I’m a girl who never thought I was good enough. The perfectionist, the obsessive checker, the compulsive cleaner. I’m the skinny chick who always thinks she’s fat. I stare at my reflection but I don’t see me. I see things that aren’t there. They call that body dysmorphic disorder. I call it my everyday.
Everyone has something. What’s yours?
I always craved adventure. I wanted that eat, can’t sleep, living to the point of absurdity type of existence, yet, the anxiety and seasonal depression stop me dead in my tracks every time. I suppose you could chalk it up to fear, but I was never one to place blame.
Like any teenage girl, I wanted to be thin. My tagline was, ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels‘ but I couldn’t feel anything. The more my bones protruded out of my emaciated skin, the prettier I thought I was.
Skipping meals became a habit hard to break and nearly impossible to overcome. It’s like my every thought reined upon not eating that slice of cake at 9:00 p.m. as the intrusive thoughts begin to take over. I try to tell them to shut up.
But then again, self-control was never one of my strengths.
The amount of condemnation I placed upon myself was unreal. I think we really are our own worst critics. For me, it’s just something that happened —without warning or notice. Before I really knew what I was getting myself into, I was already engulfed in the flames of my own personal hell. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re in pain until you look down and see that you’re on fire.
We need to remind ourselves to take a step back. It’s not about the fire we’re engulfed in or the flames that burn us, but how we rise after falling. Do you keep it in or do you let it out? Do you allow your pain stop you or do you carry on despite it?
I kept it in. I thought it was easier that way.
My own family had no idea that my mind became Satan’s playground. My father saw this happy girl when he looked at me but he didn’t know that every smile I faked made it that much harder to push forward.
Jeffrey Bernstein had his own stuff going on anyway. I never realized the extent of his issues until now and I owe that to *BackerNation —a digital health and wellness platform for people with back pain and spine issues.
He was diagnosed with two herniated discs in his back and neck from a high school football accident he never took care of. Laminectomy after laminectomy (more on that below) and nothing seemed to help. I was too busy in my own head to make out how much pain he was in at the time.
Like I already said, we all have something.
For reference, a laminectomy is a type of spinal surgery that adds space (to your spine, in between your discs, which are pretty damn important) by removing the lamina —the back part of the vertebra that covers your spinal canal. Some people refer to it as decompression surgery. A laminectomy enlarges the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves that allow you to bend, walk and pick things up without dying.
Living with a herniated disc can be extremely painful (and oddly enough, in some cases, there are no symptoms at all; every patient is different). “At that time, I was living with my ex-wife right outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a suburb of South Jersey. I was working at my favorite job I’ve had thus far as senior partner for this healthcare law firm, and I remember not being able to work,” Jeffrey describes.
He was forced to take a leave of absence.
It was as if the other lawyers were ravaging to take his office and position the second he left. He felt like he had to do more, but physically couldn’t. Then, he came to a breaking point and just had to let go. It was really hard to do but his body and health were more important. Anyone reading this, understand that health comes before anything else. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing.
“I was in so much pain that I literally couldn’t even get out of bed. My ex-wife had to do everything for me. I felt helpless and hopeless like I would never get better,” my dad recalls.
“I remember meeting with my doctor and he told me that all other treatments failed and surgery was the only way to relieve the pain,” Jeffrey reveals. “I hated the idea of being opened up and bedridden for even longer, but if it was the only way to get better, who was I to say no?”
Just as I’m a compulsive everything-er, my dad is a compulsive cigarette smoker. And the only problem was —his surgeon made him stop smoking. On top of the pain, he was so irritable like he wanted to rip his skin off. They gave him a nicotine patch, but honestly, he needed the real thing.
My father always said to do what he says and not what he does.
Anyway, “I remember having this awful headache a few days before surgery and couldn’t do anything about it because I also had to stop taking ibuprofen. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink a day before, which wasn’t too bad. Honestly, though, it was the anxiety leading up to the surgery that was worse than anything else. They knock you out and do their thing and you wake up drugged out and ready to recover,” our nervous patient explains.
Although the surgery was a success, he had this feeling that the pain would never go away. I think we get so used to our pain that we start identifying ourselves through it and can’t imagine living without it —good or bad.
It’s still hard for my dad to get out of bed. He receives shooting pain in both legs, which can turn to numbness. He feels weak. He can’t lift or hold things like he used to and when he tries, he has to stop and ask for help, which is hard since he was always the provider. He was always taking care of my sister and I and now, he was the one who needed help.
To this day, his herniated discs still place limits on what he can do.
“I really hate to not be positive, but recovering from surgery was long, hard, repetitive and overwhelming,” my dad admits.
Down But Not Out
He literally sat in bed for months. His recovery took more time than he had anticipated —so it was very frustrating (to say the least). His then-wife, my mom, didn’t work but took a random desk job just to get away from him.
“I was pretty depressed for a while,” Jeffrey acknowledges. “I mean after looking at the same painting on my bedroom wall all day every day for nine months, who wouldn’t go crazy?”
Luckily for him, he snuck a few cigarettes when my mom left for work. Don’t try this at home. Cigarettes hurt your overall health (obviously) and your recovery. They add toxins to your body, which produces inflammation, raising the chances for disc injury and my dad had enough of that. Basically, as you inhale each puff, you are essentially asking for more pain.
“I hate to even promote smoking and I am not by any means, but those cigarettes were the only thing that helped take the edge off,” he urges.
Do what I say not what I do, right?
Eventually, though, things did settle. They always do. It’s all about timing. I needed time to understand my mental illnesses and learn how to cope just as my dad needed time to recover from surgery. Yes, my disorders are always lingering; they are never really gone, but I figured out how to be perfectly flawed. And yes, my dad still has pain but he’s mastered how to live despite it.
Eventually, you will too. You’ll learn coping mechanisms to overcome those intrusive thoughts. You’ll learn tools on how to beat back boredom and ways to prevent further injury. You’ll learn what treatments work for you and what don’t. You’ll try to be content and then when you least expect it, you actually are.
For me, I was finally able to take that step back and see myself for who I truly am. For my dad, he was able to find his new normal with back pain friendly alternatives. There’s always a plan B. There’s always another way. Instead of sitting, isolated in your house watching TV all day, take a walk outside. Soak up some vitamin D.
For both mental illness and chronic pain alike, staying active really does wonders. Learn how to turn your mess into a message like my dad and I were able to do. So, I ask again, everyone has something —what’s yours?
*another special thank you goes out to BackerNation —if you have back pain, definitely check them out: http://www.backernation.com/