When Ebony Wilton stood atop a wakeboard, with the wind in her hair and her body catapulting the board over the lapping waves and glistening waters of the River Murray, it was like nothing else in the world. The 16-year-old from South Australia had years of happy memories sharing the thrill seeking experience with her loved ones on their regular family holidays.
But it was during one of those trips, in October, 2017, in Blanchetown, that Ebony’s life took a dramatic turn for the worst: “I was with my friends and we went for a 15-minute walk and it was all normal until the next day I woke up with quite a lot of pain in my right ankle,” the teenager tells mybody+soul. “I didn’t even realise that I’d injured myself because I’m hypermobile, so I can sprain things without actually realising it.”
Scans taken soon after showed Ebony had torn a ligament and life as she knew it suddenly ground to a devastating halt. In the months that followed, she suffered an agonising pain she had never experienced before, and was forced to walk on crutches with her ankle heavily strapped for nine weeks. Those measures along with and several physio appointments did nothing to reduce the discomfort, so Ebony’s leg was put in a moon boot three separate times.
When she bravely made an attempt to attend school without her boot, the Barossa Valley teenager was struck with a jolt in her leg that was even worse than what she had endured. “I was walking to class and my whole leg collapsed on me,” Ebony recalls. “My entire foot was blue. Mum took me straight to the hospital and no one knew what was wrong. I was just sent home with painkillers.”
The next two frustrating months were filled with countless doctors who were unable to diagnose or treat Ebony’s condition. An MRI scan showed no abnormalities. Meanwhile, day to day activities were torture. It was too agonosing to even wear socks, let alone shoes. “When my foot flared up, the water from the shower felt like hail falling on my foot. Every day was a struggle, it was always painful.”
Ebony was eventually diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS); a condition of the arm, hand, leg or foot that occurs after an injury, such as a fracture. There is no simple cure and no single recommended treatment. It meant no surgery could fix her. Instead, she was put on Lyrica, a powerful painkiller used to treat damage to the nerves.
Even then she continued to struggle daily with pain, unable to walk unaided. It was made all the worse by being ridiculed by many of her peers. “I found it really hard to fit in at school,” Ebony recalls. “It was the most isolating period of my life because a lot of my friends at the time didn’t understand. I had a lot of people going, ‘You’re just making it up for an excuse to sit out of P.E and doing it for attention’.”
The once confident girl, who performed contemporary and jazz dance on stage, spiralled into a depression. “There were days where I felt useless and would never be able to do anything again. On other days it was the feeling that no one liked me anymore. It was a really hard spot that I was in,” she says.
In addition to medical practitioners, Ebony had naturopathy, lymphatic drainage, and bowen therapy, without success. “We’d tried everything and nothing worked.”
Almost a year after the injury, mum Belinda suggested Ebony see clinical hypnotherapist, Neville Bentley, whose practice, Bentley Wellness, was not far from their home. “I didn’t believe in it at all, but mum wanted me to try it,” she admits. Their first session, in September last year, lasted three hours, and included hypnosis and timeline therapy.
“I did a lot of research on CRPS it suggested it was a psychosomatic pain created by the mind,” says Neville. “I was very confident I could help Ebony. In the week leading up to the session, I asked her to write a journal discussing her thoughts and emotions, and that uncovers a lot of unconscious thought patterns.”
While the first session didn’t result any change in her condition, Ebony returned for a second round a few weeks later. And she is so glad she did. “That’s when I felt no pain at all for the first time since my injury,” she smiles, remembering the joyous moment. “It was crazy, because Nev could even squeeze my foot. To go from not being able to put a sock on to someone squeezing it was so shocking.”
While she doesn’t remember much of the hypnosis, Ebony does recall being told to imagine her foot being put in snow and getting numb when she feels pain. She returned for a third session a month later to help manage what was now moderate levels of pain, far from the debilitating ache that had plagued her before. “I had a flare up and I just hoped Nev could help me again,” she says. “And he did. I walked in on crutches and I walked out on my feet without it hurting at all. I came out going, ‘wow, I feel normal’.”
This time, the effects were long lasting, and she hasn’t needed to return since. The avid music fan even got to see one of her favourite acts live, wearing her favourite boots. “I was scared about how my foot would react to the shoes but I managed to be in them the whole night standing up, which I was really proud of,” she grins.
The icing on the cake was being able to step back on her beloved wakeboard on the most recent holiday on the river. “It felt amazing. I didn’t think I would be able to do it again.”
While Ebony doesn’t expect to ever be completely cured, she is no longer taking Lyrica and has returned to normal school life as a Year 11 student for the most part. “I’m as close to a normal life as I’ll get while I have this,” she explains. “Nev taught me to recognise the emotions I’m feeling because sometimes your unconscious mind can manifest emotions that create pain. I won’t let it take over my life, so I’m going to work with it and have a positive mindset.”
And yes, it has also taught her that mum occasionally knows best. “I didn’t believe it in before, but I’m so glad that I did listen to mum and give it a shot.”