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Managing Life’s Stress Along with Chronic Pain

“Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”

Marlon Brando

This picture was taken just last week in the beautiful town of Lake George, NY.  My family and I went on a week long vacation that was so fun, peaceful, and unique it was difficult to drive back to reality this past Sunday.  My little mini me and I shed some tears as we drove away from our log cabin on the lake and onto the New Jersey Turnpike.  Vacations are always amazing but I find myself managing my chronic pain so much better when away from the every day hustle and bustle of real life.  When I pack for vacation, I make sure to include my “chronic pain management kit” which includes: yoga dvd’s, books, healthy food, CD’s for meditation, and my journal.  I am able to follow my routine for managing chronic pain naturally while on vacation and then some.   I am able to find endless, healthy distractions while away with the people I love.  It takes me a few days to adjust to the ‘real world’ once I return from a week away in what I call paradise.   I spend a week forgetting the stresses and issues I have at home and am able to surrender to the here and now for those seven blissful days.  We returned from our trip Sunday afternoon and the excitement of being home helped me forget my longing for that log cabin and pool.  I was busy unpacking, doing laundry, sorting through mail, and cleaning a home that had been alone for a week.  I went to bed tired and not feeling ready to wake up and face Monday in the non-vacation world.

Monday turned out to be a day from hell.  It started out just like any ordinary Monday: I exercised, got my daughter ready for the day, and left the house for errands and work.  I do not need to go into detail of what exactly transpired this past Monday but I now see how things really do happen all at once.   While I was at work,  I was anxiously waiting for a phone call that would either give me great news or not so great news.  I received the phone call around noon and it was not so great news. I was sad and shed a couple tears and got back to focusing on what I needed to be doing at that moment.  Five minutes later my phone rang again and it was a call from a close family member with really bad news that affects the people I love the most.  A couple hours later my phone rang one more time for even more difficult news.  I felt like I had to do something to fix the problems that I was faced with immediately.  Instead I called my dad and told him everything that had just happened and he shared the above quote with me: “Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”  I realized that if I went into fight or flight mode than nothing good was going to happen and I was not only going to get myself into a huge mess, my little girl was going to be very upset and confused.

Logically I know that everything always works out but I struggle in the moments of bad news or life stressors.  I have two modes: catastrophic mode or fix the problem immediately at whatever cost mode.   Neither mode is constructive and both modes are very detrimental to my pain levels.  I forget how much stress/anxiety affects my chronic pain.  It does not matter how well I follow my routine for managing chronic pain when I am a crying, anxious mess.  I end up paying for my negative emotions physically once late afternoon/nighttime hits.  I exhaust myself to the point of extreme physical pain that I am no longer worrying about anything because I am only focused on pain.

People in my life forget that I have chronic pain which is not their fault.  I have had this invisible illness for twenty years.  Most of the people in my current life were not a part of my life when I was drowning in my fight against chronic pain.  They did not see the twenty one year old Jessica who spent her days in doctors offices and her nights drinking with her friends to the point of crying alone wishing she could either kill herself or chronic pain.  People in my life now see a person who states she has chronic pain but manages it naturally and has a good handle on her invisible illness.  I rarely if ever talk about pain as this is a very important tool for me in my management of chronic pain.  The more I talk about pain the more I think about pain.  The more I think about pain, the worse pain becomes.  A life with chronic pain can be very difficult even for myself at times.  I have come to a great point in my journey with pain but life stressors impact my pain levels more than I would like.

A lot of you are drowning in pain right now and feel that your pain will be forever and have no idea how you are going to make it through today much less the rest of your life.  You want to fix the pain right now, numb the pain right now, and you are either in catastrophic mode or need to fix this immediately mode.  My dad has always given me very sound, zen advice.  I urge you all to think about the quote that helped me these past few days: “Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”

 

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Letting Go of What We Cannot Control

“Anything you can’t control is teaching you how to let go.”

