“My 20th birthday feels like a lifetime ago now, but I still remember it so clearly. I was about to start my final year at university. I’d just gotten back from studying abroad in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I was preparing for a night out with all my friends in Plymouth, England. I decided on a 90s theme, and two of my friends and I went dressed as the PowerPuff girls. Life was good. It was fun and largely carefree, and I was excited for what was to come. At the time, I was loosely planning on going back to America to work once I had graduated. Little did I know, I was only a matter of weeks away from my life taking a different direction I could have ever anticipated.
I woke up on the morning of August 19, 2011, not knowing my life would change by the time the day ended. I remember so much about that day. It was really hot and sunny. My friend and I went to the cinema and I was due to be working that evening as a waitress. One thing that recently struck me is I don’t remember is how I felt that day. Obviously, I had no idea of what was to come and the implications it would have on my life, but I have no recollection of particularly feeling one way or the other before one simple step would change everything.
As I was walking home on that hot August day, my leg broke out of nowhere. I didn’t fall, or trip, or land in a way that would cause a break. With one step, my shin fractured and nothing was ever the same again. It was very painful and made an awful sound I can still hear to this day, and I couldn’t walk any further. My mom had to pick me up down the street from my house and take me to the hospital.
We waited for hours to be seen by someone. They took my jeans off to look at my leg. As soon as they were off, my leg swelled up so badly they couldn’t get them back on! I sat in a wheelchair in the waiting room with the world’s smallest blanket thrown over my lap.
Your average 20-year-old doesn’t just break their leg walking down the street, which means I had a week-long hospital stay and a lot of tests – one of which showed one of the bones in my leg had already been broken for a week by the time my shin gave way. Beyond realizing the bones in my leg were not in the shape they should have been, they never got to the bottom of why it broke, just like they would never come to understand what prevented my leg from ever healing.
Over the next 6 and a half years, my leg never healed, and I never took another step without pain. That is 2,313 days living in pain with every single step I took. I had many, many surgeries to try and fix my leg and none of them worked. I had metal plates that broke and failed bone grafts. I had an external fixator put on my leg and that didn’t work. I tried for so long to fix something that wasn’t fixable.
At some point during all of this going on, and the daily struggles with pain, I lost myself along the way. I’m not sure when it happened, but I do remember when I noticed. I was on a night out with some friends. It was ‘cheesy’ music night, they were dancing and I was sat down looking after the drinks. I was laughing and joking with my friends when they came over for a reprieve from dancing. I suddenly realized I was there but didn’t really feel present. It was almost as if I was behind a glass wall watching everyone else. I could see and hear and feel everything, but it felt muted. I had never been depressed before, but I knew that was what was happening to me.
My leg made my last year at university very different from what I had expected. I still got my degree and had fun but when I graduated, I realized I couldn’t really do what I had originally planned on doing. I got a ‘temporary’ job in a contact center and have ended up making a career out of it, including several promotions and a move across the country. It was never what I planned but I love it.
When I moved 280 miles away from my family and everyone I knew, I still had the external fixator on my leg. At the time, the treatment appeared to be working and the bone grafts were holding. If I had known then what I know now — that I wasn’t at the end of my leg problems and they were truly still at the beginning — I’d like to think I would have still taken the chance and moved here. But I don’t know if I would have. Ignorance truly is bliss.
In the summer of 2017, I had surgery on my mom’s birthday, something she still likes to remind me every now and again. When I woke up, I could immediately tell it hadn’t worked. At that moment, something in my brain just clicked. I couldn’t do it anymore and I knew what I had to do. I had to have my leg amputated.
On my way to my checkup a couple of weeks later, I spoke to my mom in the car and said to her that I was going to mention amputation to the surgeon. She wasn’t overly sure about it at first, and I totally get it sounds extreme. But once she saw the specialist with me, she was onboard. I knew the best way for me to live my life the I wanted to was to, quite literally, cut my losses and try to move on.
My surgeon, who will always be one of my personal heroes for listening to me and letting me advocate for myself, agreed. On December 18, 2017, I had my leg amputated below my knee, and for the second time, my life changed immediately.
I was right. The surgery did change my life for the better. I can run now. And walk home from work and do my own food shopping and all these tiny little things I took for granted every day before I couldn’t do them anymore. Things are better. Unfortunately, life isn’t as easy as that. Some days are really hard. I’m exhausted pretty much all the time. While I’m in significantly less pain these days, I’m never going to be completely comfortable. It’s a small price to pay to get rid of the pain I felt before, but there is something so insidious about an itchy foot you know logically isn’t there.
The depression feels very clear cut for me. There was a distinct before and after, and then there’s today when I genuinely can say I feel okay. My anxiety, however, is a completely different story. It’s only manifested itself properly in the last couple of years but when I look back at my life, I can see it woven throughout my childhood, teenage years, and entire adulthood. I’ve always known I’m not as confident as I like to come across, but the extent of my false bravado surprised even me.
My mental recovery from everything is still very much ongoing. I struggle daily with my anxiety and there are times when it absolutely feels like an uphill battle. I use humor as a cover and still, on some kind of instinct, sometimes deflect questions about how I’m feeling. I try and stop myself from doing that as much as I can. I still can find it really difficult to be completely honest, and this is largely down to two things. The first is I never want anyone to think I regret my decision to have my leg amputated. I don’t regret it, and I never have for one second, but there is always this nagging fear in the back of my head if I express any kind of difficulty with the aspects of my life dominated by my leg, this is what people will assume. People have asked me if I regret it before when I’ve said I’m having a hard day with it. The second reason, as silly as it might sound, is I worry that I’ll sound like I’m being dramatic or attention-seeking.
Very early on this journey, I started taking on everyone else’s feelings about my leg. Every time I told someone new I was having my leg amputated by choice, I had to deal with their reaction. Some were not great. It felt much easier for me to try and make everyone laugh and feel at ease about it all than to think for a second it made anyone feel sad. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change any of that – and I like the fact people feel comfortable enough to joke with me about it. I wouldn’t ever want that to stop. However, I realized by trying to protect everyone else and ensure they felt okay about it all, I wasn’t fully processing my own feelings.
My mental health and the way it makes me live my life is as much of a part of me as my prosthetic is, and I’m doing my best to open about it. The moment my leg broke all those years ago, my life started to be defined by it. It all changed in that one second and in everything I did, my leg was always there causing me issues. Even now, I struggle to remember at times I am more than what has happened to me.
Yes, I’m an amputee. I’ve got anxiety and PTSD and so many other things going on but they do not define me. I’m also a friend. A daughter. A colleague. Someone who drinks way too much Diet Coke, never turns down a cup of tea, and feels like she’s making life up as she goes along. I love podcasts, true crime documentaries, and reality TV. I am not defined by the fact part of me is missing. It’s a big thing in my life but it’s not the only thing. And realizing that has helped me start to move on. As my life starts to settle into normality, or as normal as it will ever get, I’m able to appreciate it all so much more.
If I could go back and talk to 20-year-old me sitting in that wheelchair in A&E, unsure of what to come, I’d tell her everything was going to be okay. I’d say life was about to get really hard for quite a long time but she would come out of it on the other side a different but better person.
One thing that has helped me over the years is to look for the joy wherever I can. Even on the bad days, I can find something. It can be the smallest thing – like a joke on twitter that made me laugh – but it helps. I think that happiness can be found almost anywhere, you might just have to seek it out.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Victoria Snell from Manchester, UK. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Twitter. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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