My back hurts. Every day, all the time. For the last five or so years, I have shifted in my seat every few seconds, taken the elevator to the second floor. I have declined invitations to go hiking or biking, trips I normally would have jumped at the opportunity to participate in. Sitting and standing and lying down are mostly unbearable, which really sucks, because those are pretty much the basic three positions my body can be in.
I live with chronic pain in my lower back, butt, and both my legs (the entire leg). The pain is called “sciatica” which means my nerves (the sciatic nerves) are pinched somewhere in my back. I don’t know why I have it, but I usually tell people I have a bulging disc in my spine since that’s what I expect is actually the truth. It could also be my piriformis muscles constricting the nerves, but that’s less likely because of the locations of my pain. I have to struggle with pain that affects me every day and night, but I don’t know what’s causing it or what’s actually happening inside my body because I don’t have access to healthcare — X-rays, stronger medication, physical therapy.
A few weeks ago (about 3) I moved in to a new place. Simultaneously I’m under a lot of emotional stress right now — and what happens when I’m stressed out? My body reacts. It’s always been this way. I have clear skin, then the week of finals, my face breaks out. The combination of physical (moving) and non-physical (emotional stuff) stresses were enough to do serious damage. I was bedridden for a weekend, stocked up on Advil, and basically limped around campus for two weeks. As we at UMBC all know, our campus is designed for bodies that are 200% functional, as if when designing it, nobody even remembered that people with asthma or without the ability to walk could go to college.
Finally, after babying myself and taking as best care of my body as I know how, I am recovering from the flare-up. I can stand up straight. I took the stairs today. I can sit in a chair for multiple hours at a time. I haven’t taken painkillers in a week. It feels good to be back to ‘normal’, which essentially for me is ‘never comfortable.’ That is honestly the worst part about my pain. Not that I have limited mobility or that sometimes I have to wear slip-on shoes because I can’t bend over to tie my boots.It’s that for years and years, as long as I’ve been in college, I have not been truly comfortable. Those moments are so rare that they’re almost unbelievable; if I find a comfortable position, don’t count on me wanting to move again until it’s absolutely necessary.
It’s amazing how fundamentally distracting and depressing it is to be in pain all the time. Especially when I look like a healthy individual — and don’t really think of myself as sick or impaired, because that’s for other people, not me — so it’s so easy to assume I’m capable of everything a healthy body should be able to do. The invisibility of my pain doesn’t mean I’m not experiencing everything with the added hurt. It means that my friends forget what I can and can’t do, so they park farther away and walk the extra mile. It means that I leave early if I need to get across campus in any decent amount of time. It means I’m the girl carrying around a back pillow for a few weeks each year. It means I have to knock myself out with medication just to sleep through the whole night.
My body isn’t a part of me that I cherish. Instead, we fight. I don’t love my body not for the way it looks, but the way it behaves. It’s out of my control, and I wish someone, once, would look at me and understand what that means. Not to garner pity or to make me feel special, just to get it. So while I wish I could go to that amusement park, or hike that mountain, or bike that trail, I truly can’t. Sorry, I’ll just stay home. Maybe next time.