How Chronic Pain Can Transform You…A Very Long Story

Pain At The End Of My Season

Everything changed for me in an instant on November 1st, 2015. I had been through quite a lot on a personal level that year and I was at the end of my running season after qualifying for Boston during my first Marathon in May. Although training was going well, I developed pain in my feet which turned out to be Plantar Fasciitis (very common) towards the end of my training cycle for my last 1/2 marathon of the season. Since I was feeling much better 3 weeks before the race and was no longer in pain, my coach and I decided that I was healthy enough to go ahead and race that day and then take a good break afterwards.

Unusual Start

Everything about that race day was “off”. We were late getting to the race site, my boys were misbehaving, my husband was losing patience with them, it was so cold, and I was unusually nervous and struggled to get focused. To add, I couldn’t find my coach, it was raining non stop (then started to downpour) and I almost missed the start of the race because I didn’t start my warm up on time!      

My Shoe Laces

When the race started I realized that I didn’t check my shoes. Were they tied tight enough? Double knotted? Snug enough? Soon enough I was “in the zone” and forgot about my shoes, until midway through the race. It was POURING rain! My feet were soaking wet, my right shoe was way too loose and my foot was moving around in my shoe. I kept looking at my watch realizing that I was ahead of my goal time and I was literally having the race of my life (at the time). It had ALL come together: the training, the mental toughness, the sacrifice, the acquired knowledge, all of it! Until the 18th km…

POP

I had one steep uphill to go and then I was home free. I “flew” up the hill and on the way down my right foot kept slamming around in my shoe. Once I got to the bottom of the hill and I had less than 3km to go I heard a “POP” that came from my right foot! The pain was EXCRUCIATING, I started to slow down and hobble a bit. I looked at my watch and with less than 2km to go at that point I just ran to the finish. 

Keep Smiling

I was probably in total shock at that point, allowing adrenaline to take over to numb the pain,  I ran for my life, crossing the finish line before my estimated time with a new personal best for 21.1 km! But I knew I was really messed up. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t place any weight on my right foot. I didn’t want anyone to worry, so I just kept smiling and told everyone I was fine. Although I would fall into a deep pit of denial in the coming weeks, I just wanted to enjoy that moment for a little longer.

Broken Heart

I waited two weeks before going to the ER  to get an MRI (not the best choice). My Plantar Fascia had ruptured 80% during the race. Basically, I tore my arch. NO running for at least 12 weeks, NO more Boston. You should have seen me when my registration was accepted and I received my acceptance letter in the mail after my injury, I mourned it like a death. I should mention that Boston has been a dream of mine since the age of 14. I had no direction, I was devastated and completely heart broken.

Direction

My coach helped me find some direction. I returned to the gym to keep up with my strength training, got on the elliptical, and started a cycling program indoors. Luckily, my running coach is also a cycling coach! I started intense Physiotherapy and began to consult with a Sports Physiatrist who came highly recommended.The doctor was on board with everything I was doing, and suggested custom made orthotics. I tried my first pair of orthotics in late January (about 10 weeks later). It took some time to get used to them, I didn’t love the way they felt but I was following doctor’s orders. My foot felt much better and my scans showed that although the inside of my foot looked like a mess, the tear had healed. I was cleared to go for a short/slow run! But the Universe had other plans for me.

My Left Foot

I had been wearing the orthotics for over a month and started to feel some pain in my LEFT foot/arch. It just didn’t feel right. You would think by now I would have learned to listen and respect my body a little more but NOPE! All I was thinking about was getting back to running ASAP. I decided to go for that run that I was cleared for. My feet felt great while running and I thought it was all over, I thought that I was going to be fine, I thought I was home free. The next day, I had an increase in pain in my left foot.

Good News/Bad News

I went to see my doctor and he said “I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that the tear in your right foot has healed and scar tissue has formed, but the bad news is that you have a 63% tear in your left foot now”. I thought he was joking…he had a very strange bedside manner. I thought “this can’t be happening”. He said that it most likely tore from compensation.

Hell (February 2016)

Up until now, I kept it relatively together (emotionally) for the past three months with the first tear on the right, but this one blew me out of the water. I completely fell apart. Oh…and did I mention that I had lost my job, my hair was falling out due to anemia (due to malabsorption of nutrients, not undernourishment), my thyroid wasn’t working properly, and I was dealing with all the difficulty that my Autistic son was going through at school! YUP…you read right! I soon felt hopeless. alone, isolated, ashamed even (from the mistakes I had made), and I was consumed with anger. But what I didn’t know, was all the self transformation that was to come. But I had to walk through hell first.

Off My Feet

It took me a little while to get some clarity with all this. This time, it wasn’t the same though..my depression was clouding everything. And I was in chronic pain, ALL the time…24/7. Even my right foot started to hurt again even though it had healed, NO ONE knew why. We altered my strength routine at the gym to get me completely off my feet, I got off the elliptical and even stopped cycling in May. My Physiotherapist was doing all he could at the time, as were all my other athletic therapists.

