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This week, I was exhausted. I honestly felt dead on my feet and running on autopilot. All my senses were heightened. I felt zombified dragging myself from bed at 6am, emotional, grumpy and easily agitated. I still went through with plans, which I loved – I got myself back on the tennis court this week after a little haitus and really went to town – and *still* went running in the freezing cold rain. My body, however, was screaming for sleep, for respite, for quiet.

If I’m honest, I was a little apprehensive to write this post. I’ve suffered from chronic back pain for the last two and a half years, and wake most nights by pain so intense that all I want to do is cry. You tend to put on a brave face, a smile and a positive attitude even when you feel exhausted and broken, so opening up about this (properly) feels strange. I hope that I can help those around me, but more so help everyone else out there who is living with, or has experienced chronic pain and finds it difficult to express this to the people around them.

I had my appendix whipped out in September 2017 after terrible stomach ache for five days. Going from being an entirely independent woman to relying on others for help, was alien to me. As my parents live in London, I’d packed a bag post-surgery, whilst dosed up on morphine, with things I thought would be useful to move back to theirs whilst I recovered. Two days after surgery, the pain in my back and legs was excruciating and I couldn’t get out of bed by myself. My parents had a holiday booked, so nights were spent phoning my brother from two rooms away of the same house at 4am so he could help me to the bathroom. Thanks Ols for looking after me – you’re an absolute legend.

As I started to walk again and recover, I still experienced sleepless nights where I was so uncomfortable in bed, I had to get up and go downstairs to try and sleep better on the sofa. This continued for days, which turned into weeks, which subsided into months and now I’m sat here typing this two and a half years later. I’m not sure what happened in the operating theatre, but it took over double the time of the standard procedure for an appendectomy and I was told that everything had still gone to plan. Except my body hasn’t recovered from the trauma and I’ve lived with severe night-time back pain ever since. Sometimes the pain is so bad, I sleep a mere 2-3hrs and then struggle through a day in the office, dosed up on caffeine and wanting to gouge my eyes out. Other days, I wake up once only but still have to get up, make a tea, move around, stretch out, read for distraction. Anything to keep me distracted. 

Saying that, I’ve learnt (well, almost) to live with it. That doesn’t mean to say I’m giving up or “accepting” this is my life forever now. I’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of pounds on treatments that random acquaintances have suggested or programs that qualified practitioners have recommended, to no avail. I’ve been on and off A LOT of different drugs – paracetamol, ibuprofen, naproxen, diazepam, sominex, amitriptyline, pregabalin, gabapentin to name a few – seen more physios that I can count on two hands, chiropractors, osteopaths, gone through dozens of doctors and hospital appointments, multiple MRI scans, had acupuncture, deep tissue massage, tried CBD oil, stretch on a daily basis, used TENS machines, taken hot baths, tried meditatation, tried yoga classes and more. I’ve slept on different mattresses, the floor, the sofa, slept sitting upright in bed but nothing bar movement and being active tends to help the pain.

I know that in comparison to others, this is a tiny drop in the ocean and so I am grateful that through all of this, I’ve also run a half marathon, been able to power through gym sessions and weight lifting and somehow kept my head above water. Waking up in the early hours of the night or morning has meant I’ve seen sunrises that many will have missed, read and finished books, written lots of blog posts – so there are some positives.

I know that I have taken it out on the people closest to me; the ones I love the most, which isn’t always fair. I’ve struggled with the communication / retreat dilemma. How do you communicate, without going on and on about it, whining without anything positive to say, but also open up and be honest with how you feel? “How are you?” is always met with a “Fine”. But was I? Am I? I try and talk about it openly when people ask me how my back is, or when I’ve had a bad night of little sleep because maybe, just maybe one day someone will have a suggestion or an answer or a solution.

Over time though, the people closest to me, who have truly understood what I’m going through have been able to provide me with a few things that gave me hope and strength. Thank you to every single one of you – friends, colleagues, family – who have asked how I am and how my back is, and sent me suggestions of ways to try and solve the problem. I am forever grateful for that. These have been the things that have helped me through the hardest, most exhausting days, where everything was screaming and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and try to sleep so I feel a little more human and “normal” again. To be honest, that’s how I’ve felt this week. Too tired to operate and wishing I was a rechargable battery pack you could plug into the wall.

There are things that make living with chronic pain a little easier for both parties. First of all, making sure you communicate with the people around you is hugely important. You have to be able to open up to this and start a dialogue. Be honest and say exactly what is going on in your brain. My absolutely wonderful boyfriend always tells me to wake him up in the night and he truly means that. I never do, because one more insomniac in the world is never a good thing, but I hugely appreciate the support. It’s 100% ok to ask for help. This applies to both parties. Whilst you can understand there may be things that make life easier and better for the person that’s suffering, you might also need help as a loved one to that person. Yes, it’s super difficult and debilitating for people who live with chronic pain, but it can also affect the people around that person too. Listen and last but not least, show them you love them. In this case, in the form of cookies is totally acceptable and I don’t think anyone would turn them down. If you’re suffering from chronic pain or know someone that is, and have any more tips that have helped you, please, please let me know.

Tahini, spelt and dark chocolate cookies

125g spelt flour
100g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2tsp salt
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
75g tahini
200g light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1tsp vanilla extract
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
Sesame seeds, to coat

  1. Place the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and mix together to combine, then set aside.
  2. Put the butter, tahini and sugar into a large bowl and using an electric whisk, beat together until light and fluffy. This should take about 5-7mins.
  3. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and beat again to combine.
  4. Scrape down the sides of your bowl using a spatula, then pour in your dry ingredients. Mix with your whisk until a dough starts to form.
  5. Add your chopped chocolate and use your hands to evenly distribute.
  6. Scoop the dough into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for 4 hours until firm.
    N.B. You can always make these a day ahead and bake them the next day.
  7. Weigh the dough out 60g at a time, and shape into balls. Roll in a bowl of sesame seeds to cover.
  8. Place onto parchment-lined baking trays, a few inches apart as they will spread. Bake in a preheated oven at 190C (170C fan) for about 10-11 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on a baking tray for 10minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

    Recipe adapted from The Boy Who Bakes
February 23, 2020