I never thought that I would ever say ‘Thank You’ for the pain. Surely, this is the stuff of Sadomasochists or said after completing some great endurance challenge. You are left broken and hobbling but it is all worth it for the sense of achievement, the triumph. I speak from experience, in 2006 before the onset of my pain I completed an Olympic distance triathlon through London in an August heat wave. I have also run several half marathons training through painful blisters, wind, rain and injury. I was thankful to finish these gruelling challenges but as for the pain, not so much. Even when the reward was my son, after 9 months of pregnancy and three days of natural childbirth, of course I was incredibly grateful for my little miracle and I give thanks everyday for his health and mine, but the pain NEVER.
So, how had I found myself here… Sat in my car sandwiched between traffic, on a Sunday night, at Elephant and Castle roundabout, I was crying with gratitude for ‘the pain’. I have cried in traffic jams before, but this was different, I was not late or unhappy. I was so grateful, filled with appreciation, overwhelmed, it was spilling out of me.
My weekend started like no other in the past 3 years. I awoke to my alarm clock at 6:45am, showered and grabbed my pre-prepared lunch from the fridge. I was off in my car alone by 7:20am destination set in my Sat Nav for Kennington Park Road. I was on my way to a weekend yoga teacher-training course. Our days started with a two-hour yoga class exploring the movement, breathing and our bodies.
On the first day, I smashed my engagement ring on the shower screen whilst getting ready and arrived late due to traffic on the A13 into London. I joined the group after they had already begun, I felt out of sorts and out of my depth. The teachers voice was soft and reassuring, her movements were effortless, strong and balanced and by the end of the morning session, I had found my groove. I had never done a 2 hour asana practice before and was relieved to reach Savasana, laying in the stillness on my mat my mind was full of the morning’s stress, it was still there within me. I spoke kindly to the thoughts, acknowledged them and set them aside for another time. Right now I am in corpse pose, nothing to do, nothing to fix. Gently tears rolled out from the corners of my closed eyes as if produced by someone else. I let go.
I arrived home late that night and missed my son’s bedtime. A mixture of sadness and relief washed over me as I pulled onto the driveway, then guilt found me. I would do the same tomorrow, leave before he woke and return after he was asleep. A vortex of internal bleating, no beginning or end can be seen when the mind turns on itself. It is just a weekend. Life would be back to normal Monday. You are just spoilt, I told myself, unkindly. This is the way that I speak to myself. No wonder my body recoils in pain.
The pain first became a part of my life five years ago, maybe more I lose count. It began as a gentle pressure in my spine at the level of my heart. I was stupid it was my fault, I told myself. I had worked all day and overdone it at the gym, now I had injured myself. As a physiotherapist, I knew that back pain was common, I self treated and sought help from my colleagues and begged spinal manipulations from my husband. He didn’t like pushing on my spine and felt sick when it cracked under his hands, but I would plead with him to help me until one day he stopped. This is not right, you need to go see someone he said. He was right. I sought help and the consultant referred me for an MRI scan. They found nothing wrong with my thoracic spine but my neck looked a bit of a mess. He reported dehydration of the fibrous intervertebral discs that protect the vertebrae from impact. He told me that my cervical spine had signs of general wear and tear, usually seen in someone much older. The nice curvature in my neck had been lost and this meant that my risk of further degeneration was high. Therefore, off I went to start my treatment journey. I had no idea that things were set to get worse, much worse and years later I would still be searching for peace in my body.
The pain, that had never given up nagging and insisting that I take action that I seek relief, this was my reason for being here in this traffic jam. An accumulation of years of constant badgering pain, tension headaches and crepitus (that now spread throughout my upper spine) exhausted my body my mind. In this moment as tears gently flooded from my eyes something changed. The words in my head changed. Softness found me, gratitude.
Thank you for the pain, thank you for this journey. I am listening.