Editor’s Note: We receive a lot reader reaction to the stories and columns we publish on the National Pain Report. Occasionally, we will contact the reader and see what else we can learn from them. That’s how we met Karen Shay who shared her story about being an Occupational Therapist whose career was cut short by chronic pain. In some conversations we had with her, she decided to share her thoughts. She has started a blog at http://functionallivingwithchronicpain.blogspot.com/. We asked for and received permission her first blog. We hope you find it as interesting as we did.
After dealing with this horrendous 24/7, moderate to severe chronic pain the past five years (plus 18 years prior to this of intermittent neck pain), I have been lost, wandering around an endless “chronic pain maze” with NO WAY OUT! This leaves me gulping for air, trying to frantically find my way! It’s not just the horrendous chronic pain; it is all the stuff one has to go through living with it! There is so much confusion on what to do! Who can help? What will make it go away? Where do I go next for relief? Why is all this happening to me!?!? When will it all end?!?!
I spent 23 years working in Occupational Therapy as a treating therapist, and as a manager. I worked mainly with the elderly population with decreased function and strength in orthopedic, neurological, muscular, cognitive, pulmonary, cardiac and psychiatric diagnoses. Helping people recover and be as independent as possible, with whatever their physical or mental diagnoses left them to deal with in life often means learning to live life in a new “normal.” This was my passion! It still is!
For the past five years, I’ve been one of those people learning to live my own life in a new “normal.” Everything I worked so hard to achieve in my career and life had been shredded to pieces by my multiple spine issues. 3 cervical herniations, 3 lumbar herniations, lumbar stenosis, DDD, occipital neuralgia, cervical foraminal stenosis, cervical nerve damage (C2-3 level no one wants to touch), brachial neuralgia, post-laminectomy syndrome, cervical radiculopathy, and SI joint arthritis. A neurology specialist at the University of Michigan, stated that the nerve damage in my neck leads to a neurological nerve disorder, called Central Pain Syndrome, thus leaving me with moderate to severe constant chronic pain.
Over the past five years, I have tried repeatedly to take the shredded pieces of my life and rebuild a new “normal”. Finding “tools” to be functional in my daily life to just get done what needed to be done, to take care of myself and our home, with all this physical and emotional pain was very hard to achieve. Throughout all this, I was grieving! Gripping tightly to what my life once was! I have struggled in my heart to find significance, a purpose, with where I was at.
Trying to be functional in life with all this pain is hard enough. But, one cannot escape going through the added weight of the intense emotions of all the loss this pain also puts the sufferer in. The denial, isolation, anger, bargaining and depression to hopefully someday finding acceptance are just so hard to deal with! Achieving acceptance can lead to a sense of peace and joy in the new “normal.” I want others to know it’s worth the fight to finally get to this acceptance! I hate to see other chronic pain sufferers get stuck along the way in the negative aspects! Down the road there are others needing us to help them find their new “normal!” We need to lend a hand to each other in this journey! We do not have to let it overtake us!
I (with God’s help) have mostly put together the shredded pieces of my life caused by the chronic pain to be as functional as I can be in my new “normal.” I am finding my way through the maze of all the physical and emotional stress living life in chronic pain brings. I feel I am finally ready to work on acceptance. I have felt it in my heart here and there. Yet, I am still gripping tightly to what my life use to be! It’s just hard to let go! I have slowly found moments of peace and joy, less fleeting, taking over my heart. Maybe it is because God’s creation is spring forth with springtime finally arriving, but I am feeling renewed and ready to live again.
Part of my new “normal” is using my skills in Occupational Therapy to help other chronic pain sufferers on this same journey put together a “tool box” with tools to build their new “normal.” So, I am diving into learning about blogging to share these things! Hopefully, you will be able to find something to help you to be as functional as you can be while living in chronic pain!