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See My Strength: Not My Pain

“I’ve lost track of the number of times in my life that I’ve wanted to give up.  The number of days, of moments, when I felt I could no longer tolerate the pain or keep up the pace of my life.  But, I’m STILL here.  Don’t ever tell me I’m weak or lazy.  Just like you can’t see my illness, you can’t see my strength.”

I have been sharing my story for over three years: the good, the bad, the scary, the inspiring, and the ugly truth of my journey with chronic pain.  At times I have shared stories of some of my amazing, strong readers who also have an invisible illness.  This week I interviewed a person whom I will call Patrick (in light of St. Patrick’s Day) and his answers were so raw and so well said that I feel the need to share exactly what this young man wrote.

  1.  When did you know that your pain was chronic, as is not going away as acute pain would and do you know what caused the pain?  My pain first started in June, a few days after my 18th birthday.  At the time I was in a program called Seal Fit. Seal fit is a program that trains you mentally and physically to go into the Navy Seal training and make it through the cut.  During one of the workouts, I was on a rowing machine.  An intense pain shot down my lower back through my left leg and into my foot.  I had never experienced anything like this.  I thought I had pulled a hamstring.  A few months passed and the pain only got worse. At the time I was trying everything that would help my recovery.  I was doing special stretches, using a TENS unit, and applying kinesiology tape.   I was still training just not as intensely.  The pain eventually got to the point that I could no longer take it and I went to see a doctor.  They thought I had a pinched nerve which caused sciatica and I was sent for an MRI.  I remember sitting in a pain clinic in Tallahassee, FL with my at the time girlfriend.  A nurse came in the room to alert me that a doctor would be in shortly to talk to me. I was facing away in a chair and twisted around to look at her.   As soon as I twisted around, the nurse gave me an alarming look and advised me not to twist my body.  I remember being so confused. How could twisting make ‘this’ any worse?  It didn’t make sense.  I then received what would be the first deep sinking feeling of many to come over the next two plus years.  I had a partially congenital  condition where my L5 vertebrae did not form on the left side.  The right side had broken from a previous dirt bike accident and my vertebrae had fallen out of place on my spine, crushing my spinal cord and sciatic nerve.  There was fifty to seventy five percent slippage of my spine.  They explained it was close to causing partial paralysis, which means it would have paralyzed my left leg.  That explained why I did not have feeling in a large portion of my leg.    I was then  scheduled to see a neurosurgeon to talk about having my spine fused.  I remember the first time I met this doctor, he seemed charismatic and confident.   At the time, I had no doubt that this nice man was going to swoop in and take all my troubles and pain away.  However, first impressions can always be wrong.  At the time of the spinal fusion consultations I was only able to walk about five feet at a time without stopping and getting off of my feet. The doctor explained that they were going to go in and pull the vertebrae back into a place and fuse it with rods and screws.  It was a “simple” procedure that lasted two hours and I would be able to go home in two days.

          My day finally came and I remember sitting in the waiting room waiting to go into surgery.  I said goodbye to all of my family whom all looked so worried, especially my dad.  This whole ordeal had caused some difficulties between my dad and I.  Our relationship had never been perfect and before this happened I worked for him.  When the pain first started he thought I was making it up to get out of work and that caused even more tension and fighting in an already difficult relationship.  That all changed once he was told that my spine was in fact broken.  I remember seeing him cry as they wheeled me into surgery and at that moment I knew he felt very bad.  I sat outside the OR doors for three hours.  I was finally on the table as they told me to count as they applied the anesthesia.  I was so relieved that this nightmare was about to be over.  I had no idea that my nightmare (of pain) was just beginning.  My two hour surgery ended up being six hours.  I woke up to feeling as if I was cut open with gas poured inside my body, sewed back up again as the fire was ablaze inside me. I ended up staying in the hospital for a month despite being told I would be there two days.  I really cannot convey the physical pain I was in, I feel as if I have somehow blocked out those days.  I could not walk, talk, and did not sleep for an entire week following the surgery.  The strongest IV medications would not even knock me out: I felt like I was dying.

I had never experienced time moving so slowly.   Minutes felt like hours, days like weeks.  The month stay felt like a year. I could not even put on my own shoes or clothes: it was humiliating.  I always promised myself I would die before I ever went back to that state of helplessness.   I cannot explain how hard that was and how much it took from me because it just isn’t possible and no one can imagine how close I came to dying unless they had seen it themselves.   Every blackout from pain and from my inpatient stay where they were trying to teach me how to walk again was worse that I could have imagined.  But, that was just the physical pain and I was still holding onto hope.

