I’m Starting Over...Because I Have To
So I know it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve updated my blog, but I’m going to spare you all of the “I’ve been a bad blogger, but don’t worry, I’m getting back to it” nonsense, because that’s not what I want to talk about today. I need to be honest with myself, and with all of you. I haven’t been in a good place lately, physically, mentally, or emotionally. I feel like my health is steadily going downhill, and everything-including my family-is suffering as a result. It’s time to make a change, not only for myself, but for my husband and my children. Allow me to explain (and I sincerely apologize in advance if this post is all over the place).
This picture was taken on January 6, 2016, moments before I was wheeled to the OR for what would be my first back surgery. Gianna was not quite five months old, and despite the excruciating pain I had been experiencing for years at that point, I was the happiest I had been in a long time regarding my physical health. I weighed in at 173lbs, a weight I hadn’t seen since I was in college. I was getting as much exercise as I possibly could, considering my back pain, I was exclusively breastfeeding, and even though we had three children ages five and under, I really wasn’t feeling too overwhelmed. I was happy, and hopeful that this surgery would solve all of the issues I was having. I feel like you can even see the hope in my eyes; I’m holding my beautiful, precious baby girl, I’m excited about what I believe will be a pain free future, and I felt a surge of pride when the anesthesiologist praised me for my “excellent health.” Unfortunately, that hope didn’t last long. As soon as I woke up in recovery, my neurosurgeon informed me that my back was far worse than what he initially saw on the MRI, and he knew without a doubt that I would need spinal fusion next. I can clearly remember my heart sinking at his words...I wanted so, so badly for this to be IT. I was tired of living in pain. I was already having some pretty intense post-surgical pain, and the thought of going under the knife again made me want to cry. But, I told myself if this is what I needed to do to get better, I’d suck it up and deal.
Well, that recovery was going to take longer than planned. Here I am, seven months later, thirty two weeks pregnant with Carmine. Most of you know this pregnancy came completely out of left field, and we most definitely were NOT trying to get pregnant mere weeks after my first back surgery. However, such is life, right? Man plans and God laughs. I’ll be honest and say that this was by far my most painful pregnancy. Everything hurt, all day every day. My back (obviously). My hips. My legs. My abdomen. Even my butt hurt. I was going to physical therapy twice a week, and it helped, but there was only so much that could be done. I was still taking one Percocet a day to essentially get out of bed (the pain was THAT bad), but of course, the guilt was overwhelming. My midwife assured me that one pill per day wouldn’t harm my baby, or give him withdrawals after birth, but nonetheless I was terrified. I tried to put on a happy face when I took “belly updates,” but I feel like you can see the strain on my face in this photo. My eyes aren’t quite as bright and hopeful, and my hand placed strategically on my back was literally holding me up. The day to day toils of the third trimester, combined with degenerative disc disease and chasing around three rambunctious little ones were truly wearing on me. However, I didn’t have much of a choice except to trudge on, and I knew that in a matter of weeks, I would be holding a precious new life in my arms. Things HAD to get better.
My most recent surgery, which was April 12, 2017. I had just finished nursing Carmine, and I was wheeled back to the OR literally seconds after I snapped this picture. This surgery was an anterior interbody spinal fusion, in which Dr. King (my neurosurgeon) cut through my abdomen to fuse my spine, my L5/S1. It was a very intense surgery, and it came with a few risks. Dr. King, though, felt confident that with my relatively young age and otherwise good health, that I would be a good candidate for this particular surgery. I said a few prayers before I went in, and I remember reciting the Hail Mary as the nurse put the oxygen mask over my face and I drifted off. When I woke up hours later, I knew the results were different this time around. My favorite nurse was standing next to me with a broad smile on her face, and she told me that Dr. King successfully performed the surgery, and he was confident that this would be a significant improvement for me. Tears actually came into my eyes while she was talking to me and patting my hand, and all I could think was, “thank God. Thank God. I’m going to get my life back, after all this time.” I was wheeled upstairs to my recovery room, and the following day I was taken to the first floor for an MRI. The results confirmed what the nurse had said yesterday; the surgery was a success, and Dr. King would tell me later it was one of the best spinal fusions he had ever done. I feel like the above photo is very telling...my smile is more forced. My eyes don’t have that optimism, that brightness I saw in the first photo. I’m worn down and beaten down at this point, and I truly felt like I was reaching the end of my threshold.
