Transforming Chronic Pain into Positive Growth
HOW I BECAME #CHRONICALLYMOTIVATED
By Natalie Barnard
Living with chronic pain can feel isolating, I know because I have been suffering in silence most of my life. But did you know that 40% of the population is suffering from an incurable and ongoing, chronic disease??? That’s approximately 133 million Americans!
It’s clear I am not alone, but I have one of those conditions that no one wants to talk about including myself. In the brief moments where I have shared my story, I feel like a health-crazed hypochondriac and I struggle to find my footing between being authentic and oversharing.
After putting some thought into the pros and cons of sharing this information on a public platform, I’ve decided to break my silence with this blog post to inspire action and give hope to someone who needs it.
It’s hard to admit despite my best efforts, I don’t feel 💯. I love to live out my days like an athlete. I meal prep. I hit the gym. I count macros. Limit my indulgences in sweets and alcohol. I practice meditation. I do my best to get 7-8 hours of sleep. I read personal development books. I socialize. I travel. I have loving relationships with my family. Friends I can trust, count on and who can make me laugh. I have an amazing boyfriend, perfect pseudo-step-kids, and an 11-year old puggle with a curly tail and floppy ears. On paper, I have all the elements of a happy, healthy life, but the reality is that I’m struggling to live it pain and symptom-free.
Despite my background, I feel guilty that I haven’t found the solution to my condition, but as Steve compassionately reminded me, neither have my doctors. Between social media highlight reels to social stigmas, remembering that even well-known health experts of the world like Bob Harper (who recently suffered from a heart attack) to Tony Horton (who is currently battling Hunt Syndrome) or Autumn Calabrese (who is battling a similar condition as me) struggle too helps alleviate the pressure I put on myself to have it all figured out.
Looking back, I should have seen it coming, but I thought my symptoms were normal. I never gravitated to pizza or pasta like my friends because it put my stomach in knots. I rarely could go out to a restaurant without coming home bloated like a hot air balloon. Wine can my face flush like a red hot tamale. I occasionally suffer from itchy eyes, allergies, and dry skin. Brain fog. Cramps. Hormonal swings. Fatigue. Migraines. All written off as part of the human experience were actually signs from my body that something wasn’t right.
It wasn’t until I severely started reacting to food that I started reaching out for medical advice in 2017, exactly a year ago today. I made numerous appointments with different specialists, took almost every test you can think of and when nothing was found, I was labeled with digestive disorder. A label that has no cure or solution to manage pain. In fact, the doctor wanted to prescribe an antidepressant to manage my physical and emotional distress. That is when I truly lost my sh*t because this protocol (in my not so humble opinion) felt completely wrong. At best, this type of medication was going to mask my problem, not resolve it. At worst, it was going to introduce side-effects that I wasn’t up for dealing with. I was looking for a cause and potentially a solution and I got… “Unfortunately, I think you have x. This isn’t a curable condition, but it be managed with drugs and following a diet that sometimes works for some people some of the time. And try meditating, you seem stressed.” I have to admit that her drug offer was tempting after she offered up that “solution.” It was the only way I was going to stomach her PhD advice to my life fate of pain and suffering.
In the moment of despair, I also felt a burning fire in my belly prove her wrong… I was going to prove that I can heal my own body. I didn’t want to be part of the next statistic that she could can rattle off to the next patient whose hope is about to get crushed by her lack of bedside care, knowledge, or interest to truly getting to the cause.
I knew there had to be another way and since then I’ve been on a mission! My first goal was to show that meditation wouldn’t make a difference and failed miserably within the first 3 days of marching out of her office. Now I don’t go a day without a moment of reflection and slightly obsessed with the Headspace app, but that’s a story for another day. My second goal was to find alternative and holistic forms of treatment. Somethings worked, somethings didn’t, but I am proud of how far I’ve come because I decided to become #chronicallymotivated for improvement. And my last goal was to make my chronic pain meaningful and use it to help others.
So, besides learning about a side of me you may not already know, I hope you walk away with a couple important takeaways: (1) If you are battling a chronic disease, you are not alone. (2) If you don’t feel right, don’t accept it as aging or the norm. (3) Be patient. There are many approaches you can take. I am currently running blood work and will follow-up with a post discussing the importance of these results along with helpful practices to manage pain physically and mentally.