woman walking with crutches

How I Found Gratitude After a Severe Foot Injury


Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741 and the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

It is borderline grotesque: toes that flop without purpose and ugly scars that leave my sandal collection to gather dust.

Yet, I am thankful I can walk and my life wasn’t more complicated by this injury. At one time, a complete foot amputation was bantered about. A small wound became infected although I maintain excellent hygiene. That infection spread throughout several bones and had to be halted before it spread to a life-threatening condition. Surgery took several bones and I am on a self-infused, powerful antibiotic regime.

I have always been a negative type. My glass was half empty and bouts of self-pity and depression colored my formative years. Post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from a childhood molestation, and the ensuing secretive years, found me anxious, self-absorbed and bitter.

 

Eventually coming forth with that event in a therapist’s office, I began a journey down a rocky pathway that forked much too often for my psyche. Divorced, addicted and harboring a slew of psychological symptoms, I seemed to consistently choose the wrong direction. Should I allow the professional to medicate me? (I didn’t for a period of years.) Was attending Alcoholics Anonymous necessary? (Again, I delayed.) And, was sharing my woes a means to purging pain? (Alas, you know I also ran from that means to an end.)

And so, I looked at the world, my world, as a place of distrust and struggling. “Stop the world, I want to get off” was my middle name. I attempted suicide on occasion and self-harmed on others. Gratitude was a word without definition.

I returned to my Catholic upbringing and found some solace. My ex and I raised an awesome person and I made intimate friendships. I saw my therapist regularly and became fascinated by psychology. Perhaps I actually could laugh and get out of bed some mornings with feelings other than dread.

The infection reared its head about a year ago. A myriad of antibiotics were tried without success as this bacterium was particularly virulent. “Oh great, another cross to bear,” I complained to my counselor. “Why me? I’m a kind person. I don’t kick puppies. I pay my taxes and I thank cashiers. What have I done to deserve this?”

“I’d like you to write a daily gratitude list,” she instructed. “Choose three things, however small, that made your day pleasant. If your day was comprised of 10 events, focus on the positive ones and disarm the others.”

With nothing to lose, I began. Seeing a red cardinal out my window, cuddling with my cat and getting a phone call from a long-lost friend were journaled early on. Being rather intelligent, having a sense of humor and writing fairly well were the stages that formed.

I continue to keep that gratitude list and I’m pleased it has evolved to more profound experiences. Being a giver, not a taker, making a difference in my passion for animal welfare and having a healthy relationship with my grown son are examples of my maturity. I am growing. I am learning. Most importantly, I am seeing that my life isn’t so bad and I look forward to the years ahead.

My right foot event seems to be another catalyst as I accept my lot in life. Everyone has issues and I see that mine are tolerable now.

I am grateful.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia.

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Dr. Michael Cooney performing therapy on a patient in his office

5 Tips for Choosing the Right Alternative Medicine Provider


As a pain management provider who doesn’t prescribe opioids, I’m delighted to see more attention placed on alternative therapies to relieve or lessen chronic pain.

Earlier this year, Yahoo published an article that predicted “alternative therapies” would top the list of pain management solutions in 2017.

 

Still, today, most people in pain only turn to these kinds of treatments after traditional therapies and pain medications have failed.

Once you’ve identified the type of treatment you wish to undergo, and you’ve discussed this with your doctor, the next challenge is finding the right doctor to perform the therapy.

Traditional healthcare providers have been slow to adopt alternative medical treatments, although their backs are against the wall today as restrictions on prescribing pain medications grow by the hour. As a result, they may not have recommendations for doctors who perform chiropractic, acupuncture, reiki and nutritional therapy, to name a few.

Dr. Michael Cooney performing therapy on a patient in his office

Therefore, to a large degree, the patient is charged with pursuing alternative methods of pain relief independently through their own research and then finding the right care provider to perform the therapy.

At our clinic, we don’t have the budget for fancy ad campaigns, so we invite our patients to share their treatment experiences through social media or videos that we post (with permission) on YouTube.

person's hand during treatment

My point is that you may have to dig to discover an alternative therapy that meets your specific treatment goals.

Below, I’ve outlined my recommendations on how to conduct your research and make your ultimate decision.