Jackson Kiddard

As I was practicing yoga this morning two words stuck with me that I knew I wanted to grow from: flexibility and the art of allowing.  Many people believe that doing yoga is an exercise to tone the body into better health and better flexibility of the muscles and tissues that make up our individual bodies.  However, that is just a small portion of what the art of yoga really is.  Yes, yoga has helped tone my body and has become a great form of exercise, it has also helped me become more flexible physically.  Yoga is also teaching me how to become more flexible in places that are far more important than the outside of my body: my heart and mind.  I will be very honest.  I am not a very flexible person.  There is a very sound reason as to why I am not flexible: chronic pain.  I manage chronic pain naturally and have a routine I follow each day in order to manage pain without pain managing me.  I spent a decade of my life with chronic pain consuming my entire life.  I lived, breathed, and felt pain inside and out for every single day of what could have been the best years of my life: my teen years and my early twenties.  I was in doctor’s offices or getting operations while my friends were on their phones planning what to do for the weekend.  I probably spent as many hours in waiting rooms as I did college classes.  My life could have been defined as: “hurry up and wait for a cure.”  After coming close to just ending my entire life I found what saved me and that was the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where I learned how to manage pain naturally.  I have a routine I follow daily that helps me in so many ways manage my pain without a cure or medications.  I am living as opposed to barely surviving.  I had to let go of the idea that I would find a cure and surrender to the fact that I could live a happy, healthy life despite pain.  I have had to give up a lot in order to manage pain how I choose but I had nothing when I was looking for a cure so the benefits outweigh the negatives one thousand percent.

However, there are ways I am learning to be more flexible.  I am a mother and one huge lesson motherhood will teach you is how to be flexible.  Our family went away this past weekend to Atlantic City, NJ for a long snowed in weekend.  Yes, I packed yoga DVD’s and some healthy snacks.  However, I had to be flexible.  I stayed up much later than usual and ate things I would not normally eat.  My schedule was totally thrown off but I was having so much fun swimming and just chilling out in pajamas in our hotel room that I really did not think about pain despite not following my usual management of chronic pain.  I surrendered to just letting go and having fun making memories with the people I love.  I was able to get back on my schedule yesterday and I must say what I do does work.  With that said, there are ways I need to be more flexible in my mind and heart which will allow me to be more flexible in my life.  Our thoughts create our reality and I would like my thoughts to be more flexible.  Our mind is like a huge muscle and we can work out our biceps and triceps as much as we want but if we do not focus on what is inside our minds and hearts we will never be truly happy.  I am working on being more flexible and allowing the dreams I have to come into my world without forcing them.  One can work towards a dream or goal without it taking control over their entire existence.  Everything I have gone through in my thirty five years has been teaching me how to be flexible: body mind and spirit and how to allow things to happen while working towards what you most desire.

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Break Out of Your Prison of Pain

 

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“One of the marvels of the world is seeing the sight of a soul sitting in a prison with the key in his hand.”

Rumi

I am tired of being afraid.  I am tired of living inside my box of fear when I do hold the key to my personal happiness.  For fifteen years I spent my life being afraid of physical pain and as many of you know the fear of pain is worse than the pain itself.  At times I am still filled with fear of pain but it no longer controls my life.  However, I am way too often stuck in my own box of fear that I forget to breathe and be calm and happy.  2016 was not an easy year for me.  However, I did learn a lot about myself and know the exact things I personally want to change in order for me to live the happiest life I can in the new year.

I am tired of being afraid of the past, the present and most of all the future.  I want to break free of this box of fear and live my life to the fullest.  I am tired of being fearful to express my feelings, emotions, and thoughts because of what someone will think or say.  No one has control over my happiness, my choices, or my life except myself.  I hold the key and I do find myself in my own tiny prison with that exact key in my hand too often.  I believe we all do in some way, shape or form.  What are you afraid of?  What prison are you living in that you want to break out of?

