I Said To My Body…
I began to recognize that my ongoing pain amounted to far more than just a “bad back.”
“They’re not related,” Susan said, “your symptoms don’t connect to your injury.” I was lying on my stomach during a deep-tissue massage and I wasn’t answering her. “Brit, are you listening to me? Your pain isn’t from your back injury.” I wasn’t answering my massage therapist because without knowing it, Susan had provided the confirmation I needed. And at the moment, I didn’t have the courage to say it. The awareness had been creeping in for a few weeks and now it felt undeniable. My pain amounted to far more than just a “bad back.”
By the time Susan and I were having this one-sided conversation, I had experienced daily pain for almost a year, regularly bad enough to keep me in bed. It qualified as chronic but I was still resisting that label. Even though the pain usually reached well beyond my back, I assumed an old spinal injury was to blame. Susan was an expert in my body and after researching my symptoms, she realized my pain didn’t correlate to my injury. It was more than that. My pain was the physical manifestation of the adverse events of my life and as difficult as it was to admit, that meant those events held significance. Not only did they hold significance for my mind, they had profoundly impacted my body. As Susan casually stripped a tendon in my shoulder and I tried not to cry, she explained the only answer for my pain was trauma.
Just like I was determined to disqualify myself from the stamp of chronic pain, I thought I had managed to distance myself from that other word…trauma. I had lived through bad, even scary, things but I could always point to someone else who experienced worse. Surely that meant my experiences didn’t count. “Don’t complain,” “be strong,” “push through,” were the messages of my upbringing and so that’s what I did. I found ways to distract myself from the crippling fears, developed tricks for coping with the triggers and employed subtle gimmicks to hide the panic regularly pounding through my chest. In the process I had grown to view my body as the enemy. It was something to fight, suppress and command. I thought I had outsmarted my body, but all I had done was become adept at ignoring it.
There were clues to my lack of bodily awareness. I didn’t always know when someone put their hand on my shoulder. I completely missed the symptoms of a kidney infection until it was serious. And I was nine weeks pregnant before I took a pregnancy test. Last year it all changed when a lightning bolt shot across my forehead. I had no intention of addressing it or the three-day headache that followed. We were months into a stressful period when our child with disabilities required minute-by-minute support. There wasn’t time for me to have a health problem. Thankfully my partner insisted I call my doctor and thankfully my doctor wouldn’t accept my nonchalant answers. He persisted with specific questions about my body and for the first time in years, I checked in with myself. My body was in pain, she was crying out and I finally heard her.
It wasn’t until that day on the massage table that I finally understood my trauma symptoms were psychological and physiological. I may have coerced my mind into forgetting, or at least diminishing, my experiences but my body never forgot. All along my body was inviting me to enter into the work of awareness and for all the times I wasn’t ready, she held the trauma for me. I realized accepting the significance of all I had been through also meant acknowledging my body’s ability to survive. That’s why I know my body isn’t the enemy, but my ally. Throughout my life she has protected me in a myriad of ways I’m only beginning to understand. Long before I could, she knew the truth of my trauma and the truth of my strength.
I still lie on that massage table once a week. The tendon stripping still hurts, just like the self awareness does sometimes. I’m seeking to repair my broken relationship with my body and I know it will take time. Many days it feels messy and at best, deeply vulnerable. It has required developing a self compassion I can only describe as courage. The process isn’t linear and I don’t know what next year will bring or if the pain will go away. As I welcome the simple truth that I am worthy of rest, I have hope I will become a more integrated version of myself. My body has brought me this far and now I know, we’re in this together.
and i said to my body.
softly. ‘i want to be
your friend.’ it took a
long breath. and
replied ‘i have been
waiting my whole life
-from Three by Nayyirah Waheed
No End In Sight is a place to read and share stories about chronic illness in our own voices. You can also listen to these types of stories on the No End In Sight Podcast.
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Previously on No End In Sight — Stop Catastrophizing Your Catastrophe