1. Pick your network’s brain.

Connect or expand your connection with online forums or local support groups comprised of people who have your condition. No matter how rare your medical issue may be, if you do a little digging, you can find others who are fighting the same battle. Ask for recommendations or referrals from others. More than 50 percent of our new patients were referred by previous patients.

2. Talk directly with the potential treatment provider.

Call the clinic and speak directly with the doctor who would be directly administering your therapy. Would this be the credentialed professional or an assistant? Has the doctor treated your specific condition successfully on a large number of patients? Is he/she performing a sales pitch or asking about your medical history, previous treatment efforts, medication usage and goal for pain therapy? Find out as much as you can about any potential practitioner, including education, training, licensing and certifications.

woman receiving scrambler therapy

3. Speak with the provider’s patients.

Ask alternative medicine providers to put you in touch with other patients – who have the same condition – so you can gauge their feedback and short- and long-term outcomes. We offer this service via our patient volunteers who share their personal therapeutic experiences with future patients from all over the world.

4. Ask upfront about insurance coverage or steps you can take to pursue coverage.

Speak with your medical insurer to determine how you can submit for coverage, either in advance or by post-treatment reimbursement. Ask the healthcare provider for CPT codes which will expedite coverage confirmation. At the clinical level, we are seeing a marked uptick in medical insurers approving more complimentary therapies (as they can be significantly less expensive than more invasive treatments and prescription medications).

5. Know upfront if your current medical doctor will work in tandem with your complimentary medicine provider.

Find out if the practitioner is willing to communicate/partner with your conventional health care providers. For safe, coordinated care, it’s essential for everyone involved in your care to be cooperative. While this may seem obvious, we have interacted with some medical professionals who refuse to discuss any holistic methodologies outside the realm of Western medicine.

Finally, don’t assume the physician currently treating your neuropathy is familiar with the alternative treatment you are considering. Even today, many doctors are often most comfortable with traditional medical treatments and feel uncomfortable when patients seek care outside the confines of their own spectrum of knowledge.

While I respect that position, what is the treatment plan for the patient who has undergone all the traditional medical therapies and is still in pain?

Today, people battling chronic conditions are increasingly reaching out on their own to discover newer treatments to lessen the symptoms of their conditions. They are also far less inclined to just accept stacks of prescriptions to fill expensive, sometimes debilitating medications that don’t lessen the pain, but decrease their quality of life.

If you are frustrated by how you feel, don’t give up hope. Keep reaching out and connecting with others who are fighting the same war. Ask questions. Make phone calls.

I can attest to the fact that complimentary medicine can change people’s lives. I see it every day.

Dr. Michael Cooney is one of seven U.S. certified providers of Calmare Therapy and a doctor of chiropractic in Bergen County, New Jersey.  

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

A Good Day Vs. a Bad Day With Chronic Pain


What a good day and a bad day feel like with Chronic Pain.

Read the full transcript:

A Good Day Vs. a Bad Day With Chronic Pain

On a good day, I wake up after a restful night’s sleep, a rare occurrence during which I actually slept instead of tossing and turning all night.

When I realize my pain is going to be manageable, I let my mind wander about the possible things I might be able to do today.

On a bad day, the brain fog doesn’t get better after I wake up and I don’t feel refreshed, even though I’ve been in bed for hours.

I reach for a method of pain relief I hope will work — today, I’ll try medication and a heating pad. But it still might not be enough to take away the pain.

On a good day, I’m excited to do the everyday tasks that aren’t always possible for me, like showering, making breakfast, and cleaning up.

I try to pace myself and listen to my body, so I don’t overdo it and have to pay for it tomorrow.

On a bad day, I skip the shower and focus on drinking water, eating what I can tolerate, and finding the most comfortable position to lay in.

I turn on Netflix, but as the pain steals my attention and fatigue clouds my concentration, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

On a good day, I take a nap to recover from my morning, then meet up with a friend for a quick cup of coffee.

I’m thankful to be able to socialize since my pain has prevented me from going out lately.

On a bad day, I tell my friends I won’t be able to make it to our lunch date and hope they understand.

I wish I could go, but I know my body won’t be able to handle it and the pain will make it too hard to participate in the conversation.

On a good day and a bad day with chronic pain, I might not “look sick,” but the pain I’m feeling isn’t necessarily visible.

