In about three hours I will be thirty three years old, another year has passed and with each year I become a tad more wise. In the past 365 days I have been hopefully helping people struggling with chronic pain with my brutally honest, yet inspiring story. When I first began this blog my goal was to help mothers who were managing chronic pain and motherhood. I wanted to show people that although I never found a cure to my illness I am able to manage it naturally and lead a fulfilling, mostly happy life despite pain. This blog has turned into so much more. I have many people who email me with questions or concerns and I make sure to answer everyone as soon as time allows me to. There is one girl who lives in the UK whom I have become very close with. She is in her late teens and trying to manage chronic pain, University, and everything else that comes with being eighteen. We talk almost daily and she is the reason for this post.
At the age of thirteen I fell off of my bike while riding home from the video store (we had those once!) It was a beautiful summer day and I was just a kid happy to be enjoying freedom, my pink cruiser, and a summer full of fun before I started a new school. As I was riding my bike, the bag containing the movie hit my front wheel and I fell directly into a stone wall. I passed out for a few seconds and when I opened my eyes I knew I had broken something in my right arm as I could not move it. A few cars stopped to see if I was okay and me being the stubborn Jessica shouted: “Oh I’m fine. Thank you though.” I walked home and was very sad to see that my dad’s car was not in the driveway. I decided to watch the movie I had rented and wait for him to come home. Horrible choice. My dad came home and found me on the couch and saw that I had definitely injured my arm. We drove to our local hospital and I was given a sling as I did break my right collar bone. The doctors thought I was fine to go home, however as we were walking out the door I began throwing up: first sign of a head injury. The doctor wanted to give me a catskan just to be sure nothing was wrong. I am very thankful I did throw up as minutes later I was lying in an ambulance being sent to a trauma center that could handle brain injuries. Turns out my brain was bleeding from the inside and I needed immediate brain surgery in order to live. All I really remember at that point was fear as the EMT’s used scissors to cut my clothes off. I arrived at the trauma center that specialized in the care I needed and said goodbye to my dad. It still brings tears to my eyes this day remembering the look in his face. We were one another’s whole world and he knew the danger I was in much more than I did. Clearly, I survived. I awoke the next day in the ICU surrounded by lights, nurses, but most importantly my dad. I felt as if I had been hit by a bus which in essence I was. Shock set in as I realized I was connected to multiple tubes such as a feeding tube and a catheter and there were machines everywhere. I think what shocked me the most was seeing myself in a mirror. The cute little Jessica looked a thousand times different. Half of my long hair was completely shaved off and there were many staples on my bald head. The left side of my face was three times the size of my right and all I could see of my body were bruises and bandages. Long story short, I stayed in the ICU for a couple days and once was totally stable transferred to my own room. I spent that summer on my downstairs couch watching movies and trying to get myself together for my first year of Seventh grade in a new school. I made it to my first day of Middle School but lets just say kids can be really cruel, especially to the new girl with half a shaved head. You would think this experience would be the worst thing to ever happen to me. I wish it had been. However, once the scars healed and my hair grew back I looked like the cute little, healthy Jessica. The flowers stopped coming, the attention was gone because I looked perfectly fine on the outside. However, for many years to come I would suffer from chronic pain and yet have no idea what was wrong with me. The bike accident wasn’t the worst thing to happen in my life. The worst thing to happen to me was living in invisible pain and searching for help for ten plus years. One of the hardest things about chronic pain is that most people look fine on the outside. Hence, the name of my story: No One Gets Flowers for Chronic Pain. I would spend my teen years and much of my twenties searching for a cure for chronic pain. At the age of twenty one I went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and was diagnosed with incurable chronic pain. I spent a long time there and entered the Pain Rehab Center (unwillingly at first) where I would learn to manage my pain naturally and live a good life despite chronic pain. It took years but I can tell you at the age of thirty three (cannot write thirty two anymore!) I do not go to any doctors regarding pain and I take no medication for my chronic pain. I am an athlete, a mother, have my degree in medical social work and work my ass of to manage my pain naturally.
