For most of my life I’ve defined myself by my work. Since college I’ve pushed myself hard in order to feel accomplished. I started working 60-hour weeks pretty much as soon as I graduated. I probably wouldn’t have functioned at all without my many daily cups of coffee, but everyone around me required caffeine, too. I told myself that stress was normal in my industry.
Before 2012 I considered this a fine way to live. What doesn’t kill you, right? But then, at the beginning of that year, I was in a car accident. Luckily no one was seriously injured, but my life was changed for the worse. The accident left me with a lot of temporary, easy-to-fix problems, and one that just wouldn’t get better: excruciating neck pain. Daily prescription painkillers, a hundred orthopedic pillows, and one devastating shrug from a physiotherapist (the fourth I’d been referred to) took their toll. I started to wonder if anyone could help me.
I wish I could say that after so many times frantically Googling “neck pain that won’t go away,” I heroically took control of my health, but I didn’t. Quickly losing hope, I threw myself into my work even harder. I wanted to feel like something in my life was going right, and the added stress was a small price to pay for that. By that point my family was understandably tired of me complaining about the pain and stiffness, and of missing out on fun events together because holding my head up for one more hour would have been impossible.
After three years of this I knew I’d had enough. Prescriptions weren’t working for me. That was a hard thing to admit, as I’d put so much trust in my doctors. When I said this to a close friend over lunch one day, she suggested that I look into alternative treatments. I was skeptical. Gentle treatments and positive thinking were not my style. But, as I ran through everything I had tried in my mind, I realized I was out of options. After researching to find out what alternative treatments might work best for chronic pain, I decided to give acupuncture a try.
Seeing an acupuncturist for the first time was a revelation. I instantly felt calmer in her office. With some embarrassment, I had to admit to myself that I was incredibly stressed – not just before the appointment, but all the time. I was not prepared for the acupuncturist to ask me detailed questions about my stress level, sleep quality, diet, family life or about whether my work fulfilled me. That’s when I finally saw my situation for what it was. It wasn’t just my neck that was a problem, but my habits and priorities. I had to make changes if I ever wanted to live without constant pain. For the first time since the accident, I had hope that things would get better.
Now, two years later, I’m happy to report that most of my days are pain-free. I go in for one or two acupuncture sessions a week, which are invaluable for reducing pain naturally without medication. But I also cut back on my work hours and caffeine intake and I’ve taken up activities that lower stress: hiking, meditation, gentle swimming. I make more time for my kids and avoid the things that trigger my pain. I don’t rely on painkillers anymore so my concentration is much better. I even snack less throughout the day because I’m less on edge at work. I didn’t know my diet needed to change so much, but it’s made a huge difference in how I feel.
Every change has made an almost unbelievable impact on my pain which I once believed I would be stuck with forever. This experience has given me a new kind of determination – to focus just as much on my health and happiness as my job. Having hope that I could heal has helped me see the bigger picture of my health and lead a more balanced lifestyle.