Our artistic director Simon explores his recent experience of back and hip pain while working on the charity’s project about invisible conditions. He asks whether the medical treatment we receive really gets to the root of the problem. 

A few months ago I did some damage to my back and hips. Ironically it was around the time of The Hubbub – an interactive exhibition on hidden disability, part of our on-going Hidden Stories project. There I was, helping people with invisible conditions and suddenly I was experiencing one myself! It really intensified my focus on what the project was about.

I was sent to a string of physios, NHS and otherwise, but at no point was I asked whether stress, anxiety or depression might be contributing to the pain I was in. I felt like I was treated like a machine which could be fixed with stretching, pummelling and medication. It wasn’t good for the soul. For a long time I was in great pain. So much so that I ended up having to be taken in a wheelchair on a flight to Norway for a course.

I’m not blaming anyone for the treatment I was given – it was all done very professionally. The point I want to make is that no one seemed to have the time or inclination to be thoughtful and empathetic: to understand what was going on for me, and to really tune into my specific needs as a patient and a human being.

Of course, health-workers need to meet their targets and so we all have to be processed through the system as quickly and efficiently as possible. No wonder we get anxious and depressed at times: the sense of being cared for and reflected over has been replaced by the feeling of being dispatched briskly like a parcel, only without the tracking.

You can’t just treat the symptom; you need to see the person as a whole. So much of what makes us vulnerable is hidden, subliminal. How can we look at ways of helping people to see what’s behind the immediate and the obvious?

One of the aims of our Hidden Stories project is to encourage a shift in thinking – and all round better awareness of the link between our physiological and psychological wellbeing. 

I’ve now been referred to a hydrotherapist who is working well. She said to me that if you are stressed and anxious there will always be a physiological reaction which can manifest itself in all sorts of excruciating ways. Of course. That makes perfect sense. Thank you. Empathy at last.

Can you tell us about your experiences? Please share your thoughts – and be assured that our blog is an open, safe and respectful space for discussion.

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