My Weakness. My Strength.

I am usually not one to speak of my health. As a guy who spend over a decade earning money based on strength and toughness in the roofing industry, hiding my pain has been something that I have become accustomed to. However, as I get older, I realize more and more that many of us are hiding health issues from the public eye to present a façade of strength. Weakness, especially in men, is not a desirable trait in American culture.

I just want you to know that you are not alone, and it is okay to hurt.

Back in 2014, my family and I went on a vacation. On the flight back, I sat in an awkward position on the airplane as I attempted to keep my then 16-month-old entertained and quiet. We stopped at McDonald’s after landing. When I stood up to leave, my back locked in place. It took an immense amount of effort to stand up straight and get home.

The next day, I went to urgent care. They gave me some meds and ordered up an MRI. It was then that I found out that I had degenerative disc disorder in my L4-L5 lumbar. I went to a great chiropractor in Las Vegas (Dr. Rick Owen at Quality Chiropractic). After a few sessions over the course of about two months, he put me back in place. I was able to function pretty well and only needed adjustments every six months or so.

On May 13th, 2017, my cousin and I were involved in a pretty bad car accident. A woman made an illegal left turn in front of us as we were cruising around 50 MPH. The resulting injuries included some bruised ribs and a sore neck. Dr. Rick once again came to the rescue and helped get us fixed up. This took quite a few weeks, and I noticed that my neck vertebrae now clicked more often as I turned to look into my car mirrors. When I was back in alignment, I returned to my twice annual adjustment schedule.

Because of the accident, I applied for life insurance. I was eventually rejected as I found out that I developed type-II diabetes.

I received my last adjustment from Dr. Rick just before moving back to Ohio, as I figured I would need the extra help when driving across the country. I held up until around February of this year. It was a gradual process, but I eventually found myself in excruciating pain in my lower back and right shoulder. The doctor advised me to seek treatment, and I found myself a new chiropractor. She worked diligently to correct the problem beginning with twice weekly sessions beginning near the first of March. This did not relieve me as it did in the past.

Shortly after, I ended up quitting my job at the end of March to begin a new career in home repair. I knew my back and shoulder pain would affect me, but I figured that I could alleviate some of the pain by going to the chiropractor. I was wrong. Though he promised me a minimum of two solid months of work, my boss had nothing beyond three weeks. Desperate, I decided to try to go back to my old, tried and true profession of roofing. I had been holding up decently when painting and doing flooring, though I was still sore. I thought maybe I could withstand roofing as long as I continued to see the doctor and take pain meds.

I could not. That one day of roofing led to intense pain in my lower back – so much so that I was practically in tears.

That brings me to the description of pain that I have been hiding from everyone but my lovely wife. My shoulder pain feels like a constant pinched nerve. I found out recently that my neck also has a degenerative disc and arthritis has started to invade my neck and lower spine. The only way I can relieve my shoulder pain is through stretching my neck, but at least I can manage that pain most of the time. My back, on the other hand, is a different story.

It feels like my entire lower back is cramping. The pain radiates from my spine down my left leg, spirals around my thigh, and reaches almost down to my left knee. No amount of stretching or ibuprofen stops it from hurting once it starts. If I slouch, it hurts. If I stand in one place for longer than about five minutes, it hurts. If I lay in bed on my side to watch tv, it hurts.

Basically, if I am not sitting in a chair with near perfect posture, my back feels like it is cramping up. The nearest pain I could compare it to is a mild kidney stone, though the intensity does not last as long. Those of you who have had that wonderful experience know that even a mild stone can be incredibly painful. I fidget a lot more now, because I have to find that sweet spot. I shift my weight or pace as much as I can when I am in the checkout line at the grocery store. If Mandy stops to look at shampoo for too long, I have to walk around the store and come back when she is ready to move on. I cannot explain why walking hurts less than standing, but it does to a point. Walking too long also hurts.

I had to quit that roofing job after just one day. When I went home, I spent the next few hours in severe pain. I ran through my pantheon of back stretches. I soaked in a cold bath. I put ice on my lower back. I pounded ibuprofen. I stretched some more. Iced more. Sat in my comfortable recliner – the only chair I can relax in. I stretched again. The pain was unbelievable, but I was willing to give it until morning. The next day, I could hardly move. I called off, they were furious, and I went ahead and quit. I had to admit to myself that my days of being the strong, tough guy were over.

I had a few more sessions with the chiropractor before they told me my insurance would no longer pay for treatment. My back was still hurting. My neck still felt weak. I realized that this is my new normal. 15 sessions of treatment could not put me back in alignment. The only thing I can do now is hope for a complete lifestyle change. Losing weight is my only hope of relieving pain – and that is no guarantee.

I have not been able to find a job that does not require me to do some type of awkward, heavy lifting. I cannot go back to roofing or home repair. I cannot do any job where I am required to stand in one place for several hours a day, like retail. I had one job offer from the post office, but I do not believe I can carry around a 70lb sack of mail through inclement weather for several miles a day without having the same horrible pain.

I cannot live in a state of constant physical anguish. I cannot survive the pain by popping pills and spending every night for the rest of my life stretching on the floor for several hours. I must be more particular about what type of job I can do, so that I do not have to live in resentment for my physical state.

I have been feeling like a total failure. I am not earning a living. I have no career. The education that I spent a small fortune on is not paying off. Our move across the country has not been fruitful. I have shed tears – which is something that I have done maybe six or seven times over my post-adolescent life. I have doubted my worth as a husband, a father, a friend, and even as a human being.

I think my internal pain is manifesting externally among peers. It seems as though many people have been staying away from me. I feel like I am on an island when I am in any public setting, or even on social media. I’ve never been the most outgoing person, but something has changed how others act toward me – and I notice it more and more. I feel much more socially isolated than I have been in the past.

I am in the middle of one of the most physically painful and emotionally draining periods of my life. I have not worked in nearly two months. I have received only one job offer, and it is for a position that I cannot physically handle. My patience is being tested. My Faith is being tested. If not for the amazing support of my wife and parents, I am not sure I could handle it. I find refuge in reading God’s word every day, but I still struggle.

I am in the middle of being humbled in a way that I have never been. I am experiencing the deterioration of my body as many people do as they age, but I am doing so without any semblance of a career. My primary tool for earning a living for the past twenty years has been taken away from me, and I cannot find any organization willing to test my leadership or intellect – which is about all I have left to offer.

This has been a trying time; a painful time on many levels. However, I maintain my Faith that God will provide. He always has, and I believe He will again in His time. I know that others are dealing with similar physical problems – many who read this are dealing with even worse ones. I know that others are dealing with financial hardship. I know that I am not alone, and I want you to know that neither are you.

I am writing this as a public service announcement that it is okay to swallow your pride. It is okay to let people know what is bothering you. I trust that those who know me will understand why I am waiting on that “perfect” opportunity. I would not judge you for doing the same. I believe my trials are part of God’s plan for my life. I believe that, in His infinite wisdom, my testimony will be used to give Him honor and glory.

I can deal with losing my health, so long as my family is provided for. I just need to commodify my other attributes. In the end, God’s will for my family will be done. I praise God that we have been able to survive as long as we have, and I know things will look up eventually.

My weakness has given me the strength to admit my flaws. If you would like to talk with me about what you are going through, you can find me on social media or email me at alex.simmons1980@hotmail.com.

I am not alone, and neither are you.

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