The chronic back pain story

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I thought I was doing very well for myself. My online business was thriving, I had a day job that gave me financial security, I had a new little home away from the student scene, I met up with friends fairly regularly. I felt like I was going in the right direction with my life.

And yet.

With all the work I was doing, the back and shoulder pain I generally refused to acknowledge got worse. (It’s damage I got from overburdening my back and shoulder at an previous job behind a conveyor belt at the old distribution center.) At first I only had pain when I was working my day job in the office or sewing for hours at a time. Then the pain lingered on through the night. Then it seeped into my off-days, until there was barely a moment when I did not experience some level of pain. I did more yoga. I took more rest. I went on a month-long vacation, during which the pain blessedly dwindled away to nothing. Then I came home and first day back at the office, it was as bad as it was before my vacation.

Now I’m not a person to complain about pain. I have a high pain tolerance. I’ve almost never used painkillers for things like headaches or stomachaches, I just wait for them to pass. I’ve accidentally cut myself and didn’t even notice until I saw the blood dripping on the table. I’ve had six-hour tattoo sessions that I sat through so stoically, it threw off the tattoo artists.

But this, this was a different beast. Not just because my back and shoulder pain became so bad I felt like I was going to pass out in my chair on a regular basis, but because it was constant and seemingly never-ending. So in January I started seeing a physical therapist. After suffering this for four months. It got better, then it got worse again. Then it got better again, and worse again. I had started regularly going to the gym, which helped. Then in June, it seemed like it was only going to get better. I’d had several weeks in a row in which I’d barely had any pain.

And then it got worse again. Whole days strung together with pain kind of worse. I started a new massage therapy, which has been helping, like the other things had been helping. The masseuse told me not to expect any miracles. As long as I kept doing this kind of work, I would have pain. The physical therapist had told me something similar before.

So now we’re at the end of August. I’ve been doing my office job for over a year with constant cycles of pain. I’ve been putting in the absolute minimum effort with my business since January. I’ve long since realized that I can’t keep going like this. Something will have to change. I’ll probably have to quit either my job or my business. Or both, and do something else entirely. Something not in an office, not (too) physical, with a larger variety of tasks and more creativity. Preferably something with a salary comparable to my office job. And where I don’t have to deal too much with people.

I don’t know what it’s going to be yet. This gives me terrible anxiety on some days when all l can think is what am I going to do what am I going to do what am I going to do. On other days it’s strangely exhilarating, the possibility to do something else, something that could fit me better. I do think there’s a lesson in all of this, in that maybe I should be doing something different with my life. It’s important to look at these setbacks and see what you can learn from them.

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Video – My creative journey so far

Any other creatives out there who are interested in all the creative things and have trouble focusing on just one?

This is a video about my experience. I stuck to the two creative things that have been most dominant in my life, for brevity, but there was so much else that I could have talked about.

Lessons learned in a clothing distribution centre

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For the past five months I worked full-time in a clothing distribution centre of a fairly big Dutch clothing brand. I packaged orders at the webshop, threw products onto a conveyor belt, unpacked and put products in storage, etc. It wasn’t my first choice of jobs, but, you know, writers also have bills to pay.

I learned a lot from my experience there though. Here are some of the things I took away from it:

  • ANY job is better than no job. Even if all you do is sticker price tags all day, it’s still better than sitting at home useless and parasitically living off other people.
  • Any work can be fulfilling if you’re continually learning new things and getting better at it.
  • If you have nice, fun colleagues it vastly improves your general experience. They are invaluable in this kind of repetitive work.
  • Repetitive actions, like folding and storing clothes, can be meditative and calming; they also give you an excellent opportunity to come up with solutions to problems in your creative projects.
  • Any attempt to wear cute clothes and chunky jewellery when you do physical work is futile.
  • Learn from others who have been at the job longer. Try methods that you see others use, even if it seems illogical to you. It will help you in the long run.
  • Make tasks as easy on yourself as possible. Doing something the hard way won’t impress anyone.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask men for help for something that requires physical strength. You may think you’re strong and tough and can totally do all the things the boys can, but sometimes you’ll just unnecessarily injure yourself if you lift something that’s too heavy for you.
  • A lot more clothes can fit in a box than you expect. Sometimes, you’ll think no, it’s way too much, there’s too big a pile sticking out at the top, it’ll never fit. Just close the box; it’ll fit.
  • Always wash new clothes.
  • The best way to wake up on a work morning is by putting on some cheerful music and singing along loudly. At work, cheerful music is also great to keep motivated.
  • Speaking of music, what the Dutch call fout (‘wrong’, meaning something like guilty pleasure) music is significantly more enjoyable than the modern pop shit on the radio.
  • A positive mindset improves every experience (one of those lessons that you have to learn over and over again).

Picture by Jim Killock

The best thing about travelling

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There are a lot of nice things about travelling. You get to temporarily escape your daily, hopefully not so dreary, life, explore new, exciting places, meet new, inspiring people; just to name a couple. I enjoy all of these. But what I consider to be the best?

The necessity of living out of a suitcase, or backpack.

