Plot Twists and Disc Bulges

My own body is also a body. 

Through my career in Massage Therapy I have spent the last 20 years supporting the healing of human bodies. The skills required to soothe others can make the therapist more sensitive to pain in general, better able to feel, define and locate it. This is very helpful when massaging a tense body. 

My own body, however, is also a body. I will say that again because I barely believe it myself. My own body has limits because it is a body. Because I am human and not immune to injury and illness. Within the massage industry there is hushed talk of our fatigue, our intensely involved and costly out-of-pocket self care routines that include everything from physical therapy to yoga to weight training to chiropractic care and on and on. We don’t want to complain. We are the therapists, after all. Our job is to have a good attitude around pain and discomfort. Our job is to do the work we keep recommending you do at home: take a bath, stretch, drink water. 

Unfortunately pain cannot be reasoned with and my compassion couldn’t stop the metaphorical freight train that was heading my way in 2019. While I was busy healing others I was also suffering. I was suffering a lot. Pains that had snuck up on me- little pains that I dismissed as aches and strains- became very big pain. I stubbornly resisted the reality I was facing: my body couldn’t do my job and I didn’t have a clue what to do. 

Thankfully my body decided for me. After months of migraines and shoulder pain, for which I was already under the care of three doctors including a physical therapist, my C5-C6 disc (in the neck) “blew out”. There wasn’t a recent physical trauma, though plenty of past ones, nonetheless the disc oozed out the side of my neck bones and I was rendered temporarily and agonizingly without the use of my arms. The neurologist leveled with me: you can’t keep doing your job the way you have been doing it because you might lose the use/feeling/function of your hands, permanently. 

Discs typically bulge to one side, causing an extremely painful angle in the spinal column and a lot of swelling along the peripheral nerves that feed the arms and hands. Mine started to with the left side. During the acute phase I couldn’t do much- couldn’t hold a cup of water, couldn’t dress myself, couldn’t lift or extend my arm, couldn’t turn or move my neck, couldn’t brush my teeth or wash my hair. That phase lasted for about a month. Once the swelling from the left side came down however my spine was immediately faced with a new imbalance: I was now shorter on the left side than the right, which resolves itself by (drum roll please) oozing disc out the right side of my neck.  5 months after my left side bulged, the right side followed suit. The process allows the body to regain some stability in the neck, though gravity is the main “doer” of the action and it is irritatingly passive and can’t be rushed. 

I am now 8 months past the beginning of this mess. That is about the halfway mark, according to the neurologist, at least for the acute symptoms. Even then, it will never be the same he warns me. 

I was heartbroken to hear this. I was in denial for a while. I cried a lot first from the nerve pain, then from my psyche. It felt like a loss of identity to be stripped of so many of my daily activities. I had to sit with that for a while before I shared anything publicly about this process. And while I was heartbroken and healing a few other old traumas came out to play. My body decided to replay and revisit every injury I’ve ever had. Every assault, every loss, every fall, every broken bone was suddenly in need of repair, attention and compassion. 

So I slept. I spent a large part of 2019 resting my body and soul, sequestered at home away from the temptation of social pressures and the expectations other’s have of my body in public. I had to learn to ask for what seemed like a ridiculous amount of help- “Can you help me load these groceries into my car?” “can you place that heavy item in my cart for me?” “can you please carry my purse?” “can you please open the car door for me?” And then saying no a lot. “No I cannot wash those dishes for you” “No I cannot hand you that platter of food” “No I cannot drive for an hour to meet you” “No I cannot sit at the computer and type until this swelling recedes”

After learning what I can and cannot do, after spending some time with my body where I was working for it- instead of demanding my body work for me – I came to the decision that I need to be spending more time teaching other massage therapists what I know, so that they can work on the people who need it most. My days of being primarily a one-on-one therapist are over, but my time as a teacher, mentor and educator is just beginning. I chose to believe that the universe is asking me to share what I know now, versus punishing me for past injuries. 

What I know now is that my body is also a body. There is no shame in having limits, setting standards and renegotiating the boundaries of my body. There is power in honoring my own body, first and foremost, each day. There is balance in ‘taking a lot’ when I have ‘given a lot.’

Be Well EveryBody, 

– Domenika

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