This is me:
Mommy, blogger, runner, yoga lover, traveler, spinal fusion warrior.
But you already know that.
What you may not not about me is that my academic and professional background is actually in mental health. I have a Master’s degree in Social Work, and I’ve been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in the state of Florida for over 15 years.
I’ve always been drawn to the helping professions. To the type of work that makes a difference. To work that has meaning. Social work seemed to make perfect sense to my 20 year old self, back when I was (naively) choosing my career.
And yet right from the beginning, there were things about social work that didn’t feel quite right. As an introvert, even just the act of talking with people all day was inherently outside of my comfort zone. At the end of each day, I was utterly drained.
But how could I help people without talking to them? How could I do meaningful work from behind a computer?
In graduate school, my greatest strength was my writing. Some of my professors encouraged me to continue my post-graduate education and to pursue a career in social work research. But could I survive the super-competitive “publish or perish” world of academia? Did I even want to?
In my twenties, I envied people who seemed to have found their passion. I asked them how they did it – how did they know? I read books and took aptitude assessments. I met with career counselors. I took community college classes. But nothing really clicked. I kept waiting for my “aha moment,” but it never came. How could I follow my passion if I didn’t even know what it was?
So I continued a career path in social work and mental health. I didn’t hate it, mind you. I just didn’t love it. When my older daughter was born, I began working part-time. Over time, I worked fewer and fewer hours, and by the time my younger daughter was born, I’d quit working in my field all together and became a full-time stay-at-home mom.
And then I stopped searching for my passion. I’d found it in my family.
The years passed, and my younger daughter started kindergarten. People, as they often do around that time, started asking what I was going to do with all of my “free time” (HAHAHA). Would I go back to work? I hated this question (as do most SAHMs, I’d imagine) for lots of reasons – not the least of which was that I dreaded the thought of returning to an unfulfilling career. But what else would I do? All these years later and I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
By this time, I’d started running. While training for my first marathon, I’d written a series of blog posts for an old college friend. It was fun – I’d forgotten how much I loved writing. I also saw that my friend had turned a hobby into a blog/business – one from which she was earning an income. I was intrigued.
My husband and people close to me encouraged me to start my own blog. In fact, people had been suggesting that I do this for years. I loved the idea. But I was scared. Sure, the writing part would be fun. But I didn’t know a thing about website design and administration. Could I really start from scratch and do it all on my own?
I shelved the idea for a while. But I couldn’t get it out of my head. Something about starting my own blog just felt right.
And so on July 30, 2013, Mommy Runs It was born.
Had I finally done it? Had I found my passion?
It sure seemed like it. I was writing – something I’d dreamed of doing my whole life. And the subject of my blog (running) was something that I loved! I’d turned my hobby into my own little business. I was getting opportunities to travel and try new products, and I was even making a little money from it.
But then in the fall of 2015, I started having severe pain in my right hip. I saw my doctor and was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis. Three months later, I was in a neurosurgeon’s office, scheduling my L4-L5-S1 spinal fusion. In a matter of months, I’d gone from running half marathons to not being able to run at all. My surgery was scheduled for May 2016, and my surgeon told me that I’d need to wait until my bones were fully fused (6-12 months) to begin running again.
Remember, I was a running blogger. Who couldn’t run. And not just for a short time while I recovered from an injury, but possibly for a year or more.
Um. How exactly was this supposed to work?
So I did what came naturally – I wrote about it.
I wrote about my diagnosis. About my decision whether or not to have surgery. About how I was coping with not running, and what I was doing instead. And then after my spinal fusion, I wrote about my recovery.
My goal was to share both the ups and the downs of spinal fusion recovery, but to do so without scaring people to death. It’s always been important to me to share my story in a positive way. Because despite some bumps and bruises along the way, I consider myself to be a spinal fusion success story.
I documented my recovery in the hopes that someone might stumble upon one of my posts and feel encouraged. I wrote the things that I would’ve found helpful – how to prepare for recovery, what to expect month by month, what life is like with a fused spine.
And guess what? People were reading what I was writing! Turns out there are lots of people like me – people looking for a spark of hope and encouragement among the scary stories.
I started getting comments on the blog. Messages and comments on Instagram and Facebook. Private emails. People were even watching my tiny little YouTube channel! The messages were from people asking questions, thanking me for sharing my story, and saying that I’d helped them.
Remember how I said at the beginning of this post that I wanted to do something that would help people? That would have meaning and make a difference? And here I am – finally, at age 43 – doing just that in a way that feels so right. I’m drawing on my strengths, applying them in a way that comes naturally to me, and doing work that makes me proud and brings me joy.
I can see now how each step of my journey brought me closer to my true purpose. My social work education. My counseling experience. My writing skills. My running. My blog. And my spinal fusion.
I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m glad that I had a spinal fusion – I mean, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone! But it led me here, and for that I’m so grateful.
