Trucking Through the Trauma

As I was huffing and puffing at the gym last night, willing myself to keep going, I came to the realization: I have been praying for this exact moment.

Five years ago, I injured my back while I was studying abroad in Germany. No, it wasn’t some dramatic fall or injury, I just basically woke up one day with back/leg pain and within a week it was so severe I could hardly walk. What the hell? Imagine being a fit, 21-year-old college student who’s been an athlete their entire life, to all of a sudden barely be able to walk.

I took a taxi to the hospital. I had no idea how the German health system worked, all I knew was I had insurance through my student visa. After waiting in the ER for two hours, I was seen by a doctor, to only then be prescribed ibuprofen (German things). Clearly my situation required more than ibuprofen, so back to the ER I went the next day.

They put a pain meds drip in me, admitted me, ordered a bunch of tests and sent me up to my hospital room. Terrified and alone only began to describe how I was feeling. All I knew was I was glad to finally have pain killers that actually worked.

After a three-day hospital stay, an MRI and multiple assessments, I was told I had two herniated discs at the bottom of my spine that were causing sciatica, aka hella nerve pain, shooting down my leg to my toes. The doctor told me that they wanted to operate on me.

I’m sorry, WHAT? My family is 5,000+ miles away from me. No way in hell are you touching me with a scalpel. So I checked myself out of the hospital, took the bus home, changed out of my three-day-old outfit (fun fact: they don’t provide hospital gowns in Germany) and took a shower.

Within 20 minutes of being home, my arm started twitching. Raising itself on its own beyond my control. Back to the ER I go… After having to walk to the ER because it was the closest one that was open, a room full of doctors speaking German so quickly I couldn’t understand, two ambulance rides (they took me to the wrong hospital at first) and some blood tests, I was told I basically had some freak panic attack/mild seizure that my body couldn’t control.

Off I rode in another taxi home. Feeling helpless, confused and was quite frankly in shock.

Upon returning to the U.S. I tried physical therapy. I got steroid injections. I was prescribed multiple medications. Nothing worked. I could still hardly walk let alone workout or enjoy everyday activities I was used to doing.

Finally, after two years of agony and several consultations, I scheduled my back surgery. The healing was much slower post-op than I thought it would be, but nonetheless I was better. Each day was slightly better.

Daily tasks were getting better, but still hard. One time I was changing the laundry from the washer to the dryer and tweaked my back, instant pain searing down my leg. “Great, here I go again…”

Sneezing was so painful because each sneeze caused the sciatica to come out of hiding.

I was scared to live. Each night in bed, I cried, praying to God to alleviate my pain. “Please, I just want to be able to walk normally again. I want to be able to socialize for more than an hour. I want to dance. I want to run again.”

Hopelessness became my normal. My depression was so severe all I did besides work was lie in bed, it was the only place I was comfortable.

So, five years later, you can imagine how scared I was to get back to the gym. I’ve been solidly walking/feeling normal during my every day activities for the past year or so, but I hadn’t pushed myself physically beyond that.

Now, I’ve been on the workout/eating healthy grind consistently since the New Year. Last night I did four miles on the elliptical in 54 minutes. I almost want to write that sentence again just to have it sink in for myself!

Y’all – I find myself smiling while sweating! Straight up jammin’ to my music and singing along while I am doing hardcore cardio. I can’t fully express how elated I felt last night when I noticed I was so happy to finally be MOVING. My body, the same battered, cut up and stitched back together body that used to be so stagnant, was now moving like the athlete I know is inside.

Weight and body image have been a struggle for me as long as I can remember. I used to get so caught up with the scale, my jeans’ size. But now? I am so happy to just be moving and breathing hard and sweating for f u n.

I definitely have goals of weight loss and fitness, but I am so damn proud of how far I’ve come. 21-year-old me is crying seeing me now.

Except this time, they’re tears of joy.




Please vote AGAINST current education reform in Arkansas

As I write this note from my office at the University of Texas at Dallas, I struggle to find where to begin, because the core of my being lies within the world of journalism.

I began writing for the school newspaper in 8th grade. Once I reached high school, I was thrilled to start taking journalism classes. From learning basic writing, editing and photography skills, to designing full spreads in the yearbook and overseeing a staff of 20+ students, my journalism education and experience at Southside High School in Fort Smith, AR, propelled me into my future. My senior year I was editor of the yearbook and really took my future in journalism seriously. The education I received from Southside, and the continued mentorship I have from Susan Colyer, the current journalism advisor, is unparalleled to any other experiences in my life thus far.

Because of my outstanding education in journalism in an Arkansas high school, I went on to work at the University Daily Kansan all four years of my undergraduate career at the University of Kansas. Starting out as an unpaid staff writer, I worked my way up the responsibility chain through various editorial roles and became the Digital Managing Editor by my senior year.

This would not have been possible without my journalism classes in high school.

Because of my experience at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas, I have landed jobs at two different digital agencies and now currently hold the title of Social Media Specialist for the Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas.

This would not have been possible without my journalism experience at the University level, which solely stemmed from my education at Southside High School in Fort Smith, AR.

If this proposed education reform were to pass, it would be beyond hurtful to not only the current journalism classrooms, but also to future students who may never think to explore a career in journalism if they aren’t exposed in high school.

The future of digital journalism and education of such is my deepest passion, and I would be more than happy to discuss this more in depth. PLEASE vote AGAINST this education reform.

Hannah Barling