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Coping with Chronic Pain in my 20’s

The Beginning

When I was a college basketball player, I struggled with numerous sports injuries. Too many to count, but for the sake of this article I will share. I experienced three stress fractures in my shins, sprained wrists and ankles, and then I developed a herniated disc and bone spurs in my back by the end of my career as well as bursitis that was so painful, I would let tears down my face during practice or games. All these injuries happened in a period of four years. Fast forward six years post ending my short-lived professional basketball career due to these injuries and not only have I herniated another disc two years ago, but to keep it light and love (lol), I am twenty-eight years old and I live with chronic sciatica and hip bursitis pain.

Photo Circa 2013

As an Athlete

At the time, as a collegiate athlete, I never really let it sink in that the injuries that were occurring would have long term effects. For some reason this idea that I would never grow older was something I lived with daily. I took the perspective that everyday could be my last, and if basketball was my path, I would make sure I fought for my professional title. It was ultimately to my detriment because its just not realistic. Health is something that requires conscious awareness to ones body, and I just didn’t have that understanding then.

I remember thinking during a tournament trip in Hawaii in my junior year that I should quit. Out of the blue actually. My intuition was telling me something that could have spared me years of pain, but I didn’t want to listen. Actually, I remember telling myself I could push through and on the way up to my hotel room, a woman in a wheel chair rolled in. She asked my teammate and I if we were basketball players. It’s funny, the timing of her interaction… She went on to say, “I used to play too, now look at me”. It was almost like the universe was shouting at me to listen to myself within this borderline morbid interaction.

2012 Conference Champs

I realized then, that If I wanted to, I could finish up my program at SDSU and quit after that year because I was 21 and looking back, I just remember I was always tired. That’s not normal. 21 is a year where young adults are finally legal to drink for crying out loud, and I, I was tired. It’s something I haven’t actively shared to basically anyone. It was a time in my life where I was fighting against my fate. And for many, many years I held in the pain of having to walk away from basketball because I had put thousands of hours into the sport, chasing my “best” and working my butt off. I wanted so bad for my family to watch me play on ESPN as a professional WNBA player so bad, that I blinded myself from the truth. That basketball was destroying my body.

And it seemed the more injuries I acquired, the more unlike myself I became. I became extremely depressed, started isolating myself, engulfed myself in an eating disorder that could have killed me and lived in a cycles of guilt, shame, pity and low self-worth. I couldn’t understand why others were able to play the sport I loved so effortlessly and some, ungratefully, but I, I had to suffer with every season.

Why I am writing about it now

I didn’t plan to write this article today, it just sort of spilled out of me. Probably because I am starting to search for different jobs and some of the questions the interviewee asks me, really triggers me. Questions like “why do you have so many short stints and gaps in your resume?”

Photo by SG

These questions are triggering because it’s something I haven’t looked at in a while and really seen. Seriously understanding the physical health of my body and how it has played a role in the past five years of my life. I can see it on paper, or my resume at least. I started to see that not only did I face multiple lay offs in a row from jobs I well, only kind of enjoyed, but I also settled in unemployment for about eight or nine months after because my body was in so much pain, I could barely walk. I can’t say that in the interview, because who wants to hire someone who has chronic pain? But, it’s not like I can’t keep a job, I just ran into a series of unfortunate events I like to call Karma, but, I am not here to talk about that, let me stick to the chronic pain.

Friends and Chronic Pain

So, these are things I don’t talk about or like to bring up, to anyone, especially people my age or well, as I said, anyone. It’s hard for people who know me to think of me living the way I was because I was always out working out, going to clubs, bars and having an active social life. I even had old friends tell me to my face how they used to look up to me because I was always working out, but now years later, they don’t anymore…

That was a real low blow for me…

But now, after about two years of living with sciatica and hip bursitis pain, it has become something I never fully accepted until today. I thought for a while, oh yeah, I am getting better. I lost almost thirty pounds, I changed my diet and I seem to be more mobile then ever…until today. I realized I have been taking nerve medication often and the numbness in my feet and legs has not fully gone away and on top of that every other time I work out I literally must stop for three days because I will have a flare up every time.

Photo by ynotboutique

It’s not a glamourous lifestyle, not at all.

The Good and The Bad Days

Today is a bad day. I am in pain even after six ibuprofens. I have to get up and walk every twenty minutes or less because my sciatica is pinching and there is pain down to my shins. I am in tears because I never thought that I would be living this way. Because, I am living this way, wanting so bad to run marathons and to feel the adrenalin and rush of playing sports again, even for rec, but realizing that I may never have the ability to do that, ever again. I am letting it sink in, a week before my birthday.

And I have to face it every time someone asks me, “why?”.

Why don’t you just train at the gym with me?

Why don’t you take dancing classes?

Why don’t you just run a mile everyday to get in shape?

Why don’t you want to go out with me tonight?

I have to face this and I don’t know how. How am I supposed to tell other twenty-somethings that “no, I can’t go with you to … because I am in tons of pain”? How do I tell people I am dating that I sometimes feel so shitty that all I can do is lay down, stretch and ice my legs and back. I’ve somehow become this annoying person that is “too much”. That’s how I feel anyway. And I mean, I have told old friends about this struggle, and it seems after a specific amount of reschedules, they find a way to disappear from my life. So, I had to learn to be okay being alone. Dealing with this on the low. I had to learn to be okay in my own company, focusing on healing and learning to be patient with myself.

The Truth is…

Living with chronic pain feels like holding a big secret in. A shameful secret. Something that I have learned to carry on my back in the bad days and on the good days, I tend to forget that I even have sciatica. That’s always a slap in the face when the bad days come, like today.

photo by ynotboutique

I want to be hopeful that there will be a day when I will finally discover the right healing method for myself and end this lifestyle. I feel it happening gradually, but just slow enough that I can reflect on how it has affected my life over the past few years.

I said no to going out so many times, that I actually lost a lot of friends, or potential friends and even lovers. So much, that now as I slowly begin to feel better, I have very little people to hit up to go out again.

I am in my late twenties and I missed various years in my twenties because I was in pain either recovering from physical health issues, or emotional and spiritual health issues.

To Others Living with Chronic Pain

I didn’t seek to write this post with any real solutions for anyone, but mostly just to let you all who are living with chronic pain know that you are not alone. Or maybe, to just vent about it. Either way, I hope that whether you are on a bad day or a good day, that today you take some time to reflect on the progress you have made and are making.

I think that’s easy to forget, especially on bad days. I completely get warped into the pain and sometimes the pain itself triggers memories that I’d rather push away.

But, maybe there’s something to pain that I hadn’t really thought about, maybe the memories that are coming up need to be processed and acknowledged again, and maybe after all those memories are done teaching their lessons, the pain will subside.

Or, maybe not.

photo by ynotboutique

But, I kind of like living on the hopeful side, how about you?

With love,

Tall Woman Power

Malia Arrayah


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