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A few years ago, I started long distance walking. I found that hitting the two- and three-hour mark was the only way my “bipolar brain” experienced the benefits of exercise. The shorter stuff, the 20-minute walk that supposedly raises serotonin? Never did anything for me. But the long distance? Wow! In order to train harder, I decided to start biking. I even contemplated giving up my car—where I am, in Portland, Oregon, it’s possible to bike and walk everywhere (as long as you don’t mind rain).
Unfortunately, the second time I rode a bike marked the end of my biking dreams. Due to a mechanical problem with my brakes, I hit a curb and my body flipped over the front of the bike at the perfect angle for the handle bars to twist and poke me in the pelvis, then I slammed onto the concrete. I was pretty stunned by the fall, but I actually laughed because it was exactly like the movies: the entire thing felt like it was in super slow-mo—including the way my body bounced when I hit the ground. After taking a minute to clear my head, I stood up. Wow, that was crazy! I thought to myself. I started to walk away and realized I was limping a bit, but I figured I’d be fine. The reality? Hitting the handle bars had dislocated my pelvis. Landing on the concrete on my right hip had popped my pelvis back in … sort of. The limp I noticed was from my semi-dislocated pelvis, which I unknowingly walked around with until one day my wonderful osteopath said, “Julie, your hip is riding up on the right. Let me fix that.” Pull! Crack! Ouch, but pelvis back in place. I started physical therapy to rehab the damage to the muscles around the injury and—are you ready for this?—I pinched a nerve in my lower back. Let’s just say, I have not healed as I would have hoped.
I understand what I call the “psychic pain” of bipolar disorder, but this?
Words cannot begin to describe how physical pain can debilitate a person.
I’ve spent the past year in severe pain. I was prescribed painkillers, but realizing that I wasn’t getting any better and not wanting to be dependent on the pain medication, I discontinued taking the meds —which meant dealing with increasing pain while trying to keep my act together in the real world. But I did it.
Experiencing this kind of pain has changed me. I understand what I call the “psychic pain” of bipolar disorder, but this? Words cannot begin to describe how physical pain can debilitate a person.
There was a moment not long ago when I was lying in bed feeling like my world was ending. Let’s face it: I only have so many internal resources, and if managing bipolar takes up 50 percent of my inner resources and dealing with physical pain takes up the rest, what, exactly, am left to work with for everything else? Who wants to live in a world of downswings and pain management? And then I felt strength begin to flow into me, the strength that comes sometimes when my life feels like it’s just too hard. It’s like a well with a false bottom: once you press a bit, you find that little something extra that is needed to get up, get out, and get on with your life. And that’s what I did.
Now, I make myself do things whether I’m in pain or not. I have a choice: I can have a memory of pain, or a memory of playing with my nephew (even though I’m in pain). Just like with depression, I can live my life despite what is happening in my body. I want memories of living life, not lying in bed.
I’m getting better. Surgery is scheduled, and I’ve found that people are very understanding about my work limitations related to the injury. The most important step? Dealing with the fact that once again, just like with my bipolar disorder, I’ve lost large sections of my life due to a medical issue. The bike accident was another curve ball, but it happened because I was out there doing things and reaching for goals and living my life. And nothing—not bipolar, not a bike accident, not whatever new curve balls might come my way—is going to stop me from doing all that, and more.
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