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Two years ago, Bev from the ‘Be Activated’ crew talked me into writing my story. I put it out to the Facebook group but never loaded it onto the 3000 Stories – well here it is finally, plus a little more hindsight…

So, I’m a rock climber and a physio, having worked with Be Activated technique since 2014. I loved Doug’s fearless approach, treating the whole body and mind, feeling and producing noticeable change in myself and for my clients. I’ve found it great for work, great for getting my body to move better and deal with injury, great for letting me realize I can get out there and steer my life the way I would like it to be… When a chance came to reconnect with my old flame Kate, from New Zealand, things just seemed to fall into place. We’d first met in the UK back in 2002 and climbed in Yosemite together but she’d ended up moving back to Australia. The desire to explore and climb together was still there, perhaps with a little more self-knowledge and understanding! More adventures ensued and we got married in 2017, living in North Wales.

We’d talked about moving to New Zealand at some point, but my father had not been in a good place after my mother’s death a few years before and I wanted to be around for him. When he passed away, it seemed the obvious time to make the move to let Kate spend time with her family. I started the lengthy process of registering as a physio in NZ, making visa applications, packing up my 10-year-old physio business in the UK, and starting to say farewell to friends and family. Tickets were bought for a bumper-fun trip through South America, I bought the guidebook for climbing in Patagonia, dreaming of perfect granite towers in the high mountains… Meanwhile I was writing and presenting my first attempt at a wellbeing retreat. Just to set off in good style, I organized a big leaving party too!

Reading between the lines here, there was quite a bit going on in my life… Sometimes, as we push ourselves into stressful positions, we don’t realize just how much energy we’re using and don’t take the time to process and deal with things… We’ve got this right? Step back and wait for the lesson!!

This is my own version of events, we all create a narrative, but it still makes sense to me 6 months down the line…

Connected or unconnected, I go out climbing one evening and the next day find a sheep tick in my right shin. It’s tiny, I try and get it out with a tool. A few days later, I can still feel a roughness where it was and realize the head must still be in there. I dig it out with a sterilized blade, no telltale ‘bullseye’ inflammation appears, done…

 

The leaving party dawns – a weekend of revelry, dancing and farewells – emotionally charged for sure but mainly just great fun. During the proceedings, driving,lifting heavy speakers, dancing; my lower back starts to hurt. My back has hurt quite a bit over the years, I’ve not given it an easy time. It’s half the reason I became a physio. After a climbing fall 5 years ago an MRI told me I had some disc herniations. ( Did you know that in 2015 they did a study of ASYMTOMATIC people who had NEVER had any major back pain, the 40 year old group showed 33% had disc herniations… I regularly preach the sermon to clients, this is natural, we can work through it with the right approach…  ) So what? Do my activations, breathe, get on with it…

Monday morning I wake up in my tent, dry mouth, sore head, stiff back – time for a pee… Just push up and reach for the zip for the door…

WORST PAIN I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED!!!!

I won’t bore you with the detail, suffice to say the only way I could stand, even with activation, breath, visualization, gas and air, was a paramedic giving me a large shot of morphine.

Another disc flare-up right? Get back home, dose up, breathe, activate, let it settle…

SURPRISE!!!

 After 5 days of this, the cold sweats start. My doctor agrees I should head to the Emergency Department – more gas and air, heavy painkillers and I’m in an ambulance… After the 2nd MRI shows an abcess collecting around my lumbar discs and nerves, attacking them. A thankfully rare condition called discitis. I’m rushed to the spinal hospital 2 hours away. 2 emergency operations follow to remove the abcess and decompress the nerves…

A background infection (The pesky sheep tick? Right sided neural symptoms from L5 Lumbar area match with the dermatome where the tick bite was…) with an inflammation to act as a focus, and a weakened immune system, and loads of stress – the perfect storm.

 

Waking through the haze of my second general anaesthetic and spinal surgery in two days, reality slowly dawns – we are not going to be leaving in two weeks – I can barely stand with a zimmer frame. Find the breath, find the inspiration, activate, build it back. It hurts, do it anyway; move, hurt, rest, breathe, visualize, repeat… Again.