So, to answer when I knew the pain was not going away, I would like to say it was after the hospital and multiple rehab centers I went to.   But, that would not be true.  I remember my positivity and hope as a mask.  I was doing it more for my family that I was for me.  I could feel it.  I knew what was going on.

2.What changed in your life due to your invisible illness? 

I honestly do not know how to answer that because it changed my whole life.  It is not as if it limited some limitations and I had to adapt, it gave every limitation.  Pain changed everything.  No aspect of my former life was the same.  I am not the same.

3. Do you have a good support system and/or people or loved ones who understand what you are going through?

I have people who think they understand and want to understand.  However, the only person who I think understands is my mom because she sat there and watched everything I have gone through.  I do not know how she did it.  I know what I was going through was hell, but she had to sit there and watch it feeling helpless.  Many people say: “Oh trust me, I get it” because they have felt pain and/or some type of sadness but they do not really get it.  People have no idea what chronic pain is like and when a person tries to compare it to the pain of an end to a month long relationship or an argument with a friend, I want to scream.

4.  Have you had to stop any of your passions due to chronic pain?

One of my most loved things was skateboarding. Skateboarding was a mental and physical release for me and a hobby my best friend and I shared.  I am unable to skateboard anymore and that loss hurts deeply.  I also loved mountain biking and that passion is now gone as well.  However, my biggest dream that is lost is my dream of joining special operations, a dream I have had since the young age of three.  That dream was crushed in front of my eyes and I never even got a chance to try.  Chronic pain has taken every passion from me except for music and software engineering.

5.  What emotional aspects come along with chronic pain?

I would love to say that it causes you to feel down at times but you are able to get right back up but that is not the case.  I never wanted to die so strongly in my life.  I do not think I have gone more than two days in the past two years without wanting to die.  It’s not a figure of speech as some may use this gut wrenching phrase: I want to die.  I am not unstable suicidal as I could never do that to my family or loved ones.  I feel people with chronic pain are the only people who would understand this feeling.   It is more that I want to opt out of this life with chronic pain, not actually die.  I just do not want to be here most days because it is a constant fight: me against pain and it is exhausting.  Chronic pain causes a heavy depression.  I feel as if I have been kidnapped and I am being tortured however it is my own body torturing me.  For me, a lack of sleep is a huge affect chronic pain has taken on my life which only intensifies the pain and depression.  Sometimes, I feel like I died in surgery and this is hell.  I’m not crazy, I am clearly not dead or in hell but that is what this life now feels like.   When people hear what happened to me, I get one of two things.  Either people are skeptic and do not believe me or they look at me as if I am a toy that is now broken forever.  Neither one are encouraging or helpful.

6.What keeps you going?  How do you stay strong?

Sometimes I do not even know how to answer that.  I know it is partially my family, especially my mom.  I want to succeed for her.  I know she needs that.  The other is that I have always felt different from the majority of people.  I have gone through other hardships in life and forced myself out.  I do not want to see chronic pain win.  This is MY life and chronic pain does not deserve to take over MY life.  I just want the pain to die.  I want to kill the pain.  I still have goals and dreams although they are hard to see through this filter chronic pain has placed over my life.  I know I still deserve to be happy and have my dreams fulfilled.  I just need to find a way to get there.  I wouldn’t be strong if I gave up the feeling that I deserve to be happy.  We all deserve happiness.

7. Have you lost any friends due to chronic pain?

I had a girlfriend at the time of the fusion whom I had been dating for seven years.  I found out she was cheating on me as I was in the hospital.  I broke up with her and so I definitely lost her.  I lost friends as well.  I now realize some friends were only there to get out of me what they could get.  I do not regret losing these people and I do not miss any of these people.  If anything that is the only good chronic pain has done for me in my life.  Every single person I lost because of chronic pain does not deserve to be in my life.  You can look at it as if chronic pain purged all the toxic people from my life.  I am actually grateful for that.

8.  Do you see any good coming from your invisible illness?

I do in some ways, not everyone could handle this.  Not everyone has the view and perspective on life that chronic pain forces you to see. I do not think you can see your self worth or your true strength until you have been completely torn apart.  I know what I am capable of and can survive because of this invisible illness.  Not everyone could survive this and I am surviving it every day.

