Personal Time: When Life Gets Hard
Today’s post, as it says above, is going to get personal and not be super book related except to discuss how life difficulties have affected my reading and blogging ;-). Feel free to skip if you aren’t that interested in my life, hehe. In any case, some of you might have noticed that it has gotten quieter and quieter around here even past my decision to no longer post on Mondays. I want to first reassure you that I’m not going anywhere, I love this blog and I love reading so I will always come back despite ups and downs!
However, my health has gotten pretty bad at the same time that work/school has gotten pretty bad, so life in general is proving to be really difficult. What’s going on with my health? Well, let me finally really explain instead of just vaguely hinting!
- I have three herniating discs in my back, i.e. when they look on the MRI they can see three discs that are sticking out past the space they are supposed to be in, which is obviously bad.
- For years this caused lower back pain that got pretty intense, however most bulging discs don’t actually pinch nerves (my doctor told me 60% of Americans have a bulging disc apparently!) since there is a fair amount of squishy room all up in there.
- In May (probably from BEA if we’re being honest here), one of my discs further herniated and finally caught that nerve it was going after.
- Over the summer I got referred to a neurosurgeon to consider back surgery. The clinic that I would have this surgery at has the cool robotic laser tools so they can actually go in and cut out the bulge really easily. It cauterizes as it cuts so the disc heals right up and the recovery time is only a week. I obviously was all hell yeah let’s get this fixed!
- The problem was that we didn’t know which of my three discs was doing the pinching (probably one of the right ones, but the left bulge is SO HUGE that every doctor assumes that’s the problem until they hear my symptoms all on my right side). Plus I have a huge curve in my spine at this point because that is the only way for me to take the pressure off the nerve and therefore not be screaming in pain. This all meant that surgery was not going to be as straightforward as hoped.
- So this past fall we did another round of steroid injections (straight into the cavity to bring down inflammation!), which I had done several times before, but this time we did it on only one of the discs to see if that one was the culprit.
- It turns out it was, so it is my L4-L5 disc that is pinching my sciatic nerve (causing shooting pain down the outside of my leg, yey!). Yes, sciatica is a thing that old people get >.>. I’m mature for my age :-P.
- The steroid injection helped about 50% of the pain, so instead of regularly getting up to a nine or ten on my pain scale (out of ten), I was in the 4-5 range.
- We decided to try physical therapy to see if that could take away another chunk of the pain. However due to various possible complications, my back pain has been getting worse during the time I’m doing physical therapy. This means that I haven’t been able to do as much and that it makes it hard to know if PT is really helping all that much.
- In the meantime, I can’t lay flat because that pinches the nerve horribly, so I’ve been sleeping with about five pillows to prop me up into a sitting position with an airline neck pillow to sleep. As you can probably guess, I didn’t sleep very well at first, however, you’d be surprised what you can adapt to! Now even on days where I’m feeling pretty good, I sometimes have a hard time not sleeping like that because it is comfy to me now >.>.
- Of course, to kick the semester off, my back just started hurting a whole lot more this week. I suspect it is because I ran out of most of my pain medication and my last round of steroid injections is wearing off right about now. It could also be stress. No matter the reason, however, it has turned into a vicious cycle because I can’t walk without pain now, making my muscles do more weird things to try to cope, straining those muscles that don’t normally do those things, leading to more pain, etc, etc. And I’ve had to do a lot of walking.
- This all sort of leads to the question of “What’s next??” Fortunately, my doctor trusts me and so overrode office policy in order to give me a new prescription on my pain medications. I’m now once again taking Gabapentin, which is a neuropathic painkiller that specifically works on central nervous system pain such as your spine. I also finally have a new script for Norco (similar to Vicodin) and a muscle relaxant to try to get those muscles to stop spasming crazily.
- I’m freakishly resistant to all medication as far as I can tell because a dose of Norco that would generally have a person skipping off to sleep pain free is just dulling my pain a bit and I’m typing up this discussion post (so if it sounds insane, blame the meds!).
So there is the long version of the back pain that I’ve discussed before :). On top of that increased pain (and perhaps part of the cause), I’m a teaching assistant for the first time this semester. The class is an easy one for me so I fortunately don’t have to stress about that. However, I really want to do well and tend to stress over unknown situations like this ;-). So far everything is going quite well though and I already had a couple moments of bonding with my lab students when I got to help them learn something new. I suspect this has been increasing my pain, however, because the building for my TAing is about two blocks from my office building, leading to lots more walking at a time when I can’t figure out a way to walk without hurting.
Finally, I need to figure out how I’m going to get paid next year! Grant applications for our internal system are due in February and I’m working on two of them to pay for my two semesters of research. I’m really excited about both the projects and really need to just start on the first drafts, but it is another thing that I haven’t actually done all by myself before. I’ve co-written grants where someone else wrote most of it and I edited/wrote a paragraph. However, this time around I’m the one who writes most of it and other people will help me edit it and improve it. I have a pretty good track record for getting these grants, however nothing is guaranteed, so it adds stress to not know how I’ll be getting paid next year.
So what about reading and blogging?
As you can probably imagine, all of the above has put some constraints on my life that I didn’t have previously in grad school. Pain is shockingly exhausting and irritating (I guess that isn’t shocking haha). Therefore, I’ve had a lot of moments where I think about possibly writing that review or responding to those comments, and then feeling too drained to try and watch TV instead.
I honestly am a bit surprised that reading has gone the same way this time around. In some ways, it makes sense since I’ve mentally shifted from trying to do equal parts work and read (well, not equal, but you get the idea), to having my focus completely on work and only reading right before bed. I used to spend 5pm-midnight reading, however now I’m not leaving my office/campus until 7-9pm depending on if I have TA office hours or just am on a roll and want to get things done. No book has really caught my attention and made me want to read every spare minute I have right now. I wouldn’t call it a slump really since it’s not that I don’t want to read, it’s just that I feel such tremendous pressure to work (and I really enjoy my work), that reading is just not the emotional satisfaction that I need right now.
This has made it really easy for me to stick to my plan of not requesting very many books this year though, since when you aren’t reading much, it’s easy to look at a hot ARC and shrug while putting in a library request. I’ve also been able to mostly avoid envy since pain makes everything else just matter a whole lot less, haha. Pain changes the scale on which you evaluate how much things matter to you I guess, which has been refreshing since I kind of needed help getting my real priorities back into line. As much as I love reading and blogging, it isn’t good for me to prioritize them over my career after all!
Well, I hope that wasn’t too rambling for you and that those of you who were curious about what was going on with me feel better now :). Like I said above, I’m not planning on shutting up shop anytime soon, but I probably will have mostly reviews and not even six posts a week for a while. At least until I get the blogging bug bite again and go crazy ;-).
Have you noticed a shift in your hobbies when life suddenly becomes more challenging? Do you have any tips for me for dealing with all of this?
Also, I love you all and thank you so so much for all the support you’ve given me over these four years. You make grad school and chronic pain much easier to deal with :). Group hug!
© 2015, Anya. All rights reserved.