It often comes as a surprise when I tell people I have health issues. After all, I look totally healthy and manage to keep myself pretty busy. People assume a lot of things about me but I’m here to tell you that I have actually been suffering from chronic pain for the past six, going on 7, years!
Rewind to 2017 when I was fresh out of physical therapy school about to start my career. I was highly active, a Muay Thai athlete, and eager to live life at a fast pace. I was visiting some family in Taiwan that summer after graduation when one day I woke up with terrible back pain. It was so bad, I could barely walk across the living room.
“No big deal” I thought, I was well equipped to handle this as a PT. I didn’t realize at the time something deeper was going on.
So my back gets better and I can walk again. Only thing is, I am still in a lot of pain. So much so that I would have trouble getting dressed in the morning. Then my foot started to hurt, and then my knee, and then my elbow. I was working by then but each day was filled with agony as I tried to push through the pain.
Two years later in 2019 I find myself seeing a rheumatologist. We do some blood tests/imaging and he tells me that I have something called spondylitis, an autoimmune condition that affects the spine but can also impact other joints. He tells me with treatment I should be able to live a relatively normal life with little pain. I was relieved. After two years I finally had an answer.
Five days later I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I realize that I’m unable to walk in a straight line. It felt like I was being pulled to the right every 4-5 steps. My balance recovered over the next few hours but I started to feel this fullness in my head. There was a whole constellation of symptoms such as headache, ear ringing, sinus congestion, and facial pain. Like someone was pressing on the right side of my face with a dull knife. And just like that, I became a chronic complex migraine patient. I have had a 24/7 headache ever since then, now going on 5 years.
When it first started it was REALLY bad. I saw countless doctors and underwent so many tests that I had to go to the doctors office 2-3 times a week. I tried to push through but eventually had to give up my job because I was in so much pain. I became bitter and couldn’t help but envy my friends and peers.
It obviously didn’t happen overnight. But there came a point in my despair when I realized that I didn’t want to hate my life. That I didn’t want to be stuck in these all-consuming negative thought loops despite my circumstances. Ultimately leading me down a path of self discovery and growth. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a gift, but I can honestly say that I am grateful for my experience. It’s hard to believe but I would say my journey has actually led me to become a happier and more confident person.
I would say I lived with that kind of pain for about two years before things started to turn around. Where I felt like I could work again (although I probably work too much) or do things like travel. Treatments, including medications, definitely played a role in helping me get to where I am today. But the true game changer was definitely when I started to feel my mindset shift.
I still struggle with my health. Daily, to be frank. But I truly believe it is possible to live a full life and experience joy with chronic illness. That wellness is not an end goal, but actually a practice of cultivating purpose through healthy habits, self compassion, and loving-kindness. And that true healing extends way beyond a resolution of symptoms. In sharing my ongoing health journey, it is my hope that you may gain better insight into my treatment philosophy and how I approach healing.
In good health,