They Said, “You Need Surgery”. I Said, “F*ck Off”.
This past weekend, I got to do something SO unbelievable that I’m still pinching myself.
I was a bridesmaid in my beautiful cousin Kate’s wedding…and…
I got to walk down the aisle.
You’re probably thinking, “um, duh, bridesmaids always walk down the aisle”.
What if I told you that for three full months this summer…I couldn’t walk. Period.
Yep. I couldn’t freaking walk.
Perhaps you recall that story about mom & my left butt pain? I thought my “butt feeling better” was the end of the story.
But it was just the beginning…
On April 20th, the morning after THIS pic… —>
…I woke up with a stiffness in my lower back.
By April 26th, I was hunched over and leaning to the right.
There were “pins and needles” down my left leg.
As each week went by, I kept thinking, “this is the last week. I’ll be all better soon.”
Those “pins and needles” turned into burning that kept me up all night.
It hurt to lie down, it hurt to stand, and hurt to sit up. I stopped working and just sat there watching TV in the fetal position for weeks.
By Memorial Day Weekend, while everyone else was barbecuing, I was borrowing my grandfather’s walker to get from the sofa to the bathroom.
Even though I was so uncomfortable, I kept hearing this voice “your body is meant to heal itself.”
From my training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, to Louise Hay to Deepak Chopra to Dr. John Sarno, I kept learning about how physical problems could be links to emotional issues…or repressed emotions.
Even though I hated feeling feelings, I journaled my ass off. I cried. I punched pillows. But no matter how many “emotions” I tried to let out, I was still in pain.
I felt like my body had betrayed me.
Finally, in June, I caved and swapped my homeopathic muscle relaxers for prescription anti-inflammatories and prednisone, got an MRI, and saw a neurosurgeon who thoroughly scared the crap out of me with talks of spinal injections, permanent loss of strength in my leg, and almost “certain” need for surgery.
My MRI showed a herniated disc that looked like a s’more…the disc was like the melted marshmallow that bulges out the back of the sandwich after you take the first bite. Yikes.
As I stepped out of the neurosurgeon’s office I ignored his advice to schedule an injection and thought, “see you never.”
“My body can heal…my body can heal…it’s what it’s supposed to do”, is what I kept telling myself in between freak outs.
A Wee Bit of Progress
With a wonderfully patient physical therapist and a few weeks of prednisone I made gradual but slow progress. I still couldn’t walk or stand up straight but began sleeping through the night. Phew!
Then, the progress halted. I felt weaker.
My doctor started regretting letting me try this whole “patience” thing and thought I should have had surgery like, yesterday. A second opinion proved the same.
I was terrified. While I know some people who are grateful for their back surgery, I heard countless stories of people who get it and end up in the same exact place in a few years.
I did not want a knife near my back, but was starting to accept I had no other choice.
BUT THEN, something happened…
Two weeks later, at the end of July, I started standing up straight.
By August, I was dead-lifting kettlebells.
I was talking long walks with Peter after work.
At the end of August I got back on that spinning bike with my mom and finally sweat my buns off without pain.
And on September 28th, not only did I make it all the way down the aisle at Kate’s wedding…I shook my ass on the dance floor.
The very same dance floor where this all began in April.
How Did This Happen?
I’m still healing, so I’m sure I will continue to learn more as I go.
But, I’m clear that three major things helped me get from “can’t grab just a coconut water at Whole Foods without using the shopping cart as a walker” to shaking my ass on the dance floor in less than 2 months…without needing surgery.
1. LISTEN TO YOUR GUT
Throughout the entire process, I kept hearing my intuition say “your body should know how to heal itself.”
Even when the docs said I need surgery lickety split, even when everybody recommended injections, even when I’d be unable to sleep for days…
I kept hearing it. So I kept waiting.
Ask for Help
When my progress slowed, I also kept hearing the voice say, “reach out for help”.
I knew people in my network had access to wonderful practitioners who believed in the same “healing magic” that I was trying to believe in.
It turns out I hate asking for help. It feels so damn vulnerable.
But the voice kept telling me I should reach out to certain people.
Finally, after weeks of thinking “oh no they’re too busy, I don’t want to sound pathetic”, I asked three people for help. One of them ended up recommending the practitioner who completely changed the game for me.
It was a chiropractor who, after examining me, assured me that it was absolutely possible to heal myself without surgery.
Within 24 hours of hearing this, I was moving a little bit better.
Within two weeks, I was finally able to stand up straight and walk normally!
It’s amazing how much of an impact fear has on our bodies. Thank god I got over myself and asked for help.
Which leads me to this reminder…
Your doctor is not god.
Let me be clear, I SO appreciate my doctors for everything they have done. I know their advice and care was given with nothing but my best interest at heart.
But like my friend Jess reminded me, “your doctors are still limited in their expertise.”
