“You are so brave”.
“You are so strong”.
“We are proud of you; you are so strong”.
“You are so brave and strong”.
“You are so strong”.
These words echoed in my brain as I reflected on them two years after they were said to me in awe and admiration. How wonderful that I was so brave. So strong. To be able to stand up and speak out for myself and others, be an activist, and make a difference in the world.
As I lay for the third month flat on my back after two failed back operations, I pondered on the impact that these words had on my life.
The surgeon had told me that I would never be able to continue with the sports I loved, scuba diving and hiking, as I would never be able to carry the weights on my back again. Feeling so sorry for myself I wallowed in self-pity as friends fussed and bothered and fetched and carried.
My back was out of sight and out of reach, the perfect place to hide my feelings of fear, disgust, hatred, and blame and guilt and anger. Those emotions that I did not want to deal with. But being so strong and brave when I should have been crying out for help and dealing with those painful feelings was where it all went wrong.
This was all a bit much to take in amidst the very real pain and discomfort. Could this be true? Was I not facing things and putting my feelings and emotions behind me? Was I loading my back with so many unresolved issues that it collapsed and gave in? Did I feel so pressurised to be strong and brave, to prove that I could manage this process, that I supressed my emotions? Was I allowing myself to be weak so that I could finally acknowledge and accept that I was a helpless victim?
Over the next two months, I received temporary relief from the pain by having acupuncture and various other treatments. I then worked on addressing and re-living and re-experiencing those original emotions, understanding them and how they had impacted on my life. What was I trying to hide? What was I guilty or ashamed of? Why was I putting undue pressure on myself, trying to keep myself strong and upright, while not showing my real feelings? Who was I protecting? Why? Who did I need to forgive?
It was a tough journey to focus on these concepts, and it took a lot of inner work and reflection and many tears of frustration and anger. But this, coupled with eight chiropractic treatments, and I defied the surgeon’s predictions and made a five-day hiking trail carrying a 29 kg backpack on my now healed back.