Swimming

I decided to start swimming. This way I would be totally off my feet, no stress on my feet whatsoever, no impact. Now, you should know..I am NOT a swimmer. I have never even been comfortable in a bathing suit! My last swimming lesson was at the age of 11 (I was 41 at the time of this). I went to the pool to attempt a first easy workout and almost drowned. I must have swallowed half of the water in the pool! So, I decided to hire a swimming coach for a couple of months.

Confidence In The Pool

Soon, I was swimming 2000 m non stop. And soon enough, I was completing 1500 m FAST swims and improving my finishing times week by week (fast for a runner, ha!). I continued to swim four times/week, strength train at the gym, wore my Orthotics (like doctor ordered) and continued Physio and other therapies. Even though I was feeling a bit better overall, I knew something was off, I wanted to get some scans done to see what was going on inside my feet. And, deep down I knew that the Orthotics were doing me more harm than good (in my case, some people really do benefit from them). 

Plasma Injection

I went to see my doctor again. He said that the left tear was healing and was very small now. And although the right tear was healed, the fascia looked pretty messed up on the inside. He suggested a Plasma injection (doctor takes your blood and withdraws all the nutrients from it and injects it back into your foot which is supposed to induce healing), which is experimental at this point and not always successful. You see, there is no blood flow where fascia, tendons and ligaments are concerned. That is one reason why these types of injuries take SO long to heal. I decided to go for it.

No More Orthotics

We decided on injecting my right foot since I had more pain there at this point. My chronic pain was never the same, it would shift from foot to foot at anytime, the pain would shoot up into my hips and again…NO ONE could figure out why. But everyone was trying their best. With the help of my Physio (Tom), I also dumped my orthotics at this point. They weren’t helping me at all, 5 months later. I am so glad I did (as you will read why in a bit).

Henry The Boot

So, on June 14th, 2016 I went through with the Plasma injection procedure and I left the doctor’s office in a boot. I stayed in this boot for about a month, lugging it to the gym, doing chin ups with it. We even named it Henry. I was cleared to swim with my arms ONLY two weeks after the procedure, then with my legs 4 weeks later. I was hopeful, I was better, Physio was going well too. Until I left for Portugal in July.

Portugal..More Hell

I left for Portugal on a good note, but got off the plane and couldn’t walk. The pressure from the plane really affected me (I am very sensitive to altitude pressure, among other things). This triggered a VIOLENT resurgence of pain in both feet coming out of nowhere. My vacation was ruined, I cried every single day, I was basically bed-ridden for two weeks instead of enjoying this beautiful country. I felt incredibly guilty for my boys and my husband. I felt terrible that they had to see me like that, and I felt as though I was ruining their vacation too.

Never Ever Give Up

One afternoon in Portugal, I decided to start researching my apparent condition for the 100th time! I knew somehow I was going to get the help I needed once I got back home. I started to change my thinking, REFUSING to live like this anymore, this was now UNACCEPTABLE! It wasn’t even about running anymore, it was about my basic quality of life which I no longer had!  

What The Heck Is A Pedorthist?

I found an E-book online with ALL types of treatments to my apparent condition. At the end of the E-book it said “If you have tried all these treatments and nothing has worked, try seeing a Pedorthist, click here to find one near you”. I said “what the heck is a Pedorthist?” A Pedorthist specializes in biomechanics and lower limb assessment and the appropriate use of corrective footwear (for those that are curious). There are only two in Montreal, I called one of them from Portugal. I had an appointment the day after I arrived home.

Dearest Sonya

So I went to consult with this amazing woman named Sonya Matthews. She is one of two Pedorthists in Montreal. I told her my story and she was so empathetic and understanding (she is also a runner). She examined my feet/knees/hips and asked me to walk then slowly jog barefoot on the treadmill for a bit. I got off and she said “you have proper running technique, you have perfect feet, you don’t need Orthotics (I KNEW IT!) and you don’t need my services either, I am not even going to charge you for today. Go see this guy (she hands me a business card), he will help you. I am not the one”.

Another Osteopath?

I looked at the card, another Osteopath…?  In a way I was happy with what she told me, but in a way I thought “another Osteopath? How will it be different with this guy?” I should mention that until this point, I had consulted with and sought treatment from seven different people. I decided to call..he was on vacation for another two weeks, I left a message hoping that I would get a call back as soon as he got back and I did! He gave me an appointment in September.

Terrible Bedside Manner

While I waited for this appointment, I had a follow up with my doctor. He wanted to know how I was doing post Plasma Injection. When I told him that I was worse at times and the injection didn’t seem to work for me, he had this blank/almost annoyed look on his face. He seemed frustrated with my case and had nothing else to say to me except “here are two prescriptions to manage you your pain, come back if you need more meds”. I started to cry, he just left the examining room. A moment in time that I won’t forget, and I never took any of the medication.

