A Semester’s Lesson on Pain

The most common question I get from people when I tell them what I’m currently studying versus what I received my bachelor’s is something along the lines of, “Why did you stop graphic design?” or “But your stuff is really good; what made you want to stop?” It’s always an easy, and true answer, never a copout. “I got burned out,” I tell them. There really isn’t more to it than that. Four years of exuding blood, sweat, and tears (all very literal I might add), and never really feeling like you found that niche, that one style that defines you as an artist, heavily depletes one’s creative stores, leaving you nearly bone dry, with not a lot to offer. Unless someone unexpectedly brings you out of the dark your graduating semester. More on that in a bit.

The question that most people fail to ask is, “Why physical therapy?” To be honest, I’m glad that up until this point it hasn’t been a common question. I haven’t known how to answer it. It’s always gone far beyond simply wanting to help people, but I could never express in words exactly what it was that was pushing me in this direction…until now.

It’s interesting in which direction the wind guides your wings. Whether things truly do happen for a reason, or it’s just in my nature to find the silver lining in the cards I’m dealt, I’m not sure. Either way, after the past few months, I can confidently say this: chronic pain is, for lack of a better phrase, a life stealer. What follows is not meant by any means to elicit sympathy. I don’t want that AT ALL.  It’s how I know I want to keep fighting for my goals.

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Working Lobster Claw, v5, at Hueco Tanks


Months and months ago, I guess it’s been almost a year now, I started getting pain in my legs, around my glutes. I thought it was just muscle stiffness, so I worked out and trained more to keep my body moving. I made sure to stretch after workouts, continued to eat right, thinking it would go away on its own. It persisted (and even had progressed), but it still hadn’t become a huge hindrance (relatively speaking)…until I went to visit my mom one weekend at the end of the summer, and the pain in my back started to arise. Compared to the leg pain, the lumbar pain escalated at an alarming rate, and as much as I don’t like admitting it (because my pain tolerance is normally not tested at that level), it ended up doing quite a number on me – I would go to bed with pain in my lumbar, wake up in the middle of the night with pain in my lumbar; or if it wasn’t my back, it was the sciatica by-product which reached epic levels of rip-roaring on the pain scale some days. Multiple times I left half way through my evening anatomy lecture because I couldn’t sit still longer than 15 minutes, or it would hurt that bad that I wasn’t able to pay attention because I was too preoccupied trying to find a more comfortable position. I purposefully chose a seat in the back in my U.S. Healthcare class because I found that I wanted to stand most of the time to take the pressure off the pain source. I wouldn’t go enjoy the atmosphere of studying at a coffee cafe because the most comfortable studying position was lying on the floor with a stack of pillows under my pelvis so my back wouldn’t go into hyper-extension.

What was worse than the pain though, was that I lost motivation – a lot of it in a short amount of time. I lost motivation to climb because I felt like if I went too hard it would only exacerbate the pain (eventually I found a way around that), so I wouldn’t push myself, building up a huge mental block that seemed immovable. I was in physical therapy, but the program I was on just made me feel limited, like someone had clipped my wings. It snowballed into losing motivation in other areas of my life, including school.

For about the middle third of the semester, life got a little out of my hands. What’s good is that aside from chemistry, the rest of my classes turned out fine, though after I told my anatomy professor what was going on he understood the abnormal grade curve.  I was able to get myself together enough to pull through, though it felt like a  messy scramble to the finish line, and thinking back I can definitely say it was. Losing your sense of organization for an extended period of time part-way through the semester involves a hell of a recovery battle. I wasn’t prepared for it.

Everything that’s happened and that unfortunately is continuing has made me realize this, and it is why I am still pursuing what I am: I would not in a million years wish chronic pain of any source on anyone. I’ve never lost touch with myself more than I did this semester. And I realize that it isn’t just a relief from pain that patients are in search for, but also a ticket back to living life again, and not only doing what they love but enjoying it they way they should and deserve.

In all honesty, if I had the opportunity to go through it again to learn what I have, never in my darkest days would I. Rather, I would find some alternate way to that knowledge. However, I understand now what it is others who seek help from physical therapists are going through, and again, I would wish it on no one. Rather than merely help alleviate a person’s pain I want to help them not lose themselves in dealing with it. Pain is an unwanted mask, hiding a person’s true potential to live purely as themselves.

Athletes are a stubborn breed of people, and chronic pain only makes them more so. And for those who just want to live their lives in peace, it’s almost impossible when pain practices identity theft and makes you forget who you are and what it is about life that brings you that peace. I’m twenty-four years old. I’m way too young for this. I’m thankful that my sense saw an open window to sneak back into my consciousness, so that I finished the semester with the comforting thought of starting new again in just a few weeks time.

And because I haven’t posted in so long, some pictures from the past month and a half. I still do what I love. Another thing pain has taught me is that it’s never as bad when you make time for what’s important.

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Comp #3 of the Summit Comp Series. Had just gotten over a nice stomach bug… 

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And got to see my best friend’s city where she is currently in med school at the end of my Hueco trip!

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Then finally got new climbing shoes for my birthday! They were loved very much…maybe too much.


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