Even on a good day, I’m not symptom-free and still need to carefully manage my health.  

If I need to cancel plans or ask for some extra support, please be kind.

Just because you can’t see the pain, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Lightning bolt icons in vintage style with pink boxes that read "How to talk to your partner about painful sex."

How to Talk to Your Partner About Painful Sex


Sex can be a lot of things — great, mediocre, creative, spontaneous — and sometimes, especially for people living with certain conditions, it may be painful.

There are a lot of reasons sex can hurt. In some cases, if you have a past trauma or have been sexually abused, intimacy may be difficult. But there are physical reasons sex can be painful, too. Vulvodynia, endometriosis, pelvic floor dysfunction and vaginismus are just some conditions that can make intercourse painful for women.

For men, pain may be related to Peyronie’s disease, conditions related to the foreskin or other penile problems. And, of course, it’s not just conditions affecting your reproductive system that can cause pain. Chronic pain and fatigue related to other conditions can quickly ruin a passionate moment as well.

“About 25 percent of women will experience painful sex at some point in their lifetime, making the problem very common,” Stephanie Buehler, PsyD, a California-based sex therapist, told The Mighty.

If sex is painful for you, put the passion on pause and tell your partner immediately, Dr. Buehler said, adding, “there is absolutely zero reason to endure painful sex.”

Regardless of what’s causing your pain, don’t be afraid to speak if sex hurts. Talk to your partner, but also talk to your doctor to make sure nothing is up down below.

“Intercourse should never be painful,” Buehler said. If you experience ongoing genital pain, see your doctor. If you are told, ‘There’s nothing there,’ you need to see another doctor, she added. “Painful sex can be made worse by depressionanxiety or stress, but the pain is never all in [your] head.”

Just because penetrative sex is painful doesn’t mean you have to give up intimacy entirely. “Oral sex or using toys are fine if they don’t cause pain,” Buehler advised.

We asked The Mighty’s community how they talk to their partners about painful sex. Here’s what they had to say. 

1. “Be open to communicating openly about both your partner’s needs and your pain levels. Also, learning to say when to stop is so important. It seems like it might be best to ‘push through’ and ‘sacrifice the high pain’ for your partner’s happiness or pleasure, but having sex with a price of increased pain isn’t the same as doing dishes or laundry with the price of high pain. Sex shouldn’t be a chore you force yourself to do because that doesn’t create a healthy relationship. It’s supposed to be something good you share with your partner.”

2. “When my husband wants sex but sees or hears me say ‘I’m in pain,’ he’s patient. I know men connect with sex, but they also like to be emotionally connected, too. So when it isn’t an option due to pain that day or week, I make up for it through emotionally connecting with him — telling him I desire him even when I am physically unable. Telling him how much I love him and what he means to me. Showing him affection as much as possible to know his touch is wanted and desired. Being playful for only a moment such as a slap on the butt, and quick unexpected kiss, or nice compliment to boost his ego a bit. Anything to make him feel my love emotionally when I cannot physically. Then when I don’t feel as much pain, I make up for it later.”

3. “I’m just honest with him. My boyfriend is really understanding and wants to make sure he isn’t hurting me. I have Ehlers-Danos syndrome (EDS) and endometriosis, so some positions are a no-no, but he understands. My advice for talking about intimacy with others is just to be honest. It shouldn’t be something to be ashamed about and it’s better if you’re honest.”

4. “After it became apparent that the pain was not just because it was my first time, I did my research and found out the pain was from an irregular shaped vagina. So the next time we were alone in a private place. I told him I had been feeling pain during intercourse. He was understanding and reassured me, saying if he had known I was in pain he would have stopped immediately because sex is only enjoyable if both people are enjoying it. We decided to try different positions. It did not take long for us to find a position where I did not feel any pain and was able to fully enjoy it. Our problems did not end there. Now that I was feeling pleasure, my autism made itself known. After only a short while I would begin to feel overwhelmed with all the things I was feeling. Once again I took a deep breath and talked about it. He was super understanding and we came up with a new system. I stay for as long as I feel comfortable. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed I roll out to the side. He finishes himself off, with me joining in as much as I can with kisses and my hands. Am I upset sometimes? Yes. I would love to be able to do more, but I can’t. And that’s OK because I have a partner who is understanding and just wants to make me happy.”