9.  Where do you want to be in five years? 

I want to be making a difference in the world.   I want to be working for Google or another technology company with the power and will to change the world.  I have always been passionate about technology and am currently in a program for  Self-Driving Cars.  Self-driving cars will bring a new lease to the blind and disabled.  More than anything though I want to be happy.  I want chronic pain to be behind me.  I am tired of being in this hole with no way out. I just want to look back and say that I made it through.  I feel like every time I get close to getting out of this hole, the hole only gets deeper.  I just hope by that point I have found a way to escape.

10.If you could tell people who have never had chronic pain something what would it be?

People without chronic pain are so lucky and they do not even know it.  I feel as if so many people are ungrateful for the healthy lives they have and how much worse things could be.  People seem to complain about this miniscule things.  Why don’t you try appreciating your health and life for once instead of trying to make the world revolve around you?  That may sound harsh and I apologize.  I do not believe everyone is like this, I have just found this to be in my certain situation.   People focus on what other people think too much when most of the time the other person’s opinion means nothing!  I just want people to realize that things could always be worse, including my situation.  That gives us all a reason to appreciate the things we overlook in life, and instead of focusing on the bad we should focus on the good and try to make it that much better.

All I want to say regarding this person is that he is only twenty years of age!  Is that crazy or what?  He has wisdom and strength some people never acquire during their entire lifetime.  I may have changed very tiny things in his response but this is his story and it reminds me so much of mine that it breaks my heart.  I know his pain and I know so many of you know his pain.  However, he has hope and determination.  At the age of twenty I did not have that hope and determination.  He has no idea how strong he is and I know this post will help far more people than he even knows.

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Forced to Grow Up too Fast due to Chronic Pain

“Girls my age are all: I wish I was skinnier, I wish I was tan, I wish my hair was longer, I hate my teeth, I want a newer car.”  And I am over here like I wish I could walk down these stairs without wanting to scream!”

Recently a young reader reached out to me who is suffering from chronic pain.  When I began writing four years ago about my journey with this invisible illness I believed my target audience would be mothers with chronic pain and I would be receiving emails from women who are trying to balance a life with chronic pain while taking care of their children.  I am a mother with chronic pain managing it well and am able to help those out there who cannot seem to get a grasp on this indescribable, invisible pain.  However, over the years I have received more emails and been contacted by older teenagers and young adults more than anyone else.  I was thinking about this last night and realized my target audience are those young adults who in the wraths of pain.  This made perfect sense to me and I had an Oprah AHA moment.  The worst years of my life were during the ages of eighteen to twenty two.  I was at my breaking point with chronic pain and life in general.  I can still remember, all too well how much my invisible disease had destroyed every aspect and facet of the person I was prior to chronic pain taking over my life.  During my young twenties I reached my rock bottom and it was at this time that I was literally drowning in pain and honestly wishing I was no longer alive.  I was not living any kind of life and to say I was surviving is even a stretch.  Therefore it does make sense why I have helped or guided those who are at that young age because I understand their pain better than I understand the pain of anyone else.  The people like who I am writing this post for do not realize that their words help me in ways I never thought possible.  It astounds me how strong this person is and how he is in such a better place than I was at his young age of twenty.

He brought up a very important topic that I believe will capture the eyes and minds of many young people who are drowning in their own pain.  When I was around the age of twenty I hated everyone and everything in the world.  Worst of all, I hated myself.  I isolated myself from all my peers because no one understood what I was going through and I could not bear to hear their problems because although I looked okay on the outside, I was near death on the inside.  Hearing my friends talk about cramps or a recent breakup from a two week relationship made me angry.  Hearing the problems of my friends made me want to scream: “YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE!  I WISH I HAD PROBLEMS THAT ARE SO EASILY FIXED.  I MAY DIE BECASUE OF THE CONSTANT DAMN PAIN I AM IN EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY. I WISH FOR ONE DAY YOU COULD WALK IN MY SHOES AND YOU WOULD NEVER COMPLAIN OF SUCH FRUITLESS MATTERS AGAIN. AND MAYBE YOU WOULD UNDERSTAND ME BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE DOES!”  However, I never said these words to anyone.  I either retreated to my bed to cry or asked my friends to have drinks with me.  I knew alcohol would numb my physical pain and I could then bear to hear about their problems.

