In these past 12 years I have experienced physical weakness and pain like I had never known prior to this time. The amazing thing to me is that it has been in this depth of weakness that I have come to know the strength of God in ways I had never experienced before.
After each of the 8 lots of neurosurgery of the past 12 years I was reduced to complete weakness, but I don’t remember anything of these times. All I know is that God somehow gave me the inner strength to be able to climb out of post-surgery weakness, overcome the temporary disability that the surgeries left me with and, as much as physically possible, get on with life again.
The time that I have come to know, and remember well, God’s strength has been in pushing past the pain barrier every day over these past 7 years, when working out.
After my surgery in 2004 I was put onto steroids to reduce the swelling in my brain. This was supposed to only be for 6 weeks but unfortunately the swelling didn’t reduce in that time and I had to remain on a high dose for 14 months. Steroids increase your appetite by about 10x and you are not allowed to try and lose any weight you gain during the time period you are on them. In the 14 months that I was on the high dose I put on 40kg.
I was still walking 4 – 6km every day. Then later, when I started falling over a lot in 2005 I hired an elliptical cross-trainer.
What was causing me to fall over all the time were two blood clots pushing against my brain stem. I had to have surgery in early 2006 to remove these and was left extremely weak, unable to walk straight or see clearly, and with no short-term memory.
During this time I was continuing to put on weight, but had a very strong heart because I was so fit. The doctors said that it was due to this that I came through the surgery as well as I did.
At the beginning of 2008 the chronic pain condition moved to my hands. This pain got so bad that I struggled to feed myself, or hold a pen or paintbrush. I had been using a TENS machine on my back for pain since 2005 and I was shown how to use another TENS machine on my arms to relieve the pain and it was a great help.
When I asked a pain specialist if he knew what was happening with this pain ‘spreading’, he said that it was merely ‘the nature of the beast’ - that beast being my pain condition. When the pain moved to my hands it upset me considerably as I hadn’t even known that pain could permanently move to new areas and I feared where it would move to next. I remember saying to God that this was too much and that I didn’t know how I could cope with it.
I remembered at that time a verse that said that God will not let us be tested beyond what we can bear and will provide a way out. I can now see that the TENS was my way out for that time.
In ’09 the pain condition moved to my legs. This made it very painful for me to walk and for a short time I was unable to drive. During this time I remember thinking that there was just no way I could use the TENS on my legs, and so just didn’t know how I could cope with it. It made travelling anywhere, even as a passenger, excruciating.
The physiotherapist that I had seen weekly for acupuncture on my arms then showed me how I could use TENS on my legs and with this I found the pain in my limbs wasn’t as intense.
While all of this was happening I began to experience God’s strength in a way that was far beyond what I had ever experienced before – it was profound to me.
Each day I felt too weak and in too much pain to be able to do a workout. I remembered however, a scripture that said “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. (Philippians 4 v. 13) I remember in those initial days working out on my cross- trainer saying “God you say in the Bible I can rely on your strength, I believe what you have said, now please step up with that strength.” And I would make my way through my workout. Still to this day, I look back after an hour twenty of working out wondering how on earth I made it there - there is always at least one area of my body hurting greatly.
In the first 7 months of 2010 I began to react severely to using the TENS machine. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and I had 8 electrodes attached to my skin. I had the electrodes put on when I got up and had them on until I went to bed at night.
In early 2010 I started getting a severe itching reaction from both the electrical stimulation and the adhesive tape that had to be used to hold each TENS electrode down.
My reaction became so severe that I wouldn’t only get intense itching where the electrodes had been that day, they were in different places everyday, but also where they had been for the previous three days.
Even though I had assumed I would be using the TENS to help with my pain for the rest of my life, it ended up not being a difficult decision to stop using it. I had to choose the lesser of two evils, and with having intense itching in 32 areas of my body 24 hours a day, pain was certainly the lesser.
On the first day without TENS I wondered how I would be able to do any workout. I talked to God about it all day and felt Him saying to just continue to trust Him to provide me with the strength I needed.
I sang “I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me” to myself from the beginning of my workout and found that after 5 minutes or so my back pain eased and I was able to get through it just as I had for all the years before.
Through these experiences I have come to know that when I rely on God in my times of weakness, He will always provide me with the strength to get through them.
An extra blessing in my working out has been that between 2007 and 2009 I lost 52kg and have maintained that weight loss.