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From Chronic Pain to Arm Balances

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

About 9 years ago I was diagnosed with a bulging disc and severe degeneration of the spine. The MRI showed that there was hardly any space at all between the vertebra at L5-S1 located at my lower back and I was in agony.

Several times my back locked altogether, the pain was so excruciating that my body literally froze and refused to move. Despite the severe pain the specialist advised me that I was not a suitable candidate for fusion surgery. I was devastated as at that point I would have agreed to anything in order to be pain free. Instead, I was referred to a pain specialist who advised steroid injections to numb the pain. These in themselves are surgical procedures. I was sedated and they injected the steroids into my spine. Resulting in one side of my body being completely numb and I was unable to walk, stand or feel anything for at least 24 hours after. I had this done twice but unfortunately it didn’t work. When I went back to the consultant and he suggested a third attempt but I told him that the pain at this stage was everywhere. It was in my neck, my shoulders, my arms, hips, back …. Literally everywhere. So he diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia and gave me a script for antidepressants. Apparently if taken at night they numb the pain signals to the brain, basically they are meant to knock you out so that you sleep but other than that there is no known cure. It’s chronic pain for life.

I could not believe that this would be forever. That this pain would consume me. I couldn’t sleep, I did not want to take antidepressants, I couldn’t sit for too long, I couldn’t stand for too long, I couldn’t pick things up off the floor, I couldn’t even put my own socks on!! My job at the time was in an office and I remember several times sitting at my desk in floods of tears because I was in so much pain. I was 40 years old.

At this point I want to say that I don’t speak for everyone with Fibromyalgia. My belief is that it is a different experience for everybody. I am not an expert nor am I qualified in any medical way whatsoever but as far as I know there is no scientific test for Fibromyalgia. It’s basically a term that doctors use when you are in chronic pain that they can not diagnose. They don’t know what causes it and there is no real treatment or cure for it. Pain killers don’t really work so the only thing they can offer you is antidepressants which basically switch you off so you don’t feel it as much!

Personally, I could not except that I was going to be in pain forever. I tried several other treatments, physio, chiropractor, osteopathy and they did help to bring some temporary relief but I was still in pain. I spent so much time researching, looking for a magic pill, a magic answer, a magic cure.

Not long before all of this happened I had started practicing yoga and as soon as I was able I went back to it. Sometimes it was really hard, sometimes I had to leave early because I was in just too much pain to continue but I didn’t give up, I just kept going back. Something was telling me that it was the right path for me. I listened to my inner voice. I did my teacher training, we converted the studio at home and I left my managerial office job which I had been in for 14 years.

Over my 6 years now of teaching I have completed many subsequent trainings which have all helped me to understand my condition better. I have researched through my studies and my own personal curiosity (which will be forever ongoing) the effects of stress on our minds and our bodies and I have come to the conclusion that my diagnosed “Fibromyalgia” (all over physical pain) was caused by a combination of the initial physical trauma and deep emotional stress. Initially my back injury was caused by a combination of damage from an old accident, degeneration of the spine from years of working a desk job and then running outside of work for exercise on a compressed spine and weak core.

The Fibromyalgia was then switched on by a result of the severity of the initial pain and consequently how I dealt with that mentally. Mentally I saw myself as broken, damaged, a failure. What good would I be now if I could no longer do the most basic of things?

For me, Fibromyalgia was in my head. I know people with Fibromyalgia get very upset if a doctor tells them that but please understand I am not saying the pain wasn’t real. And maybe most doctors don’t explain that statement very well, after all they are not experiencing it so how would they know. Doctors are there to diagnose and perscribe and most of them have no training whatsoever in emotional support. That is not what they signed up for. The pain that I felt most certainly was very real. It was physical pain which was triggered by my feelings, my anxiety and deep-rooted long-term stress. My parasympathetic nervous system had been switched on for far too long and my body was screaming at me for help. All that time I spent looking for a magic cure, an external source of relief, something, anything to fix me. The only source of relief for me was to find inner peace and strength. To learn to switch it off I needed to deal with my anxiety, my relationship to stress, and my self-confidence.

During my 9 year journey I have built both physical and mental strength. I have taken the time to look inward, to reflect, to understand myself better. It has not been easy. I still have days when I feel that I am not enough. We all have days of self doubt, we are human after-all, but with my continuing practice I am learning to put the yet at the end of each sentence that arises. I am not good enough … yet. I am not strong enough … yet.

My physical pain to me now feels more like tension. When I have forgotten, or it is too difficult to put the yet at the end of the sentence my body starts to stiffen. Everyday movement becomes more difficult and painful.

Whereas before, I would maybe go to bed, feel sorry for myself, fill my head with more self doubt, now most of the time I go to my mat. I do my practice, I breathe, sometimes it’s the slow passive stretch of Yin Yoga that I need to create space, to remind my body how to relax and my mind how to let go. Other times it’s a stronger Yang flow of Hatha or I’ll stretch and hang upside in my hammock to distract my mind and remind myself that I can move and I can release it. In practicing I put aside whatever is bothering me and I reconnect with my body. I feel strong, I feel confident, I feel powerful, I feel happier and I feel better.

During lockdown I had even more time to delve deeper into my personal practice and I was drawn to the exploration of arm balances. To be honest I never thought that I would be able to do them. Firstly, I was faced with the fear of the physical pain that I might feel from falling but I always wondered how amazing it would be to have that much control and connection to your own body. I always thought that it was more about physical strength than it was about mental strength. I was wrong. It is so much more about the mental strength, the belief that you can do it, that you do have the strength. It’s about trusting yourself, building confidence and then of course learning the technique.

Not everyone has the desire to stand on their hands and it does not have to be part of your yoga practice at all but for me it’s the ultimate “in your face” to the last 9 years. It’s the taking back of the control that I lost. It’s the proof that I can overcome the pain, that I am physically and mentally stronger than I have ever been. This year I turned 49 and I as far as I am concerned I am only just beginning.

Additional Note: My hope is by telling you about my journey so far is that it gives you the inspiration to keep striving towards your goals, to what is important to you, to have the confidence to think I can do it, I am amazing, I am powerful and I am strong enough to keep driving myself forward.

Sending you much love & positive vibes, Tania x

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