I went from a lucrative job as a Futures Trader, to struggling to pay the rent on the Disability Support Pension – all because of pain.
My pain journey began in 1986, at the age of 17, when I began to experience extreme back pain. With physiotherapy and rest, the pain settled down, but flared up again a few years later. This was the beginning of a pain cycle that has continued my whole life.
I have a degenerative disease with no cure, but for a long time I thought it could just be ‘fixed’. I’ve had back surgery six times, the first at the age of 20.
At 27 I had to give up my work as a Futures Trader. I then became a swim coach, as it was something I enjoyed but especially because I could manage rest breaks in my work.
I’ve also had to battle depression, which I believe is due to the pressure chronic pain has placed on my emotions.
There have been periods in my life where I’ve had to spend entire days laying down, and I’ve felt completely socially isolated.
In my darkest moments, I’ve tried to take my own life, attempting suicide three times.
Since then I’ve had a lot of counselling. I also found a good physiotherapist, and a great psychologist.
But the major break came in 2010, when I had a Spinal Cord Stimulator permanently inserted into my back, which reduced my pain level from 8 or 9 out of 10 to 4 or 5 out of 10. (SCS is a device used to exert pulsed electrical signals to the spinal cord to control chronic pain.)
I was also fortunate to undertake the ADAPT program at the Royal North Shore Hospital, which taught me two very important things: acceptance and pacing.
Acceptance was important because my condition is permanent, and along with the pain in my back and referred pain elsewhere, I also have Arachnoiditis, which causes a tingling sensation as well as numbness in my body, and gives me trouble with incontinence and walking.
I still take pain medication, as well as cortisone injections, and antidepressants, but I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.
I have good and bad days. But I can swim and coach. I just make sure I do small things, and rest. If I keep it simple, I’m okay.