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Introducing: Lessons in Catastrophe

I thought I’d introduce a new section to my little internet home here today. It’s called Lessons in Catastrophe. Sounds dramatic, right?

I’m stretching the meaning of catastrophe a little here, folks, in order to encompass a range of life’s difficult experiences. Artistic license. Sometimes catastrophes hit and they really are catastrophes: major health crises, the loss of a loved one, a fire that burns down your home. Sometimes life’s inevitable bumps hit and they can feel like catastrophes: the ending of a friendship, rejection from a dream job, lost luggage.

But isn’t it a beautiful word? Catastrophe. So much more enigmatic and emotive and dramatic than misstep, mishap, failure, disaster.

My life was hit with a catastrophe last May: over the course of several months (and in some way, years), I had really done in my back without even noticing. And then I noticed, because suddenly I was bent double, unable to straighten up, and in so much pain that I couldn’t even sleep at night. All the heavy duty muscle-relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers they offered me weren’t really doing a thing.

I had slipped discs, bulging discs, facet hypertrophy (kinda like arthritis in your vertebrae), an annulus tear, spinal stenosis. Oh wait, did I say I had these things? I have these things.

Just a few months before I’d moved into a beautiful little flat (apartment!) with my boyfriend. I was living in England, financially independent, and looking forward to making plans for the future.

My catastrophe meant I couldn’t work. Without working, I couldn’t afford to pay rent, let alone physiotherapy, massage, osteopathy fees. I didn’t really have a choice: within weeks everything I had thought my life would be was gone, all my plans for my first post-universities years were over and by mid-June I was a plane back to Canada.

At first I thought I would recover by September. This was going to be a small bump in the road. After all, I was young, healthy, and was getting great physical therapies. In July I was finally cleared to start doing physical therapy, but I could barely walk a block or two without causing the kind of agony that kept me awake at night.

It was August before I could start doing just little activities, like sitting for a short dinner, or going for a short walk without the delayed onset of pain keeping me awake all night.

When September came round and I wasn’t better, I figured it was ok: I’d stay in Canada through Canadian Thanksgiving, then I’d be fine.

Thanksgiving came and went, and I was still in a lot of pain. Not a chance I could be working full time. Then one October evening I tucked one of my bedsheets in and as soon as I stood up, I realized I’d done something: my pain levels shot up and I was worse than I had been in months. My osteopath eventually helped me recover from that dip, but it was then November. I continued my slow upswing through to December. In December someone incredibly important to me passed away and the associated emotional distress aggravated my back.

Then January came and went, and here I am, 9 months later. Today I was told to expect a minimum 2 year recovery.

That all seems pretty quick in my little patient history there, doesn’t it? Those short paragraphs don’t explain the hours that turned into days that turned into months that I have spent alone, at home, recovering. They don’t detail how many nights I spent in sleepless agony, tired to the point of exhaustion but unable to sleep even a moment because of the stabbing, searing pain running down my right leg. They don’t illuminate what it’s like to miss the boyfriend you left behind in another country, or to see the lives of all your friends and family moving on as they go on new adventures. They don’t show what it’s like to be told that you can’t make plans, not even for months from now, because your body probably won’t be able to handle returning to any kind of normalcy, or that despite your otherwise healthy, youthful body, this pain may well be with you for the rest of your life. I can’t even begin to explain what this has been like.

I am learning a lot, riding out this catastrophe. Lessons and insights and truths that I may never have come across if my whole life hadn’t been ground to a halt because a couple discs in my spine wouldn’t stay where they were meant to be.

So in ‘Lessons in Catastrophe’ I am going to write about what I have learned through this particular life catastrophe. This is as much for me as it is for anyone else: my sanity these days hangs by a silvery, delicate thread. Perhaps by reminding myself of what I am learning, I can weave in the strands of strength that help me continue on in this life that is so different from what I had dreamed.

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