This article is for anyone who believes chronic pain from surgeries and diseases define them and the amount of love they deserve.
On March 11th, 2019 I had my second (and final) neck fusion surgery. I have spinal stenosis and this means my spinal cord doesn’t have enough room. With every move I make I risk pinching a nerve and sending electric shocks through my body. For six months I had debilitating migraines. I couldn’t see, hear, or even understand what people were saying to me half the time. I was afraid people would think I was drunk or something. My words were always slurred by the end of the school day. Driving was the scariest part. I never knew when it was going to happen: the blinding pain which took my vision to the point of almost fainting. I remember one day I came home crying and saying to my mom, “I wish something bad would happen to me just so this pain will stop.”
Finally in January 2019 after endless CT scans, X-rays, neck braces, and ER visits my neurologist figured out the issue. After my first surgery in 2013 he warned us in the future I will probably need additional surgery to finish the entire fusion of my neck. He said this because since I was only 12 at the time the majority of my bones were not developed enough to be safely fused. Another issue at the time, due to my Klippel-Feil Syndrome, is my left side of my skull is naturally fused to my neck already.
With all this overwhelming information from doctors in blinding white lab coats, I decided there was no other option. I knew this surgery was my one shot to be my old self again. I wanted to enjoy life- not dread it the moment I took my covers off. I knew I had to give this my all.
Although I was anxious to get back to the things I loved after the surgery, my body made it clear it was not happening so soon. I had to find ways to keep myself busy as the new steel settled into my bones. I decided to go back to my roots and get back into a routine I loved. This routine consisted of: wake up, drink green tea (to flush out all the medicine), read, and meditate.
This worked lovely in the beginning since I had to keep movement to a minimum, but I am not one who likes waiting too long. I decided about two weeks after this consistent routine that I was going to add another step. I was going to see what this whole yoga thing was about. Could it really help someone like me? How could I even begin to do a yoga pose with this type of pain- especially with me being such a weak little noodle? I had all these what-ifs, but I made a promise to myself on March 11th. I was going to get better no matter what.
One day while at my boyfriend’s house waiting for him to get off work I came across a video talking about “radical self-love.” A simple, yet hidden concept in society. My definition of radical self-love: it’s the type of self-love which requires no boundaries, rules, or expectations. You learn to love and accept the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.
After my second neck surgery, my body was going through some major changes-obviously. Mostly physical changes but also emotional as well. With half my head poorly shaved, bruises all over my skull from the halo which held my head still for fifteen plus hours, a new scar with plenty of staples, welts, weight gain… the list goes on. I was handed the challenge to find the beauty in myself once again, even if I didn’t believe it showed on the outside.
Radical self-love gave me permission to ignore the ignorant jokes I got from people such as, “you look like a cancer car crash patient.” Radical self-love gave me permission to be content with who I saw in the mirror despite the bandages and welts which now covered me. It gave me permission to not be afraid to continue to grow even after this minor-set back. It gave me no opportunity to fail because all that was there was absolute love.
So with this new-found superpower I decided to be my own physical therapist. Remembering some of the tips I got from a former physical therapist, I retrained my muscles through (extremely) slow stretches. I looked up yoga sequences and accommodated them for my surgery shocked muscles. Slowly but surely I was able to do the poses and stretches I never thought I could do- even before the surgery.
I challenged myself to do yoga every day. Now, I wake up and go straight to stretching. Some days it may be for forty-five minutes but most days it’s fifteen. The amount of time spent isn’t as merely as important as knowing: we all deserve time to honor our bodies. Yoga gives you that time. Practicing radical self-love always reminds you: you are worthy.
I don’t know how or who I would be today if I didn’t make the promise to practice loving every part of me after my surgery. They say a fusion surgery doesn’t completely heal until one year after. With yoga and radical self-love, I couldn’t be tamed even two months after. I walked alone only two days after my surgery, went to prom in May, and even drove to the public pool to swim in June. I had spent half a year waiting for my life back and now it was time to live.
If you want to learn more about invisible chronic illnesses/diseases check out my video!