Mental Health And Physical Pain
This is where mental health and physical pain are about to collide.
For 3-4 months leading up to 15th Sept 2019 I had reasonable mental health stability. I was holding down a 32hr per week job as a carpenter. I had moved into my own apartment, and had a company 4WD to drive around in.
I had also started road bike racing and running 1/2 marathons.
I was even making plans about my future…I was in a good place…until my life journey took an about face turn.
Having already experienced extreme mental health distress due to the mood swings of bipolar depression, I was to encounter physical pain on a level that I had never experienced before.
The following blog is part of a post I wrote to close up the GoFundMe page that was set up to help cover my expenses after I had the mother of all bike crashes. In sharing it I’m hoping to connect with those of you who have had your life forever altered from the ‘washout’ of having a body so broken that physical pain and movement restrictions effect your life on a daily basis.
Double Trouble – Where mental health and physical pain meet head on
…out in the countryside of Melbourne Victoria I had a bike accident, that left me lying on my back in the trauma and rehab section of the Royal Melbourne Hospital for 6wks with the following injuries and procedures:
- 7 fractured ribs on my right side
- Pneumothorax – air trapped between lungs and chest wall
- A pulverised left scapula and glenoid – requiring surgery
- Fractured T3-T5 thoracic vertebrae
- L1 to S2 Lumber Spine posterior fusion
- Blood transfusion
- Significant degloving injury to subnormal lumber tissue
- Traumatic dural tears at posterior bilateral L5 nerve root
- Compressed right L5 nerve root resulting in paraesthesias over lateral foot
- Traumatic urinary IDC insertion attempt resulting in SPC insertion
- Sciatica nerve pai
What a mouthful, even to this day I recognise that it could had been so much worse…to be honest I have never been so terrified in my life when I saw what was in front on me when I came flying down the hill, pushing 90km.There was an embankment with many trees in my line of sight.
I just knew that when the wind gust hit me that I would never be able to get my bike under control and make the tight left hand corner that directed traffic away from the looming embankment.I was out of control and truly believed my ticket was up, that there would be no coming back from this.
I have never called out to God like I did in that space between being utterly terrified and full of paralysing dread.
Despite my speed, the way my mind processed the situation was amazing. It seemed to take a long time to crash, but in reality it was mere second’s.
I don’t remember detaching from my bike, nor the feeling of flying through the air. I don’t remember landing, rolling, sliding or how I ended up 15-20 meters away from my tyre skid marks.
I don’t know how I managed to get my body around the corner thus missing the rocks and trees.
It’s weird when I look back at photos of the crash site, I fell totally inline with the direction of the road, where the tar-seal met the nature formed gutter.
I was actually wedged up under the right hand side of road with my body in a straight line, feet first. Limbs all in line. A miracle!
I remember pain, thats forever burnt in my memory. I remember intense pins and needles in my legs and feet. I remember facing the real possibility that I may never walk again or that I would be living life in a wheelchair. I had a lot of time to think, my mind wouldn’t stop drawing in all the senses my body was radiating, screaming at me.
My mental health and physical pain pushed to their limits
It took 1hr 20min for the ambulance to arrive.
I remember one of the guys who was riding with us, holding my head and neck still. I remember the looks of concern in the faces of my cycling buddies.
I remember sucking on the green pain relief type whistle that the ambo’s gave me as they transitioned me to the waiting helicopter, bloody thing was useless.
I remember the flight and being annoyed that they had cut my new $350 cycling kit to get IV lines into my arms and checking my body for injuries .
I remember landing on the roof of the hospital and from there the next 3-4 days become very hazy.
I do however remember my sister stroking my forehead when the pain was so intense that I couldn’t talk. I remember my son Caleb feeding me lemonade ice blocks and Kelly helping me sip a long black through a straw. I remember mates standing by my bedside but removing themselves from hearing distance each time I was rolled onto my broken rips so the nurses could wash me and change my dressings.
I remember the massive effort on day 14 to sit up in bed with the help of two physiotherapists, then two days later taking my first wobbly steps. I remember my brother pushing me around in the wheelchair at pace, making me laugh.
I remember the financial support from people that I didn’t even know, but who had heard about my story and wanted to help…
I remember deep depression coming to lay beside me that lead to the “Perfect Storm” early this year.
So now I walk through life not only with a broken mind, but also with a broken body. Mental health and physical pain are now my temporary partners.
When I get depressed my physical pain increases.
When I get hypomanic my physical pain all but disappears.
But what’s very interesting in this 12mth journey of physical recovery is that I’ve learnt to “sit” in the discomfort of physical pain. And the only reason I can do that is because I have learnt to “sit” in the discomfort of emotional pain.
The same insights and attitude I have applied to living a meaningful life that includes the manic highs and soul crushing lows of bipolar, can easily be substituted into how I deal with my broken body.
Mindfulness is still relevant to both mental health and physical pain. As too is my faith, connection to others, taking each day as it comes, celebrating the daily ‘wins’ (no matter how small), good sleep and personal hygiene, maintaining a healthy diet, good sleep routine and regular exercise to name a few.
My life still has meaning and purpose, it just looks a little bit different.
I’m grateful that I have been given a second (and third, and fourth) chance.
One example is that as I’m unable to return to my job as a carpenter I can now really look at what do I really want to do with this second half of my life?
I’ve redefined what really matters to me and have clarified what core values I want to base my life on…but more on this in future blogs.
In closing, I have an intimate relationship with pain, both emotional and physical. Some days are good, some are bad, but most days are in the middle. Life goes on, my life goes on. I just have an extra few “battle scars” that can cause me at times to navigate life with bit of a limp, both emotionally and physically. But my journey is always forward, just not in a straight line.
I’m very grateful for the people that make up my physical recovery team. From specialised surgeons, to physio therapists and hydrotherapy pools.
As I’m writing this I have recently set some milestones:
I can swim up to 500 meters, I can run up to 10km, and I can bike up to 90km. Theses achievements will be surpassed in the months ahead. I’m even hoping to race again over the coming summer season.
Final note. I was asked once, what causes the most pain. Bipolar depression or my cycling crash, operations and intense rehab?…hands down bipolar depression is the most painful thing I have ever had to/and still currently endured.