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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book review – the art of asking by amanda palmer

this week amanda palmer’s the art of asking was released in paperback. like when it first came out last year, she asked her fans to spread the word about it. i was already meaning to do a review on it, so here it is.

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i have been following amanda palmer & her work for years & years now. from the dresden dolls, to her solo album, evelyn evelyn, the grand theft orchestra, ukelele madness, ted talk… she has done so many wonderful things. i don’t love everything that she’s done, but this book is definitely one of the many things that i do.

the art of asking is basically about amanda’s experiences with asking & what she has learned from those experiences. it could be categorised as a self-help book, but it is so much more. it is also a meditation on human relationships, vulnerability, trust & art & all its facets. then it is partially a memoir of one of the greatest artists of our time.

in the art of asking amanda questions a lot of notions that most of us in the western world probably grew up with. like how we are supposed to be independent & never need help & distrust everyone else. how we think artists are supposed to earn money. fundamentally, how we are supposed to be embarrassed by asking for help. she shows that there is another way. she shows a glimpse of a better, more open & loving world.

the whole book filled me with such inspiration. it made me want to be better to other people, allow myself to be vulnerable, create more art. it changed my views on certain things, for the better. i would recommend everyone to read this.

some of the passages that i highlighted while reading the book:

Everybody struggles with asking.
From what I’ve seen, it isn’t so much the act of asking that paralyzes us–it’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one.
It points, fundamentally, to our separation from one another.
American culture in particular has instilled in us the bizarre notion that to ask for help amounts to an admission of failure. But some of the most powerful, successful, admired people in the world seem, to me, to have something in common: they ask constantly, creatively, compassionately, and gracefully.”

“Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with-rather than in competition with–the world.
Asking for help with shame says:
You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says:
I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says:
We have the power to help each other.”

“Seeing each other is hard.
But I think when we truly see each other, we want to help each other.
I think human beings are fundamentally generous, but our instinct to be generous gets broken down.”

“I think the real risk is the choice to disconnect. To be afraid of one another.
We make countless choices every day whether to ask or to turn away from one another. Wondering whether it’s too much to ask the neighbor to feed the cat. The decision to turn away from a partner, to turn off the light instead of asking what’s wrong.
Asking for help requires authenticity, and vulnerability.
Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words, to those they are facing:
I deserve to ask
and
You are welcome to say no.
Because the ask that is conditional cannot be a gift.”

i think i need to go re-read this…

if you want to read it too, you can buy the paperback at amazon, barnes & noble, books-a-million, indiebound or porter square books. you can find a bunch of links for the hardcover, audiobook & ebook here.