I am thirty five now and I feel younger than I did when I was twenty.  I never found a cure to my chronic pain but I did find a way through the pain.   I still have chronic pain but it does not consume my life as it once did.  I can now listen to my friends problems without resentment or anger.  No one understands a pain or a struggle unless that person has endured that certain pain or struggle.  Anger and resentment towards anyone or anything only intensifies our own struggles and our own pain.  We are only hurting ourselves.  However, I want to remind anyone who is reading this who knows a friend or loved one with chronic pain that your loved one is suffering.  He or she is not selfish and wishes more than anything that they could listen to your problems and be there for you.  However, they cannot do that.  If you know someone who is truly suffering from an invisible illness understand that although he or she looks okay on the outside, that person is literally fighting for their life and doing the best he or she can.

This post is dedicated to Ethan: Thank you for your questions and please know that you are (like all of you) so much stronger than you believe.

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Fearing the Future

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“Fears are stories we tell ourselves.”

Unknown

Above all of you lie a sentence with only six words included that sum up fear better than any phrase I have yet to see.  We are all afraid of something and many of us spend an exuberant amount of time focusing/fearing our futures.  We are afraid of not getting what we want and we are afraid of getting what we do not want.  I received an email recently from a young girl in college who has been following my blog for a couple years now.  She is a very kind, strong young person who has had chronic pain for a couple of years and is trying the best she can to manage her pain while working towards achieving a college degree in social work.  She asked me in her very encouraging email if I had remembered her and what my readers do not realize is that I find it very hard to forget any of you that reach out to me directly for help and support.  I am beyond flattered and amazed that so many people read my story because I do manage pain in an unconventional way. If I was the younger Jessica who was spending her days searching for a cure to chronic pain I would have never read a blog about a woman who has accepted chronic pain as part of her life and manages that pain naturally.  Then there are those of you who not only read my life story but you take the time out of your busy life that I know is not easy as you have an invisible illness to write me just to either say thank you and let me know that I have helped you or to ask me genuine questions.  You tell me your stories and you then see that I will never judge any of you for how you live your life or how you choose to manage your pain and you begin to trust me and many of you take some, if not all of my advice.  How could I forget any of your personal stories when I have not only lived/live your story but am astounded by your personal strength and gratitude.  With that said, of course I remember this young person who I am so very proud of and almost envious of in some ways.  She is in her young twenties and is in a place with her personal journey with chronic pain that I was not able to get to as early as she has.  However, she brought up to me some of her fears regarding her personal future and how she will be able to follow any of her dreams with this invisible illness: chronic pain.

When I was around the age of nineteen/twenty years of age I had more fears about my life than I had when I had brain surgery because of my bike accident.  I do not know what is worse living with chronic pain or the fear of pain itself and what we tell ourselves pain will steal from us.  I never thought I would have a family, be a mother, have a college degree or be the person sitting here writing about how I, Jessica Martin is managing pain naturally.  I  believed with my whole heart and soul that chronic pain had robbed me of everything I had ever wanted, desired or dreamed of.  I lived in pain and fear every second of every day.  The fear/anxiety made the pain worse and the pain made the fear/anxiety worse.  Ten plus years living in a never ending circle of pain and fear/fear and pain.  Turns out all the things I was fearing never happening because of chronic pain happened and all the things I feared of happening due to chronic pain never happened.  Do I have the life I would have had I never fallen off of my bike and chronic pain? No.  However, I have learned that fear of the unknown was just a story I made up in my head that caused me more emotional/physical pain that was truly unneeded.  Although, my life with chronic pain has taught me that fear is nothing but a story we tell ourselves, I still live in a lot of fear and that fear does have an impact on my pain levels.

I do not fear the things I used to fear when I was living in my darkest hours of chronic pain.  However, I am still a very worry filled person.  I spent most of my life being afraid and now I have to re-parent/re-teach my inner self to not be afraid for everything does work out.  I am not afraid of the little things in life that some may be afraid of.  I look forward to sky diving one day and I love roller coasters and haunted houses.  Those things do not scare me in the least, they excite me.  However, the big things in life scare me.  I still am afraid of the things I dream of happening not happening and the things I am afraid of happening coming to fruition.  Has my journey with chronic pain taught me nothing??  Everything I have ever feared not happening has happened just not  how I envisioned those certain life blessings to happen.    I know I need to let go and trust the process of life while working towards what I do what and I must stop living in a state of fear.  From childhood to adolescence to early adulthood up until my thirties I have had fear in my life and I did not know better and do not fault myself for those fears.  I do know better now.  However, to be fair to myself I am in the process of re -wiring a fear based mind into a peaceful, calm mind.   I can read and write as many quotes as I want to and I can logically know that fear is just a story I am telling myself but I am human and changing the way your mind works is a process.  Hell, it took me years to re-wire my brain from constantly focusing on pain.

