Chronic pain – my story
I remember clearly coming downstairs one morning and thinking that I must have slept funny – my neck was stiff and sore. I was 40, putting my time and energy into my young children and enjoying focusing on the domestic side of life, after years in the corporate and international development world.
The problem was that the pain didn’t ease, as you would expect with a crick in the neck. It lasted for weeks and months and eventually, what turned out to be years. I’d have occasional days when I’d feel more comfortable. But the pain would return, with it’s focus in my neck, but radiating down my arms and upper chest, and up into the back of my head. It affected my ability to enjoy my life – which was good – my children and my relationships. I slept badly and felt constantly exhausted. I’d find myself, whilst reading stories to my daughter, slurring my words as fatigue rolled over me. I’d sit in the evening chatting to my husband, rubbing my arms and legs and rocking gently, like a wounded animal.
I tried osteopathy a few times but this was painful at the time and gave limited or no relief. I was taking ibuprofen at night to help me sleep and soluble paracetamol during the day. Friends and family started mentioning my stress levels as the likely cause (young children, living in the central Africa) and questioning my emotional state. I was in pain, I was exhausted and I was fed up.
After a return to Scotland, I ended up under the care of rheumatology. I had highly elevated blood inflammatory markers (CRP and ESR) and an MRI showed significant inflammation in my cervical spine. I was given a cautious diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis – although didn’t fit the typical genetic, sex or age picture – and was sent for assessment for the biologic medication, Adalimumab. It was the biologics nurse that provided the impetus for me to take my health into my own hands. She said to me as I was leaving: “Clare, you have a choice. You can live a longer life in pain if you carry on as you are, or a shorter one with less or no pain if you take this drug”. This was no choice for me – my children were still young and my life was otherwise good. I wasn’t going to accept drugs that would give me quality of life but potentially reduce the quantity left to me.
I was training as a Nutritional Therapist at the time and was experimenting on myself and closest family with changing diet and lifestyle. The experience with the nurse gave me the boost I needed to change my diet and lifestyle, in order to get on top of the inflammation that was affecting my spine and as a result, my quality of life. I started eating some fish (I’d been on a good vegetarian diet for 20 years), gave up gluten, cut my sugar and dairy, experimented with reducing nightshade vegetables, joined an organic vegetable box delivery scheme to up my intake and tried out a variety of different supplements. It was not an overnight fix, but over the next 2 years, I slowly climbed out of the pain. A registrar rheumatologist declared that I had gone into ‘spontaneous remission’ but I knew otherwise. It had been a long journey – but an interesting and delicious one – with some steps forward and some steps back. Eventually, I got to a place of comfort, enjoying refreshing sleep and energised days, feeling comfortable in my own body, and able to exercise and relax my self-imposed dietary restrictions when I wanted. As I regularly explain to my clients in these situations, it is rarely a steady climb out – you will undulate, having good days and bad days (which you probably have at the moment), but the good periods will get longer and the low points shorter. This feels good!
If this story resonates with you, I know how you feel. If you are looking for some simple steps you can take now which will begin your own journey out of pain, then take a look at my free 5 Steps to Ease Chronic Pain eBook. You can also book a free call with me to find out more.