My pain journey began in 1986 when I was 17. Unrelated to any incident, I began to experience extreme back pain. I later discovered it was a degenerative disease with no cure, but at the time I thought it could just be 'fixed'.
With physiotherapy and rest, the pain gradually settled down, but flared up again a few years later. This was the beginning of a pain cycle that would continue the rest of my life.
My condition grows extra bone on the vertebrae, putting pressure on the spinal cord, and causing pain. I also get referred pain in my legs (Sciatica), arms and neck, as well as Arachnoiditis, a condition of the central nervous system that causes a tingling sensation as well as numbness in my body, which gives me trouble with incontinence and walking.
I've had back surgery six times, the first at the age of 20. Mostly the surgery has been about removing extra bone or scar tissue, in order to reduce my pain and improve the functioning of my nervous system.
Chronic pain has changed my life significantly. At 27 I had to give up my work as a Futures Trader, and the income I earned from it, and I became a swim coach, as it was something I enjoyed but especially because I could manage rest breaks in my work.
Along with my pain, I've had to battle depression, which I believe has stemmed from the pressure chronic pain has placed on my emotions. There have been periods in my life where I've had to spend my days lying down, and I've felt completely socially isolated.
In my darkest moments, I've tried to take my own life, attempting suicide three times. The pain was overwhelming, and I couldn't cope any longer.
Since my suicide attempts I've had a lot of counselling. I also found a good physiotherapist, and a great psychologist.
But the major break came in 2010, when I had a Spinal Cord Stimulator permanently inserted into my back. (SCS is a device used to exert pulsed electrical signals to the spinal cord to control chronic pain.) As a result of the SCS, my pain level dropped from 8 or 9 out of 10 to 4 or 5 out of 10.
I've also been fortunate to undertake the ADAPT program at the Royal North Shore Hospital, which taught me two very important things: acceptance and pacing.
I'm now the happiest I've been in a long time. I still take pain medication, as well as cortisone injections, and antidepressants. I have good and bad days. But I can swim and coach. I just make sure I do things in small bursts and incorporate rest times. If I keep it simple, I'm okay.
(I also occasionally throw in something extra: I'm currently in training to swim the English Channel in a team of four!)