The prison I find myself in at times is very difficult to escape from as all of our personal prisons are.  We live in a world of fear but we can break free of our personal fears.  How?  I’m working on that.  I’m working on myself and I want to be the best version of me that I can be.  Happiness is an inside job that no person, place, or object can bring you.  Our thoughts determine our lives and I am sad to admit that many of my personal thoughts are derived from fear.  I am not taking away the credit I deserve and all of you deserve for the invisible battles we have each been given and fight every day.  We are all doing the best we can but maybe at times we are trying too hard.  I am extremely tired of overthinking every little thing.  Deep down I know that my fears are worse that what I am actually afraid of.  My fear of anxiety is worse than my anxiety itself just as my old fears of pain were worse than the pain itself.

I do not expect to be happy all the time nor do I expect everything to turn out exactly how I want and/or plan.  However, I do know that being afraid of things not working out how I dream or desire is not going to change the outcome.  I cognitively know all of these things but I am now ready to truly work on these thoughts that cause me added pain and anxiety.  I believe that fear is holding me back from my deepest dreams and desires and as I said in my first sentence: I am tired of being afraid.

How can you break free of your personal prison in this upcoming year.  Break out of your prison for you not for anyone else.  We are never too old to stop learning or growing.   I know many of you feel stuck.  Most of you feel stuck due to pain and I understand that feeling more than anyone.  What would your life look like if you stopped being afraid?  I do not have all the answers but I will be sharing with all of you what works in my new year and what does not work.  I truly want to find my personal peace and happiness without the constant ups and downs that come with life, chronic pain, and anxiety.  I know I can do it.  I know we all can.  You hold your key to your life.  Only you know how to open the lock.

 

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A New Year: Be Present

“Healing comes from gathering wisdom from past actions and letting go of the pain that the education taught you.”

Carolyn Myss

I have heard from multitudes of people that the year 2016 has been if not difficult, disastrous.  As I heal and enter into my next phase of working to bring another angel into this world, I realize that for me the year 2016 has come with many ups and many downs.  I have had some of the greatest moments in my life and honestly some of my worst.  I am truly trying to find the lessons that both the difficult times and amazing times have taught me.  With that said, I am going to share with you my New Year’s Resolutions.  I will also write down my very personal News Years resolutions that I do not want to share with the entire world, yes there are some things I do keep to myself and my close friends and loved ones.   However, I do want to share some of  my resolutions for all my readers to read in the hopes that some of you can relate to certain changes.  I know it is not yet Christmas but I feel that we can and should write down and think about resolutions many more times than just on a drunk filled holiday we call New Years.  So, here is what I have been thinking about regarding change, lessons, and things I would like to work on today and tomorrow and for my upcoming year as well.

