walking on the treadmill, holding on to the sides so that I could try to put more weight on my left leg without falling. When I finally felt strong enough, I took my walks outside, pushing myself to walk longer distances, even if it meant taking it slow and favoring my right leg. I did some reading on how to better support my spine and tried a handful of stretches and exercises to build up core strength. I started eating a little healthier, lost some excess weight and tried to be more conscious of my posture. It wasn’t much, but it was a good start.
Over the next two years, my physical and mental health started to improve. I met an incredible man (who is now my amazing husband) whose unwavering belief in me was the very thing I needed to continue pushing towards a pain-free life. His support motivated me to be my best in every aspect of life. I continued walking as much as possible and tried to stay as active as I could without overdoing it. It was sometime around this time that I also decided to stop my pain management treatment and weaned myself off of all of my medications. I was lucky enough to get through this period without an intense withdrawal period. As I lowered my dosages, I started to notice that the pain seemed less intense than it had when I was living pill to pill. I was finally sleeping through the night for the first time in over 10 years! The strength I gained from increased activity and better mental health got me through most of the day, but I still would come home unable to move by the end of the evening. I still frequently had days where I felt like I had been hit by a truck because I had sat in a car too long, pushed myself too hard, or moved the wrong way. It was especially bad when the weather changed suddenly, which happens quite often in Buffalo. I loved the changes I was started to see in myself, but I knew I needed something more to keep this pain away long-term.
Thanks for reading! Read on for Part 3!