The Pain Goddess (Or, What a Slipped Disc Taught Me)


A year and a half ago, I slipped a disc in my lower back.

I was in constant pain for two weeks. My husband and kids had to help me walk to the bathroom. I was stuck at a 90 degree angle, like a human protractor.

While sorting through notes today, I discovered this piece I wrote on scrap paper in August 2014, just 11 days after that pesky disc slipped out of its rightful place. I called it “The Pain Goddess”:

I have not been writing. I create all kinds of excuses to avoid writing.  It hurts to write the truth, to see it on the page.

Pain – in my case, a slipped disc at L5/S1 – does strange things to this mama’s mind.

I have new empathy for the chronic pain sufferers I treat regularly. 

I had two kids at home and the pain of pushing out a wriggling ham can’t hold a candle to the pain of a teeny tiny bit of tissue slipping between vertebral body and nerve.  Constant, unrelenting, gripping pain without any of the fun serotonin birthy hormones.

I’ve been CrankyPissy with the kids, especially yesterday after driving for an hour and a half in acute pain to get them from schools on the other side of town.  Damn LA traffic, 200 Suburbs in Search of a City.

I think I called my son a Twit.

I said, sotto voce, I wish you were more like your little sister.  Why can’t you follow directions?  You’re SIX. (He didn’t hear me, but still.)

I threatened an early bedtime if they didn’t stop biting each other and get out of the car already, get into the house and take off their shoes, Mama’s in pain and it’s hot and WHY ARE YOU STILL IN THE CAR, I PARKED 5 MINUTES AGO?!

Please listen to me. I want to be heard.

They need to blow off steam after a full day of school, and they do this, understandably, by yanking the lid off a boiling teapot right in my face. 

But I am not a Mama who calls her son a Twit.  I am not a Mama who yells, cajoles, threatens or punishes. 

I am a grounded, empathetic, loving Mama who birthed her kids in the kitchen and nursed for 6 years straight…come to think of it, until 3 weeks ago, when it seems L weaned just a few days after her 4th birthday.  Have I written about that yet? No.  WTF?! 

Why can’t I be GROUNDEDLOVINGEMPATHETICNICE Mama all the time?

I know Pain is a cruel Master and he has thrown me into the DisposAll in the kitchen sink, where the meat scraps go. But that is no excuse for not writing.

So today, after two hours of responding to work emails while standing at my laptop perched on a  bookshelf (it hurts too damn much to sit), I said No to work. 

I said No to the calls of patients, employees, driving-kids-duties, meetings…even to the chiropractor and acupuncturist who are here to help. 

I said Yes! to a day in bed on the heating pad, stepping carefully through my garden, and napping. 

I am pushing the Pause button.  Making time to write.  (Because “finding time to write” is a fallacy.)

I am making Pain my goddess instead of my master.

I am listening to her message: “Slow the Fuck Down, Doctor Mama. Heal Thyself.”

I had completely forgotten about writing this, a year and a half ago, until I stumbled upon it today by accident, when I was procrastinating (doing admin work on my business) instead of working on the book I’m writing about my experience with postpartum anxiety.

Thankfully, the relentless and searing pain I described on that shard of paper is gone. I was able to heal from the acute pain in about 4 weeks. After 3 months, the little aftershocks stopped coming.

Now, I can exercise, treat patients, do laundry, shop, cook, clean, get acupuncture, garden, sit and write, drive – all without pain, most of the time.

I still deal with low-grade, achy lower back pain from time to time, but I’m able to treat it with acupuncture, massage and exercise.

I realize that my recovery from a slipped disc is not a typical one, and that I am fortunate, as a Licensed Acupuncturist, to have been able get the care I needed to heal from other care providers, without invasive treatment or pain medication. (What worked for me was a combination of acupuncture, chiropractic, CranioSacral Therapy, myofascial release massage, gentle yoga, meditation and rest.)

Finding “The Pain Goddess” now, I feel gratitude for that injury, as awful as it was.

The hardest part, during the acute phase of a slipped disc, was resting. Doing nothing. (I know I’m not alone as a mother of two who has a hard time slowing down, let alone doing nothing.)

During those days of rest, when it hurt just to sit and pee on the toilet, I heard a message from my Inner Physician (as the late, great Dr. John Upledger used to call it). My Inner Physician reminded me that I had no choice but to slow down in order to heal.

When I slow down, take a deep breath and respond calmly, I can stay present in the moment instead of spinning out and saying something bitchy to my kids. Now, if I start feeling lower back pain, I know it’s time to Do Less. When I slow down and do less, my body doesn’t seize up with armoring, the way it does when I’m in pain. I still feel guilty when I slow down, because really, can’t I handle this?, but I force myself to listen to the advice I give my patients. Slow Down.

I am reminded that the best remedy for procrastination about writing is to write. To simply pick up a pen and start free writing, wherever I am, even if I’m flat on my back in pain with only a Peppa Pig pen and a scrap of paper within arm’s reach. To not judge what I’m writing, but just get it out on the page and worry about it later.

And I am reminded to accept what I’m feeling in the present moment, whether that be pain, anxiety, irritability, or self-hatred for procrastinating.

In the wise words of an Anonymous Buddhist:

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

Copyright Abigail Morgan, 2016.