Warning: Very emotional story to follow.
I thought hard about sharing this. It’s a subject that is very personal to me, and I’m shit scared that other people are reading this. But if it can help others going through any type of pain, then it’s worth it.
Pain is a funny word. Pain is something that generally we all try to avoid. We find ways to ease the pain, to soften it, to pad it with something. We find distractions to take us away from the moment of pain so we don’t have to feel the full impact.
I thought I was pretty good at dealing with pain, being an athlete and all. We learn how to push through. Our coach’s favourite saying is “be comfortable with being uncomfortable”. We run harder, we don’t make excuses, we walk it off when we get hit with a hockey ball.
I thought I had a high pain threshold, until 2014 came and hit me like a freight train.
Losing a close friend is something no one can prepare you for. Most people have experienced grief. It sucks everything out of you. In February 2014, the grief freight train ran me over when my darling friend Caitlin passed away from a two year, incredibly strong and admirable battle with a rare cancer.
I have never seen anyone handle pain like Caitlin did. Never complaining and always sympathising with others even when she was going through the toughest time of all. Going through countless rounds of chemo and radiation, and doing so with the widest, cheekiest smile and soft giggle that she had.
A couple of days before she left us, I was upset because I couldn’t stay over with the team in Hawaii after a tour. I was hobbling around in my moon boot after tearing three ligaments in my ankle and I couldn’t walk or snorkel or enjoy the sights.
The last message I got from her was her saying how much it must suck that I rolled my ankle. That’s the kind of person she was. When she left us, the pain was numbing. Blinding. It made every issue or other pain seem minuscule. I don’t remember the pain I had from my ankle. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t believe how I was upset about not staying over in Hawaii.” It definitely put things into a shocking perspective.
6 weeks later, still numb, raw and fragile, I had to resume ‘normal’ life back with the team. My ankle had healed, so I was able to train fully. But then my right knee started to get sore, probably because I was compensating and putting more weight on that leg because of my left ankle weakness. Using the typical sportsperson ‘just push through’ mentality, that’s exactly what I did. Little did I know that I was about to set myself up for four years of chronic pain.
The famous knee, I like to call it. Because it became the focus of all of my thoughts, worries, fears, frustrations. It was my topic of conversation. Every single day I had some sort of exercise to do for it, a doctor’s visit, a physio appointment, an injection or treatment. It got so much undeserved attention, because I let it. It consumed me.
Although nothing can compare to the pain of grief, my chronic knee pain was an accumulation of daily suffering. I lived with it, side by side, for four years. I would wake up every morning and one of the first thoughts that would go through my mind was, “how sore is it today?” I recorded my daily pain scale in a hefty spreadsheet and scored myself out of ten. On good days, it would be a 5/10.
What did I do for the first two years? I resisted the pain. I fought it. I kept asking, ‘Why me? Why now? Why isn’t it getting better?’ I took pain relief to distract my brain from feeling the full impact. I took my frustrations out on others.
This piece of writing isn’t meant to be all doom and gloom, of course. I love my life and I’m so grateful for the people, places and adventures I’ve been on in my life, and through the journey of pain in the past four years. Since discovering a mindfulness practise in 2015, I was able to see that I didn’t have to suffer, even though the pain would still be there. I let go of my expectations of a perfect, pain free knee. I accepted that I would just have to manage the pain. Being able to sit with the pain, and not let it tear me apart, was one of the best skills that I have ever learned. I began reading more, and two books that I learned from a lot was 'The Pain Antidote' by Mel Pohl, and 'When Things Fall Apart' by Pema Chodron. If you’re going through chronic pain and want to know more about how I broke the cycle, I’d be happy to share!
Why am I sharing my darkest experiences? I think it’s important to address the shit times. We often sweep all the painful stuff under the rug because we don’t want to show others just how much we are hurting. But we are all human. The more ‘realness’ that’s put out there, the more people will see that they are not alone. 2014 was a tough year. But who hasn’t had tough years?
Pain has taught me a lot about myself. It can teach you, too. But what I’ve learned is the pain won’t leave you until it has taught you the lesson you need to learn from it. Open yourself up to learning from the pain, and maybe, just maybe, it will ease (even if it’s just a little).