I am writing this sitting bolt upright on a hard chair, one leg stretched outwards at a come-hither angle. Occasionally, I stretch forward from the base of my spine, then roll myself slowly perpendicular again. The effect, especially if I had a bowler hat and a black leotard, would be low-rent Bob Fosse choreography. The cause is far less glamorous — I did my back in.
Now for a brief disclaimer: the following article is intended to be lighthearted, and in no way to diminish the seriousness of spinal injury or chronic back disorders, which are no laughing matter. What I had — and I’m slightly superstitious about using the past tense in case it gets worse again — was similarly nothing to laugh about, not least because it hurt when I did.
But I wanted to make it clear, before I get angry remarks, that I’m talking about that dull, mundane backache that millions of us get, and nobody really wants to hear about, much less read about. And yes, I realise that begs the question: Why am I sitting here with sciatica writing about it then?
What made my condition — if I can dignify it with that name — all the harder to sympathise with was its inception. No daredevil sporting endeavour here. I was playing a sedentary character in a sitcom. It’s surprisingly tiring pretending to do nothing.
But try telling your husband how exhausted you are from being made to sit on a sofa for two months while he’s been looking after the kids and the house and holding down a job at the same time, and you will find an unmistakable glimmer of cynicism creeping into his eye.
Anyway, that was what started it. And the day after filming finished I decided to clean the house, hoping that while dusting I might accidentally wipe the martyred look off my husband’s face. It was lifting the sofa with one hand while hoovering under it with the other that did for me. As I said, a totally unglamorous scenario, cleaning-related back trouble; quite literally the Cinderella of ailments.
Nothing ages you quite as fast as a stiff back. Your walking pace instantly becomes slower, you are incapable of sitting down or standing up without a subvocalised groan, you can’t run, you can’t climb stairs, you can only watch antiques programmes and eat Werther’s Originals.
It took a day to explain to my children, to whom the game of sneaking up and tickling me to make me jump is a seemingly endless delight, that my unfamiliar scream in response was evidence that I shouldn’t be playing. A similar, though slightly more delicate explanation was needed for my husband.
Because my back wasn’t locked in spasm, just very uncomfortable, there were numerous things that I could do, but probably shouldn’t. Anything that involved bending was painful, and therefore best avoided.
Unfortunately, this list seemed to include largely unpleasant or tedious activities: doing the washing, going to the supermarket, cleaning lavatories. The list of things that I could comfortably do conversely included lying down, watching old films and eating. This was clearly not going to make me popular.
So I went to see my osteopath. I have been going to her for years, but there is still something counterintuitive about paying a relative stranger to twist your spinal column until it goes pop. I also have a problem making idle small talk in my bra and knickers with a woman who is pummelling my buttocks, though I appreciate I may be in the minority there.
Anyway, three undignified visits later, and I’m a little more bendy — enough to pick up yesterday’s Cheerios from under the table at least, though not what orthopedic experts might in future refer to as “the full Louie Spence”.
What I’ve learned from the experience, apart from increased sympathy for people for whom pain is more than just an unwelcome visitor, is that sitting on a sofa not exercising is a dumb idea, that I can’t just do what I like any more and expect my ageing frame to put up and shut up, that it’s worth telling an expert if only because they won’t just roll their eyes and turn up the football, and that one woman’s sciatica is her family’s pain in the a**e.