Working With Chronic Pain: My $20,000 Mistake

Working With Chronic Pain: My $20,000 Mistake

By Jessica Martin

Where do I go when I am faced with life’s biggest questions or when I am in the middle of an invisible argument going on inside my mind: the beach.  I am able to think and find my answers to life’s biggest struggles when I am right in front of the ocean. We live about fifty minutes from the Jersey shore and it remains my place of peace and where I go when things in my life seem to be unraveling.

My biggest fear when I left the Pain Rehab Center at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota was how I would be able to work with chronic pain?  I truly did not believe I would be able to be a social worker when I was managing pain naturally and had this intense routine I followed daily to manage my pain without it managing me.  I spent about six months or so not working once I left the Mayo Clinic and used this time to truly focus on my health and management of chronic pain.  Every day I followed a schedule and eventually I did not focus on my pain as I once had and happiness started to truly enter my heart and soul.  I felt alive for the first time in twenty years.  I was exercising, practicing meditation twice a day, taking walks, reading, and finding all the things I thought I had lost because of chronic pain.  It was the happiest I had been since I had fallen off of my bicycle in my young teens.  I was thriving despite chronic pain.

However, I was a college graduate with my degree in social work and knew I had to start applying to jobs in my field after my six months of getting my chronic pain under control.  I was terrified.  I knew I could not do a forty hour week but I needed health insurance so I had to make sure I worked at least thirty-two hours a week.  I was so afraid that work would take away all the progress I had made in my management of pain.  I went on an interview at a place called Senior Care which was a medical facility that had patient’s who suffered from Dementia, Mental health issues, Cancer, Autism: you name it.  The job seemed amazing and I loved the facility.  During my interview, I was honest with my soon to be boss and explained that I had chronic pain but was managing it naturally.  I told him that I would need about two breaks a day and he was very impressed with my honesty and how I managed chronic pain as many of my soon to be patients also had chronic pain.  He then began asking me questions on how I managed pain and if I would be able to teach some of the patients the techniques I used such as meditation.  BINGO!!!!  I was pumped.  I wanted to just tell my future boss that I would take the job and start the next day but then fear crept in and I asked him if I could have a couple days to think about the position.  The following day I drove to the same beach seen above by myself with my meditation CD’s, my books, and my journal.  I sat on this very same beach where years later I would be holding this precious daughter of mine and just asked the Universe if I should take the job or not.  My intuition was so strong that I really did not need to ask anyone their opinion.  I knew I wanted this job and after eight hours of sitting on the sand in my favorite place in the world I drove home and called my soon to be boss and took the job.  My intuition was right on point and I loved my job.  I was able to incorporate my chronic pain management tools into my career,  I was helping people and making a difference, and I was proud of myself.  It was the greatest job I have ever had so why did I leave?

One downfall of my job was that I made very little money and my health insurance was pretty bad.  Out of the blue one day, I received a phone call from a different facility asking me if I was interested in interviewing for the Director of Social Services at one of the most famous nursing homes in our area.  The Director was offering about twenty thousand dollars more than I was making and my ego took over and I agreed to be interviewed.  I was managing pain amazingly, I was in a great place: mind, body, and spirit so I thought: what the hell, may as well at least go for an interview.  Here is where I made one of the biggest mistakes in my career: I took the job despite my strong intuition to stay where I was not making a lot of money but I was healthy and happy.  I gave my two weeks to my dream job and began working as the Director days later.  By the end of my first week at my money making, high profile social work job I knew I had made a HUGE mistake.  I was working over forty hours a week, no breaks, no time with my patients, no time to incorporate my chronic pain management tools, and my self esteem began to spiral downwards as my pain began to increase by the day.  I was miserable, filled with regret, and in tears every night of the week.  Weekends were no longer fun because I was no longer taking care of my health five days a week because I chose money over my health and happiness.  Within a year of my twenty thousand dollar mistake, I found out I was pregnant and gave my two weeks notice.  My boss was not a huge fan of me anyways as he told me on a daily basis: “Jessica, you are just not a good sales person.  We need our numbers up.  We need more people who will pay privately.  Your focus needs to be on our facility.”  No, I am not a good sales person, I could not agree with this person more.  I was a social worker.  I hated sales, I hated shopping, and I went into social work to help people not make a business money.

