Jo Gifford introduces this series ‘Living with Chronic Pain’ with her own inspirational account of how she lives with her unique challenges – whilst working as a mum – and a creative entrepreneur living with long-term pain.
My name is Jo Gifford. I am a self-employed mum of twins, long term sufferer of chronic pain, and happy to know the wonderful Bob who has kindly let me share my coping strategies here on his site.
I have had endometriosis since the age of 19 (I am now 37), and I also developed chronic fatigue some 10 years later. Both conditions are associated with chronic pain, so I have my fair share of experience with dealing with persistent, agonising pain and the effects of it on my body.
I haven’t always dealt with it well, and there are still days when even my tried and tested techniques feel out of reach. But, as I grow older, and (hopefully!) wiser and more in tune with my body and what it needs, I have learned to cope with pain and all that it means to my life.
My particular pain manifests as severe abdominal pain; endometriosis in my case grows on my bladder, bowel and pelvic cavity, causing extreme pain during menstruation and ovulation across my abdomen, back, and – rather strangely – throughout my legs from the nerve connections. I also have pain from adhesions, the scars left by my condition and the 5 operations I have had to eliminate the disease.
The chronic fatigue element of my illnesses causes joint pain, muscle fatigue, and all over body myalgia which I can only describe as feeling as if I have been run over. Essentially, my body is not always in the best shape we can safely say!
Finding Ways to Cope
Over the years I have found various elements help with chronic pain and my ability to cope:
1. Go with the flow – First and foremost, going with the flow is always needed. If pain kicks in, I need to switch my plan for the day quickly, and make the adjustments as needed. If I am working with clients one to one I may need to re-jig my calendar as pain is very tiring and takes away from my ability to think on my feet. If the kids need to get to school I may need to ask a friend or neighbour to take them. I am now infamous with friends and family for operating on a “I will be there if I can.” basis, and need to build that caveat into my dealings with most social arrangements.
2. Rest – After making the changes, I allow myself to rest. A sofa fort is built, and I set myself up with nurturing foods, some relaxing films or music to chill out with, my favourite PJ’s, and create a wellbeing camp to hang out in and sleep if pain allows.
3. Nutrition – Nutrition has had a huge effect on my body’s ability to cope with pain. I feed myself whole foods, I have reduced and eliminated wheat from my diet, and find that adding lots of fibre, and phytonutrients from fresh produce and also Juice Plus capsules has really helped me; making as much goodness bio-available to my body helps the defenses when my immune system is under attack.
4. Stress – Stress plays a huge role in my pain and fatigue flare ups, so eliminating it where possible has become part of my daily life. Letting go of stressful people, habits, environments and work scenarios has been part of the learning curve for me. I try to counter attack stress in life by using EFT twice a day to calm my nervous system, and I am learning a lot about NLP and the response of the brain to stress – happily, neuroplasticity evidences that we CAN change the way the brain response to pain and stress, so by using mindfulness and NLP techniques I counter the effects where possible.
I find yoga really helpful in calming my body, and natural elements like lavender oil and plain old fresh air are wonderfully calming. Exercise, when I am able to, really helps me both mentally and physically; I love to jump on my bike or go for a walk to get my heart pumping, release some endorphins and use the body’s own natural painkillers.
5. Sleep – Sleep plays an enormous role too. If my body isn’t rested, my pain will be worse. I need to get a couple of very early nights in during the week, and limit myself to the screens and RGB glare that can keep my brain awake and cause poor sleep hygiene. Sleep can’t always be guaranteed with two little ones in the equation, but doing all I can goes a long way to helping myself.
6. Medication – Whilst I would love to say that I am medication free, at this point in time I still include medication as part of my pain management toolkit. I have been able to greatly reduce the medications I am on by implementing other techniques and lifestyle choices, but still need some assistance in coping with the daily pain. In partnership with my GP and medical team, I have eliminated several meds which definitely don’t work for me, and have kept in the ones which do, under careful supervision.
7. Pain management seminars – Fortunately, I live in an area which is served by the fabulous Addenbrooke’s Hospital, who offer chronic pain patients a great deal of support and training. Being an empowered and knowledgeable patient has really helped me to manage, as I understand so much better the reasons behind chronic pain, and now to manage it in daily life.
8. Meditation, mindset, mindfulness and NLP – Retraining my brain is huge part of my armoury against pain. I meditate daily, and take time to switch off a few times a day and just pay attention to my thoughts and my breath. By being mindful of my brain’s monkey chatter and thoughts I am able to let go of thought processes and emotions which are causing me more stress (and therefore more pain).
I also include NLP tools and therapy which is helping me a great deal with the other effects of living in a pained body – depression and anxiety. Having to re-design my life was not necessarily in my plan for how I envisioned life to go, so there is a lot of work around my mindset, acceptance, and also being able to cope mentally.
9. Alternative therapies: acupuncture, massage – I have found much relief in the magic of acupuncture, massage and reflexology. The body is a magical thing, and by tapping into the body holistically and treating it as a whole rather than a set of different ailing parts, I am able to function a little better.
Building a support group of friends, family, healthcare practitioners and supporters is critical to feeling less isolated. Pain can make me feel very lonely indeed when social interactions are few and far between, and using both online and off groups to have somewhere to feel listened to is so helpful.
Many online forums can be very depressing, and I whilst I feel that having somewhere to be understood is essential, being surrounded by positive people really helps. My friend Lizzie runs The Pillow Fort, a fabulous online resource to make chronic illness suck less (yay!), and the amazing Grace Quantock always makes me smile with her amazingly uplifting and insightful tools and resources.
At the crux of it all, I am on a journey still, each and every day. I am letting go of my stressful and personal conflicts around being superwoman, and accepting that my life changes from day to day and I need to adapt around it and pre-empt episodes where possible. I have re-designed my career around my health, and I am always, always grateful for the days when I feel well.
Living in chronic pain has given me so much. I have empathy for others. I don’t take simple pleasures for granted. I know so much more about wellness, nutrition, the mind body connection and how we are wired. My goal is the be pain free and I believe it is possible. In the meantime, I am living in the best way I can and proud to be doing all I do.