I’ve started and stopped writing this blog post several times over the last couple months, not sure how to put to pen what I’ve been going through. I wanted to be able to provide an update as well as some encouragement to others facing life’s challenges, but every time I sat down to write this, I couldn’t find the words. Today, I did. ♥
When I got Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS II) after my fourth surgery in 2012, I began down a path I never knew I would travel. If you don’t know about CRPS, I encourage you to do some research. It’s a devastating condition that can come on randomly or as in my condition, by injury to a nerve. While symptoms can vary by person, it caused me extreme burning pain, temperature change, hypersensitivity, and muscle contracture. When I got the ExoSym in 2013, it was a miracle because the device kept my leg locked in place and redistributed my weight-bearing which helped with my ankle injury and the CRPS. For the first time in several years, I could walk and run again without pain. I felt free. Because even the slightest sense of ankle movement, heat, or touch could incite my CRPS, I kept my leg immobilized in the device and protected beneath the sock as much as I could. This worked great for several years as I worked out and competed in events and races and lived some of the most #ExoSymplyAmazing years of my life thanks to the ExoSym, but when I fell from a rope ceiling at CrossFit in 2016 and landed right on my device, I knew I had badly injured my heel. As a stubborn athlete, I tried to push that pain aside and just adapted my way of walking in the device to accommodate [note: do not do this!]. But when the pain started catching up with me a year and a half or so later, I could no longer ignore the physical symptoms rearing beneath the sock. The injury had caused my leg to return to its purple, cold, contracted and burning hot ways in worse shape than I’d ever seen it before, and I could no longer bear to walk on the heel that I had injured from the fall. I couldn’t even bear weight on the device without limping. I had no choice but to face it head on. Little did I know how much courage this would take.
At the start of my extensive reconstructive nerve and soft tissue surgeries about a year + ago, I was caught by surprise learning how much damage I had done over the years by just pushing through the pain and I was devastated when I realized I had to put my ExoSym aside during the stages of surgeries. I didn’t want to take my “shield” off. Even though I knew deep down I had to, I struggled to put the ExoSym down. I was scared to be without it. As a fifth surgery turned into a sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, and one month on crutches turned into 13+, I felt like I had not only lost my sense of identity and community, but the one thing that had impacted my life so much, the ExoSym. But what I’ve come to realize in life is that the sooner we learn to embrace change, the more resilient we become. I didn’t think I could make it without my ExoSym (and I didn’t want to), but as life would have it, I’ve had to. And through two peripheral nerve stimulators implanted in my leg, extensive nerve repairs, tendons lengthened and repaired, in and out of Ketamine comas, infusions, ICUs, nerve blocks, physical therapy – my spirit has fought on in more ways than I ever knew it could.
When I look back to the “Beth” I see in the early ExoSym testimonial video, I see a girl who thought she had been through the worst of life’s challenges. Four surgeries, the onset of CRPS, traveling the country for medical treatment through several years on crutches. I know it was hard for her. But she persevered, found the ExoSym and life was on the up – she felt invincible. I think the “Beth” I see today five years later: a severe car accident and five more ankle surgeries has learned that no matter how tough you think life is/has been, it can always get tougher, but so can we, and so can our faith. The spirit holds on long after the body has resigned. If you ever feel like you can’t make it another day, hold on. You’ve got to find it in yourself to believe for better days ahead. Several times over the last year, I’ve considered just giving up, thinking I can’t do this anymore (yes, even sunshine Beth has bad days!). The quote “never give up” became hard to hold on to. The pain became too unrelenting. But God has never let me give up and my parents, family, friends, Team ExoSym, coworkers, doctors, nurses haven’t either. As I sit here today, over 400 days on crutches later, I’m still fighting. It’s not always easy to do when your goals and dreams feel far from reach, but you have to keep your head up and celebrate the small wins along the way. Two steps forward, one step back. It’s as much of a physical journey as it is mental. Know it’s okay to have some bad days and setbacks, just don’t let them keep you down too long. The sun always rises no matter how dark the night. Find that light and press on.
As I’ve been recovering from my latest surgery from about 3 weeks ago, I’ve been reflecting on this 8-year injury journey. I am grateful for the friends I have made along the way, the medical teams who have fought for me and never given up, and spirit of God who has never left my side. I feel hopeful, nervous and excited to start physical therapy soon and see how my leg progresses (fingers crossed). I am reminding myself to practice patience and remember that this is not a linear journey. In life, nothing is certain. Injuries happen, our health changes, but when we learn to accept our challenges, we adapt, and press on. But we have to fight for it. I will run again, I’m determined to. Will it be in the ExoSym? I don’t know yet, we will have to see how my ankle and leg progress from the last five surgeries and what steps will be needed next, but what I do know is that the ExoSym and Hanger Clinic #TeamExoSym family played a deeply important role in my initial injury/recovery and while my health condition changed over the last couple years with my second injury, I’ve had to learn to face these new challenges as I work towards this next stage in my recovery. With that being said, I don’t know where this blog will end up. I wish I had some Exo-fashion, workout, or wisdom to pass on at the moment, but perhaps all I can share is my story and hope that you can take something from it. We each travel a unique journey in this life, but we all get the life we choose to fight for. Don’t ever give up on yours – and I won’t either. 😉
Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.