Spinal tap

Thursday, May 12, 2016


I hate being asked the question, “What have you been up to lately?” It’s like, the worst question you can ask me. It always sends me into a tailspin of panic as I try desperately to come up with an interesting response, something that will conceal the fact that I’m quite boring and have a painfully predictable routine.

But more than that, I hate being asked “what have you been up to lately?” because I’m not very good at small talk. I’m not the type of person who can easily give you a vague overview of my life because pleasantries drive me nuts. I either want to talk about the innermost workings of our psyches or just not talk at all.  

Normal person: “Hey, Courtney! Great weather we’re having, eh?”

Me: “I wonder if you can be reincarnated as a tree.”

And then I make morning conversation at the coffee pot super uncomfortable for everyone.

So when asked what I’ve been up to lately, it’s just easier to give a flippant response like, “Oh, just work and stuff.”

But since I love you guys, I can be honest with you: I’ve been dealing with undiagnosed back pain for the past 6 months and it’s affecting my life to the point that I don’t remember what it’s like to feel good and am prone to randomly bursting into tears because I’m so frustrated. And the anxiety I’m accumulating from not being able to move and expel energy the way I want is spilling over into other areas of my life and I’m almost downright unbearable to live with.

Almost $2,000 later (thank GOODNESS for health insurance), I’m not that much closer to an answer about the pain I’ve been experiencing since November. I’ve seen my chiropractor, physical therapist, and general practitioner numerous times, but still don’t have a definitive diagnosis. I’ve been told a few different things (each of which was told to me with great certainty), but none of the suspected reasons ended up being accurate and at one point I was doing PT exercises that were actually causing more damage than good. 

The most information I have at this point is that I have mild lumbar scoliosis. An x-ray revealed that my lower back is slightly curved, but I kinda feel like I already knew that.

Remember in 8th grade when the school nurse made you take off your shirt and bend over in the locker room so she could look at your back and see if you were eligible to start wearing a socially popular brace? I vaguely recall being told that my back wasn’t perfectly straight, but that it wasn’t a huge cause for concern. But what I do distinctly remember is that the girl in front of me was a gymnast and the nurse just kept marveling at how big and strong her back muscles were. And I remember feeling mortified because they only thing I brought to the table at that age was a healthy crop of bacne.

So I have a hazy memory of my back not being 100% straight (and I’ve survived an additional 20 years with that knowledge and no complications), but now that a radiologist has concluded that I have mild scoliosis, I feel like Gollum.

I’m not well versed in spine-related matters, but it seems odd that my scoliosis would suddenly rear its crooked head and start giving me grief now. I’m not saying that it’s not possible, but it just doesn’t seem to add up with the timeline of all this hamstring/general fatigue nonsense.

The next step would be to get an MRI, but they’re really expensive and I’m honestly scared it’ll reveal that all kinds of stuff is wrong with my body. (“Well, we found all that chewing gum you swallowed as a child … and you have worms.”). Ignorance is bliss, right?

I know that’s the wrong attitude to have, but I just don’t want to go that route quite yet. In addition to spending a few hours a week strengthening my core, I’ve been very diligent about stretching and alternating ice and heat on the area. I’ve slowly been working up to several hours without pain and I’m hoping I’m on the path to recovery. If there’s not significant improvement in the next few weeks, I’m scheduling the MRI.

I also started taking an iron supplement to see if it will help with my chronic running fatigue. My GP did some blood work over the winter and reported that my iron levels were normal, but after I logged into my patient profile a few weeks back, I saw that my numbers are actually on the extremely low side of normal (and I find it odd that he didn’t mention that). I figured supplementing my iron was worth a shot.

I am happy to report that my running energy is slowly returning. I don’t know if the supplements are actually helping or if it’s a placebo effect or if the universe finally is finally throwing me a bone or what, but it’s improving. I can’t hold a fast pace very long, but it’s better than not being able to hold one at all.

