Recounting the year after taking that fateful Pilates class that turned my life upside down is always hard. The moment I realized that I would always experience pain whenever I sat down, even if it was just for a few seconds, was the moment I understood that I’d taken my body for granted all my life. The simplest everyday movements that I automatically, subconsciously and perhaps thoughtlessly made on a daily basis became a source of pain overnight. I suddenly found myself being unable to do things like sit down to use my laptop, squat down to pick something I’d dropped up, sprawl on the floor to play with my daughter, lie down to read a book, take a walk at the nearby park or carry a jar of water without experiencing excruciating pain.
The pain lingers around my lower spine. It feels like it’s embedded so deep in my back it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where it’s coming from. It is exacerbated by the slightest movement, but most of the time I feel it in the absence of any identifiable trigger. Moving my body causes pain, but so does not moving it. Even lying down and being at rest hurt because it stiffens and strains my spine. Every night I would struggle to fall asleep as the pain radiates down my spine, which causes my mind to freeze, my world to stop and tears to spill out of my eyes. After I finally dozed off, I would wake up in a short few hours and struggle to go back to sleep again. I could not never have imagined I would cry quietly in the dark every night for more than one year.
Of all the inconveniences and sufferings I’ve been through, not being able to sit down was one of the most life-changing. I stood next to the dining table and quickly finished my food during mealtimes as standing for too long would also strain my spine. Needless to say, dining out at restaurants was not an option. I stood every time I took public transport and made sure I held onto the poles tightly enough so that I wouldn’t lose my balance and stumble, which would have been a nasty shock to my spine. I cut my own hair as I could not sit down to get a haircut at a hair salon. I could not catch movies at the cinema. I barely visited any friends as I did not want to explain why I couldn’t sit down. It took me a long time to open up about my injury due to the embarrassment I had about it. Women give birth without incident everyday; how did I end up so paralyzed?
I can remember a few occasions where I had no choice but to sit down. I had to bring my daughter to see a doctor as she was sick, and as luck would have it, there was a long wait at the clinic. My daughter, who was already not feeling well, started crying, and I saw no other option but to sit down with her to comfort her. Between that and carrying her while standing, sitting was the lesser of two pains, but it still caused me so much agony I could barely get out of bed over the next week or so even though I only sat for half an hour. A year of not being able to sit down was a year of inconveniences uninjured me could not even begin to imagine; a year of extreme physical exhaustion as my back muscles and core went into overdrive trying to keep my body upright most of the time; a year of despair and misery; a year of finding my fighting spirit; but most of all, it was a year of learning to be grateful for my body.