Sue Ann's beautiful story
My name is Sue Ann, and I suffered from chronic migraines and neck pain for over 10 years. It started when my son was just a year old. I went to pick him up and felt a stabbing in my arm. Then the intense headaches and pain in my arm began. I had herniated two disks in my neck. So I had surgery which helped for awhile.
But then the intense headaches began, becoming more frequent and more painful. This started my journey through the healthcare system. I had surgeries, therapies, blocks and injections. I attended pain management clinics where the main solution offered was medications. I was taking migraine medications and pain medication - medications that make you feel awful and dull your brain. At one point I even wore a fentanly patch for a year. I tried holistic therapies such as yoga, acupuncture, tai chi and Feldenkrais. While all of these methods are great, I just hadn't found one that worked for me.
I could no longer work a regular job. I lived this way for years. It was never if I had a headache - but to what degree it was. I did eventually stopped taking all the migraine medication and just used opioid medications to manage the pain and get through life. I was doing my best to be a good mom, a good wife and try to function normally in society.
My original profession was a pastry chef. I remember trying to convince my husband why it would be a great idea for me to start my own cookie company. This way I would be able to work for myself and not have to answer to anyone. No one would know if I made a mistake and I could work on pain medications. This actually worked for awhile until my husband got laid off and we moved from California to New Jersey.
My experience with chronic pain is really no difference than others. Life just gets smaller and smaller. You stop taking about your pain because you don't want to be a complainer. Other people just don't get and really how could they. You hate that you can't do things, and get totally stressed when you have to. You lose your identity and your confidence in yourself. You lay awake at night and live in fear that you're never going to get better.
One time my son was about 10 years old and got a terrible headache. Of course I felt awful for him, but inside I was secretly a little happy. Maybe he would understand that's what I lived with every single day. Then you think, Jesus what kind of mother am I?
So, about three years ago, my headaches became so excruciating that my doctor had me do a brain scan. I found out that I had severe inflammation in my brain and a huge loss of my prefrontal cortex. What the heck? So I studied everything I could about the brain and neuroinflammatory disease. I learned about the nervous system and how it process pain. I learned that the brain has it's own immune system and how toxins and physical and emotional trauma creates inflammation and stresses your nervous system.
I had suffered from childhood trauma, but I never related that to my pain. Until then, I hadn't realized my body had been in fight or flight mode my whole life. This was a huge for me because I thought I had put all that behind me. Even though I had worked to overcome my past my body was still physically stuck.
So I made the commitment to reset my nervous system. I removed anything from my life that might create inflammation and stress my nervous system. I changed my diet by removing gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. I stopped all pain and prescription medications. I studied breathing and relaxation techniques and did them every day. I used essential oils to get me through the worst pain and acupuncture to help calm my nervous system.
I can't say it was easy but it worked. I remember one day tears were just streaming down my face and I felt like a drill saw was going through my skull. After about two months I really started noticing the benefits and the decrease in my headaches. And then everything started to get easier. My life was getting easier. For me I was fully committed so I didn't stop. I actually started craving the breathing techniques because I could see how much better I felt afterwards. It did take about four months to stop my headaches and about six months to really reset my body. This is the first time I actually felt relaxed and not ready to jump out of my skin. I always thought my lack of focus and concentration was just because of the pain medications. Partly it was, but the brain inflammation was the other part. I felt like I could focus and really be present.
I decided to return to school to become a pain management coach. On the first day I remember the instructor giving the definition of being pain free. It doesn't mean you will never have a headache or pain for the rest of your life. It means that you are in control of your pain. You are in the front seat and your pain is in the back seat.
Our medical system is a quick-fix system and doesn't teach us to become active participants in our own pain management. But we have to be. Understanding my pain was the single most important thing I did to start to my recovery. Once you understand the physiology of your pain, it's much easier to control it. Constant pain causes constant stress. It seems in our society stress is just another word. But it's actually a viscous cycle and causes all kinds of havoc in our body.
If I hadn't had the brain inflammation I would never have done the breathing and learned meditation.
I was too attached to my diagnoses to think it would work for me. But I was forced to.
Pain affects every area of your life. So now I choose how I live in every area of my life.