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Real Life | Being a Photographer with a Bulging Disc

Imagine this: your eyes open first thing in the morning, and you go to move, to stretch. The first twinges in your lower back send pain flaring across your hips, and you hold your breath as you maneuver yourself out of bed. Your feet touch the ground, and stiffness takes over, while every movement from there becomes calculated and precise because it hurts to take those first few steps.

Fast forward a little bit. You're getting dressed. You've changed your shirt and are now planning to put on pants. You try to bend over but the stiffness and pain stop you from even getting to 90 degrees. You lean against anything you can to lift your legs high enough to put into your pant legs, while also cringing because it hurts so much.

Later, (as a woman) you go to shave your legs. You manage to lean over enough to do what you need to, but the minute you stand up, your entire body tenses because of the pain you feel sitting in your lower back.

This is just a snippet of what it's like to have a bulging disc. Pain is constant. Sitting for too long hurts. Standing for too long hurts. You have to be specific about how you stand at the bathroom sink when washing your hands because it fucking hurts. Everything hurts.

What is a Bulging Disc? A bulging disc injury is a common spine injury sustained to your spine's intervertebral disc. It can occur in your lumbar spine (lower back), thoracic spine (upper and mid-back) or your cervical spine (neck). A bulging disc can commonly be referred to as a slipped disc or a protruding disc. - Physio Works

I've been dealing with this pain for over six years now. It started for no apparent reason in 2014. Through massage therapy, I was able to minimize most of the pain. Then came 2016 when I wasn't in one, but two accidents; the first one we hit a deer, and the second I was T-boned. I had to go to physiotherapy for both accidents, and since then, the pain has been just there, all the time.

In 2017 I was laid off from a full-time job because they weren't sure what was going to happen with my back pain. I worked at a pet store, and I couldn't vacuum or mop without pain, couldn't help customers with large bags of dog food without jeopardizing my physical wellbeing, and even cleaning the dog baths became extremely difficult. At this point I hadn't yet had the imaging done to tell me I had a bulging disc.

Since working at the pet store, I've applied to numerous jobs. As much as I love my photography, it unfortunately doesn't bring in enough to help support my family. So I've been searching for a part-time job elsewhere for awhile. Most jobs these days require a person to be able to lift up to 35lbs or more. Unfortunately, that's something I can't do. It was hard to not feel valid when another job didn't respond to my application, or when I was told by a business that I would be a liability to them if they hired me, because of my back. I can't even begin to express how hurtful that was to hear those words, and all because my back isn't as functional as another person's.

It was hard to not feel valid when another job didn't respond to my application, or when I was told by a business that I would be a liability to them if they hired me, because of my back.

Photography has been a huge part of my life for years. My parents had a Canon Rebel film camera when I was growing up, and they always filled up albums with prints they'd had developed. Printed photos have always been a huge deal in my family, and I still enjoy - to this day - perusing the old photographs my grandparents show us from years and years ago.

When I have a camera in my hand, I forget my pain (for the most part). It's so easy for me to go out and photograph a couple, or nature, or wildlife and just not think about what hurts and what doesn't. Sure, it still takes me a bit to get into certain position to get the right shot, but the majority of the time I'm focused on my subjects. And then the day after hits, and I'm laid up for hours. But it's all worth it because I love it so much!!

We need to take care of our bodies, and when pain like that flares, there's no doubt that something is wrong. For me personally, this is what's helped throughout these past six years:


Every morning I take Link for a walk. We go somewhere he can run off leash, usually behind Lake Newell or the canal near the Brooks Aqueducts, so I don't have to worry about the strain on my body. His prey drive is fierce, so being yanked to the ground is not ideal.

Sometimes, when I fell alright, I'll do some yoga or a light workout. Anything that requires any kind of deadlift or intense movement is not ideal, and causes more harm than good.

Regardless, keep movement in your routine. I've found more relief from ensuring I go for my morning walk than if I sit around the house all day, even if I am resting for the pain.


When I'm sore, the best thing I can do is rest. This can be in the form of sitting/laying down for a while, taking a nap, or just being still. Once in awhile, sitting in a hot shower or bath helps alleviate some pain. Other times I use a heat pack.


I've been to see a couple different physiotherapists, a chiropractor, and a massage therapist in the time my back has caused me grief. I've tried multiple combinations, but the one I found that worked best was Massage alongside Physio. I've been seeing an amazing Massage Therapist since the pain first started, and though most of the time it's a temporary fix, it still feels amazing and Tyfany always knows how to sort out the mess that my back becomes.

Slow Down

I would love to say that you can keep going at your normal pace with a bulging disc, but the reality is that you can't. So slow things down a little bit, and listen to your body. Don't do a workout if you're in agony. Drink lots of water and rest as much as you need. Adjust your routine when working so you don't further injure yourself.

We need to take care of our bodies, and when pain like that flares, there's no doubt that something is wrong.

Take Care of your Mental Health

It's not been easy, and being unable to work a steady job has definitely taken its toll on my mental health over these past two years for sure. Not being able to help contribute to your family financially, or even physically (through household chores or daily errands) makes a person feel useless. I'm still working really hard on this part, because it's something that doesn't just switch overnight, unfortunately. Having amazing support people in your life makes a huge difference, and I am so thankful for my husband. He has been amazing throughout all of this!!

It's been a long road, one that I've not been enjoying navigating. But, everything happens for a reason, and I'm just going to keep believing that there will be some amazing outcome from having to endure this pain for so long.

Photos of me taken by my husband, Callum Duncan