I cannot tell you the amount of friends I lost because of chronic pain. I lost friends in high school, college, and in my twenties because chronic pain changes people (how could it not?) People do not understand chronic pain. Many people in high school thought that I was just seeking attention. I mean seriously, who could have pain every day non-stop. I partied a lot in high school because it took the pain away for the minute and I “fit in.” Well, out of all my friends from high school and college I have two that never left my side: Kaitlin and Lindsay. They have both been the greatest friends in the world and even though they no longer live in NJ, our love and friendship is even stronger now than it was at thirteen. They believed in me. They did not understand what was wrong with me but they knew I was hurting. It was actually my friend Lindsay (who was one of the first people my dad called after my accident) that inspired me to start this blog. Kaitlin writes me from Maine every day and is the Godmother of my daughter. I lost every other friend because of chronic pain. I understand now why some people just could not be my friend. I was sad, angry, and felt as if I was dying inside. I spent my time either studying, in doctor’s offices, getting surgeries, or partying. I was a mess. I hated losing friends. I used to cry on a daily basis not just because I was in physical pain but because I was losing every friend I had. I spent so much energy focusing on people liking me and trying to prove I was okay that it only made the pain worse. With age comes wisdom. I now fully understand that it is not the amount of friendships you have but the quality of the ones that stick by you through the good times and bad. I want people, especially teenagers to learn from my mistakes. This may sound very harsh but you are most likely going to lose friends because of chronic pain. And right now that may seem like a huge deal but please never do anything you do not want to do to make or keep friendships. You need to take care of yourself and your health. There are so many things I wish I could change from my past but I can only live for today and hopefully teach people to not make the same mistakes I did because of chronic pain. Many of my readers are truly suffering and it breaks my heart because I used to feel the same way you do and I still have moments where I feel as if chronic pain is taking over but they pass quickly.
I can count the number of true friends I have on one hand. My best friend, whose name is Jessica as well is the person who took this picture a few days ago while we had our children at the playground. We are neighbors and became friends about two years ago because our children were born around the same time and slowly we have become extremely close. When I first met Jess I did not think we had much in common and never thought we would share such a close bond. It was very hard for me to make and keep friends until I was able to manage my chronic pain in a healthy way. Jess now knows everything about me, things that only my very close family and Kaitlin and Lindsay know. She accepts my past and present and reads my blog every day. There is no way for her to understand chronic pain just as I have no idea what PTSD feels like. You cannot understand anything unless you have been through it or are going through it. The thing is, she believes me and accepts me for who I am. We have both been going through a lot in the past six months or so and she is the first and usually only person I go to when I am having a hard time. A day does not go by that we are not together or on the phone. Through our hard times we have learned that we are so much alike: it is scary. Aside from both being named Jessica Lynne and having children of the same age, we both love exercise, being silly, making asses out of ourselves, and are two of the strongest women I know. I love Jess as a sister. I honestly do not know what either of us would do without one another. If I had to pick one thing to be most grateful for on my birthday (aside from my daughter) it would be Jess. We never talk about chronic pain because one of my coping strategies for managing pain is to not talk about it. If I am not “myself” she knows why. If I am in a lot of pain I only say: “I am having a difficult day, sucks I am not myself.”
Friendships come and go especially when one has chronic pain. Please trust me that at the moment you may feel like your world is coming to an end because chronic pain has truly taken over your life and you are losing friends and I am sure much more than that. It will not always be like it is today. I had brain surgery, suffered horribly for ten years, wanted to end my life multiple times, and literally lived and breathed chronic pain for at least a third of my life. I still have chronic pain but it does not control my life unless I allow it to. I have some bad days but mostly good ones. Who would of thought when I was eighteen, at the age of thirty three I would be a mother to the greatest kid in the world, have my degree in social work, and be laughing my ass off doing cartwheels with my best friend in the park? Trust me if you told me this was going to be my life when I was eighteen I would have laughed in your face. I cannot tell you chronic pain will go away. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things I wish there was a cure for me and everyone else with chronic pain of any kind. What I can tell you is that you have no clue what the future holds and mark my words you can be where I am today. If you are a teenager reading this please learn from my mistakes. Do not stress over friendships and getting the best grades and pleasing others. It is okay to put yourself first. No one asks for chronic pain! What seems like a huge deal right now will honestly mean nothing in a couple years. At the age of thirty three I feel younger than I did at the age of eighteen. One day at a time and if you are in a bad place I will be there for you. Just make yourself a promise that you will never give up. Some of the best days of your life (most) have not even happened yet. If you are going through hell, keep going.
This post is dedicated to Katrina who inspires me to keep writing and has made me see that this blog is helping people a little. I love you.