I have two herniated discs. I always tell people this as though this is common language and it makes as much sense as me saying I have two televisions in my home. What it means is that the disc is pushing up against my spine. So from time to time my back hurts like a pain I’ve never known before. A pain that makes me want to cry. For periods it hurts to sit, to lie, to stand, to change positions.
What brings me to tears almost every time I have significant flare up which thankfully is only about once a year is the reminder that the privilege of my ability is so flicking fragile. Generally I walk quickly everywhere, I’m not really one of those life is journey people, I like arriving at my destination and to do so I need to make it happen, as my mother frequently told me growing up, “Fort Street, is not a catwalk, no one is watching you, walk up.” When my back hurts my speed slows down to less than a third of my regular pace. It means getting ready earlier, more time to bathe, more time to cook, more time to walk, more time to answer my door. Our bodies are on loan people.
What infuriates me is all the questions and advice, and I realise how guilty I am of it when I hear of other people’s pains.
- 1st: What did you do?/What happened to you?
- Problem: It’s pretty much always your fault.
- How about? You look like you’re in pain, how are you?
- 2nd: Advice- mostly from people who have never gone through what I’m going through)- drugs, physio, exercise, stretches.
- Problem: Most of you have never been through what I’m going through
- How about? Is there anything I can do to support you?
- I might actually ask you if you have any suggestions
Accepting help: That said, despite the pain, despite the discomfort, one of the my challenges is accepting from support from people I’m not close to. My family will tell you, when I’m sick they’re happy they’re in another country. I’m a whiner and a moaner who likes to detail her ailments to all listening ears. When I’m sick people aren’t online as much as they usually are. What I’ve learned though is that if you aren’t part of my close circle I prefer not to make that part of my life public. I don’t mind you knowing I’m in pain, I don’t mind discussing what it’s like but what I don’t want is the sympathy, the touch*, the care if it’s not something I typically (am comfortable) get(ting) from you.
In speaking with my fellow herniators I’ve heard a lot of surprise that I could have this problem:
- I’m young but more importantly
- I’m slim
Many people have been told if they lost “the weight” their back would not hurt. I will not go as far to say that doctors are lying but let me tell you that it’s highly, neigh impossible that my weight is related to my back pain. So in this society where we’re already made to feel uncomfortable, shameful and even hateful of our weight when we’re not a size 2 and/or balance that with what it means to be sexy (for womyn) in our (black and other poc) communities the complications are… so intertwined and frustrating.
- It’s not my fault (regardless of my size, choice of activity)
- It’s something I have to live with for my life
- (2) does not mean I have to hurt forever
- I can do things to make me feel better- exercises (not cardio) and stretches
- I can do things that make me feel worse e.g. wining+back pain=more back pain
- I can choose who and what type of support to accept from whom (and not feel badly about declining offers)
*When I tell you my back hurts, please rethink touching it, I know it’s “instinctive” but really it makes you feel a lot better than it makes me feel. So ask first nuh. Besides it being my body, it may actually hurt.