  1. I am what one would call an over thinker, a worry wart, and a person who logically knows things work out but find it very difficult to turn my brain to belief instead of worry.  I do not know what came first: anxiety or chronic pain.  I believe I have had anxiety since I was a very small person and following my bike accident and subsequent chronic pain this anxiety only intensified.  Anxiety and chronic pain can become a vicious cycle.  Anxiety increases pain and pain increases anxiety.  I am going to truly work on changing my thoughts.  Once I begin thinking something that worries to me to no end such as the troubles we have faced having another child, I go into catastrophic mode and start thinking months, years into the future wondering what will happen, when it will happen, how it will happen, and then the what if’s come in which are much more daunting than the what’s.  What if’s are two words that I am cognitively going to start deleting from my conscious mind and my vocabulary.  I need to keep remembering and plan to write this down where I can see it every day this: “Everything I have ever dreamed of happening but have been caught in fear that it will not happen always ends up happening just not how I planned.”  I am going to practice following my dreams but not forcing my dreams.  I need to allow things to come into my life with open arms instead of worrying that my dreams will not come to fruition.  Like the saying goes: worrying is like paying interest on a debt you will probably never owe.
  2. Comparison is so called the thief of joy and I find myself comparing myself and my life with other’s which is not only illogical but causes me sadness.  As far as I have come in my journey with chronic pain, I still find myself almost annoyed when I see someone in acute pain (pain that will only lasts hours or at most days.)  People with chronic pain would be thrilled to have acute pain however, my reality is chronic pain and comparing myself to other people’s lives steals my inner peace and joy.  I should be applauding myself for how far I have come and what I great life I have despite my invisible illness.  There are many other things I find myself wishing I had instead of being grateful for what I have in this space and time.  Social media has a huge influence on societies personal views on their own lives.  As people look on sites such as Facebook and Instagram they only see the happy moments in a person’s life.  No one posts pictures of the hard times and the sad/difficult moments in their daily lives only the great ones, myself included.  We need to remember this if we are on social media sites.  Many of us would be better off taking time away from the internet if it is bringing sadness and/or distraught feelings.  If something does not make you happy, do not look at it.  We all need to stop comparing our lives to other’s lives whom we think have it all because I promise you if you lived in their shoes for a week you would probably miss your own life a lot.
  3. I have started practicing yoga more and have lessened the amount of cardio I do for both chronic pain and anxiety.  For about two weeks now I have practiced a solid hour yoga session each morning and see how much yoga truly touches body, mind, and spirit.  It is not only the poses and exercises I love, it is the words coming from the instructors voice.  I learn a lot of lessons both consciously and sub-consciously as I move through each pose. I love exercise as a result of chronic pain.  It truly helps me a ton and I love cardio more than any other form of exercise.  However, I am trying to work on my inner self more than my outer self.  I never imagined yoga would teach me so much.  I truly believe our school systems should incorporate some sort of yoga into our student’s daily life.
  4. I need to chill out.  I become so consumed with fear of the future and thoughts from my past that I forget to live in the present moment.  I used to tell my patients: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift and that is why it is called the present.” It is so easy to say aloud or even write down: live more presently but it is one of the most difficult things to do.  For example, when you are taking a shower in the morning are you thinking about how great your hair smells in the wraths of shampoo or are you thinking about what you have to do next?  We are rarely fully present and we miss out on so much of life’s blessings and joys because we are always thinking forward.  I have found that if I focus on my breath and calm myself down when I start getting anxious about the future (even if the future thought is ten minutes ahead of me) I can bring myself back to the present time.  My dad asked me for Christmas what I wanted and the one thing that stuck out was a very awesome day planner.  Right now I have like four different ones I use instead of just one go to planner.  I find that if I write down exactly what needs to be done each day I can let go of the thoughts of the future because they are already written down.
  5. Finally I need to tap into my faith.  I need to surrender my dreams to the Universe and allow what is going to come into my life to come without worry or grief.  I need to believe, surrender, and let go.  What if we spend all this time worrying and planning our future when the Universe already has it mapped out for us?  If that is the case then we are all carrying around fifty pound weights for no reason.  I plan to truly take one day at a time and some days will be difficult and some days will be amazing but there is some joy in every day.  One of the last presents I gave my Grandmother before she passed was a magnet that says: “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”  I think in this coming year we all need to cultivate more faith into our lives and let go and be lead towards our divine plan.

 

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Your Cracks and Scars are What Heal You

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“It’s easy to look at people and make quick judgements about them, their present and their past but you would be amazed at the pain and tears a single smile hides.  What a person shows to the world is only one tiny facet of the iceberg hidden from sight.  And more often than not, its lined with cracks and scars that go all the way to the soul.”

Unknown

I am a person filled with cracks and scars that do go all the way to my soul.  For a good part of my life I allowed these cracks and scars to harden me and become a person I did not love or even enjoy being around.  Self hate is truly the most powerful hate there is because it can cause a person to act out in hate towards others when really the only person he or she is unhappy with is themselves and/or their life circumstances.  I am still filled with cracks and scars that are not visible to the outside world however I no longer hate myself.  I can be excruciatingly hard on myself and perfectionism can get the best of me but I do not hate who I am.  I am filled with more self love now than I have had in all my thirty five years on the planet.  I no longer look at my cracks and scars as my enemy but as the building blocks that are creating my present and future.  Life is ten percent of what happens to us and ninety percent of how we respond to it.

