I started hurting bad at the end of 2017. Once it became too much to ignore, it was suddenly all-encompassing.
In hindsight, I was suffering from nerve compression from two herniated discs in my low back. These herniations had been caused by repetitive stress over many years and solidified in a minor motorcycle accident earlier that year, where I had preceded to travel carrying a backpack for another month after the crash. The repetitive stress was caused by incorrect posture, muscle engagement patterns, and spinal alignment, which were in turn caused by joint hyper mobility throughout my entire musculoskeletal system (most likely some connective tissue disorder, but we're not yet sure).
This is what I know today, and it took a long time to learn. At the time, I had no idea what was going on. The spinal nerve compression presented as an unbearable pressure-pain in my low back. The raging sciatica was comparably easy to ignore. I was unable to sleep or work, and the things that made me happy started to fall away from reach. I stopped biking, cancelled my climbing gym membership, and traveling was out of the question. I was previously an avid yogic practitioner and had attained my 200 RYT certification just one year prior. I had also just graduated from college with a degree in Ecology. The timing was terrible. I pushed myself at one point during this unmitigated darkness, unable to accept my fate, and went abroad. I spent the entire trip crying in my hostel bed.
I had no clue what was going on. I started seeing doctors, desperate for answers, which quickly reverted to a desperate need for validation alone. I saw PC after PC, who in turn referred me to so many specialists. I had dozens of x-rays and MRI's. I had terms like "scoliosis" and "spina bifida" thrown around (which were both already known and present in the imaging), but nothing to explain the degeneration. The images of degeneration alone couldn't even confidently validate the pain. Many doctors didn't believe my pain symptoms, several having the gall to openly dismiss me from their clinics as if I were faking it. As an Asian woman, I sometimes felt like I was being looked down upon before I even opened my mouth. Many others prescribed me opioids while openly and confidently expressing their unwillingness to help me find answers. I was suddenly on so many medications, that the days and months began to blur into a muddled mess of pain, fear, confusion, and invalidation. I became obsessed with and terrified of advocating for myself to any medical professionals.
While still in my unmitigated darkness, general physical therapy for herniated discs and bodywork were the only things that helped... and barely.
Note: all photos on this page were taken in 2018
PAIN BREEDS GROWTH & CHANGE...
IN THIS CASE NUDITY & SELF PORTRAITURE
By Spring of 2018, I was suicidal. I had stopped working. I had no income. I was drowning in insurance and medical billing issues. I was still in the dark about my pain and now on a bunch of medications that made me stupid and unable to think. I was dependent on doctors who didn't believe me or want to help. Evenings were the worst-- tired from a whole day of pain and not ready to compress my nerves in bed. Looking back, it's gut wrenching how little tools and insight I had into managing my own comfort in my body. I would spent my nights getting drunk, crying til I was numb, and ripping out my hair. A lot of friends dropped like flies. I hadn't known what to tell them. And I didn't even care. Most of them didn't know what I was battling with, and if they did they did not know the depths. I was embarrassed by my own confusing spiral and traumatized by my lack of medical validation. I didn't want to give anyone else a chance to be confused or in disbelief.
At the beginning of Summer, I hit a rock bottom... and the ground gave out from under me. I added antidepressants to the regime, but stopped taking a lot of the painkillers-- merely covering up symptoms and keeping me from finding a root cause. I was graciously offered an easygoing role at my old job and was able to somewhat sustain myself. I spent the summer taking off in my car for days, back pain be damned, and doing lots of weird shit. I'd drive to the depths of the desert or the woods and frolic naked all day long. I'd sit in natural bodies of water for hours, just existing. I started taking pictures of myself. I had previously done some shoots with friends so was familiar with this node of expression. It felt really powerful and excitement was stirring in me again. I made some new friends and we all hung out naked and while shooting each other. I spent time at nude sanctuaries, realizing my ability to exist non-sexually. It felt so good. I screamed into canyons. I slept outside. I pretty much lived in my car. I walked in endless meditative circles around trees. All of these things helped. I relinquished the white-knuckle grip on untangling my pain and forced myself to just BE. I began to feel like myself again, despite the limitations; despite the hurt.
In the Fall of the same year, I was doing a little better having found photography to fill the hole that was left by an inability to function well or travel. I was still in pain, unable to work, and had no idea what was going on. But getting naked outside, swimming in lakes every day, and expressing myself photographically was sustaining my will to live and to keep pursuing answers to my pain (and in turn figure out how to heal). But I was tired.
It wasn't until the end of the summer, in August, that something big happened to propel my journey forward. I was in bed, not really sleeping but not really panicking either. A better night than most-- relaxing into the usual placid, languid feelings of encroaching doom. And mentally feeling my way up and down my spine... searching for clues? And suddenly it hit me. I made it to down my sacrum and felt my pelvis thrusting forward, tucking my tailbone and tipping my butt anteriorly inward. I tried to relax this sensation, and realized that it had assumed a steadfast grip from constantly tensing in this direction. I wondered if other people held their pelvis this same way-- surely not, as the unconscious effort became uncomfortable as soon as I was aware.
I absolutely leapt out of bed. Without thinking, I grabbed my point and shoot camera and a $30 tripod I had recently acquired for my summer frolics. I set the camera at hip-level and took a photo from the side of me standing as naturally as I could. And it looked weird! Maybe I was on to something.
I found some side view pictures of other women standing for comparison purposes, and it was suddenly so obvious. Their spines were straight, their joints were stacked. The back edge of their shoulder blades lines up with the back edge of their butts. Their shoulders and arms fell naturally alongside their torsos. The photo of me, by comparison, showed my shoulder blades father back than my butt, my pelvis tucked and hips thrust forward, and the front side of my torso splaying out and arching back like the curve of a banana. I attempted to correct these differences and took another picture. It felt so alien and I knew right away that I had a posture imbalance in my body. A huge one. As soon as I "untucked" my sacrum in the second photo, there was a huge arch in my low back, and I realized how little my core was doing to keep me upright. All of the weight and stress was placed in my low back, butt, and hamstrings. One alien correction lead to the next, and thus began the postural journey.