This has been a very frustrating and dispiriting week for me. I have been struggling with a repetitive strain injury for 4 years now and I’m going through a particularly bad flare up at the moment.
It all started in the run up to Christmas 2010 (it’s strange, writing that, to consider how long it’s been) when I was deep in revision for the January set of my final year exams. Writing was my tried and trusted method of processing and remembering information and with 5 exams on the horizon, I was at it almost every waking moment. When I wasn’t writing revision notes, I was de-stressing at the piano. My poor right hand never stood a chance!
By January, I realise now that I’d probably done some serious damage – the slightest movement caused shooting pains through my wrist and up my forearm. I couldn’t cook for myself, drive or even wash my hair properly. Writing anything but the essentials was out of the question and, forced to change the habits of over 10 years of exam prep, I had to find other ways to revise. It was an incredibly stressful and terrifying time. I struggled through the exams with Ibuprofen and a wrist splint obtained in a panicked, tearful visit to the GP.
There was no let up for my wrist and in no time at all, the June exams rolled around. My university were great; they let me sit all my exams separately with as much time as I wanted. They were very trusting – under the circumstances it would have been easy to sneak some notes in. Not that was exactly easy to cheat with course topics as diverse as mine were!
However, the damage had been done in other ways. I’d become prone to anxiety attacks. I’d waste hours of precious time distracted by the pain in my wrist and drowning in helplessness and fear of failure. The breakdown of a physical part of my body manifested itself as a complete loss of confidence in my mental abilities. I was completely stressed out and miserable for most of the time.
With lots of support from family and friends, I still managed to get the degree result that I wanted. I’ll always wish that I got those couple of extra percentage points, but I guess ‘what-ifs’ are only human nature. In comparison to some of the issues experienced by friends and course-mates of mine, none of this was serious. But the effects of those 6 months have stayed with me a long time.
A year later I was still struggling with the negative mindsets ingrained during that semester. Eventually I learned to deal with my anxiety by stepping back from my situations and appreciating the difference between reality and my own perceptions. No one can be happy all the time, but I’ve learnt some things that work for me!
The pain in my wrist eventually subsided, but I’ve had a weakness ever since. Any sustained use, writing and playing the piano in particular, triggers a flare up. It’s incredibly disheartening not to be able to do something you enjoy.
Back to the present. After months of little niggles resulting from DIY projects, the final straw for my wrist was cutting up a butternut squash. (If you’ve ever prepped one, you’ll know what a pain, literally, those things are! But yummy)
The pain is back. My arm aches constantly, like it has been shut in a door. My wrist burns. At work I’m confined to my desk, typing with my left hand while my dominant right is forced to rest, useless. It is debilitating and incredibly frustrating. Simple tasks are out of reach – an insight into what it must be like to live as an amputee. The one upside – my boyfriend has been forced to take over the cooking.
I’ve been back to the GP for the first time since the original episode. It’s not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which I’d always thought it might be – more likely tendonitis. I’m currently on a course of anti-inflammatory tablets which, while helping my wrist, give me unbearable hangover-like nausea. Think I’ll be switching those up! I want to know exactly what the problem is (I am a trained scientist after all!) and what I can do. I’m booked in to see a specialist next week…fingers crossed!
I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to garner sympathy here – this a chance for me to record and reflect. But to anyone who might ever read this, take care of your body and listen to the signs when something is wrong.