This is the third time I have used this picture in my blog and I still have difficulty looking at the Jessica on the left. I was about the age of twenty or so and on my way to the Mayo Clinic as a last chance to save myself from chronic pain. I never expected on my way there that I would literally learn to live with chronic pain and accept the condition. My sole goal was to get to the Mayo Clinic and finally be cured no matter how many doctors I had to see or how much money it cost. In my mind it was either a cure or defeat. The picture on the right is the Jessica of now: managing chronic pain naturally, healthy, a social worker turned stay at home mom/nanny, and living a life that at times is extremely difficult but a life I work hard at every day to manage chronic pain naturally and without help from doctors. I do not recognize the girl on the left but I do remember how close I was in this picture to giving up any hope that I would be happy.
One of my closest readers who I call mini me gave me a great topic for teenagers with chronic pain. Her question was what do you put first when you are in your late teens/early twenties: health or education. I am sure you know my personal answer to this question but I will share with you why I know whole heartedly from terrible experience that you must put your health before anything especially when you are of the age I was in this picture. I graduated high school in 1999 and was struggling with chronic pain but thought I had to go to college right away as this was what my world and the people around me did. One moment you are in class forced to ask your teacher if you are allowed to use the bathroom and a week later you are asked to make one of the biggest decisions of your life: your major for college. I had always wanted to be a mother and elementary school teacher. I chose a college that was not too far from home and my major was elementary education. I will never forget the first day I moved into my dorm and met my roommate. Everyone thought I was nervous because I would be living on my own and clearly the first day of college is pretty scary for most people. I was not afraid about the things my peers were frightened of: I was petrified of chronic pain and how it was going to affect my life in college. I had always done well in school and truly loved learning so I put that before my health. I spent two years at Monmouth University working towards my degree in education. During these two years my health and life began falling completely apart. I spent my time studying, at various doctors, on different medications, getting different procedures, and drinking with my friends as this was the only time I could numb my physical pain for a few hours and feel “normal.” My grades stayed the same but my chronic pain got worse by the day and I fell apart. I literally hit rock bottom and was a mess. I could not tolerate the pain any longer and with each daily/weekly procedure or appointment my hope went down and my pain got worse until I gave up. I left college and drove to Colorado to just party and forget about the pain I was in. I had lost all hope that I would ever find a cure for chronic pain or be able to live with the pain. Three plus years of my life down the drain because I chose to “do the right thing” and go directly to college and pretend that my health was killing me. If I could go back in time I would have put my health first and my education second. Clearly, I cannot go back but I can hopefully reach some teenagers who are in the same sinking ship I was in at your age.
If nothing else comes of this blog I hope to at least have some people learn from my mistakes. Nothing is more important than your health and well being. I did get to a point where I am able to manage chronic pain naturally and it no longer has control over me but I could have done that so much sooner than I did. I was seventeen when I graduated high school and entered college. I am thirty three now. I am telling you right now, the older you get the more difficult it becomes to put yourself and your health. It is never too late but why wait?? Trust me, if you are suffering with chronic pain to the point that it is basically all you are able to think about: STOP trying to get somewhere before getting your pain under control. The time is now. Pretend you have no other choice because in reality you really don’t. College will be there, your dreams and goals will come true: I am living proof. Do you want to be happy and healthy when your dreams come true or do you want to be in misery and pain with no room to enjoy anything much less your dreams.
This post is dedicated to one of the strongest teenagers I have ever met: Katrina.