This post is meant to thank the people who take time out of their day to remind me of what I am writing and remind me of my own personal story.  You are kind and generous enough to applaud me in how I have overcome so much and tell me what  an inspiration I am  to those who are living in fear due to chronic pain.  All of you are my teachers as well and I cannot thank you enough for your feedback and helping me in my own personal journey without even realizing what an impact you make in my life.  Thank you.

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Feeling Selfish Because of Chronic Pain

“For people with chronic pain self care is not selfish or irresponsible: its survival.”

Unknown

I have spent about two thirds of my life feeling somewhat selfish because of my invisible illness: chronic pain.  During the time in which I was searching for a cure to my pain I was consumed by anger, depression, anxiety, loss, and pain so severe I could not even will myself to read a book which was something I had always loved.  I was called selfish many times.  I was the queen of cancelling plans at the last minute, missing classes because I was in too much physical pain and subsequent depression that I could not get out of bed, and missing important family events because I could not imagine being around the people who thought I was this amazing little girl who was now going to college and being the Jessica everyone thought I would be see the pain even my smile could not hide.  I was embarrassed, ashamed, confused and in so much physical and emotional pain that I was “selfish.”  However, I was NOT being selfish because I wanted to do what I wanted to do and let people down.  I wanted to be with my friends, I wanted to be in class studying, and I wanted to be around the people I loved more than anything in the world.  Instead I was balled up in bed, alone either crying until the tears could just no longer fall or staring at the wall.  Some may call that selfish however I truly was just surviving and over the years I was hanging on by a thread. So not only did I feel guilty for an invisible illness I had yet to be diagnosed with as chronic pain but I felt hated because everyone thought I was just a selfish person who ditched the people she claimed she loved.  Hell on Earth.  There are no other words to describe those ten plus years of my life: pure and utter hell every second of every day of every year.  I no longer look back and see myself as being selfish.  I was surviving alone with a pain no one could see and a pain I could not fathom.

Fast forward to when I did find acceptance to my invisible illness: chronic pain and learned how to manage this disease naturally.  The first amazing thing to enter my existence once I came to a place of acceptance was hope.  Then the work began.  I began managing pain naturally when I was twenty two and I am now thirty five and it is still a daily routine for me that I do in order to manage pain without pain managing me.  I still have chronic pain.  I still have difficult hours and sometimes difficult days but the good days far out weigh the bad.  Is there a coincidence in my eyes that how I manage pain works as opposed to how I used to manage pain by searching for a cure, I truly do not believe so.  Is my life perfect? Hell no.  However, I am in a place that I never thought after my bike accident and subsequent pain I would be in.  My dreams have come true and more dreams will come true.  There is no exact destination for me and the journey does have its ups and downs but I am finally the Jessica I was meant to be.  With that said I do find people calling me selfish at times.  I would be lying if that term did not hurt but I am working on not allowing other people’s views on how I live or manage pain to interfere with my happiness.  Like the saying goes: “Never mock a pain you have not endured.”  I have to set some limitations in my life in order to control my pain naturally.  I cannot do EVERYTHING a person without chronic pain can do.  I will re-phrase that.  I can do EVERYTHING a person without chronic pain can do but if I did so I would be right back in the first paragraph of this article: Hell on Earth.  I have to take care of myself: body, mind and spirit and know and respect my limitations in order to take care of the people I love and be the person I was meant to be.  I say no to invitations that people think is very selfish of me.  Do I say no to all invites or requests to spend time with me: no.  However, I do say no when I know that a certain day is already busy and going to one extra thing will truly intensify my pain I listen to my inner wisdom and say no.  I have an odd sleeping schedule.  I go to sleep early: between eight pm and nine pm on most nights.  There are the occasional nights I stay awake later to spend time with the people I love but on average I fall asleep with a book in my hand around nine pm: yes on the weekends as well.  I am a morning person and part of my management of chronic pain is a good amount of sleep, exercise, and meditation.  I am a mother.  I like to wake up before my four year old so that I can exercise and practice a small meditation without her angelic yet at times frustrating toddler voice saying: mommy, mommy, mommy fifty plus times.  I have been called selfish for my sleep schedule.  Those are just two small examples of why I am called selfish at this point and time in my life.  If I could turn back time I would never have fallen off of my bike and I would never have had chronic pain.  I cannot do so.  I understand why people may see me as selfish at times but what they do not realize is that I still struggle with the fact that I do have chronic pain and although I am thrilled I am living a happy life despite chronic pain it still saddens me that I am unable to do everything I would be able to do had it not been for my invisible illness.