I would love to say that the surgery turned my life around, I’m back to my old self again, I’m as healthy as ever, etc, but that wouldn’t be true. I don’t know what (if anything) went wrong, I don’t know what’s happening with my body, but I feel as though I haven’t made much of a recovery at all. It’s been almost ten months since my surgery, and I feel like I’ve aged a decade. My body feels like it’s falling apart. I look in the mirror and I want to cry. I don’t let anyone take full-length pictures of me anymore, because I’m ashamed of the way I look. I’ve gained weight and then some. My face is breaking out. I have a lot of sensitivity in one of my teeth, and I suspect a cavity. My blood pressure is higher than normal. Worst of all, I still have a significant amount of back pain. Now, do I feel BETTER since my surgery? Yes, thank God. Before Dr. King did my spinal fusion, the pain was so terrible that I literally couldn’t walk. I would take a few steps and crumble to the ground. The pain was excruciating. Will was terrified to leave me alone with the children during the day while he was at work. So yes, I am very grateful to Dr. King for helping me get over the pain that was truly ruining my life. Thanks to him, I can walk without worrying that I’ll fall over or drop the baby. I can actually get out of bed in the morning without assistance. Unfortunately, though, that’s kind of where it ends. Much to my chagrin, I’m still taking a significant amount of painkillers (I’ve been going to a pain management clinic for about a year now). The pain is so bad some days that I am unable to get out of bed. The guilt is overwhelming, because I either have to beg Will to stay at home and help me, which of course isn’t something he should be doing, or I have to impose on a friend to come over and help me with my children. It’s an awful situation, a situation that has thrown me into a deep depression and made my anxiety shoot through the roof. I’m ashamed to admit it. I don’t like myself anymore. I feel like I’m not a wife to my husband, and I’m not a mother to my children. I feel like I’m in this endless cycle of pain, heavy duty painkillers, and ER trips and doctors visits that aren’t going anywhere.
I looked at myself in the mirror yesterday morning...and I just started to cry. I can’t live like this anymore. I WON’T live like this anymore. I hate the way I look. I hate the way I feel. I hate how I’m failing my family, even though Will has never been anything but 100% caring, loving, and supportive. I don’t deserve him, and I feel so badly that our children got stuck with me as a mother. I’m not looking for everyone to jump in the comments section and assure me that this isn’t true, or I’m being too hard on myself. It IS true. I don’t like the person I’ve become. And I have no one to blame for it but myself. This is why I’ve decided I have to make a change, once and for all.
What I’ve been doing (staying in bed trying to keep the pain at bay, taking as many painkillers as I’m allotted each day, never really exerting myself in the slightest) hasn’t been working. At all. So as much as it terrifies me, it ends today. Much as I’d like to, I can’t completely stop taking my painkillers yet, simply because I know the my back pain is still too intense for me to deal with it on my own. I am, however, going to attempt to wean myself down to a lower dose, then eventually get off the painkillers once and for all. When I’m having a horrible back spasm or a very intense pain day, I am no longer allowing myself to stay in bed and pray that it will give me a reprieve. I now have to force myself up, and do what I can to go about my day.
I’ve decided to take a more holistic approach to my health as well. I need to lose weight, plain and simple. I do believe that some of my back pain will be alleviated if I drop the 40+ pounds that I’ve gained (seriously. It’s bad). I’m starting a new workout regime at home, and I’m going to force myself to stick with it. I’ve actually been fairly good about eating healthy, with only a few slip ups, so fortunately I don’t have to make too many changes to my diet. I’m pretty bad about keeping myself hydrated, though, so I need to get back in the habit of carrying around a water bottle with me. I found a physical therapist in town, a highly recommended practice, and I have my first appointment next Friday. I do believe that strengthening my core will go a long way towards my recovery, and I’m kind of kicking myself for not jumping on the PT train sooner. I also have an appointment to see an OBGYN. I’ve been having lots of other issues in terms of my reproductive health, and I’ve noticed that my back pain is practically unbearable the week before, and the first few days of my period. I’ve been irritable and snappy lately, I’ve been having random hot flashes, getting headaches, a whole slew of issues that I believe I need to address with an OBGYN. So, I’m getting the ball rolling in that court as well.
My mom suggested massage therapy, and perhaps getting a deep tissue massage once a month. I think it’s an excellent idea, and my body will thank me for that (especially with a new exercise routine). I’m also planning on looking into acupuncture. I’m not really sure how I feel about it, to be honest, but I have a few friends who swear by it, and I really feel like I can’t rule anything out at this point. I’m too far gone to be picky, and I’ll truly do whatever it takes. So, stay tuned.
What do I need from my family and friends? Prayers. Love. Support. Most importantly, accountability. Please send me messages, texts, phone calls, whatever, and ask how everything is going. Ask if I’m sticking to my workouts, and physical therapy appointments. I’m certainly not trying to put the burden on anyone else, but I really do find that if I have people on my case, I don’t slack off. All I ask is that you refrain from trying to sell me anything (supplements, work out plans, etc), and that you don’t insist on me going to a chiropractor. I’ve had back luck with them in the past, and my neurosurgeon is against the idea. If you can find it in your heart, though, to pray for me, or to offer up words of encouragement, I would greatly appreciate it. Friends, I’m simply not in a good place right now, and it’s very hard for me to look in the mirror and see what my life has become lately. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I need and want to get better.
I want my life back.