Surviving Trauma: PTSD Recovery and (Painful)Lessons Learned.

2015 was a hell of a year for me. In every sense of the word ‘hell’. I went through major surgeries to fix my back. I had bone graft and bone mass protein drilled inside me along with supporting hardware. My back was raw and unstable, and felt like a stack of loose bricks. My nervous system was haywire. I was aching all over and couldn’t survive even a couple of hours without heavy opiates. And I had a three year old child to take care. Immediately after my first surgery, I was hopeful and determined to work towards speedy recovery and rehabilitation. I wanted to return to an active life as fast as possible. For that the first step was to re-learn how to walk. If these weren’t challenging enough, it was also a time when I had hit a crisis on my relationships front. What followed was something that I was unprepared for. My life as I had known, just fell apart making the long, tedious way to recovery all the more difficult.

I had always fend for myself from a very young age. My circumstances were such. Always putting others first. Thinking not to burden people  by seeking help. I was the one who helped; not the one to seek help.  This attitude of mine became my greatest curse during my crisis time.

I devised my own ways of survival and the upkeep of my little one. I struggled to get myself off the bed. I willed my body to move; to do things; to take care of my child; to see to her needs. I switched on autopilot and concentrated on pushing through it.

It was an extremely vulnerable time period. My trust in people was shattered. I felt alone and helpless. But that only added fuel to my perseverance. I put all my survival skills to full use. My back felt painful with no reduction in pain.

I thought I could do it; step by step; by focusing on surviving each day at a time. But soon I realized there was a disconnect between my mind and my body. Even though my mind willed, my body couldn’t take it.
I was hurt by the callous attitude of people and lack of moral support during my hour of need. I began grieving. I was grieving the time, effort and patience I had invested to build certain relationships which I had considered to be very important in my life, for which I had endured humiliating experiences ritualistically. I grieved the compromises and sacrifices I had made for non-caring people in my life.

Above all I was grieving the loss of myself. I had lost my health and well being, my strength, my stamina, the wonderful career that I could have had, the many dreams that would now go unaccomplished, my ability to do so many things –  I had lost so much in one master sweep of an unseen hand.  There was this painful realization that I would never be able to go back in time and be my former self – the one who was capable of doing so much, of being so much.  It was a death of sorts for me. It made me all the more miserable.

It was a struggle I hadn’t imagined. I had violent spasms in both legs throughout night. This, coupled with anxiety and palpitations made me lose sleep. Constant fatigue added to my duress. Eventually, my body started buckling under stress. Seven months after my first surgery, I had to have a second surgery for a broken rod inside. It was the end result of my pushing through.

That made me all the more resentful. I reeled under chronic depression. Those were days of agony, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. My brain marinated in negativity and resentment.

Therefore my body refused to heal. Two back surgeries and a year later, X-Rays still showed non-fusion. Broken bones were refusing to rebuild. Every other article online regarding bone healing after fracture and fusion surgery specified a certain time frame for bone growth and union; if fusion didn’t occur in a year or at the most, 18 months following surgery, it meant that the surgery was a failure. To add to my problems, there was now scar tissue binding my S1 nerve root, blocking signals from brain to my left lower limb. This happened after my second surgery as a result of the scarred area being cut open a second time. I had Grade 4 nerve deficit in my left leg now. My spine surgeon although disappointed, asked me to wait for some more time. The prospect of non-fusion leading to a third major revision surgery became a huge worry for me. The financial strain my husband had to undergo during both my back surgeries was a grim reminder, not to mention the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion of the long recovery process. What if I had to go through it all over again, knowing fully well that no help would be forthcoming from any quarter, for me or my husband.

Thus 2015 turned out to be a very overwhelming year for me.


And then came 2016.

Some things happen in life to teach us valuable lessons. Disease, physical or emotional crises makes us re-evaluate life. Where we are headed. Should we go the way we had planned to go, or should we stand still, or better take rest, or at the very least ask for help.

