When people talk about formative events in their lives, they often do so in the context of the first time they danced beneath the stars at a festival with their best friends, or maybe it was the first time they supported someone in a classroom setting and decided their future would be dedicated to supporting young people through their education.
I think for me, my formative moment was at a doctor’s appointment where I made the snap decision to go ahead with spinal surgery at sixteen.
I’d never undergone any kind of procedure before, and had shat myself the year before when I was due to get a mole removed and realised that I would be awake but under local anaesthetic.
I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but agreeing to go forward with the surgery was almost my acknowledgement of my own mortality. Most people prepare for this type of thing by making sure they have everything in place for them post-surgery.
I’ve never told my mum or even my husband this before, but I spent days before scribbling into a strategically hidden notebook for when – in my mind – I inevitably didn’t come home.
I wasn’t afraid of the surgery, nor was I afraid of the very real risks associated, but I was more than accepting of the statistics of general anaesthetic – they’re low but someone has to be that number.
This notebook held my thoughts and fears, it had a note for each of my friends with a song that reminded me of them – even now I can remember some of them in a typically overdramatic style and I do cringe. I mentioned before about recognising my mortality, I think that should have been a sign of things to come – as I really struggled with post traumatic stress afterwards and accepting being able to live with your condition and side effects.
Ten years is a long time. It’s a long time to live with metal fused to your spine, and it’s a long time to live with mental health problems but we do. It doesn’t make us difficult or unlovable as much as we may think; some of the best things in my life have happened in the last decade: I watched my goddaughter turn into a beautiful young woman, I got a degree, I met my future husband and married him, my godson and his sister were born and we gained a nephew – the last two really impacted me, I went from being unsure about what my future might be to being so in love with these tiny people and knowing exactly what I want.
Am I one of the only people that actually enjoys babysitting? Probably. But sitting on a garden swing in the height of summer with a tiny replica of my husband makes me melt, and it’s something that ten years ago I was ready to write off.
I don’t think mental health and the implications of major decisions like these are thought about or championed enough.
There were nights where I had a shower so I could sit and sob, I didn’t look in the mirror for more than a month after my surgery, and even when I did it was through being begged by my mum. Your looks are such an integral part of you at sixteen, so when you look like you’ve been bitten by a shark and your torso is black and swollen, it impacts even the least vain.
The support I was given involved a dose of antidepressants and a website link, and people wonder why those struggling with mental health concerns don’t speak to their medical professionals.
"Not looking depressed" is something you want to aim for, but can help in covering up the help you really need.
I’m not knocking antidepressants in the slightest, in my case they were very much needed and I’ll be honest enough to admit they have been used in a reoccurring fashion in the last decade. But antidepressants mixed with heavy duty painkillers is all fun and games until you’re reducing your dose and can be found wandering the local park when the sun comes up, because sleep is far-forgotten friend and the restlessness in your legs makes you wish you never woke up at all.
But the past ten years haven’t been the worst, despite all of this. Yes, I’ve suffered, and I’ve had side-effects, but I’ve also ensured that my own body isn’t going to crush my organs. I’ve spent a decade with Titanium by Sia as my personal anthem, and celebrating each year of successful spinal fusion – this blog post isn’t a cry for help, nor is it an opportunity for me to wallow.
This post stands to serve as a demonstration of how we can translate our fears into our strengths. I was so afraid of the consequences that I could experience, yet it drove me into the position of chairing a Scottish charity dedicated to supporting those with Spinal Injuries.
This post is to show how strong we are as people, even the fear of our own fragility isn’t enough to stop us. We’re delicate bodies with even more delicate minds, but what we can withstand is beyond anything I can comprehend.