I am a 51-year-old NZ male. My story starts at an early age of 12 years old. However, I think it’s very possible it could have started in my mother’s womb.
There were two congenital conditions. First, a spinal defect Spondylolisthesis (L5 vertebrae slips forward of the sacrum) - a cause of pain. Secondly, a brain condition connected to the amygdala called Congenital Hypervigilance (a constant behaviour of scanning the environment for danger) - a cause of anxiety.
My most dominant emotional memory of early childhood is extreme fear. This brought me to the assumption that I was born scared. My parents used to say I was a shy boy; I have come to understand it more than they could.
This is the hypervigilant part of my brain in action. The amygdala is oversized and overactive, due to my mother having a very stressful pregnancy. In the third trimester, my amygdala grew in size - signals from my mother were passed on to me, saying - it’s a very dangerous world out there.
The birth defect Spondylolisthesis came to light when I injured my spine at the age of 12. Misunderstanding the forces of nature, I took a running jump from a very high position on a hillside erosion. Leaping out off the top point, I flew through mid-air for 15 odd metres and crashed on my feet on the hard surface at the bottom of the slipped earth. This effectively forced the L5 vertebrae out of the spinal column at the sacrum.
This was the start of severe pain. With the hypervigilance in place, I went through my school years and life in pain and disconnection. I struggled to focus/concentrate on schoolwork because of the pain of sitting. My education or ability to learn was considerably hindered.
I had not even been taken to a doctor, and there was no diagnosis from any specialist until I was 32 and living In Australia. A doctor diagnosed me with Spondylolisthesis. On numerous occasions in my teen years I had approached doctors with back pain, but they dismissed me as weak-muscled and suggested I do more gym training. Interestingly, I played rugby from a young age of eight and enjoyed it. After my accident at 12 I noticed that I had no concerns playing rugby in regards to back pain - in fact when playing the pain disappeared. However it would soon return after the game and was worse the next day.
At 15 years old I started to drink alcohol. That was accepted in the 70s-80s in NZ. I was a complete alcoholic at 17 and continued to drink heavily into my forties. I know now I was self-medicating for the pain. I lived in the pain zone and managed it with alcohol. Up until this point I had no understanding of depression, but I was already depressed, depressed since I was 12, suppressing it with alcohol and excessive employment.
At 40 I was overworked, unhealthy and recently separated. I had a minor breakdown. The doctor informed me I had to change my lifestyle - with high cholesterol, prediabetes, liver complications and still severe pain, I had to stop drinking. I was diagnosed with severe depression and put on antidepressants. My drinking got worse.
I struggled for the next year but identified that my job as a cabinetmaker was holding me to the pain zone. I was drinking for relief. The penny dropped and I started to view my life from a different perspective. To stop drinking, I had to put an end to the pain zone. I quit my job and managed to stop drinking at 41 years old.
I re-educated in mental health studies and was employed as a residential support worker in a supportive accommodation provider for those living with psychiatric disabilities. With a new career underway I managed to come off antidepressants and stay sober. It was the start of a new life.
As the years went I became a manager and performed a computer job in the main office, Unfortunately I had a resurgence of pain from sitting and depression returned; after a year in the position I started to drink again.
I was quick to identify this and had to leave the job. I re-educated in the fitness industry and become a Personal Trainer, focusing on movement for sedentary workers, pain relief and movement improvement. I am currently setting up my own exercise studio. I still get anxiety and have low mood days. I don’t suffer anywhere as much pain, due to my education on anatomy and movement patterns.
I am still a non-drinker after almost 10 years. I lost all the weight I gained, and no longer have prediabetes although I have a strict diet. My aim in life is to help others overcome their life problems, whether it be mental or physical. My exercise studio is for those that live with health issues, to help people become aware of themselves and their bodies, because when one thing goes wrong with the body a domino effect occurs and it’s hard to get back on track.
After 40 years of effort in understanding what is wrong, I want to give people hope to correct things and become who they should become.
A book that I recently read that was a revelation to me - Lost Connections, by Johann Hari. It resonated with me because it describes well my journey of reconnections. Now, I am seeking to be part of that journey for others.
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