Chronic pain has taught me more lessons in my life than any other ailment or event has.  This was another hard lesson I had to learn.  If I could go back in time, I never would have chosen money over my health and happiness.  I would have followed my intuition and stayed in the job where I was making little money but I was not only making a difference in my health but the health and happiness of those I worked with.  I did not go to the beach seen above when offered this twenty thousand dollar mistake.  Lesson learned.  There is nothing in this world that is more important than your health and happiness.  If you are lucky to find a job in which you are able to manage your invisible illness like I was able to find, do not leave no matter what!  Do not make my twenty thousand dollar mistake.

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Authored by: Jessica Martin

There are 11 comments for this article
  1. Tim Mason at 5:54 pm

    I am still working at 58. None of my meds have been reduced. I still struggle to make it thru the day at my research chemist job. Went 25+ physical therapy sessions at the first of the year and my PT’s notes I got for my personal file states that my goals not met for most of the objectives.
    Besides the pain, I know have serious bilateral leg weakness and cannot walk more than 600 feet. I sleep on an adjustable bed to reduce the morning pain. I have been told by two different neurosurgeons that I am not a candidate for additional surgery or fusion (extruded L4-L5) Pain management tried to sell me on a low frequency spinal stimulator and then a High frequency one. I have unmanaged anxiety so I probably won’t be able to get one. On top of all this my doc told me I had early signs of Parkinson’s disease. (leg tremor). I got a rollator (three wheel type) this week.
    Life sure has a lot of curves in it.

  2. Layla Rose at 4:51 pm

    I can sympathize with this story. Although for me the difference is I found the dream job, and although it was part-time, I was paid well, and worked few hours, but my boss was neurotic, micro-managing, and increasingly controlling about minute details, and after a few misunderstandings which I thought were well resolved, she fired me, left me in a lurch shortly after moving and I’m still trying to find my way back. I deal with a chronic illness, get disability, was formerly homeless and fought, worked, and saved like Hell to get out of the horrible situation that I was in, living in a government subsidized place, cheaper rent has a higher price than I was willing or able to pay. The place that I was living, while affordable, was making me so miserable. It was killing me. So once I’d moved I thought that things would be fine. But then in January I was fired. I’ve found a little freelance work just this week, but am still very apprehensive about my future as I have bills piling up and my SSD barely covers my rent. I am unable to work a day schedule, b/c of a delayed sleep phase disorder. So I’m doing the best I can. I hate being in this situation. I just wish that, aside from pain, I could sleep like a normal person.

  3. Stephen Rodrigues, MD at 5:26 pm

    As a pain sufferer and advocate for effective eradication and curative treatments for pain. NOT just painkiller and supportive meds. Here is some advice and evidence based on what is in the historical archives of medicine.

    -It is not logical, rational or reasonable to state that there are no treatments for pain problems.
    -All pain problems can be managed to the patient satisfaction.
    -Most all pain problems which have plagued humankind have vetted, valid treatment options. -Back in the 1960s, a group of physicians perfected the solutions to the most common location of pain.
    -Once you understand how nature and the human body works, all of the treatments for pain types become crystal clear.
    -Life and living commonly cause daily experiences of aches, pains, and stiffnesses. This pain is located within muscles as tiny scars, and this pain pathology will ONLY benefit from physical therapy.
    -The human body only has 11 organ systems, only 1 of them can store and drive pain signals. The Muscular System.
    -The Muscular System is the only organ system which evolved to bound-off and adsorbed life and living.
    -Muscle pain is 100% invisible to the human eye and all technology.
    -The experiences of pain must be located somewhere.
    -It is not logical for pain to come to from an idea, a definition, a diagnosis, an image or the reading of a Xray or MRI.
    -All pain experiences must have a single cause, a single primary pathology, a location within a single organ system and a historically vetted set of solutions.
    -Muscles work for a living by contracting millions of times per day.
    -Muscles work for you day in and day out and will collect microscopic scars so-called IntraMuscular MicroScars within all of the bundles.
    -Muscles cannot pull they can only tighten and relax. After a while working muscles will end up being a few percentage points shorter.
    -Muscles will stay in this shorter stance until YOU or a helper pulls them back out again – Every day for the rest of your life!
    -Short contracted muscles will crush the life out of anything surrounding them. This mean nerves, vessels, arteries and lymphatic will be secondarily adversely affected.
    -Muscles which are sick, tired, stressed, tattered, scared and strained will exert tons of crushing and detrimental forces and stall effective healing.
    -Muscles knots, bands, zingers, triggers, wounds, and IntraMuscular MicroScars cannot heal in a contracted balled up positions.
    -Muscles which cannot heal are obligated to drive you insane until they get their allotments of medicine.
    -Muscles which are sick and contracted full of IntraMuscular MicroScars are the drivers of most all aches, pains, dysfunction, malfunctions, immune dysregulation and abject misery.
    -Muscles cannot heal without you, and me actively and continually pulling them out, stretching all of them out and kneaded out all of the knots.
    -Tight muscle will decay, fail and die if Mother Natural cannot reach these IntraMuscular MicroScars for repair.
    -IntraMuscular MicroScars will only benefit from the application of the full spectrum of options all under the heading; Physical Therapy.