A friend gave me a diary to write in, which makes some pretty interesting reading now – dark places, triggers of fear and loathing. Flights cancelled, money lost, dreams lost, straining to empty my bowels with a pelvic floor that didn’t work anymore, having to use a catheter to pee, struggling to make it down the ward and back to the bed with crutches… But there are a lot of glimmers for the future there too, even plans for salvaging the South America trip…

Rehabilitation can be a humbling experience. As I’m struggling to walk with my crutches along the ward, I keep noticing a really jovial guy, always laughing and joking with the nurses. ‘Lucky bugger!’ He gets around just fine, a minimal plantarflexion contracture by the looks of it, barely using his crutches. What is he even here for..? We finally meet in the lift and have a chat, turns out he’s had a car crash and due to vascular damage, he’s getting an amputation next week. He has dealt with this, he is resilient, he is happy. Wow.

 

3 weeks post op – Returning home, a relief? TERRIFYING! I’d never realized what people might go through returning after a long period in hospital: the cotton wool of medical support, routine and safety suddenly removed… What if I fall over trying to the toilet..? Focus! Lists of people and things that inspire me, slowly building walks, visits from friends, normality beckons…  Pain killers, muscle relaxants, anti inflammatories, nerve relaxants. Forward bend – mid thigh – major pain, back and hamstrings/sciatic pain. Squat – ¼ depth, support of sink or door handle, stiff, some pain. 15 minute walk with walking pole. Saddle numbness, catheters, some incontinence…

Find the breath, find the inspiration, activate, build it back. It hurts, do it anyway; move, hurt, rest, breathe, visualize, repeat… Push hard 2 times a week. Light Cranio-Sacral work from local osteopath, full session of activation and light lumbar mobilisations from physio friend – ahh – progress!

Keeping the glimmers going, realizing what is a realistic, inspiring goal, and what is false gold, keeping you stuck in a bad point of focus. South America is finally let go of, but New Zealand beckons for January, I can do that…

 

3 month post op – No medication. Forward bend – mid shin, some lumbar pain, tight hamstrings. Still using catheters, occasional messy accidents with increased effort… Saddle numbness right side. Walked the Snowdon Horseshoe on Christmas Day with Kate – 8 hours of walking – exhausted but HAPPY!!

 

Emigration to New Zealand – land of the long white cloud. I’ve been climbing, pretty much back to my pre-episode levels, helped by a bunch of extra strength work. Even had a little surf… Friends and family, supporting, loving, encouraging.

I focus much more on breathwork and putting myself in a resilient state – let the body work at its best for today and stay positive. Give it good sleep, eat well, allow some treats, allow some down days… Visualize a future where I am doing what inspires me, able enough to enjoy my life and give out the good stuff to those around me. Do something new, activate, feel the breath and deep core engage. Work on the shadowy areas, light them up – don’t let the long-learned cheat patterns have it all their own way, be playful, have fun.

 

6 months post op – No medication. Forward bend – floor, tight calves. Full depth squat, no pain. Still some numbness, still the catheters, still a rather slow and confused bowel, still some messy accidents.  Ready to work, thinking how I can best serve people in my community right now during covid… Keeping going with strengthening work, gliding the nerve, keeping a vision of thinks working in harmony, inspiring change…

 

 

 

So, three years post op, where am I now…?

 

No Medication. Forward bend – palms to floor, tight hams. Full squat – no pain. 14 hour day of alpine climbing, some sections of vertical ice – very tired, stiff back, very happy! Still the same numbness, catheters which have caused some bladder infections. Still the same confused bowel – it’s difficult to know what my body is ready to do; work, fart or poo… I’m now better at guessing, and at getting on with things despite a light warning sign. ( I always listen to the strong warning signs! )

 

‘Getting on with things’ includes working full days as a physio; listening, doing bodywork, demonstrating exercises and movement, activating, motivating… I still enjoy it. It includes climbing in remote mountain areas, surfing, learning to sail and ski, exploring a wild new country and fostering new friendships. It includes a much more focused personal approach to breathwork, activating, moving; ways to revitalize, ways to relax and recuperate. I try to work more at my close relationships, be ready to laugh at myself a little more, be aware of my weak points and create better habits to manage them. I am a stronger person from the experience and hope that I can connect better with people who come up against hardship and challenge… Life is always changing so we must too I guess, certainly keeps things interesting! I’ve still got that guidebook to climbing in Patagonia…