I made the decision to downgrade my upcoming half marathon to the 10k. I know it was the right decision, and one I should have made much sooner, but asking the race director to change my registration filled me with a lot of bitterness. I signed up for the Geist Half Marathon in December thinking, “I’ll be healed by then!” But here we are, just 2 weeks from the race, and I’m still snuggling with an ice pack after each run.

I’ve been telling myself it is perfectly okay if I need to walk during the 10k and if my back starts bothering me at all, I should walk, but my ego is having a hard time warming up to that idea. I’ve been forced to have a lot of come-to-Jesus talks with my pride lately.

And it’s definitely not helping that my Time Hop app keeps showing me pictures and status updates from my previous spring half marathons and I’ve seen several old photos of me running with what can only be described as the look of pure happiness and contentment … even during my first few races when it took me over 2 hours to finish.

I just want to get back to high mileage. I just want to get back to that feeling that only comes from a long, enjoyable run. I miss the dopey grin I could feel on my face while I cooled down and stretched after an hour and half run. I miss the satisfaction. And the pride I felt in myself for just moving my legs that long and far.

So ya, that’s where I’m at right now. Part of me is optimistic, and part of me worries I’ll never get back to where I was because of my back. No matter what is causing this season in my life, I sincerely hope and pray its temporary. If the reason is nothing more than to teach me how to take care better care of my body, fine. I gladly accept it and I’ve learned my lesson. I’m just ready to be better.

Postscript: Each health care professional I've seen has said there's no reason why I can't run right now, but to go slow and stop if I feel any discomfort in my back. I'm approved to work out so long as it doesn't cause pain.

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3 comments

  1. Oh, Courtney. I'm so sorry you're going through all of this. I suffer from chronic pain and autoimmune conditions which sideline me for stretches of time, so I understand how frustrating it is to not be normal.

    The hardest thing for me in the last couple years was overwhelming fatigue and the complete inability to run or workout. As a former college athlete, this was devastating. I found out, after repeatedly being told that this wasn't the case but fought for the test anyway, that I was going about my life undiagnosed with Lyme disease. Based on the testing and how my symptoms were slowly amplifying and getting worse, it's estimated I'd had it for at least 5 years, probably closer to 10, before being diagnosed. A year later and finally starting to feel like a normal human, I can work out again. I still get bouts of complete and total fatigue, and my brain does NOT like having to take days off from lifting or running, but I do it anyway.

    Am I as fit as I was 3 years ago? Probably not. Am I healthier? Yes, since I've altered my diet yet again to reduce the inflammation caused by my autoimmune conditions AND the chronic Lyme I now have to push through. The biggest piece of this is that my body is no longer in a constant battle with Lyme; it'll now be flare-ups, which are way more manageable. Some doctors don't believe Lyme sticks around; mine does, and so do I, so I've accepted that I'll have to work around this for the rest of my life.

    All of that to say, hang in there. It's awful when you're going through health-related hell, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Blast some BSB, find something to take your mind off your pain (stitching is better than any therapy I would pay for. ever. i may not post all pics of my stitching on IG, but i'm constantly with a needle and thread in my hand.), and move forward. Always move forward.

    You can do this. Trust.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey girl! Hate to hear you're still struggling. I am too if it's any consolation (Misery does love company, after all). I haven't ran in months and so your comment "I miss the dopey grin I could feel on my face while I cooled down and stretched after an hour and half run." hit me in the heart. It's hard, right? I'll add you to my prayer list. I loved Jacki's advice for cross-stitching. Although..I won't be trying my hand at that, I do think I need to find a hobby to occupy my mind. Sending positive vibes your way today!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey girl! Hate to hear you're still struggling. I am too if it's any consolation (Misery does love company, after all). I haven't ran in months and so your comment "I miss the dopey grin I could feel on my face while I cooled down and stretched after an hour and half run." hit me in the heart. It's hard, right? I'll add you to my prayer list. I loved Jacki's advice for cross-stitching. Although..I won't be trying my hand at that, I do think I need to find a hobby to occupy my mind. Sending positive vibes your way today!

    ReplyDelete

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