Hope from Bruno

I had my first appointment with Bruno Moindrot on September 4th, 2016. A fellow marathoner, he has been running since the age of fourteen. He had a very calm demeanor, and he listened to my story with intent. Bruno really empathized with me on many levels, it was an instant connection. I was finally given some hope, after all this time. He told me that my condition was not hopeless and that I would indeed run again. Basically, my feet were chronically irritated, and my neural pathways were all messed up (when your brain is stuck, it still behaves as though you are injured but you are not). He also said “you don’t put orthotics on perfect feet like this”.  

ROCK BOTTOM

He would take me under his wing but I had to do EXACTLY as he said. I hung on to every word he said, starting with stretching four times day, contrast baths (ice cold bath/hot) and full body massages once/week for next eight weeks. I continued to swim and got back on the Elliptical at the gym. He worked together with my coach and eight weeks later (November 1st) I went for my first run. It was: run 1 min, walk 1 min, repeat three times. It finally hit me…I had to start ALL OVER FROM ROCK BOTTOM. Nothing could have humbled me more.

Fear Is A Liar

Week by week, I just followed exactly what my coach and Bruno had planned for me. It wasn’t always easy, but I was feeling so much better and at least I was running! Slow progress is still progress. During one appointment with Bruno in late March I was expressing how I was running with fear, always thinking about my feet, always worried. He said to me “stop running with your feet, run with your entire body, there is nothing wrong with your feet anymore”. On my next run, I finally LET GO. I let go of all the fear, all the trauma, I forgave myself for all the mistakes I had made, I stopped looking back and just ran free. I still remember that run.

New Personal Bests

On May 14th (Mother’s Day), I ran my first race in 18 months, I set a new PR for 5 km. Then on June 18th I set a new PR for 10 km. In July, I set a new PR for the Mile. I conservatively ran my first ½ Marathon in two years in August, introducing myself back to the distance. I am now slowly starting to prepare myself for Marathon training as I am running the Ottawa marathon in May 2018. It has been quite a year! 

During My Time Off

There were a couple of times throughout all this that I just wanted to give up. I mean, it’s not like I am a professional paid runner, this is not how I make my living. But, then what? During all this time off I really dug deep inside myself. I re-evaluated why I run, why it means so much to me, what it brings to my life, how running has helped me to finally live as my authentic self, not caring what anyone thinks of me. I mastered my diet, improved my sleep habits, and I worked on my mental toughness. My entire outlook and demeanor as an athlete changed for the better. I managed to get help for my Anemia and my thyroid, all is well now. I also got the job that I love back! 

What I Learned..

Through out all this, I ended up getting rid of anyone/anything that was toxic to me and/or my family, including any toxic thinking patterns. I learned to trust my body, trust the process/progress no matter how little or how slow. I “trained” myself to find hope on the darkest of days in the most unlikely places and people. There were days that I had to tolerate SO much pain that I managed to “meditate” it away, which now helps me during races and in training when things get tough. I learned who my real friends were, and what empathy and compassion truly mean. I discovered who and what I am without my running, and that it doesn’t determine my self worth like most people may think. It just ADDS to it. I now know that no matter what I will always be OK because I am a warrior. And I learned to appreciate and love every ounce of my body for what it CAN do, not for the way it looks and/or doesn’t look.

Transformation

In a tiny nutshell, running provides me with an amplified existence which I am extremely grateful for. It has brought some of the best people into my life who are helping me reach my full potential, who are helping me chase my dreams! When a terrible thing happens to you, you always have two choices; you can let it EMPOWER you, or let it have power OVER you. Only you can decide. But, I promise you one thing..if you let it empower and transform, you will not be the same person you once were. And no one can take that away from you.

Whatever it is…don’t give up. There is always hope, even if sometimes you have to search the ends of the earth to find it. Thanks SO much for reading this…xo

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Wow !! I enjoyed reading your story it’s so well written ❣️I admire your courage and strength for not giving up !! It’s unfortunate to go through so much pain…. the good thing about it you chose to come out as a stronger person. I wish you all the luck in the world to you and your little family 😘 Happy Holidays 🎄

  2. Beautiful Angela, Your words come across with an impact that inspires and motivates anyone going through struggle. Your message reminds me that the struggles and challenges we all face can be broken open with even a slight glimmer of hope. Once again, you are a light that shines beautifully through your words.. Thank You for sharing your deep life-changing experience. I am forever grateful and mindful of how blessed I am to have you a part of my life’s journey. I love you.

  3. Angela your candour, determination, hard work, never give up attitude are inspirational. Thank you for sharing your story. Happiest of Holidays & success in your 2018 goals!

  4. What a great read and so well written (another one of your many talents:)). Thank you for sharing your story and for letting us have a glimpse into your journey. You inspire me as a runner and make me thankful to be able run and to love it as much as I do. Love you message… let it empower and transform you. I hope your healing journey continues and all the best for 2018!

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