This year has been jam packed with ups and downs.  I have had the highest highs and the lowest lows.  I have had miracles arise and devastations arise.  Ten years ago I would pity myself without welcoming pity from others.  I would have allowed the bad things that have occurred to define my identity.  Now, I try and find the silver lining.  I try and find the lesson behind each great thing that happens and each difficult thing that happens.  There are many things that have happened to me to bring me to the place within myself where I reside now: chronic pain, losses, mistakes, and my daughter Kayci.  I have faith in myself and my future because of my cracks and scars.  Look at that little four year old girl above who is just about to see Santa Clause and is literally holding in her built up excitement.  I am the lucky person that she calls Mommy.  She believes in magic and she helps me believe in magic because in my eyes she is magic herself.  One of my biggest losses happened in 2010 when I lost our son at about nine weeks gestational age.  Had that little angel not left us, I would not know or have this miracle daughter.

I had my bike accident in my young teens and have had chronic pain since.  For so many years all I thought about was how to get rid of my pain.  I not only thought about it but pain consumed my life, the life of my family, and a multitude of doctors and specialists who could not for the life of them find a cure to my invisible illness.  A day did not go by in which I did not think about a life without pain.  I am thirty five now and still have chronic pain and had you told me fifteen years ago I would be living with chronic pain naturally and having a fulfilled life despite pain, I would have either laughed in your face or cried in your face.  But, here I am living a life where pain does not dictate my life.  I have written and said this many times but it is just so relevant and true to all our stories: “If there is something that you do not go a day without thinking about or wishing for than you will find a way to achieve whatever it is you wish for.”  I never found a cure to chronic pain but my life took me on a different path where I learned to live with it and be happy despite pain.  In many ways my wish that I did not go one single hour without thinking about did come true just not in the way I had expected it to.  As you all know, I do not go a day without thinking about having another child and extending our family. Clearly it is not happening how I had wished and hoped for it to happen but it will happen because if nothing else chronic pain taught me that you never give up on something you do not go a day without thinking about.   In the meantime I am going to do everything in my personal power to bring me closer to my dream while still enjoying and being grateful for what I do have in this time and place.

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Self Reflection and Chronic Pain

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“If you suffer it is because of you.  If you are blissful it is because of you.  No one else is responsible, only you and you alone.  You are your own hell and your own heaven too.”

Osho

I have had a few days where I have had to leave my comfort zone and just relax and rest.  If you know me, I am not a fan of resting and being still for too long.  I am the definition of an over thinker and having an invisible illness such as chronic pain has only intensified my roller coaster of thoughts.  After ten years of searching for a cure to chronic pain and finally finding a way to manage pain and live a life that makes me happy, it is very difficult for me to step away from the routine I am so accustomed to.  My day usually begins around five in the morning with stretches and exercise.  Of all the tools I use to manage chronic pain, exercise is definitely one of my favorites and most useful.  It helps with my chronic pain and my subsequent anxiety.  I stay busy throughout the day which is quite easy to do with a four year old daughter, work, and running a home that I am proud of.  My other favorite tool for managing chronic pain naturally is the utilization of distractions.  I train my brain to not think about pain and am usually quite successful in this exercise.  However, for the past few days I have been forced to rest in bed which on one hand has been very difficult.  I want to play with my daughter, run my errands, make dinner, and finish the damn laundry that has been sitting in the laundry room for two days.  I do not enjoy being vulnerable and relying on other people to help me and do things for me.  I begin to feel guilty, frustrated, and the little control freak buried inside me comes out in the silliest ways one can imagine.  For instance, I find it difficult to walk into my daughter’s playroom because I know it is not organized the ‘Jessica’ way.

