I write this, not sitting in the kitchen sink (as per teen classic I Capture The Castle) but standing, at the kitchen counter. My laptop, held together with gaffer tape, is balanced on a stack of cook books.
This ramshackle sight is my cheapo approximation of an ergonomic ‘standing’ desk – because I currently can’t sit up to write for long without my lower spine feeling ready to crumble, like a rotten, poisonous meringue.
(My vibe for the majority of Feb/Mar 2015…)
It all started about six years ago. Having never suffered from back pain in my life, things suddenly felt very wrong- as if a vulture had alighted on my bum, and started ripping its beak through all the flesh and tendons in my lower back.
Pinned to my bed, irrationally but genuinely terrified that this was the start of some sort of sudden onset permanent paralysis, I tried over and over again to raise myself to sitting. But I would instead just tremble violently, in stabbing pain, until I realised that I simply couldn’t do it. I had to roll off the bed and crawl, literally, to the bathroom, where I managed to raise myself up and crouch over the toilet – unsure how I would ever get off again. ‘This is,’ I thought to myself, ‘a BIT of a low.’
But the pain vanished after a few days, and I put it down to my having picked up a heavy box, or danced a bit too hard. Yet, every six months or so, the whole thing would happen again. I tried going to my GP but was fobbed off, on more than one occasion, with such total gems as:
‘Have you tried taking paracetemol?’
‘Well, I think you’ll find that 9 out of 10 people get back pain.’
I can only blame myself – when faced with one dismissive individual, I should have stood my ground. Instead I just tried to live with it, as the episodes of pain became more intense, and more frequent. The odd thing was that in between each I felt no pain at all, and was exercising like crazy – probably, I now know, doing a whole load of stuff to make life worse.
Crunch time came, however, when – in the midst of a particularly acute episode which just wouldn’t go away – I went over to ask my boss for a quiet word. All I wanted to do was to explain the situation, and to let her know I might need a few days off. Instead I imploded into a snotty, hysterical blob of high-pitched, cocodamol-addled sobbing – and was promptly (and very kindly) dispatched in a taxi home. It was time to see a specialist.
My magnificently titled ‘Consultant In Pain,’ wasted no time in informing me that I not only had a scoliosis in my spine, but had gone into such bad spasm that my lower back muscles were twitching like partially electrocuted mice. I was given muscle relaxants (fun), anti-inflammatories and analgesics, and told I would need some scans.
Sexy bum-flashing outfit.
2015 wasn’t my worst Valentine’s Day ever – that would be the year I got dumped on the 13th. But this year’s solo outing to the MRI scanner comes a close second. I kept my eyes clamped shut as I slid into the bright, white, tube, knowing I would freak out big time if I saw myself sealed in like some sort of Sci Fi Kinder Surprise incubus. They’d popped massive headphones over my ears so I would hear less of the machine’s insane banging – and I gritted my teeth through the seventies soft rock. When Roy Orbison’s Only The Lonely came on, I had to laugh – except I was forbidden to move for 45 minutes, so I couldn’t.
When the results came in it became apparent that the scoliosis in my upper back was actually the least of my worries – it was the slipped, torn, inflamed and (my favourite) ‘dehydrated’ discs in my lower back that were causing all the pain. I needed to rest and recover, and was signed off work for a month.
Denied access to work, exercise and any semblance of fun, I was pretty much beside myself. But, maybe, this was how I would find ‘the real me?’ Perhaps I would learn Buddhist meditation? Write a novel lying flat on my front in a notebook? At least read a bloody book?
I didn’t do any of these things, obviously. I watched one Wes Anderson film, bored, over the course of about five different viewing chunks. I spent a lot of time texting people to complain that I was going to get fat. I made my first ever soup and ate pots of humous as if they were a yoghurts. I became re-addicted to Eastenders. I went on grisly cold walks down the canal, too lazy to fish my gloves out my bag even as my hands turned blue. I felt nauseous. I bought daffodils to cheer myself up but forgot, and left them behind some curtains where they died.
INORDINATELY PROUD OF MY FIRST SOUP
Yet over time, especially once I was able to start physio, I really DID come to realise how lucky I was, and how much I have to be cheerful about. Like in What Katy Did, but hopefully less fucking annoying.
I have friends who come round in dark times with home made granola, gin, and cans of diet Ting. Colleagues who know that a card full of ridiculous spine-related puns is much better for me than sympathy. And now the beginnings of a nicely defined core area, thanks to the undignified exercise I have to do every day with a mop balanced on my back. One thing is certain, I can’t be bothered with criticising my body for the way it looks ever again – I only care about what it can do.
Another physio classic…
I started work a few days ago and, although I’m delighted to be there and writing again, it hasn’t been without a bit of pain. But Goonies never say die, and neither do Dawsons – although we reserve the right to bitch about it like mad.