It sounds trivial compared to what I mentioned first. It probably sounds like one of the more irksome parts of travelling too. Hell, I used to hate being confined to a suitcase when I went on vacation as a kid. I always thought I needed ALL MY THINGS all the time, so I overpacked my battered suitcase within an inch of its life. I would have to jump on it with my full weight and beat it closed, while desperately battling the THINGS spilling out of all three open sides. Then of course I could barely lift the thing and it would be too heavy for the airplane and I had to take crap out and there would be arguments with my parents. Oh, these vacations never started well.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve become more critical about my values. I’ve gotten less materialistic, I hope. Now, whenever I pack for a trip I don’t start by piling all the convenient things in a suitcase. I start by considering how little I want to carry around. Over the years I’ve come to loathe carrying around too much crap. Have you ever gotten horribly lost on your way to a ho(s)tel with painfully heavy luggage in your hands? Nightmare.

When I pack for a trip, I think more critically about what I truly need. About what I truly value in my life. Do I really need a different outfit every other day? Both my laptop and my tablet? A whole grocery bag full of snacks in case I have trouble finding vegan food?

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My space is limited, my personal carrying capacity is limited. What I take with me has to be worth the space and the hassle. I’ve found that there are rather few things that are worth that.

The suitcase I have now is almost half the size of the suitcases I used to take with me on vacation. I once bought it for a short trip to London of about a week, because my regular suitcase was too big. I was hilarious, really. For a week-long trip I could now live out of my school backpack. The suitcase I once considered small is now my go-to suitcase for all longer airplane trips, and WGT. I usually have room left in it*.

It is unbelievably freeing to travel with as little as possible. When you’re not as weighed down with THINGS, an infinite amount of roads seem to be open to you. Your personal limitations seem to dissolve. You seem to have more space to breathe.

I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything in the world. Not for my beloved gothic lolita wardrobe, not for dozens of my favourite books, not for any convenient gadgets. When I have to live out of a suitcase, or backpack, I realise again and again how little all those excess material things mean to me.

Sure, it’s nice that those things are waiting for me when I get back home, but it’s nicer to know that I could do without.

* The exception, of course, is for WGT. Goth vanity kills me.

Pictures by Luc Mercelis and Manto Prestipino

my first lolita tea party

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last sunday i went to a lolita tea party at summer tales boutique, right at the centre of the dutch lolita community. it was the first time i went to a lolita event. i got all dressed up in my angelic pretty dress, slapped pastels on my face & donned a long wig and a cute bear hat. i think i did pretty well with my coord; i even got some compliments. unfortunately i forgot to take pictures, otherwise i could have shown you.

since i live relatively close by, i went on my bicycle, getting lots of interesting looks along the way. i arrived at the same time as some other guests & i walked behind them to the main area. before i had reached the top of the stairs i was already thinking what the fuck am i doing here? (behold un-lolita language) it was a phrase i would repeat several times in my head throughout the afternoon. it’s strange getting involved into such a new community. when i stepped over the threshold i stepped into a whole ‘nother world. the smallish space was filled with petticoats. all the people in-between looked spectacular. it’s nice having other people to dress up with.

i sat down at one of the first tables i reached, joining two others. they were lovely. everyone was lovely. we had our first cups of tea & waited until the rest of the guests arrived. there were 55 in total. finally, the charming girl behind the boutique went up front to welcome us all. she also showed us the new collections she & her team had been working on for the past few months. all perfectly charming pieces. i was already questioning my fragile resolve not to buy new clothes anymore. i can’t get that chiffon babydoll dress out of my head. perhaps… it is important to support small businesses…

after her talk we could go down to the store to admire all the fine pieces & buy what we wished. i only bought one of the new rings, since i didn’t really have the money for more. i would have liked to try on one of the new dresses, but it was so packed in that small store. & everyone was wearing petticoats. at several points i found myself stuck in a group of people, immobilized by petticoats. we could all laugh about it though.

later we went back up to eat. when everyone was seated again, platters of baked goods and sandwiches were deposited on all the tables. i had let the people who organised it know beforehand that i was vegan. i thought that they would probably put some small things on the side for me & other vegans, but i got a whole plate for myself! a whole meal, which was fantastic. i got a sandwich, a fruit salad, a cupcake, & a scone with soy cream & jam. my mouth is watering just thinking about it. it made me so happy that they made such delicious food for vegans as well. there were more vegans there than i expected too.

then it was time for the costume contest. there were five contestants, all dressed fantastically. one girl in white had a handmade tophat with flowers and fairy lights; another had made almost her entire outfit herself, complete with an elaborate headdress with even more fairylights; there was one in oldschool lolita with bells in her hair; one girl who took inspiration from the story of christ; & a girl who was dressed as a present & threw glitter everywhere. it was amazing. very motivating to go further with my coord a next time.

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after the contest there was also a lottery. to my great surprise, i won something! i won two rings from the new collection. i went home with a lot of new rings. there was also one in the lucky pack that i had gotten along with my ticket. in my lucky pack there was also a hair bow and a rosary necklace.

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to close the event, we all went outside & braved the december cold for some group pictures. before we left, we could take a card from the small christmas tree. earlier in the day we had all written something nice on a card & hung them up. i went home with a card that said (translated) that i looked fabulous. i thought that was a sweet little extra.

it was a magical experience overall. the only thing was that i still felt a bit awkward & out of place in that community, but i think it will be better a next time. i do fully intend to go to a second lolita tea party. time will tell how i fit into the lolita community in the long run. if i don’t, well, i still have my gothicly inclined friends.