My disease, my crutch | by Steph Wall

What defines me who I am today, as I live and breath. Pure, raw and true.

Let me tell you about the most conflicting best news I’ve ever received.

A few years ago I injured my back in yoga (I hadn’t been enlightened on this “ego” thing yet), subsequently discovering I had Degenerative Disc Disease. Several doctors confirmed. The x-rays were proof. There I was, five days before my yoga teacher training, unable to do a forward fold and in agonising pain. Not liking being told what to do, I ignored my doctors advice and went to my training. I persevered, I conquered, I eventually folded.

The prognosis was heartbreaking. I was told no more impact. No snowboarding, no running. Oh and this whole teaching yoga thing? I was told to revisit that idea in five years once my back was “better”. I was now at risk of compressing my spine because of the lack of cushion I had between the vertebrae in my low back. But within two years I was physically feeling freakishly fantastic. Pain was minimal, folds were deep, core was strong. So the other day, out of curiosity, I visited a new physio to get a little check up on my back. Although I felt great, I wanted to be sure my discs and spine were happy. That’s when I got the worst best news ever.

“Who the heck told you you have DDD?” he asked after 30 seconds of doing a spinal range of motion test.

“Three doctors confirmed....why?” I replied, curious.

“There is no way you could have Degenerative Disc Disease with this range of motion in your spine. It’s phenomenal. There’s just no way. I’m not sending your for x-rays, if you feel fine, there’s no point.”

I left feeling over the moon. I called my parents right away and I texted my besties. Then I realized something awful with this great news.

Over the last two years, I unknowingly began identifying myself with my disease (notice I even call it my disease, as if I owned it). I let the DDD become a part of who I was. My recovery, proving to the world the healing power of yoga and using my story to inspire others was my thing. Now I was being told there’s no way I could actually have it. I felt like my story was taken from me. I felt like a fraud.

A light was now shone on to all the excuses I made because of my DDD.

“Of course I can’t do inversions, what would happen to my back if I fell wrong?”

“Of course I can get into a deep forward fold, that’s how I slipped a disc because I have DDD!”

“Look at me, I’m the teacher that was told I’d never do yoga again!”

Except now maybe this wasn’t the truth. 

One would think I would feel relief but I did not. I felt confused and apprehensive as I saw all my justifications and excuses fall through my fingers. I felt like I was standing on the ledge of a very deep pool without my water wings on. No floaties now. No safety net.

It’s funny the excuses we bring onto our mats. It’s crazy the excuses we make in our lives. All the crutches we fall back on. My realisation extended beyond the physical as I started to rethink the chunk of me I attached to this disease. Shit, if I allowed this part of me to be associated with a label I had for only two years, what other stories did I let become me? Instead of trying to dig up old bones and find more discoveries, I cultivated one massive piece of wisdom that I chose to carry with me from now on; I am not what I have.

Two things either happened from my physio appointment. Either my diagnosis was wrong the entire time, or I beat my “disease”. Regardless of what the clinical conclusion is, my truth it is this; When I strip away my titles, my stories, my labels, my diagnosis, what’s left is just me. In my most true, raw and pure form.

I went through the pain. I dealt with the challenges and often times still do. I healed through yoga and have inspired others with my story. I know this would not have happened without my injury and for that, I am grateful. However, my past stories are now irrelevant. I want to inspire people with who I am today. That is, a a pain-free body that supports my active lifestyle. Mountains of experience. A dedicated practice. A deep gratitude and respect for my body and it’s limitations. A shrunken ego.

The wisdom I gained from yesterday I speak with my words. My physical and mental strength I gained from rebuilding a broken body and heart. I have many things; labels, stories, relationships, money, objects. But they are not who I am. They do not define me. Alternatively, a lack of what I have also does not define me. What defines me who I am today, as I live and breath. Pure, raw and true.