At the age of 27 my life took an unexpected turn when I had a failed back surgery that resulted in permanent nerve damage. Waking up from the anesthesia and feeling an intense burning and shooting pain in my leg was terrifying because I knew what that could mean. The surgeon was less than honest with me. He claimed the pain was just “irritation” and that it would go away in a few weeks.
By the time I was discharged from the hospital I was on four different medications to help deal with the pain but could still barely put any weight on my leg since the pain was so intense. A few weeks later when I went back for a follow up appointment I told my doctor I was concerned because the nerve pain wasn’t going away. I hardly slept because the burning sensation in my foot was too hard to ignore. Also it was winter but I couldn’t sleep with a blanket on me because the fabric touching my foot felt like I was being stabbed.
The doctor acted like this was no big deal and told me it might take a few months to fully go away. On a subsequent visit a few months later he again ignored my concerns saying the pain might take a years or more to go away. At that point I was starting to realize that it would never get better but the doctor wouldn’t admit that because it could make him vulnerable to a lawsuit.
I tried to just manage the pain and live my life. I was working in a biology lab at the time and really loved my job. However it required a good deal of physical activity like standing most of the day and carrying equipment. The pain from just being up and moving was so bad I would end up going home and laying down till I feel asleep or just stayed up crying most of the night. Eventually I discovered I could numb the pain in my foot for at least a few hours by taping an ice pack on a sock. For months I did nothing but work and then try to recover from work. I became severely depressed realizing for the rest of my life I would be in constant pain.
I struggled to keep my job but I knew it was unfair of me to keep trying to do a job that I was no longer any good at. Periodically I would be in so much pain I would lock myself in one of the bathrooms, lay down on the hard tile floor and cry. And by the last hour or two of the day my body would just ache so much I couldn’t focus so I would sit down and try to look busy but was really just waiting till I could leave.
I was afraid to leave my job because realistically I knew I didn’t have many options. One of my doctors told me that because I had a college degree and knew how to use a computer the government would never consider me too disabled to work. I couldn’t sit or stand for more than 10-20 minute without the pain increasing to an unbearable level so I knew I had to work from home.
I consider myself very lucky because I had a lot of experience working as a fetish model and adult actress. It was something I started doing in college to make some extra money but also because I am a bit of an exhibitionist and enjoy it. Even while working full time at my lab job I would still do photo or video shoots occasionally on weekends. I never wanted to model or produce porn full time but it ended up being one of the best choices of my life. I am now my own boss. I work mainly from home which allows me to work when I am feeling well and take breaks whenever I need to. I have accepted that my life will never be “normal” and every day will be a balancing act between doing the things I need to do and avoiding pushing myself too hard and causing my pain to spiral out of control. However I am grateful for all that I have been blessed with and try to use my experiences with pain and disability to try to help others.
All photos here by Michael Leach with me wearing one of my back braces and compression socks that help with my chronic back and nerve pain.