Physical & psychological paralysis & back again

Wow, it’s been over a year since I last posted on here, well a lot has happened since!  As I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone reading this, we are having a pandemic and here in the UK we’re currently on lockdown.  Alongside the usual negative impacts this has had on us all, for me there has been a positive outcome, affording me time to reflect on the past six months.  You see, at the end of last year, around the time corona virus started to rear it’s microscopic ugly head, I paralysed myself getting undressed.

I won’t go into a huge amount of details as you can read the full story here.  However, to continue, I’ll give you an abridged version, I bent down to take my trousers off and ended up having emergency spinal surgery in November last year.  Within 24 hours, I had gone from bad sciatica, three hospital trips and rushed in an ambulance to have my spine operated on as paralysis set in.  I had Cauda Equina Syndrome, my disc herniated so bad it crushed the nerves exiting my lower spinal column.  If not treated within 48 hours it leaves lasting damage, mostly with the patient suffering a lifetime of incontinence and paralysis. 

Frida Kahlo painting 1944 - Broken Column to illustrate back pain
Frida Kahlo, 1944, The Broken Column

I have delivered three children, had a botched c-section and I thought I knew pain.  The pain of your disc as it crushes the nerves from the waist down was pain I never thought physically possible.  It was unbearable and with each minute felt like an hour passed. Although I look back now and see how fast it flew by, it didn’t feel like that at the time. I am incredibly lucky to have fully recovered which often leaves many with their lives destroyed.

Feeling this intense state of my life being turned upside down within 24 hours – being told I might be paralysed for the rest of my life to then all fine again, with just having a bit of surgery to recover from. I was keen to move on and get active as soon as I could.

So just two weeks after surgery, I tried returning to the gym, nothing major, it was a psychological step more than anything. I was there to walk gently on the treadmill.  Just the mindset felt great again. To become so incapacitated, so quickly, with something so innocuous as getting undressed, it was difficult to adjust to the slowed and painful state of my current body.  I was elated to be moving forward again, and that afternoon me and my partner got working on our business planning (I’m also a creative director of a tech start-up now btw). This was with trepidation, given the last time we started such a task was the day I ended up having emergency spinal surgery!

Oh, what followed you couldn’t make up. As Robert Burns says in his novel Of Mice & Men – “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

That very afternoon I had the phone call to tell me my 40 year old brother had died.

He had been ill for some time, having cancer as a child, the treatment that gave him his extra years of life, had a devastating effect on his body in his later years. The chemotherapy ravaged the poor 3 year old child’s developing body. His heart, alongside many other physical problems, developed problems and over the years, he slowly died of organ failure. Although we knew he was ill and were under no illusion he had a huge amount of years left, it still came as a huge blow. He also leaves behind two young daughters who adored him too.

I have gone to hell and back, and let me tell you it was NOT wonderful!

Louise Bourgeois, I HAVE BEEN TO HELL AND BACK. AND LET ME TELL YOU, IT WAS WONDERFUL, embroidered cloth handkerchief

Coming so soon after what was already a traumatic event, I wasn’t sure how I would get through this. I was extremely fortunate to have a supporting partner. Much went by in a blur, I shut down a lot, withdrawing, as I simply did not want to be in touch with my now psychological pain. It hindered my physical recovery as I barely moved and as a consequence, didn’t do any of my physiotherapy. So again, I can now say I am extremely lucky not to have any physical lasting effects from this.

Having barely got over the traumatic events of November 2019, we now enter a global pandemic and are in shutdown. This further enforced, out of my control, means of holding me back has presented itself as a very positive opportunity to now slow my life and reflect and nurture what I need right now. Following those few months, I got into a very unhealthy lifestyle and it has taken the restriction of stopping our ‘normal’ busy day-to-day lives to get me reinvigorated again. Despite being restricted to our home (apart from one exercise outdoors), I am as active as I was well over a year ago now. I have taken up kettlebell training and can you believe after what my back went through I am able to do this!? I’m following my latest hero Tracy Reifkind’s Swing book, such a fantastic workout! My fitness and strength levels are returning and being shut down in our homes has brought on so many positives for me.

Laura Splan, 2004, Doilies, various viruses, computerized machine embroidered lace mounted on velvet

Lucky for me, my life and those around me hasn’t been directed impacted by that little virus. I am eating well, I feel strong, focused and motivated to now live a full a life as possible. A life my bother will never have the chance to live, and a life I almost couldn’t even dream off, had I not been operated on as fast as I was. Again, if you’re interested in more details on the the story relating to my operation then pop by this link to read. I have scars left from my operation, I too am scarred from the death of my brother and although recuperating from them both, they leave their lasting marks. Fortunately, Covid-19 lockdown has given those scars a further chance to heal.

I understand there are many other stories relating to what is coming out of this worldwide tragedy of Corona virus. So many lives are being lost and devastated in many different and tragic ways, but I hoped to share some positive news from where my live is right now. I aim to return to making more art again soon. No doubt, given the catalysts of previous artworks and the topics I cover, I am sure all these experiences will feed into it somehow. For now, I continue on my road to recovery, but soon, the art making will significantly play a part in that process.

Please all take care and stay safe,

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