For almost a year, I was going through a downward spiral. I considered pain as a negative force instead of realizing it as a positive signal that my body was sending me – to stop overdoing things. Instead of giving my body time to heal, I overdid things. Became stupid. Became mindless. And I suffered. Instead of contemplating on how and why I reached my present ‘painful’ state of being, I focused on everything possibly negative going around me. Insensitive people. The stairs. The heat. Bad weather. My kid’s tantrums. Everything else except me. Thus I shied away from taking the responsibility for my well being and instead shifted it fully on people and circumstances. This made my suffering worse and worse.

Now I wanted change. I wanted liberation from resentment and negativity. More than anything, I wanted healing. Can broken bones , broken heart and broken spirit be healed ?
I started searching for articles and testimonies online about self-healing. Does the body have the amazing power to restore itself, to heal itself from formidable trauma? How do fresh cells grow after damage and deterioration? How do osteoblasts grow from the trauma site and bones mend themselves for perfect union. How do nerves regenerate? This has been my faith project, my healing project, my miracle.

And thus, in January 2016, I embarked on a self-healing project. I started affirming to myself that this year was going to be the year in which I was going to be healed completely. Day and night I prayed for a miracle. I started asserting in my prayers that my Creator  will start working wonders in me. That he will make my pain go away. He will heal and fuse my broken bones. He will heal my broken body. He will heal my broken mind. He will heal my broken spirit and soul. That I will live in hope. I will not live in fear anymore. And then, I restarted my healing process. I started believing that no matter what the prognosis is, my Creator can change things for me. I surrendered myself to God. In all my prayers and self-talks, I began affirming  my bones will heal and join. I will have solid fusion. I set myself a time frame, till 2017. A time frame for self-healing. I decided that I will not get my next X-ray until January 2017. And when I go for it, the doctor will say, I am fused. I believed that I will not go in for a back surgery anymore.

But how was I going to go about it? My job was to unclog the garbage that had cluttered inside my mind, body and spirit. I wanted change. So I  set on a journey to re-discover my relationship with my Creator; that powerful force who can conspire with the Universe and free me from my bondage of ill-health and suffering. To slow down. To perceive pain as my guide telling me to stop, rest and relax. To stop acknowledging all the worst case scenarios that my mind creates due to over-thinking. To give my body and mind time for self-healing. To give my Creator a chance to touch me.


But healing came much before 2017. I was forced to take an MRI scan in May 2016 after a doctor misdiagnosed a severe bout of urinary tract infection and a resultant urine retention problem as signs of cauda equina syndrome. To my surprise, it showed that my back has started fusing well. Turns out that the day I started loving myself was the day I began to heal.

It has been an uphill task.
There are many triggers. My number one trigger is pain. By now I have accepted that I have a broken back and an injured knee which will cause pain if I go overboard with physical activity. That pain will come if I don’t take rest at regular intervals through out the day. I have devised my own pain management and coping techniques. But occasionally, I tend to overdo things or flex my injured knee unintentionally while doing something. And then pain strikes with a vengeance. I try to cope up. If it lingers on for a few days, I finally reach a breakdown point, when I become sad, anxious, angry and irritable. Those are the times when I get consumed with self-doubt.  It is very difficult to get out of the ‘vicim mentality.’ And I fall down that slippery sloppy thought tunnel of ‘why this happened to me’ and wallow in hopelessness and negativity. Till the time pain eases, and I am able to come out of the other end, I remain trapped in that dark tunnel. During those days, I soothe myself by overeating. From a very young age, I have had this unholy affair with food; making food my emotional crutch.

I have a gentle husband. But whenever I am hit with irritability, sadness or depression, he gets frustrated. He tells me that those are my own making. He urges me to stop hovering over past events; to let go and move on. He reminds me that there are people who are worse off me; that I am lucky that I can at least walk and take care of myself now. What he doesn’t know is that there are flashbacks. Triggers. That PTSD is very real and terrifying.