    -The best way to apply PT is a recipe:
    Daily self-care includes vitamin, mineral and trace elements.
    Heat, soaking, massage, stretching 4-6 x per day, range-of-motion movements, yoga, inversion, traction and spinal adjustments. Profession a massage 2-3 x per week. Spinal adjustment 1-2 x per week. The use of various needling options.

    Critical Factual Point:
    Muscle can only heal by the natural forces from within the TRUE healers of diseases. -Hippocrates. Paraphrased
    Medications and knives cannot benefit muscle pain.
    If sick and diseased muscles do not receive the proper amount and quality of PT, there can be no effective healing. In a small percentage of cases, it will be biologically impossible for your body to support a quality of life if your muscles are in failure.

    In my 4 or so years of reading these tragic accounts, I have not witnessed the editors choosing to seek out this historic, valid and vetted evidence on the treatments of pain.
    I hope this helps a few of you.
    Godspeed

  4. Dr. Michael Cooney at 11:57 am

    Jessica,
    I had to respond when I saw you were a fellow New Jerseyan. I applaud you sharing your story / life lesson. I have no doubt it will help many people who read it, regardless of where they are in their work lives.

    I wish you all the best in managing your pain and am pleased to see you found a strategy to improve your quality of life.

    All the best,
    Dr. Cooney

  5. Gail at 9:22 am

    I, too, am a social worker who developed debilitating fibromyalgia with IBS-D after working 40+ hours a week for Child Protective Services. I had had Palendromic Rheumatism for several years, but it didn’t affect me too much when I was working pArt time and caring for my young child. But just a few months into this job, which I took for the pay and benefits, I was sick every day, in pain, unable to walk up the stairs. I went off on medical leave after 9 months on the job, and never went back. It took 5 years to get my symptoms under control, with scheduled medication, meditation, and warm water exercise.
    Now I work part time, at a great job that I love. But because I can can work a few hours a week, I have been denied SDI. This has been very difficult for our family, and puts an unfair burden on my spouse, who also has chronic pain!
    I have finally figured out that those extra hours devoted to mindfulness, pacing, gentle movement are part of my job of nurturing myself so that I am able to contribute to my family. Kid taxi, arranging kid activities, keeping house, cooking healthy food ( which takes a lot longer to prepare than convenience food), and generally nurturing my family. The little bit of money I bring in is pocket change, but the fact that I can use my expensive Masters degree helps my self esteem tremendously.
    Thanks for writing this post, Jessica. It really resonates for me.
    Best wishes for a peaceful day.

