People who meet me in my thirties would probably not recognize me as I was in my late teens/early twenties. I often have vivid memories of my “darkest hours of chronic pain” as I call them.
I was around the age of twenty living in Boulder, Colorado. In a way I had completely given up on myself and life because I had been to enough specialists to know that chronic pain was probably a life sentence for me. I told everyone I was taking a year off of college to do some soul searching and figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. Which also meant: party, have fun with friends, and nanny during the day for income. I ate terribly and drank with my roommates on a nightly basis. I was probably about twenty pounds heavier (at least) then I am now and most of that weight was probably made up of beer and wine. All the hangover college food didn’t help either. It snowed a lot that winter in Boulder and one night I was walking with my two closest friends there: Sarah and Jeff. They both knew about my chronic pain and even came with me to various doctor appointments. The three of us were drinking and decided to take a walk in the snowy mountains. There was nothing really special about this night only that it was one of the first times drinking with my friends did not take the pain away. I was still in horrible pain and was in shock that the amount of wine we had consumed did not take the pain away. This was at a time where the only way I did not feel my physical pain was when I was drinking and to still feel that pain after drinking scared me to death. As we were walking my two friends were admiring the snow and laughing and being silly. We were three twenty year olds walking around the beautiful snowy mountains of Boulder drunk off tons of wine: there was really nothing to bitch about. I was silent the whole time rubbing my face and head wondering how I could still be feeling this pain. I laid down in the snow and just started balling uncontrollably. My friends probably thought I fell or something but I was crying too hard to tell them what was really wrong. Alcohol could no longer relieve my pain. The one thing that helped me be fun/silly/pain free Jessica was gone. I was screwed. I tried explaining what was wrong to them but there is no way they could understand. Both of them were as supportive as they could be to me but they just wanted to be college kids and have fun, not deal with a girl who was balling her eyes out laying in the snow crying about chronic pain. The cycle of drinking with friends in Boulder and having fun shortly ended after a few more weeks of this. Every night I cried no matter what we were doing because the pain was getting worse and I was becoming a person I despised. I remember watching certain girls who lived near us cooking at night and studying during the day and I was so jealous. I wanted that life so much I think I would have done anything to just be one of those healthy girls who did not have chronic pain if even just for a day.
That was over ten years ago and I did become the healthy, fun girl only the pain did stay. But the drinking and crying and depression went away. I look back on some of those college years when everyone around me was having the time of their lives and I can’t believe that was me! It wasn’t the real Jessica. After the Mayo Clinic I ended up graduating college with a 4.0 in Social Work. I drank sometimes on holidays or at certain functions but 98 percent of the time I was either studying, exercising, cooking, reading, or sleeping. I look better now at the age of 32 than I did when I was 20. I took this “selfie” as a joke the other day while my daughter and I were playing at the playground. I’m not wearing makeup or wearing anything nice. But, I’m happy and managing my chronic pain in a healthy way. I look at myself now and am just shocked that I am the same girl that over ten years ago was lying in the snowy mountains with stained red wine teeth balling my eyes out thinking my life would be over because of chronic pain. I never want to see any other girl go through what I went through because of chronic pain. I wish I had known the right way to manage chronic pain then that I do now. I wish I could grab every person with chronic pain in the world and hold them and tell them it can be okay. I have chronic pain and I am a very happy, intelligent, healthy person. You can be too. I promise.