Is this the final step in my journey? I don’t know. I suspect not, but only time will tell for sure. For today, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, for being here, for helping guide me on my path. Your messages and comments mean the world to me. And even if it takes me ages to respond to your message or it accidentally goes unanswered, I read every single one of them. They (and you) are what keep me going.
I truly believe that each step of your journey (even the really crappy ones where you end up with rods and screws in your back) leads you closer to your true purpose. Every challenge and triumph is preparing you for something bigger. If you’re hurting, or scared, or feeling stuck or discouraged by where you are today, hold on. Better things are coming.
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ~ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this. I may also have to undergo this. How long did you wait and how bad was the spondylolythesis? I have grade 1 and lysis and can barely walk. After a year I still can barely walk. I have to use canes. Will it ever get better or should I just under go the procesure? I liked to run too and gained now 15 lbs since I can no longer even walk much. Do you run into problems? Can you do most things? Also, is there any worsing of anything? Thanks.
Albert Ugelow (aka Dad) says
Allow me to beam with pride at what you have done and accomplished. Your Mom and I have always been proud of you. We have watched you as you have grown (figuratively) as you went through the various stages of your search for your passion. We have always felt that you should be a writer, but you needed to discover that on your own. I suspect this not the end of your journey, but where it will end only time and you will know. Just know that we are here to support you in any way we can. We love you.
Sharon Wilhelm says
Thank you. Now I’m beaming too. xoxo
Thank you for your blog. Both my mom and I have spondilothithesis and this is beautiful and hopeful. And yes home maker’s never have tons of free time!
I recently underwent my third spinal fusion- this time it was just like yours, L4-S1. Finding your blog before my surgery helped me believe I would make it back home to my two kids- and helps me believe I’ll be back to playing with them soon! I am two weeks into recovery, and eventually I will be fused from T12 to S1! Please keep writing because it gives hope to people like me!
Sharon Wilhelm says
Hi Nora! Thank you for your kind words. They mean so much and are exactly what I needed to hear. Keep kicking butt in your recovery & stay in touch, okay? xo
You are an amazing person Sharon! You have a great writing style: informative but not boring, sometimes funny, and sometimes tugs on the heartstrings. I loved “And then I stopped searching for my passion. I’d found it in my family.”
Adele Ehlin says
Thank you for bringing light and hope!
Glad I took the time to read this and part of this journey.
Barbara Amendola says
Well Sharon, let me thank you again that you have this blog because it was life-changing for me. There was nothing positive out there about spinal fusions or back surgery, only things that made you think you would never ever return to normal activities in your life. However, while you’re facing pain and never goes away and you start losing sleep you realize OK I have to have surgery. Once I found your blog, I stopped looking for anything else online about spinal fusion recovery’s.
I’m thankful to have this blog to be part of it to share my recovery with others, and hear what others are going through. Even now at five and half months post surgery I feel like people still don’t get it. You can see the look in their eyes like what are you gonna stop talking about this and when are you going to staff about the progress she made, and even today I still have pain in my body in the recovery area because they said it could take a year to 18 months for everything to fully settled back down. Especially, when nerves have been displaced, they become angry and don’t know what to do and they need to find their old path.
So thank you! And happy Mother’s Day by the way.
Barbara – I’m sitting at my computer grinning. Thank you so much for your kind words. You’ve helped a lot of people here too. I think you’re pretty awesome. <3
Yvonne DeHoyos says
I look forward to your blogs. I stumbled onto them purely accidently but I think it was a moment that God set up! I was discouraged and hurting after my recent fusion and the web? That would scare anyone in the place I was in. I’m 2 months out of surgery and mostly frustrated at the DO NOTHING instructions from the surgeon. BUT….my hubby is a triathlete so after reading your blog I got him some Jaybirds he loved them so much I ordered a pair for me during my super intense1.5 mile walks . One day at a time but you blog showed me that fusions can be successful. Thanks for finding your AHA. It has helped me immeasurably.
Yvonne – You mentioned you were at 2 months with orders to do nothing. How long did your doctor say you are to “do nothing”?
The Jaybirds are awesome! I never had wireless headphones before, and I had no idea what I was missing. I take them with me everywhere. To be honest, I use them when I’m working in Starbucks, more than anything. 🙂 I’m glad we found each other!
Thanks for your encouragement. You look great. I wasn’t a jogger but I was going to a low impact strength classes at Powerworks gym. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my spondy. I know that others have issues that are life threatening but the pain I had made me want to “end it all” sometimes. The pain would have increased but surgery replaced that pain with a new kind that improves. Opioids did not work at all for me. I had a reaction. I pretty much suffered in tears and rocking. Surgery fixes the source of the problem. In fact I noticed the difference even in the recovery room. You wouldn’t know I carry 2 rods and 6 screws around by observing me. I won’t say I’m strong but I’m not in in a nursing home!!!