Health as a Theme

Written by Sacha Gudmundsson

Each year on my birthday, I pick a theme to focus on for the year. This past year, I chose good health as my theme. Good health means work. It means paying attention to my body, ensuring that I’m staying active and taking breaks when I need them.

Good health means work.

When I was 15, I started to feel pain in my left leg and noticed a difference in my hip alignment. A couple weeks passed by, the pain grew, and my hips became significantly misaligned. After a trip to the doctors, a couple of MRI’s and visits with a specialist at SickKids in Toronto, the doctors determined that I had a couple of herniated and slipped discs, in addition to a degenerative disc disease throughout my spine — top to bottom. At 16, my doctor told me my spine was the equivalent to that of a 60-year-old.

I finally had an answer to where the pain was coming from, but that didn’t make it go away. From 15 to 18 I tried to avoid the pain as best I could. I sat a lot and attended physiotherapy three times a week to no avail. I was able to stand or walk for less than five minutes before the pain would kick in. Little things caused me anxiety as I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain the facade. How would I go grocery shopping with my mom? Stand in line.. anywhere? No way, Jose.

I would stand there, focusing on anything I could to keep standing. I could feel myself heating up and getting nauseous. I felt like I was able to keep it together, but thinking back, people must have known that something was up.

In conversations with friends, I would describe the pain as feeling like my leg was broken, but worse than that, my leg was broken and I had to walk on it. I was prescribed anti-inflammatories, and the dosage just kept going up and up until I was switched to codeine tylenol 3’s. I tried to use them a couple times, but there was no change, so I gave up on drugs all together.

I didn’t cry too often about it, but I remember coming home one day after school and breaking down. I walked home from the bus (about a 2 minute walk), no one was home so I dropped to the floor and lied there crying. I couldn’t help but think how maybe, just maybe the pain would go away if I didn’t have my leg. I knew it was silly and irrational. The doctors had told me the pain was from a herniated disc putting pressure on the spinal fluid leading to my sciatic nerve.

I believed living without the pain was a hopeless dream, but moving away to attend university became a magical solution to my pain. Three weeks into living away from home and my pain was the best it had been in years and it kept getting better. The summers however were different. Living in the country led to a pain-peak and I came to the conclusion that walking was my medicine.

I believed living without the pain was a hopeless dream

To me, good health means a number of things, but most significantly good health means avoiding sciatica pain. Every so often I have a bad spell and it scares me. I’ve come to the conclusion that walking at minimum an hour a day is my answer. When a spell happens and I start to feel the pain again, I can’t help but feel terrified. I know that this pain is likely very much a part of my future.

For now, what I can do is focus on good health. For me, that means that I keep moving. I walk around an hour each day, to and from work or go on what I think of as “choose your own adventure” walks. I’m working to strengthen my core with the help of yoga. I’ve also focused on eating better by changing my diet. This has led to some helpful and unexpected weight loss which was encouraged by my physiotherapist. The less weight I carry around, the less pressure on my spine.

Our health is so important to our lives. It shapes our experiences, how we see the world and how we experience happiness. Striving for and maintaining good health is something I’m committed to because I know how important focusing on health earlier in life is, but also because I’m terrified of what’s to come.

Health is the Chairs and Tables theme for 2015. We pick a theme for at least four seasons and s-l-o-w-l-y release a report on it. For a full list of writers, the editorial team, and more on the subject and themes for previous years, hit open sesame.