I let out a yelp as my face contorted itself into a crumpled mess of agony. That was how my day started in bed, not out of it as one would naturally hope for. With clenched teeth on a half-bitten lip, I propped myself up to lean against the bed frame. The cool brass on my sticky skin did not offer me an iota of comfort; the pain in my neck was beyond excruciating. With my head involuntarily tilted to the side, it seemed as if my right ear was leaning in to tell my right shoulder that something was anything but right.
As an aspiring performing artist, my solo dance recital was two months away. It was the first thing that crossed my mind. I had worry written all over my face. Confusion enveloped me as I did not possess the language to make sense of what was actually happening to me in those moments of intolerable discomfort. I did not know that I was under attack by a belligerent bundle of pinched nerves that had strategically unleashed a spasm to seize my unsuspecting neck.
I stared at the lifeless clothes I had placed on a hanger the night before. My physical form did not give the carefully chosen ensemble function that morning and for a while, the mornings that followed it. I did not go to work for two weeks and two months later, neither did I take my place on stage. My day job duties as a teacher were put on hold and the solo performance was shelved while I struggled to make sense of my diagnosis: cervical spondylosis. It was a degenerative condition and how I had effectively managed to accelerate the age-related wear and tear of my spinal discs still perplexes me today.
‘Hi! Yes, I am finally back. I am basically a twenty six year old with a neck of a sixty two year old. I am fine now,’ I reassured my circle of concerned colleagues with a laugh. They politely laughed in return. It was a well-rehearsed shallow response I had somehow learnt to casually utter in jest to mask the depths of my despair. The uncertainty of actively pursuing a dance career in some way seemed unfathomable. It was both disappointing and devastating. The death of a dream weighed heavily on my mind and before I realised it, I slowly slipped into a downward spiral of depression.
My earlier days of learning how to deal with chronic pain were peppered with a number of appointments at the orthopaedic clinic. Some were scheduled out of necessity while some were sought out as acts of sheer desperation. An occasional session of physiotherapy ordered by the doctor offered some reprieve, but it was not enough for me to face life bravely, not until the day I was presented with pearls of wisdom, which I eventually learnt to wear with a smile.
Providence was clearly at play on the day I was sitting down looking forlorn after a follow-up appointment at the orthopaedic clinic. All of a sudden a nurse approached me, looked me in the eye and told me these golden words: ‘You be your own healer.’ She was the very nurse, who was assisting the doctor, who had seen me and felt that she needed to say that to me once I was out of the room.
Those words of hers never left me but they never really showed their power in one explosive burst either. The words simply lingered in my consciousness, and because I heard them often enough, it became a truth for me. Slowly but surely, I learnt not to underestimate the quiet ways of my inner truth for it was transformative beyond measure.
My chronic, arthritic pain is still there and every day, it poses a challenge. I do not readily welcome what feels like a congregation of fire ants in my neck, which then proceed to run amok down the insides of my arm, but I do learn to ride out these episodes with humility and a greater kindness towards myself.
Having a condition does not mean you live in constant fear of your limitations. You simply learn to condition yourself to a new way of being and living. And so, I still learn.
Note: The views expressed above are based solely on the personal experiences of the author. She speaks for herself and scribes to unearth her truths hoping to grow for the better in her own time and space.