I have lived with chronic back pain, debilitating migraines, depression, and anxiety since my teenage years. Whether the pain from my herniated disc catapulted me into a depression or whether my daily struggles with overwhelming anxiety and depression has led to physical daily pain, I may never know what sparked the initial problems. However, I can say that it is a viscous daily cycle that one symptom definitely feeds on the others.
When I was 14, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and mild depression. At the age of 18, I started having severe pain in my lower back that eventually led to multiple rounds of physical therapy and a diagnosis of having a herniated disc that almost ended in back surgery. At the age of 22, I was diagnosed with migraines, which had symptoms that include sensitivity to sound and light, nausea, debilitating head and neck pain that occur at the very least 2-3 times a month. When I turned 23, I was diagnosed as agoraphobic, suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and had mild to moderate depression that required therapy and medication to manage.
From my teenage years up until now, I have had a very unhealthy relationship with my body and with food. I have had periods in my life where I starved myself to try and reach some ideal unattainable body image. At other points, I over indulged and binged to make myself feel better while suffering bouts of depression and anxiety which led to physical pains. Over the years, the weight that I put on had a tremendous impact on the pain in my shoulders, my back, and my hips. I found walking difficult and going up stairs led to being out of breath. Activities that I used to enjoy like dancing, working out, practicing Yoga, and hiking seemed to be unobtainable due to the amount of pain those activities caused.
After my most recent visit with the doctor, my blood levels were no longer healthy. My cholesterol now has to be managed by medication. My blood sugar levels were high. I was diagnosed with fatty liver. My body was literally screaming for a change. My depression and body aches were making waking up every day painful. In order to combat my weight gain, I decided to join a gym and began a weekly work out regimen. I had no idea that working out, even just walking on a treadmill, would flare up my herniated disc. Sometimes it would not start to hurt until the day after, but I soon found I was having shooting pains going from my hip and down in my thigh or shooting up into my back. It made sitting at work or trying to work out hard. Simple movements like bending/twisting/lifting became unbearable.
Just like in my teenage years, I found food a source of comfort. When my herniated disc would fare up, I would lounge on the couch or in bed and I would eat to feel better. But laying around and overeating eventually leads to feeling sluggish and that leads to more body pain. That body pain then leads to spiraling back into a depressive episode, because I felt lazy and unmotivated. I felt like I was failing at trying to get healthy. It is a vicious cycle. There is definitely a link between pain and depression.
In order to try and get ahead of the pain, I began seeing a chiropractor. Medical bills began pilling up. The worry and anxiety of wondering if I could pay for the doctors visits set in. The visits started out three times a week and eventually got stretched out but the pain in my back never went away or lessened. Eventually, I had to decide that the medical bills were more than my budget could handle and I had to quit going. The frustration of not having the back pain resolved led to even more depression and over eating. So back to the gym I would go and after the shooting pains would leave me unable to work out for several days at a time.
I would step on the scale and the increasing number was like a slap to the face. People mean well but when I would starve myself and lose 10-15 lbs, the compliments were encouraging the most unhealthy behaviors. However, when I went about things the healthy way and I ate the right things and worked out, I would only lose 1-2 lbs and then would put it back on soon as I had an “off” day. I began to feel like a complete failure. My struggle with the daily pain led to depressive episodes and during those depressive episodes I did not treat my body well. Over and over the cycle continues.
I am learning to live with daily pain and find ways to cope so that I can get my body healthy again. I have obtainable goals for my body, however, I cannot rush into it like I used to. I have to work with the body that I have and the challenges that I put myself into. I have to learn to cut down on the high carb/high sugar foods that I used to use as a crutch. I have to replace my unhealthy habits with more healthy ones. If it takes medication to maintain a healthy happy brain, then I will take the medication. If it means going slowly in the gym and taking frequent breaks, I will have to do that as well. If it means cutting down on the amount of alcohol I consume or replacing sugary drinks with water or diet pop, I will. I have to learn how to work with the body that I have been born in and learn how to enjoy the time that I have here, not just survive it.