  6. Jean Price at 8:51 am

    Working at any job with pain is such a monumental challenge! And whether we like it or not, it infiltrates our behavior and how we relate to others…on the job and at home! Sadly, the job usually gets the lion’s share of our energy, with little uumph left over for ourselves and for managing our pain. In my last job, I had to stop the six hours or so a day I had been devoting to stretches, exercises, relaxation, getting multiple rest times in a horizontal position, and all the other ways I had learned to keep my strength up and my spirit strong, despite the pain, I lasted six months, and most of it was in a horrible down hill slide…and I’ve never been able to work again after the additional surgery that resulted. The loss of being able to work is a big one…and effects our self worth and our families and our ability to afford health care. I will never understand how pain has become something to ignore or shrug off or to blame the person for in our society, rather than becoming an issue to throw everything we’ve got into research and alleviating this medical problem! Many years ago, I realized chronic pain was no longer being seen as a condition…it was replaced with the misnomer of chronic drug use…and it has changed the face of pain care in ways that I wonder if we will recover from in my life time…or ever! I remember as a nurse when great strides were made in the care of pain and when the patients were treated with respect. But then, I remember gasoline for twenty five cents a gallon too! Looks like both have become a thing of the past, yet for pain care…it has been a choice of those who know nothing about what it takes to have pain and live productively, a choice to disregard the people who have pain! And their choice is ruining the lives of those in pain!

  7. Doug at 10:25 pm

    Very good story.
    No one but people who suffer from chronic pain could ever understand what little things can trigger pain. Stress for one is a big factor then throw in unhappiness and disappointment in what you are doing every day and the pain will double quickly.

    Then managing a chronic pain disorder naturally, without help from pharmaceuticals is tough enough. I applaud anyone who can do this, of course we all know that every case of chronic pain is different so every treatment regiment is different as well.

    While the mind is a powerful tool that we all should be utilizing, in most cases meditation, group consoling and other mental exercise is just not enough. I also would have to encourage all my peers in pain to try different vitamin and herbal supplements that could help with your pain.

    While I manage my pain with the use of opiates, I still utilize some natural herbs and vitamins along with meditation and Tai Chi to help deal with my pain. So much so that instead of increasing my opiate dosage over the last 10 years, I have actually lowered it by half.

    I urge everyone who is still able to try and create your own personal theropies including vitamins, herbal supplements and mind and body exercises, not because I think the way that the CDC does. But because of the way that the CDC and the Federal government is thinking. They are taking opiates away from chronic pain sufferers daily and if anyone of us can find a way to DEAL with our pain by using other forms of natural theropies, herbs and vitamins, then we should use what we have or can get. Again, for most people these theropies will not help manage your pain but they could help you learn to better deal with your pain.

  8. Bob Schubring at 2:14 pm

    The magical view of money is hugely problematic. That extra $20k of income had to COME from somewhere.

    Business is a relationship. Just like marriage. We grow into the relationship and we come to rely on it, as we discover ways we benefit each other. It astonishes me that a university somewhere, gives out degrees in Social Work, but does not teach the most-basic relationship skill of human society, that occurs in the very first, prehistoric, primitive societies, on down to the present day: Trade.

    By divorcing out of an otherwise-good relationship to begin a brand-new relationship with a total stranger, because the total stranger offered to pay a little bit of money for the deal, is something most people would consider a reckless choice. Most of us, if we needed more money, would ask our spouse first, if there was a way to earn more money and keep the relationship going.

    The working relationship Jessica had going, between herself and Senior Care, was a relationship based on mutual respect. Is it possible that having a talk with them about Jessica’s financial goals, could have led to some helpful insight about how to attain those goals? We won’t know the answer to that question, because Jessica broke off the relationship, not giving Senior Care a chance to consider ways that she could create additional income for herself.

    If I’d been running Senior Care, and Jessica came to me with that question, I’d look for ways to turn her pain-counseling service into a home-based business that she could run. She could sell services to Senior Care, sell services to private clients, and take in money. But we’d also have to look at how she spends money, and on what items she spends money and why.

    It’s easy to get poor, if other people tell you how to spend your money. Unless they actually care about you as a human being, they may objectify you into an ATM machine that gives them free money. That’s a huge problem we all encounter, sooner or later. We reach a point where we need to say, “No!”.

    I sense from how Jessica discusses money, that she has a hard time explaining to people, what her needs are. Just because it is hard for her, does not mean it is equally hard for them. She may have tried to protect the nice folks at Senior Care, from having to hear about her financial needs and problems, by simply walking out on them and starting a new relationship with total strangers who offered her a little more money. But the Senior Care folks may not even understand that she was trying to protect them. They may see it as her total lack of appreciation for everything they did.

