When I was initially asked to write about my experience with chronic pain over the last eight years of my life, I was daunted by the idea of diving into it, but also felt like it was an amazing opportunity for me to explain how it has impacted all aspects of my life. This is an opportunity to inspire others with chronic pain to kick into action and do something about it.
Something that I’ve learnt about myself over the years is that once I’m really inspired and enter flow state, I find it incredibly difficult to slow down. This obsessive nature has affected me physically and I only became aware of this when it was too late… Sometimes, it’s incredibly hard for me to be honest with myself when it comes to understanding when to take a proper break. Over the years I’ve worked a lot on finding the right balance. I’m in a much better place now, but I’m going to backtrack a bit to explain…
When I was awarded a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in 2012, I arrived full of energy and more than ready to study, learn, and just generally soak everything up. But most of all, I was excited to practice drums all day, every day. One thing I hadn’t considered is how physical drumming is and how important it is to warm up and stretch. Living in Boston in the winter months I found myself waking up, riding my bike with a heavy backpack on in the cold, sitting in class for hours, then practicing drums for up to six hours before sitting at my desk in the evening to make music and study.
This repeated process eventually led me to totally neglect that I was in a considerable amount of pain in my lower back, and had sciatica (shooting pains) down my left leg most of the time.
When I got to my final exams, I was in agony 24/7. I couldn’t sit down on a chair, so I ended up standing up at the back of the room in classes. In my final exam on drums, my teacher let me take the drum exam standing up without using the bass drum pedal…
It was progressively getting worse until one day I was literally stuck in bed and couldn’t move without what seemed like electricity shooting down my legs. I panicked. I was in a very dark place and needed serious help. I went to see many specialists, did physical therapy, Alexander Technique, and even got multiple cortisone injections into my spine to relieve the pain – but the pain kept coming back. When I got to my final exams, I was in agony 24/7. I couldn’t sit down on a chair, so I ended up standing up at the back of the room in classes. In my final exam on drums, my teacher (who was incredibly understanding of my situation) let me take the drum exam standing up without using the bass drum pedal…and he gave me full marks! I hope it wasn’t sympathy!
After my second semester at Berklee, I decided that I desperately needed to figure out how to get out of this situation, so I decided to take a semester off and come back to London. It was during this time that I got heavily into sound engineering and production, as I could still be creative but also stand up at the same time. I ended up going on tour as an engineer and suddenly my creative focus shifted entirely into being a producer. At this time I was still really struggling with my back and once again was seeing specialists from all over the country, had multiple MRI scans, met nerve and bone specialists, but still had no direct information on what my actual problem was apart from it being “sciatica.”
In 2014 I’d been recommended to see pilates specialist Martin Sampson who lived in Norfolk (North England). He’d been spoken of so highly by so many people that I decided to drive up there to see if he could help me. The weekend I spent with him was probably the most intense thing I’ve ever put myself through. He showed me step-by-step how my body had gotten comfortable in being damaged and how much work I was going to have to put in to fix myself. I shed a lot of tears. He put me on a seven-year plan to get out of permanent pain and said it is possible, but I’d need to re-teach my body how to be normal. Over the next two years I traveled regularly to Norfolk for two, or three day sessions with Martin. He miraculously only charged me for one session, and let me stay at his house for days while he put his heart and soul into helping me.
So here I am, four years later. Martin isn’t around anymore, he died a couple of years ago, but every single day his energy is what gets me up out of bed to do my exercises – he is the driving force that enables me to look after myself and respect my body. I learned so much about the true definition of focus and that anything worth having doesn’t come easily. This mentality has affected all the areas of my life. My good friends say that my chronic pain has shaped who I am and given me a perspective on life that allows me to appreciate the bigger picture. If it wasn’t for my back pain, I most likely wouldn’t be a producer.
Chronic pain affects many people, but I’m particularly interested in how it affects creatives and how they use it to their advantage.
By no means am I fixed yet. I still wake up most nights with sciatica and can’t see myself ever doing high impact physical sports. As an artist, I do worry about spending a lot of time on planes flying around doing shows, but as long as I continue to do Martin’s exercises, I can keep my brain clear of the looming clouds of pain as I continue to conquer my goals.
Chronic pain affects many people, but I’m particularly interested in how it affects creatives and how they use it to their advantage. Sometimes I catch myself in pain as I’m working and the pain somehow gives me tunnel vision, as if nothing in the world exists, it gives me direct, undivided focus. Whereas other times, I find it totally impossible to focus and the pain takes the best of me.