Spinal Thoughts (totally spinal. totally.)

Holy amazeballs! I just realized something the other day that has me grinning like an idiot: I now have the ability to engage my core without first demanding absolute silence to concentrate.

This. Is. Huge.

psoasThe benefits of strengthening my core muscles stretch into every area of my life: work, hobbies, creative pursuits, playing with my small son. For the past 8 months, I have been off work healing my spinal injuries. Believe me, frequent “rests” that had me flat on my back thinking about the long list of things I couldn’t do was the perfect recipe for depression, which can be a devastating distraction from getting better.

I won’t lie – it’s been a long road. And the roller coaster of feeling better, overdoing it, and sliding backwards again is exhausting. But, gradually with daily exercise, medication, chiropractic treatments and pilates, I am improving. The measure of two steps forward and one step backward has changed. It used to be measured in hours, then days for what seemed like forever. Then it was weeks and finally, I had a whole month of “good” days. Now I experience way less pain, I have way better mobility and I am way more optimistic.

This kind of journey takes focus, support from family and friends, a solid health team and sheer determination. At 44 years old, I will not accept limitations without a fight. And I will not accept illness without finding out if there is something I can do about it.

Spinal injuries can be maddening – there are no shortcuts to healing. But, working on mobility and strengthening with Pilates has been a real lifesaver for me. For one thing, it got me out of the house and made me feel like I was part of a community. I started 6 months ago when I would hobble to class and think, “Now, pay attention to the instructions so you can do the exercise at home.” And I made an honest effort. Every time I got out my mat I would try my damnedest to recreate what I learned in class. (Of course, I almost never could because I was trying too hard.)

And then I had an epiphany while hanging laundry the other day. It had been two years since I dared to try that household task, and that saddened me because I actually like hanging laundry on the line – the smell, being outside, doing the environment a favour, blah, blah, blah. I’m weird that way. Anyway, this particular chore involves reaching, bending and twisting – movements I haven’t dared to even consider for a long time. Even trying it could be a really stupid thing to do right before I go back to work. But something marvellous happened.

The Pilates kicked in.

About halfway through the basket of wet clothes, I noticed myself engaging my core and using more efficient movements as I bent and reached. I had also set myself up so there was no twisting. My body is integrating all the work I’ve been doing, and my newly developed body awareness means that I am at far less risk of reinjuring myself. (phew)

My Stupid Back: What I’m doing to smarten it up

MRI

When I started this blog about embracing simplicity, it had a lot to do with leaving behind the trauma of the job I had just quit. I was on a quest to remove any and all unnecessary stress from my life. With an abusive boss and indifferent management removed from the equation, I could go about finding the joy in life that we are all entitled to. Right?

In retrospect, there were a lot of factors that I did not consider. I’ve heard people talk about how we hold emotional tension in certain parts of our bodies, and honestly, I always thought that was hokum. It was easier for me to wrap my skeptical brain around the mechanics of having too many things to do in too little time, the effects of cortisol on the body, and poor posture. The truth is, it was probably a combination of factors – a perfect storm of mechanical issues, bad habits and stress. As a working mom, I was lifting my toddler into and out of his car seat twice a day, cooking and cleaning, gardening, and smiling through my deflated ego as I alternated between sitting at a desk and dashing in a different direction every five minutes for eight to ten hours per day. Every task was completed at top speed. I was also fooling myself into believing that this really was the urban dream life I always pictured.

Looking back, all I can think now is, No wonder…

I have always been a proponent of simple living – growing the food you eat, making beautiful things, remembering at all times what’s really important, and minimizing any and all stress.

I have made strides in the years since that horrid job. I have a new job that I really love with management that appreciates, encourages and respects all staff. I have followed my passion and published a novel, with another one on the way. My man has taken on more of the household chores and my son can climb in and out of the car himself. My free time is spent on the things that lift me up: writing, design, gardening, sewing and playing with my little boy.

So, why the hell did my body collapse on me three months ago?

In a nutshell, all of my efforts were too little too late. More to the point, I was still holding all of that old tension in my joints and muscles and it was causing a mind-blowing chain reaction from head to toe. It didn’t help that my work and hobbies all require an awkward back posture. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but essentially, mild scoliosis, an osteophyte and some bulging discs were aggravated by incorrect posture and a bloody lazy core.

My body decided it had enough of my bullshit and walked off the job.

It’s been a long three months filled with doctor appointments, assessments, exercises and treatments. I don’t leave the house unless it’s for an appointment. I am forced to spend 80% of my waking hours lying down because I am unable to hold myself upright for much longer than two hours at a time. So, yeah, it got my attention.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom and I am optimistic about getting my life back. I have seen progress with chiropractic care, loads of rest and hourly stretching. For the past couple of weeks, I have also been receiving private sessions with the highly accomplished Pilates instructors at The Loft Pilates in Toronto. These sessions have encouraged me to slow down, breathe and take stock of the situation. (I’ve always had a tendency to dive headfirst into activities without giving much thought to form.) I also have a heightened awareness of my body and movements and I’m learning to catch and correct myself before I can do any further damage. When I engage the mind-body connection, it’s remarkable how I can will a specific muscle to calm down and release.

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I’m not out of the woods yet, and those magical moments of clarity and control are still fleeting. But the serious depression and constant sense of foreboding have waned. No longer am I gripped by fear of a future shaped by physical disability. I have managed to find the feelings between the thoughts, and to slow down my whirling brain. With commitment and faith in my body’s ability to heal, I am optimistic. And that is simply wonderful.