    Our culture does a lousy job of teaching children about trade.

    Our school systems are loaded with Marxist ideologues who daydream about a future, in which everybody gets everything they ever need, handed to them by robots that satisfy every human need…a future that magically happens by an act of violence called Revolution. Those ideologues do children a profound disservice, by not teaching children the basis of trade and negotiation. We need to learn MORE about how to negotiate and trade, not less. Trade is the single most-fundamental act of all human relationships. There is no Society without person-to-person trade. There cannot exist a purpose for Social Work, without the trade that goes on in Society.

  9. DParker at 1:57 pm

    Currently, I’m finishing up my Master’s Degree in Administration. I have Adhesive Arachnoiditis (AA) and the pain has made my life hell since around 2003. I started taking opioids pain medication around the same time (2004) and I suddenly was able to sit and to get away from my house for a few hours at a time. This improvement continued until I signed up for school and I was able to sit through lectures for two hours taking notes and asking questions. I never felt “intoxicated” and if I had appeared to be, I would have been escorted off State University campus. I have taken high dose opioids for years; utilizing pain relief earning my associates then bachelor’s and now grad school degrees. I won’t be able to work once I finish (1 class left, YES !) because of the sudden hate filled environment surrounding anyone who needs opioids for pain. I have learned biofeedback techniques like the ones in this article which did very little to quell the pain caused by my disease. AA has no cure nor treatments. The only thing available at this time is symptom management. My life no longer has hope for the future. I was always told by the medical community that opioids would be available as long as I followed the rules. We all know that is not the case any longer. I’m 41 years old now, I have only worked a few jobs in high school, have no retirement and now earned a Master degree (with college loans no less) for no reason at all. I really do want to end my suffering but I have kids and I know what that sort of thing does to them. Thanks CDC!

  10. Kathy C at 9:26 am

    Wow!
    That might have been a lot more than a 20K “mistake.” I have had to believe the pain is teaching me something, my personal way of looking at things. This Article is about a lot more than money, it is about a way of seeing things. A Social Worker Position has some important assumptions about it, about helping others, a positive Social benefit, more than just a Position. Historically Social Workers were mostly women, and the “calling” never paid much.
    In my journey I have met some of the Retirees, who are now living in Poverty, due to the unequal workforce. These were Traditionally Women’s jobs, which were paid poorly due to the idea that woman just did not need the money, since they were just supplementing a Man’s Salary.
    There is an idea that Social Work, like so many other underpaid professions was a calling rather than a money making position. This “goodwill” a kind of expectation of certain traits because a person is a Social Worker has been exploited by Corporate America.
    Pain makes us slow down and challenge our assumptions. There is no way to know what he real end point of the path not taken is, in this case it might be about more than 20 thousand a year. It might be about realizing that a “Career” in Social Work is no longer about a positive Social befit , it is about selling. It seems like everything anymore is about “Selling.” This might be the real Message.
    If the writer had not had to deal with Pain, perhaps she would have a great career now. If so many of had not slowed down due to the Pain, Where would we be? What is the real Cost of participating in a Society that values only Selling? What is pain teaching us? In time of reflection about my journey with pain, I realize that it has been a lesson in reality. One of my big questions was how can these people who profess to work in these “Caring Professions, not see the big picture? How can they come to work day after day, and see these issues, and still function? The implied “goodwill” of these professions has been channeled into a Corporate funding scheme.
    We are all just grit for the wheel. Imagine if we had never dealt with pain, like the Planaria moving away from the stimulus. Pain has a lot to teach us, we have to look at it that way. How long would we have spun our wheels working in an Industry that is really nothing more than selling. We used to make fun of car Salespeople, the “ABC’s” Always Be Selling! This is the world we live in. Looking back on it, I wish I had spent more time at the beach. The Jersey Shore is lovely this time of the year.

  11. Drew P. at 9:09 am

    Wow! I thank God that I was retired by the time I developed chronic pain. I don’t think I could work and manage my pain, he’ll! I couldn’t get out of bed at first because it was so bad.