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Living With Chronic Pain - Rachael's Story

December 29, 2021

Rachael talks about fibromyalgia and her personal journey to health

I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia five years ago after a stressful change in life circumstances which seemed to trigger the condition. I found myself feeling exhausted all the time, debilitating migraines several times a week, terrible aches in my joints – especially my knees, and a host of other symptoms such as skin reactions, trouble regulating my body temperature, fibro ‘fog’, memory loss – the list goes on!

I was never a particularly active person before fibro – the odd leisurely swim or walk was the extent of my venture into the world of fitness and the thought of gyms terrified me! I look back at the person I was before fibro – I enjoyed nights in town with plenty of alcohol and late nights, takeaways were a treat at least once a week and exercise mostly consisted of running after my three children. I would not have classed myself as ‘healthy’ – just ‘normal’. In many ways developing fibro was the best thing ever to happen to me. It gave me a whole new level of respect and compassion for my body. My desperation to feel less pain and exhaustion led me to explore the world of healthy eating and fitness like I never had before.

In the early months of my diagnosis I took every medication offered to me, stopped work, spent days on the sofa and generally felt morosely like my life was from there on going to be a painful, exhausting struggle. Getting out of bed required help from one of my children and consisted of rolling onto all fours on the floor and gradually stretching everything before I could even stand up. Getting in and out of the car required the same system but I had to settle for using crutches instead for obvious reasons! I had applied for disability support and could not even get up from a chair unless it had handles - and even this caused excruciating pain in my knees and elbows. My mental health was deteriorating at the same speed as the rest of me and I was heading to rock bottom.

The turning point for me came when a yoga class started up just down the road from my new home – I was newly divorced and trying to widen my social circle so thought I would hobble along with the sole purpose of meeting some middle aged women like myself! The first class was an embarrassment – I could not even stay sat crossed legged for more than ten seconds without having to lean back on my hands for support….and at the end of the class I needed help getting up off the floor! However, I persevered and felt myself becoming more mindful of my body – I started to recognise which stretches and poses helped me – for example, rolling out of bed onto all fours became rolling out of bed straight into ‘Cat Cow’ pose – a few of these and I was ready to stand up without help. I became more conscious of my posture and the way I held my body – simple things such as unlocking my knees when standing or loosening my elbows when pushing a supermarket trolley, holding my stomach in to support my core – these small, mindful changes took pressure off my joints and helped to support my back, thus reducing my pain in these areas. Yoga became integrated into my daily life habits – brushing my teeth is always done on one leg in ‘tree pose’, boiling the kettle for tea (which I do a lot!) is paired with toe touching stretches and presses against the kitchen counter.

Now, this was by no means a rapid change – my motivation levels seesawed and there would be some weeks I attended that yoga class religiously and other times where a couple of months would go by without a downward dog in sight… but I noticed something with this repeating pattern of ‘on’ versus ‘off’ commitment…..I noticed a significant rise in my pain levels whenever my activity levels decreased. I became more fatigued and with that my mental health would start to dip again. This epiphany gave me that boost I needed to really commit to change – yoga became a regular twice weekly class, it sparked an interest in mindfulness which in turn helped me with other areas of my life such as managing my emotions and practicing gratitude and positivity. I made friends with other like-minded individuals until eventually one of them (by luck a personal trainer!) persuaded me to brave the gym. I had never set foot in a gym in my life, I was convinced I would be laughed at or end up damaging myself irreversibly (probably both), but with the support and encouragement of my friend I decided to give it a go. This was where my healthy lifestyle journey really turned a corner.

I was lucky enough to have that tailored support from the word go, however, the reality is you only need to be shown a few exercises for each area - i.e. quads/core/chest and back etc and you are good to go. Mine were extremely simple – just using a bench, a resistance band and free weights, meaning I didn’t have to try and navigate my way through learning how to use all that scary gym equipment. It was not an easy journey – the first time I tried lunges I managed 4 and was sick – actually sick and burst into tears – the pain was that bad, not to mention the sense of hopelessness I felt that I would never be able to carry on and progress. However, by taking tiny steps over the weeks and months I saw and felt change. My body began to feel stronger, the pressure on my joints lessened as the muscles took over and workouts became my new hobby, I loved feeling like I had control over my body again.

My need to continue my workouts (as they reduced my pain levels) led to other areas in my life changing for the positive too. Late nights, large quantities of alcohol and junk food became a thing of the past. I immediately noticed how much harder it was to exercise after half a bottle of wine the night before or a Chinese takeaway. This motivated me to explore a more holistic approach to a healthier lifestyle. I started to see my body as something I could hone and improve depending on how I treated it – the more I took care of it the more it gave back – much like anything really! I began getting to bed earlier and making sure I was up by 7.30am everyday regardless of if I had any plans for the morning. Regular fresh air, workouts, rest and restoration periods and a healthy nutritious diet became the norm and I felt like my life was getting back on track. I was finally in control of my condition rather than feeling it was controlling me.

I feel it is important to mention that, although my pain has significantly decreased in intensity and my mobility hugely improved, it has not left me completely. One of the most significant things for me was the change in my relationship with my pain. I would wake up in the morning hating my body, thinking ‘why me?’, to feel such pain and exhaustion without any apparent cause for it was an extremely depressing way to start the day. Once I started exercising that conception of my pain began to change. If I woke up hurting I would feel a sense of satisfaction – the smugness of knowing I had challenged my body the day before to new levels and that this was beneficial for it in the long term. I began to expect and even want the aches – as they felt like proof I was doing it right! I developed a strong ‘mind-body’ connection, I learnt to trust my body and recognise what I term as ‘productive pain’ and ‘destructive pain’. Pain during exercise that was productive felt different – it still hurt but it challenged me and I knew I was doing something positive for my body and could push through it. Pain that was destructive was different – I could tell that I was lifting too much weight, certain stretches and exercises didn’t suit me and I needed to find alternatives or risk damage.

It has taken months of trial and error, pain, perseverance and support from those around me, but I have finally found a way to live with my pain and enjoy life, I hope to inspire others to believe they can get through it too.

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Flippin' Pain is a public health campaign supported by @NHSLincsCCG @oylincolnshire & @ActiveLincs which aims to raise awareness & bring a better understanding of the problem of persistent pain to the population of Lincolnshire

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The information and advice within this blog are not intended to replace any medical advice, with all our clients we seek to address their individual needs and circumstances - this includes any adaptations required for long- or short-term health conditions and medications. Please seek medical advice if you have any health conditions before considering a lifestyle change. If you would like to address any of the content of this blog, please email us.

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