Or, as my little pixie body-talk practitioner Laura Hames Franklin put it in this video she made for me, “your doctor is not trained in miracles.”
This inspired me to do my little stretches and remain patient, despite all the scary stories.
So, if you get some professional advice that makes you feel uncomfortable, do yourself the favor of listening to your gut and getting a few more opinions before you move ahead.
2. SLOW DOWN
I realized that leading up to my injury, I had been putting a LOT of pressure on myself. Doing crazy things like checking email before I even get out of bed or staying up super late to meet unreasonable self-imposed deadlines.
The week I hurt my back, I had three major events happen within five days and I didn’t build in any recovery time.
But when my pain was so bad that I couldn’t get up or sleep, I decided to forget about my business – ignored email, took a few weeks off from writing my newsletter, put a product launch on hold, etc. And the craziest thing happened — I had more money come in that month than any other month so far that year.
Hmmm. I’ll take that message.
So take a breath, rest, surround yourself with laughter, and weed out everything that isn’t 100% necessary. You’ll be surprised at how many things DON’T matter.
Next week in Part II, I’ll share the third and MOST important part of my healing. The one thing I had to do before my body got better.
How About You?
If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with an injury, please forward them this post if you think it will help.
If you healed or are working on healing yourself through a tough injury or illness, I’d love to hear about your experience and what you learned in the comments below.
Heather – this post really resonated with me as I too lost a summer to back pain. It’s frustrating when our bodies betray us, but then again when we put on it unreasonable expectation and the stress of entrepreneurship it’ probably a wonder why we’re not hit with more health issues.
Best part of all this is the part about slowing down – I’m working on this now through the implementation of systems and automation. So I’m slowing down – but my business is actually speeding up!
Look forward to the product launch!
Antonio – happy to hear the part about slowing down really resonated with you. Love how you’ve realized how important it is for the growth of your business too!
That’s very scary!
Glad you are better 🙂
Funny, I wondered a few times in the last 5 months where you were, you were not around a lot, but I didn’t think you were dealing with this.. and I believe L. Hay and her work about heal yourself and what back problems might mean… I have a similiar thing… I keep getting reoccuring sciatica… and I too put self-imposed deadlines on myself for my buisness as a HC and I also check emails in bed…before I get up. I tell my clients to meditate and I have stopped doing it and I tell my clients the benefits of slowing down but I wasn’t doing it. I have NOT had my back looked at, my mother keeps saying it’s a herniated disc, and maybe now I will have the courage to go find out, and you bet I will be healing myself… YOU post catapulted me in a direction I need to go. I believe the universe pulls you in directions of things you need to do or see, and YOU are one of those things I was meant to see. I look forward to your next post. I think your writing describing this is brave and transparent. KUDOS
Lisa – thank you for this. I’m sorry to hear about your sciatica but I hope you’ll continue to be inspired to prioritize your self-care and listen to your body. Sending love and healing thoughts to you 🙂
So inspiring! Thanks for sharing Heather! oxox
Oh Heather! I know you told me briefly about your back when we saw each other in Soho in August….Such an inspiring story of trust in your own body’s intuition and healing!
So glad you didn’t get the surgery.
Please excuse me while I write this comment from bed before I have gotten out of it….whoops! Bad sciatica and pinched nerve in the shoulder….sharing this with everyone I know and implementing changes myself asap. Thanks for this!
Awesome! Take a deep breath and ask yourself what kind of morning ritual you would REALLY want to have upon waking. Nice music, a little deep breathing? A cup of tea with no distractions? Your email will always be there 🙂 Hope you feel better soon!
I have been waiting months for this post and I’m sooooo fricken happy to read it!!!! What an incredible journey you’ve been on. I’ve thought about you so much. Thanks for sharing your miracle with us. Love you, sister! Keep shaking dat ass!
This is very timely, as I was just scheduled for surgery in a couple weeks. I dont really want to have it done, but don’t know how to avoid it either.. I’m eagerly awaiting your next post!!
Sending you lots of healing thoughts, Leah. Although it didn’t feel like the right move for me at the time, I know several people who’s only regret was not getting surgery earlier. Either way, letting go of fear is the most important thing you can do.
Heather – I just saw a link to this post on Twitter and am discovering you for the first time. I had this exact same situation happen to me 2 years ago and also healed myself. I’m so happy that you are feeling better! It’s funny you mention the kettlebell deadlift because one of my most vivid memories of the whole thing was that first time I deadlifted and the power and strength I felt. It was the best feeling in the world, and I’ll forever be indebted to the PT who looked at me and said “give me 2 weeks all in before you do anything drastic, I think we can do this”. Since then I’ve found a great trainer who has taught me so many ways to care for my back and for myself and introduced me to powerful eastern medicine practices. During the initial injury I lost about 1/3 of the feeling in my right leg and while most of that came back fairly quickly, I’ve had a few stubborn numb areas and just this week regained full feeling in my leg and continue to gain strength every week (even though I’ve felt fully functional for 18 months, it’s fun to continue getting stronger and realizing how much better you can feel even after you feel like you’re all the way back). Good luck in your continuing recovery!