I beg all of you to not or try not and allow what others say to you regarding how you choose to live your life: and this goes for EVERYONE.  I am damned if I do and damned if I do not so to speak.  If I do not manage pain in a healthy manner I will be a miserable hot mess and people will call me selfish because I cannot really do anything and if I manage pain naturally I am called selfish because I have to set my own limitations.  So what is the lesson in that?  You have to do what you know intuitively is right for you.  If you are not taking care of yourself as only you know how to do than you are useless to everyone, especially yourself.  People will always talk and have an opinion.  Tune that crap out.  None of you are selfish people.  I know factually you are all doing the best you can and if you had a choice you would not have chronic pain.  You are not selfish people, you are survivors.

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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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12 Gift Ideas to Give to Someone with Chronic Pain

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The holidays can be a very exciting, magical, happy time for many people while for others it is very stressful, depressing, and exhausting.  I remember during my darkest hours of chronic pain dreading my favorite holiday in the world: Christmas.  I have always adored the magic of Christmas: the lights, shopping for my loved ones, Christmas cards, Christmas carols, decorating with my family, Santa, and just feeling that sense of joy as the world went from brown leaves falling to the ground to streets filled with lights and stores windows stocked with festive trinkets.  Once chronic pain began to control my life I despised Christmas.  Everyone was so happy and I was miserable.  I was asked more questions than usual about why I was so sad and isolated.   People had always known me as the enthusiastic, vibrant girl who brought Christmas everywhere she went.  That girl was gone for many years and I thank my father who always believed in me, the Mayo Clinic for teaching me how to live with chronic pain naturally, and I thank myself for doing the hardest work of my life in my management with chronic pain to once again love this time of year more than I ever have.

I was recently asked what a person with chronic pain would want as a gift for Christmas.  The easy, most logical answer would be: a cure to chronic pain.  I wished for that for fifteen years but I am at a different place with chronic pain than I once was and can now answer that question.  I manage pain naturally and if I was still suffering as I once was with this invisible illness I know what I would want to receive as a Christmas present from my loved ones.  Here are the top twelve things that stand out more than anything when I think of Christmas and chronic pain.

  1. A hand written card that speaks from your heart to your loved one with chronic pain.  A letter expressing love and support without any pity.  Words that express how strong you believe your loved one to be and that although you are unable to understand what your loved one faces on a daily basis you are always there to support he or she in anyway they need.  People with chronic pain isolate themselves and feel beyond misunderstood especially from the people they love most.  They feel unworthy of love and need to be reminded that they are not their invisible illness and reminded of just how loved they are.  Most importantly they need to know you believe them; although you cannot see their illness you know it is there.  Words are powerful and will stick with your loved one far longer than any object can.

2.  A CD on yoga nidra.  People with chronic pain find it very difficult to sleep.  Many spent most of their days exhausted, excited just to get into bed and fall asleep and yet once their head hits the pillow they are unable to sleep.  Yoga Nidra is the meditative heart of yoga and is one of the most fantastic, helpful tools I have found to help me manage chronic pain.  It takes a tiny bit of ‘practice’ however all one needs is a CD player or an MP3 player, a pillow and blanket and he or she is set.  A half hour to an hour of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to about three to four hours of sleep.  It took me who is one of the most anxious persons you could meet about three times before I did fall into a deep meditative trance and awoke feeling like a new person.  You can find Yoga Nidra on http://www.amazon.com or any online site that sells music, books, and/or yoga DVDs.

3.  Essential oils such as Lavender, Eucalyptus, or Peppermint.  Essential oils mixed with Epson Salts create the most relaxing bath one could imagine.  There are times I will take a bath with Lavender and Epson Salts and just practice deep belly breathing.  I may listen to a meditation CD or just lay there concentrating on the scents and the feeling of my breathing.  Twenty minutes in a bath with oils is beneficial to anyone!

