Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Chronic pain, choice and the West Coast League of Lady Wrestlers.

*This personal essay is a guest post by a good friend of mine, c.*

Chronic pain, choice and the West Coast League of Lady Wrestlers

“I was surprised at how mobile you were given how you talk about your body”. Over the weekend I wrestled in the Garden City Smack Down with the West Coast League of Lady Wrestlers. I got on stage, swung a foam bat around, got picked up, got beat up, snarled, kicked, and screamed. It felt amazing.

When a loved one made that comment to me the morning after the match, I felt defensive. Did the physicality of my performance somehow mean that I was no longer living with chronic pain and the accompanying fear of re-injury? I felt like mobility was being prized above the fact that I was actually really strategic and smart about the moves I chose; practicing for hours at home how I could fall in staggered steps to reduce the impact on my body while still putting on an entertaining show; how I designed my character to have a bat in order to give her upper body more strength since I can’t punch, pick up, or push my opponent; and how we were so selective of the types of upper body impact we had in our match. But most of all, the comment, and so many other comments I hear regularly, underline the fact that living with invisible chronic pain is a constant battle of reaffirming my personal boundaries and having to justify the choices I make about my body.

Having a space in the ring to perform strength and physical power felt so damn good. These are two things I have not felt for a few years since I was injured. Embodying my character and throwing down with my (amazing) wrestling partner was a risk I wanted to take. It’s my choice to decide if, when and how I want to risk hurting my body, as it should be for everyone. But because I choose to risk pain today, it doesn’t mean my disability has disappeared. And it doesn’t mean I am open to being questioned about the decisions I make with my body. When I ask for help, or say no, it’s because I am choosing to conserve the little energy I have left, because I don’t have the capacity to deal with the physical and emotional pain at that moment. And if I choose to risk it, that is for me alone to decide.

I decided to participate in the West Coast League of Lady Wrestlers about a year ago, when I saw the Velvet City Rumble. When tickets went on sale the first thing I had to check on the event listing was if there was seating. I was worried about what kind of back support the chairs had, if I would be able to sit for the whole match, if I would block the people behind me when I had to get up every twenty minutes to stretch because the pain of sitting was too much. Sitting sucked, as it always did for the first two years after the accidents but the show inspired in me things I hadn’t felt since moving to Victoria from Montreal. At that moment, I decided I would wrestle in the next year’s rumble. I even thought of my character.

In 2014, two months into moving my entire life across the country, I severed several ligaments in my spine, resulting in debilitating pain in my neck, shoulder and thoracic area. A few months after that, I got whiplash, complicating my existing injury. The resulting pain meant that simple daily tasks like lifting the kettle, a frying pan, even brushing my teeth, was so painful, that I was forced to adapt every daily task, and rely on others around me for constant help. While I was avoiding the pain, I was also losing muscle mass. While the level of pain has slowly decreased over the years with countless hours (and dollars) of therapy, I have about 30% of the strength that someone with my build would have on average. The most physically demanding part of my match was holding my 1lb foam baseball bat in my right arm and dancing with it (yeah- the visual of this may sound silly but it was really tough in the ring!).

While I will likely never be able to carry a hiking pack again (a big part of my life pre-accident), and I can’t hold my partners hand on my right side, and I am working on adapting a bicycle so I can hopefully cycle again, I also live with a ton of physical abilities, and experience and participate in able-bodied privileges every day. My pains peak and recede depending on stress, and what I choose to engage in. For a lot of things, with the help of others, I experience life in a lot of the same ways as before the accidents.

My limited strength does mean that I am constantly asking others for help and saying “No I cant do that” and often repeating, “No, I really cant do that”. When those moments happen I am overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame because I feel that I am not participating equally in the tasks at hand. I have to remind myself that the world is a better place when we forget about over simplified notions of equality and rather focus on how we can each use our privileges, skills, and abilities to support one another when we can (or lifting that heavy thing up for someone else because you can) so that everyone has access to participate in whatever they want, in their own way, without judgment.

Asking for help is already really fucking hard. When I ask for help picking something up, if you’re able, just do it; referencing how mobile or strong I appeared on stage (or yesterday, or the week before) is hurtful and undermining because what I am hearing is “You chose to be in pain then why cant you chose to be in pain now?”. That is not your choice, it is mine, and mine alone.

Thanks to the West Coast League of Lady Wrestlers and my wrestling partner for all the heavy lifting and reminding me of the other parts of me that are really strong. 

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