Thank you for this Michelle! Amazing story and amazing reminder that it’s not always a linear progression – my doc warned me that I’ll continue to have some bad days even for the next year or so and not to freak out about it. Congrats on getting your strength back and on being patient with yourself! And yes, first day of deadlifts was freaking awesome. 🙂
Good for you Heather. While working at one of the big Toronto hospitals, my wife slipped down the stairs and hurt her back. She suffered for years but refused to go ‘under the knife’. Then one day a friend asked if she had read the “The Back Doctor” by DR. Hamilton Hall. I believe there is new edition out now.
She began doing the exercises and kept seeing the chiropractor. Her back is in great shape. This happened 25 years ago!
So happy to hear your wife’s back is in fantastic shape. Haven’t hear of this book but I’m checking it out now. Thanks John!
I was wondering where you were. I missed your posts! So sorry to hear you were in pain. Thanks for sharing, this is inspiring information. I admire your resolve to stick to what you believed in. You have grown and will be stronger through this experience. Keep feeling better !
(Your old IIN Mentee, with the Berner)
Great post, and as one who was with you during this journey I am so happy that you had the courage to believe in yourself and your gut, as Andrea Beaman always tells us to do. Love you. You are a beautiful person inside and out, including that damn bulging disc! Mom
Too often we’re so focused on our goals or on the needs of others that we totally forget about self-care. Our bodies, however, have a peculiar knack for nudging us in the right direction – if we listen. So happy you listened, and glad you’re back to sharing more delicious recipes.
Thanks Duane – I totally agree! Think our bodies keep throwing us some nudges (and they get increasingly severe) until we pay attention!
Heather, I’m so happy to hear that you’re feeling better and trusted your intuition. Go girl! 🙂
Lauren B (IIN)
I had the same reaction when I was told I needed surgery on my neck. After an emergency appendectomy, I woke from anesthesia with horrific pain in my neck. My complaints were met with nothing more than pain meds from the nurses. After a few months of the pain getting worse and affecting my shoulder and arm, I went to my general practicioner who ordered an MRI. He called me later and asked if I had been in an accident, thrown from a horse or fell down stairs! I said no, I woke up from surgery like this, I think they injured me whenthey put tubes down my throat. Of course, the protect each other, so he just insisted I see some specialists in Pittsburgh. And….they insisted I needed surgery for herniated discs NOW. I said no, what else can I do? They said, “Be in pain for the rest of your life”. I went through two rounds of physical therapy and contraptions, put the pain soon came back. I then found ao a fabulous massage therapist who was able, over several weeks, to eventually relax the muscles, every part of them that were tight, even up onto my skull, and for the first time in months I could turn my head from one side to another. I still go for my massage once a month, even after 6 years! No pain at all anymore. They had also told me, no lifting, jumping, jogging, running, etc. I am now strong again and able to all of those things with no problems!
Wow! Amazing and inspiring story Jo – so glad that you’re skipping and jumping again! I want that massage therapist’s number 🙂
HP, I’m sorry you had to endure that but I’m so glad you’re doing better. You’re the strongest most determined woman I know…that bulging disc didn’t stand a chance. Love u!
Haha – love you too AMJ!
Yay! Heart full and happy. You are strong, beautiful and fabulous. xo
Thank you for sharing your story Heather! Our body does have so much wisdom and knows when we need to slow down. Great remind and great example for all of us 🙂
Heather this sucks! I know as had 6-9 months of trouble walking due to arthritis in my feet. I can so relate as was determined not to take methotrexate all my life and found a naturopath who opened my eyes to healing my leaky gut. I found the emotional challenges were a big area to work thru as my body started to heal and i trusted it to get back to life pre walking issue.
So sorry u had to go thru this. U looked beautiful on the dance floor and at the wedding!
You realized your leaky gut was related to your trouble walking? Wow. Happy to hear you’re worked through this and are feeling “back to life”. Thank you!!
Heather! Thank you so much for 1. being this brave and 2. sharing your story. I’m so inspired by your conviction to listening to your body and knowing what was right for you. I’m sure it was a scary path to take and I’m so happy you’re back (!) and feeling better. I’ve definitely learned to build in more buffer time and give myself a break after hearing about your journey!
Happy to hear that Robyn! As a kick-ass health coach you owe it to your clients to give yourself more down time!
What an amazing trial of hard will and determination. Impressive! Seems you have the charisma and drive to overcome the obstacles of life. Congratulations on your recovery! It’s a very inspiring journey and thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your kind words, Jason! When I was going through the worst of it, I was desperate to find any stories like this. So if it helped just one person that I’m thrilled!
Did you try an inversion table? How about hanging from a bar? The spine needs blood flow.