4. A gift certificate for a pedicure.  Pedicures are not only relaxing but very healing and grounding as well.  I love getting pedicures because it gives me a solid hour to just sit in a nice, light massage chair (which one does not have to use) and allow myself to be pampered.  I always bring a book as I do not like to talk during my one hour of relaxation.

5.  Candles!  I am a huge fan of candles and love practicing yoga in the morning surrounded by candles.  They are not only healing but they smell delicious.  One of the first things I do in the morning before I exercise is light the candles I have on our living room mantle.  Right now the candles are the smells of Christmas and one of my personal favorite smells is the smell of a Christmas tree so it is obvious to those who know me why my current candles are green.

6.  An adult coloring book along with a box of colored pencils.  Whoever came up with adult coloring books is brilliant!  My dad gave me my first adult coloring book along with a beautiful tin filled with colored pencils and I love it!  Who knew that coloring could be so therapeutic and healing.  I should have known I would enjoy coloring the beautiful pictures as I love coloring with my toddler.  However, coloring scenes of gardens, oceans, and designs is a little more up my alley than coloring pictures of Mickey Mouse.

7.  Pending on your loved one’s degree of pain and where he or she is in their journey with chronic pain a great gift could be either a yoga DVD or a gift certificate to a yoga class. Anyone can do yoga and I mean that.  There are multitudes of various types of yoga from chair yoga to power yoga to yoga for chronic pain.  If it was fifteen years ago and I was given this gift I probably would have cried because my mind truly believed I was unable to do any movement but now I love yoga and see that it is beneficial to everyone: chronic pain or no chronic pain.

8.  A journal that speaks to you about your loved one.  I clearly love writing and keep a journal however I find it easier to write in a journal when it is in my eyes beautiful.  Writing is an amazing outlet for anyone but especially those with chronic pain.  One can write down their deepest worries and their personal truth.  I find it very helpful to write down my worries before I go to sleep and leave them aside for another time.

9. A day planner.  It may sound ridiculous but just because someone has chronic pain does not mean he or she does not have a life.  Many people with chronic pain/anxiety often have a mind that never stops racing. I live for my day planner.  I write a to do list every night before I go to sleep and love the feeling of crossing something off the following day once my errand or what have you has been accomplished.  I exercise every morning but I still write it down on my to do list at night because it helps me to feel extra motivated and structured.

10.  Stationary: ok, obviously one can tell by now I really like writing!  There are many people who have chronic pain who do not know how to verbalize how they are feeling or their love for you.  Often times writing letters on pretty stationary helps a person with an invisible illness feel more human so to speak.  He or she wants you to know how much they love you but are often times in too much pain: body/mind and spirit to verbalize their feelings.  Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a letter in the mail instead of a bill?

11. As I come to the end of my list I remind myself that you know your loved one much better than I do!  I may know chronic pain better but you know what your loved one enjoys: books, music, funny movies?  Please remember that we as people with chronic pain do not want to be defined by our invisible illness.  Sometimes the greatest gift can be your loved one’s favorite movie.  Comedies are great because there are times where the saying: laughter is the best medicine is extremely true.  I use distractions constantly in my journey with chronic pain and I find that my hobbies help train my brain to not think about pain.

12. The title of my website is http://www.noonegetsflowersforchronicpain.com.  Therefore, get your loved one some flowers!  One of my favorite movies is entitled: “The Breakup” with Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn.  In the beginning of the movie they start arguing over who is going to wash the dishes after a family dinner.  Vince Vaughn sits down to watch the game that is on television and Anniston cannot believe that she is expected to wash the dishes after preparing the entire meal and cleaning prior to having their family over.  Anniston says to Vince Vaughn: “Gary I want you to WANT to wash the dishes!”  In turn Vince Vaughn (Gary) replies: “Why would I want to wash the dishes?!”  The argument escalates and Anniston ends up saying: “Ya know wouldn’t it be nice if you thought one day: ‘hey maybe I should buy my girlfriend some flowers.'”  Vaughn replies: “You told me on our very first date that you do not like flowers.”  Anniston then says with conviction: “Every girl likes flowers Gary!”  Everybody deserves flowers on occasion Christmas or no Christmas, chronic pain or no chronic pain.

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