‘After a yoga session, my spine slipped forward. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t roll over. I was a vegetable.’: Woman with Spondylolisthesis, chronic illness claims ‘pain is inevitable,’ but ‘suffering is optional’

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“In 2014, during a lovely yoga session, I fractured my pars interarticularis bone located in the lumbar or lower region of my back. I had no idea at the time but this injury would turn my world upside down and become the barometer for almost all the decisions I made throughout the coming years and, potentially, the rest of my life.

You see, when I fractured my pars bone, it caused a ripple effect and compromised the facet joints, vertebrae, and overall spinal stability. Eventually, the initial injury developed into a pretty severe and life altering condition called Spondylolisthesis. In short, this means part of my lower spine is slipping forward. Specifically, one of my vertebra is slipping over the one below it. As your spine is a complex and integral part of all movement and surrounded by important anatomy, like nerves, it’s a tough place for things to be shaking around.

Since the injury, I’ve been in chronic pain. The pain changes and can move around my body but is always present in my lower back. Some of the other symptoms I’ve experienced include spontaneously falling, leg weakness, nerve pain, pain to the touch in my lower back, pain or stiffness in my upper back and shoulders, numbness, and tingling in my feet. At times, the numbness can go all the way up to my hips.

All these symptoms have varied over the years and the intensity can change on any given day. I have no real sense of what I’ll wake up to. Spondylolisthesis is like an ever-changing fingerprint; it’s not only unique to you, but the print itself is constantly changing.

Courtesy of Jenn Pond

I’ve worked very hard with my medical team and tried all conservative treatment methods including physiotherapy, acupuncture, spinal injections, resting, icing, and massage therapy. Unfortunately, there was no improvement and these treatments often caused inflammation.

As my condition worsened, so did my quality of life. Without surgery, things like my ability to work again in any normal sense, have a family, be active (and all the things in between), and move towards a glimpse of what a normal 30-something-year-old’s future should be are no longer an option.

With that said, on June 10, my incredible surgeon performed spinal fusion surgery on the lower region of my spine (L4-S1). The recovery has been both a physical and mental battle, full of challenges I had to overcome. In the initial stages, the level of disability combined with the pain was overwhelming and, at times, unbearable. I remember laying in bed and feeling trapped inside myself. I could not move my body well, I couldn’t roll over or get up, I couldn’t go to the bathroom or reach for water. I was in the cliche ‘vegetable state,’ the term everyone uses to describe the helpless and immobile position no one ever wants to be in.

The only thing I could do in these moments was accept my limitations and allow for my caregivers and family to take over. The recovery process has been full of situations such as this, and I have to continually remind myself to sort of ride the recovery wave as each new day brings on different pain, emotions, and obstacles.

Courtesy of Jenn Pond

At this point, it is still too early to tell if the surgery ‘worked,’ meaning I will not be cured but it will help to increase the quality of my life. I have been told by my medical team I have anywhere between six months to a few years to understand if the surgery will help me.

Every day, I still wake up in constant pain, especially in the lower region of my back. The pain is worse than before and it’s difficult to not be scared and overwhelmed as this may be my reality for the rest of my life. A few weeks ago, I had my first follow-up with my surgeon. After reviewing my x-rays, he said he was pleased with his surgery, in the sense that the hardware was looking good.

With that said, when I asked him, ‘Is it normal my pain levels are still increasing?’ he responded, ‘Nothing has been normal when it comes to your pain. Chronic pain is very complicated. You may have a new back, but you do not have a new hard drive. You have lived with pain for years at such a young age and we knew this would not be a cure but I hope (a word he used very often) through physical therapy, we will be able to increase the quality of your life.’

Courtesy of Jenn Pond

I am currently at a stand still in my recovery as my physiotherapist wants my pain to be managed and my nervous system to relax before he starts adding strengthening exercises. My doctor and I are having trouble finding a pain management medicine regimen that works for me, as of yet we have been unsuccessful.

Yesterday, during an appointment with my wonderful doctor to discuss pain management, she stated for the first time in years of dealing with this issue that ‘we are running out of options.’ Even amidst those 6 letter words no one wants to hear, I remain hopeful I can find some sense of peace and happiness, even if it means living with this level of pain.

Courtesy of Jenn Pond

Over the years, my health issues have been a constant reminder there are things in life that unfortunately we can’t control. And the more I started to accept that notion and stopped trying to fight off these challenges the more time and emotional space I had to deal with them. Considering I live with chronic pain and there are no guarantees with surgery, I know part of my healing is finding a way to live as confidently, effectively, and happily as I can with my condition because this is still my life and that alone means it’s worth trying to find a way to not only live it but to love it.

My mindset has really shifted from me against my condition and me against my pain. Instead, I think of my body, my disabilities, and myself as against the world vs. me as part of my condition, part of my pain, and of course a part of the world. And being part of the world is acknowledging s*** happens, and it happens to everyone, including me. My wonderful chronic pain therapist said when confronted with the question ‘why me?’ he would respond, ‘if not you, then who? Your friend, that person down the street, your barista. I mean, really who else would you want it to be?’

Disadvantage, challenges, and misfortune are just part of the human experience and the contract we have with life. But the comforting part is humans can be incredibly resilient, even when faced with the absolute worst of adversity and hardships.

Through this experience, I have had the privilege of connecting with so many individuals who have lived, are living with, and have even overcome incredible health challenges of all kinds. These people have found joy, meaning, and even gratitude in their lives.

During those days when I feel completely alone in my struggles, and there are many, I think of these people and people throughout history that have taken on so much. I realize I most certainly am not alone. In fact, there is someone, somewhere that has it much worse than me.

At this point in my wellness journey, I am really trying to utilize holistic treatment methods which allows me to better accept myself and those things I can’t control. One book, one breath, one meal, one conversation, one connection, one thought, one surgery, one step at a time.

Courtesy of Jenn Pond

When health issues hit, it’s not the time to run, to be ashamed, or turn on yourself. It’s the time to be brave, to give yourself ALL the love you have, to honor your body by giving it exactly what it needs in order to support all the hard work it’s doing for you. To do whatever it takes to keep your mental wellness as positive as possible and to commit to finding a way to make it work, the way those who support you have committed to you.

By opening up about my chronic pain challenges, I have definitely put myself in a position to be judged and I certainly feel vulnerable at times. But I have also put myself In a position to be supported. And those living with an invisible illness, disability, mental health issues or facing other hard challenges, at the end of the day, just need to feel heard and supported.

I want people to know they are not alone in their struggles and as buddha stated, ‘I believe although pain may be inevitable, suffering is optional.'”

Courtesy of Jenn Pond

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jenn Pond of Saskatoon Saskatchewan. Follow her on Instagram here and here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more beautiful stories of those living positively while battling chronic illness:

‘At 12 years old, symptoms began to manifest. I had joint pain in my knees and mouth sores on my gums. Food gave me belly aches. Aside from winter colds, I never was sick.’

‘You’re too young. You’re making this up. It’s all in your head.’ She tortured me through the test, insisting I was fat and overweight, and THAT’S why I was having pain. I was done.’

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