On the other hand, the past few days have been a great lesson for me.  I have had to let things go and find distractions that have nothing to do with exercise and/or activity.  I have caught up on my favorite television shows, books, and even went back to my gratitude journal and began doing the exercises that are found in the book.  The book is entitled: “Simple Abundance” by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  I have read the book but have never attempted to truly do the workbook that accompanies this very inspiring book.  The first three assignments were quite simple for me.  I was asked to write down fifty things I am grateful for: things from having food in the fridge to being blessed with a beautiful, happy daughter.  The second was to write down the five things I want in my life more than anything.  Number one on my list was to have more children: no brainer there.  The third exercise was to write down the things that I wanted to work on within myself to find more inner joy.  Ironically, this was the easiest exercise the workbook asked of me.  I wrote down so many things that I ran out of room  the page allotted  me.  Sadly, the fourth exercise was much more difficult than I thought it would be.  The exercise asked me to write down five things or more that I loved about myself: my gifts.  I came up with two right away: empathetic and funny.  I even felt a little guilty writing down funny.  It took me longer to find five things I am sincerely proud of about myself then it did to find fifty things I was grateful for.  No one else needs to read my simple abundance workbook so why was I so hesitant to write exactly how I do feel about myself?  Yes, there are things I want to work on and am working on but there are more than two things about myself I am proud of.  However, I felt some sense of ridiculous guilt putting them down on paper.  I learned that I need to own the things I feel good about regarding myself and my life.  I have worked hard to get where I am especially with chronic pain.  I have a lot to be proud of and should not feel ashamed for feeling good about those things in my life.  I focus more on the things I need to work on than the goals I have already achieved.

I believe this to be true: no matter where we are in our journey with chronic pain or life in general, we should be more focused on our gifts than our downfalls.  The more we focus on the good in ourselves, the easier it will be to work on the things we know need some help.  None of us are perfect and chronic pain makes life incredibly difficult at times but we all have special gifts that we need to start putting more focus on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Humor and Chronic Pain

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“Open your eyes, for this world is only a dream.”

Rumi

I had quite the imagination when I was a child, still do but that imagination goes straight to fear way too often as an adult.  I used to wonder if my real life was while I slept and dreamt and my dreams were actually when I was awake.  I also used to think I could fly and jumped off of my families couch way too many times to count: turns out I can only fly once in a blue moon while I sleep.  I love the quote above: “Open your eyes, for this world is only a dream.”  I took this quote to mean that we take life too seriously at times and miss out on the true miracles and blessings that occur in our life every day.

My daughter and I were in CVS, our local drug store the other day buying random things I had coupons for.  As I was selecting the correct allergy medicine, Kayci whispered in my ear: “Mommy, what is that?  That poor man is missing a leg!”  There was a man in his fifties standing at the pharmacy telling jokes and making the pharmacists and customers roar with laughter.  He was really funny, to the point that I forgot my daughter’s question and truly did not notice that this man had a prostetic leg as his joy was radiating through the store.  I began laughing out loud as well and about eight people were all enthralled with this man’s amazing sense of humor.  He was truly one of the funniest people I have met in a long time.  I began talking to him and the elderly woman next to him and forgot that my daughter was still whispering her question: “Mommy, what is that???”  The man heard my daughter’s question and at first instinct I was embarrassed but luckily this man was so gracious and kind that he explained that he was blessed enough for science to make him a leg as he had lost one of his in an accident.  Another woman, who turned out to be a psychiatrist chimed in as well and explained to my little four year old how amazing this man was and how lucky he was to be so happy even without one of his legs.  Phew, took the pressure of explaining amputations to my toddler away from me for the time being.

As little as this moment was, it was the highlight of my day.  I was proud of my daughter’s empathy and intelligence.  I was thrilled to be surrounded by such kind people.  But, most of all I felt so blessed to have met this man whom I will probably never see again.  It was a teachable moment for both my daughter and I.  Some days I forget to count my blessings.  Some days I still do feel sorry for myself for having chronic pain, rarely but this was one of those days and I was so thankful that I had the privilege of meeting this man on one of my ‘difficult days.’  There are so many things we take for granted and we all have a story to tell whether it be visible or not.  I do not know this man’s story but I do know he was a blessing to my daughter, all the people who were talking with him that day in CVS, and myself.  As he left the store I said: “You are one of the funniest people I have ever met.”  He replied immediately before walking out the door: “I lost my leg, but I will never lose my sense of humor.”

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