Chronic pain · Fibromyalgia

I am strong!

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Photography by Natalie Field

I don’t know when I stopped believing in my body.  When I stopped believing my body could simply ‘do’.  I’ve always been clumsy.  As a child, I rolled my ankles more times than I can remember.  My legs were a permanent road map of every piece of furniture I had bumped into, every fall I had taken on the concrete and every stone I managed to trip on.  But that didn’t stop me doing.

And by doing, I mean doing everything.  I danced; ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary, I did them all.  If I wasn’t spending my week night or entire weekend at the dance studio, you could find me at the netball court, the swimming pool, the tennis court, the drama studio.  The list goes on.  Suffice to say, I didn’t let my body rule my actions.  Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t particularly brilliant at any of these activities.  I loved to dance but I certainly wasn’t going to be the next Anna Pavlova.  I knew this, I knew I was tall and gangly, my limbs often floating around without my say so.  And, unfortunately, for much of the time I was in pain while doing these activities.  Locked jaw here, torn ligament there.  Knee dislocation, everywhere!

But none of this mattered.  None of this stopped me from doing.  Because I loved what I was doing.  My parents supported every extra-curricular activity I signed up for.  They never filled me with false hope about my abilities but, at the same time, they encouraged me to do.  They encouraged me to continue trying, to get better.  They made sure I rested when needed while also ensuing I fought to overcome my injuries.  But most importantly, they made sure I had fun.

So when did I stop doing?  When did I loose faith in my body?  When did I stop having fun?

A few weeks ago, a girlfriend and I went on a 3 day yoga retreat.  A few of my girlfriends started yoga classes with a local teacher last year.  I don’t remember if they asked me to join them at the time.  If they had, I probably would have said no.  I was not long out of the pain clinic and was just getting used to my own routine of regular stretches and walking.  I was beginning to be impressed with my body, keeping track of my progress with my Fitbit.  But I was impressed with what my body could do compared to my old body, the body that had shutdown on me not long before.  I knew that my body was different to everyone else’s and did not need to be reminded of this in a class full of bendy women.

Fast forward to April this year and yoga classes were something I was ready to try.  My girlfriends were attending morning and night classes which were either too earlier or too late for me.  Then a Wednesday class opened up and as this is my day off work, it was perfect. So, I started yoga.  I had tried yoga before and was pretty bad at it.  All I can remember is the heavily pregnant teacher contorting herself into all manner of shapes, the majority of which required her to be upside down.  Every time I attempted a pose, the blood would rush straight to my head and the nausea would kick in.  For an activity that was supposed to be relaxing and stress free, it certainly was not working on me.

This time however, I found myself in a very different yoga class.  It was called a beginners class but all of the other women seemed to know exactly what was going on and exactly how to keep their balance.  Two things I had missed.  Despite this, I loved it.  Was I any good?  Probably not.  I had no flexibility and no balance but something about it kept me coming back.  Whether it was the challenge or the stillness, I don’t know but week after week I came back and ever so gradually, I started to notice that my body was doing things it had previously been unable to.  I also started to notice that my body was holding up quite well with the other ladies.  The ladies who didn’t have my chronic concerns.

Fast forward again and we’re on the yoga retreat.  We’re eating dinner on the second night when we’re told we’ll be participating in a 5 hour silent meditation starting at 5am the next morning.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Five hours of silence.  Five AM.  What in the world had I signed myself up for?  This was insane, this is why we hadn’t been given a schedule because if I had known this was on the cards, there’s no way I would have agreed to come.  Five hours of silent mediation, 5am.  That’s just a little too hippy for me.

After the initial shock and disbelief wore off, I was starting to see this as a challenge.  On top of that, talking is exhausting so, if nothing else, I would surely be saving some energy??  Ten minutes into the event, I found myself following the others up and over a rock face in an attempt to watch the sunrise over the ocean.  This walk was not something I would ever do on my own.  With my dodgy knees, I was likely to fall and need a hand back up.  This was definitely something I was going to need to do in my own time.  So, I pulled myself out of the line and waited for everyone to pass.  Everyone that is except one man.  I waited and waited but he didn’t move.  He’s waiting for me to continue on, I finally realised.  How relieved I was!  As much as I didn’t want to hold anyone else up, the knowledge that someone was not far behind me, ready to step in and help if needed filled me with such a sense of security.

So, continue on I did.  And I made it.  I made it to the beach.  But the time I arrived the vast majority of the group had positioned themselves up high on a cliff face looking out to sea.  Well, there’s no room left there, I thought.  I found myself a position away from the crowd, sat down, crossed my legs and looked out over the ocean.

Suddenly, it hit me.  I had made it.  Not just to the beach that morning.  I had made it.  Eighteen months prior, I was walking up a hill with the other patients in the pain management course.  When we finally made it to the top, we came across a woman dressed in beautiful fitness gear, sitting cross legged on a rock over looking the Brisbane river.  I will never be her.  She looks so fit.  So healthy.  So strong.

Eighteen months later and here I am.  Dressed in beautiful fitness gear, sitting cross legged on a rock over looking the ocean.  I am that woman.  I am fit.  I am healthy.  I am strong.  Yes, it may have taken me longer than everyone else to get here, but here I am.  Yes, my legs may have felt like jelly as I attempted to sit down.  But sit down I did.  No, I may not be able to participate in any of the classes scheduled for today but that doesn’t matter.  The pain I’m experiencing right now doesn’t matter.  Because I did it.  I did the exact same walk as everyone else here.  I am that lady.  I don’t give my body enough credit.  My body is strong.

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