But thankfully those episodes are not very frequent now.
Losing weight has been difficult for me with my injuries. I have been restricted with the choice of exercises I can indulge in. So now, I can’t run, I can’t do weights. I can’t do crunches. I can’t do anything that involves bending knees or bending back. When swimming, I can only do gentle free style and back stroke. No other form of swimming for me. I discovered it painfully, the very first time at a swimming pool a few months back. I tried doing breast stroke just once and writhed in pain for the next one month. The pain was so harrowing I could barely walk. But one thing I regret the most is not being able to run. For someone who has experienced the pure euphoria and ecstasy of the runner’s high, not being able to run is a sad prospect. At first I wasn’t ready to give up running. I tried a couple of times to run, but each time I was wound up with  intense episodes of knee pain, resulting in no exercise for the weeks that followed, until pain eased.  By now, it has dawned on me that trying to run will only do me more damage than good. I don’t want to go into knee surgery any time soon. I want to delay it for as long as I can. But then I try to compensate it with walking outdoors. Walking gives me great pleasure though not as close to running. Because of all this, I am on and off the exercise wagon too often. So there hasn’t been any weight loss. I have noticed that I have put on a couple of pounds during last two months and I now weigh the same as when I had started off this year.

On the plus side, palpitations, breathlessness and anxiety attacks have stopped. I am having sound sleep. I rarely take pain medication now. Fatigue is gone. Stamina has increased. I can walk at a reasonably good pace continuously for an hour or so now, which is more or less on a par with normal people.

Prayer and meditation have helped. Walking has helped. Good books and good movies have helped. Music has helped.

Now, whenever I feel low, I contemplate on the idea that in spite of my circumstances, I always have the opportunity to grow and develop. But, time and time again I need to auto-correct my brain’s hardwiring to affirm to the idea that I am no more a ‘victim’. I am a survivor. Yes, I have an unstable back and bad knee. Pain is a reality of my life. But then it doesn’t have to define me. Ill-health is just a part of me. It doesn’t have to define my whole being.  I still have pain at times. I still have nerve deficit in my lower left part which gives me crippling spasms at times, when I unknowingly do something overtly stupid. But I don’t have suffering. Pain is not our choice. But suffering definitely is. After what I have put my self through during bad times, I have realized that suffering is a choice. Bad things can make us either bitter, or better. We can choose whether to suffer or not. I have finally accepted pain as my friend and tough love. It came into my life for a reason. It has been a life-changer.

I never loved myself enough to protect myself enough. I never loved myself enough to ask, seek or even scream for help when I was in need. I was pushing through all my life till now. In a way, I am thankful for the lessons I have learned. My  experiences, especially that of 2015, have  liberated me from many of my insecurities and fears regarding health and relationships. I am done pushing through. I won’t do that anymore. All my life I have put others first. I was always the last in my scheme of things. Now, that has changed. For the first time in my life I have become my priority.

Chronic pain has greatly reduced. Now I can go on for more than three hours with moderate to high physical activity with out pain. I have regained, although not fully, most of my left lower limb activity with exercise and walking. At least I don’t have a limp when I walk.

Amazingly, my ADD is gone, or it isn’t that prominent now. I used to be typical Type A. I used to be restless by nature. But now I have learned to slow down. I know when to stop, when to stay still.

Bitter experiences have taught me a few things. That I need to consider myself as my own child. Just as I take care of my little one, I have to take care of myself. I need to show compassion and empathy to myself. The new me is nicer and kinder to myself than the old me. I am more accepting of myself now. I am happy that I am making progress.

Though I have to go through the inevitable rut of a long and hard recovery, I have to make the tough decision of  going in for surgery for my knee, if it helps me run again. Yes. I want to run again.

I hope 2017 is going to be gentle on me.

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