5. “It’s hard to talk about, but the bottom line is that if it hurts, you need to say something. The biggest part of being able to talk about touchy subjects like this is your partner. You need someone who is going to care about what you need and who will be open to listening and changing the course of things in certain situations if need be. Having someone who will go above and beyond to make sure you are always comfortable is what makes discussing problems with chronic illness and intimacy so much easier.”

6. “The two most important factors are honesty and open-mindedness. You have to be honest with your partner and forthcoming about your illness or disability and limitations. From there, you can experiment and find things that work for you and your partner. You and your partner should be willing to try new things. It might seem intimidating at first, but sex shop employees can be very useful resources.”

7. “You should be able to talk to your partner about anything. That’s what a relationship is about. Sex is a tough one though, especially when you want to please them and keep them happy. I have endometriosis, and I made my partner aware of that as soon as we got together so he was aware of what he was getting in to. Sometimes things are fine and sometimes (most times) he can’t get anywhere near me because I’m in so much pain. But if pain starts while we are having sex then I let him know. Changing position can help or gently steering your partner, telling them what you want. But talk to your partner. And, at the end of the day, there are plenty of other ways to have an intimate time together without penetrative sex.”

8. “Communication before, during and after is necessary in order to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work. Some days intercourse is way too painful for me, so creativity, flexibility and patience is super important. Sometimes my brain is so distracted by pain, even if it’s not specifically dyspareunia or vulvodynia, that orgasm is impossible. I focus on increasing intimacy with my husband rather than on reaching orgasm. Otherwise it can become very frustrating for us both. During intimacy, my priority is pleasing my husband and his priority is pleasing me. If any couple goes into intimacy with that perspective, chronic illness or not, you are bound to have success. But success doesn’t have to end with orgasm. It’s really all about communicating, having reasonable goals, and working together to find what works for both people.”

9. “Communication, whether it’s initiating, starting, during or after. This goes both ways. You need to accept your partners needs too. Play, enjoy and experiment. Try different things and be open to trying. The best magic happens when both hearts and minds are open and giving.”

10. “As others have said, communication is a must. If it’s too painful, we either have to move to a different position or, if we can’t finish at that moment, we will try later. If it’s truly that bad we make sure the other is able to finish another way so they are not left hanging.”

11. “Be open and honest; your partner doesn’t want to hurt you. Most partners wish they can take the pain away, not bring it on. Experiment, know your own limits and don’t be scared to say ‘stop,’ ‘I need to move’ or ‘that’s hurting.’ And remember you don’t have to have penetration to enjoy a sexual experience. Just enjoy the intimacy in what ever way works for you. My husband is a godsend, and there is never pressure to perform. He sees through my fake smile better than anyone else in this world, and that makes me the happiest pained lady around. Communication and respect are key.”

12. “I flat out tell my husband that I’m in pain and not feeling in the mood. He respects me enough to not pressure me into having sex. He knows that around ovulation and my period I get extremely painful cramps and back pain.”

13. “You have to communicate. I know for some, it’s difficult. Write a letter or an email, talk to them in the dark when you’re laying in bed. They don’t want you to be in pain or dread sex, they want to know what they can do to make it easier.”

How do you talk to your partner about painful sex? Let us know in the comments below.

21 Hacks That Can Make Cooking With Chronic Pain Easier

21 Hacks That Can Make Cooking With Chronic Pain Easier


It’s always nice to eat a fresh, healthy, homemade meal – but cooking can be exhausting, time-consuming and hard on your body, especially for those with chronic pain. Between chopping vegetables, carrying heavy pots and pans, and standing in front of the stove, cooking can easily exacerbate your pain, and on days when you’re flaring, a big home-cooked meal just isn’t always going to happen. For these days, microwaving frozen meals or ordering delivery are great options (let’s be real: my freezer is full of microwaveable lasagna). But if you enjoy cooking or want something healthier to eat, knowing a few tricks or shortcuts can help make that possible.

So, we asked our Mighty community to share their “hacks” for making cooking with chronic pain easier. Maybe some of the following ideas can help make your time in the kitchen a little more comfortable and still allow you to eat delicious, homecooked meals.

Here’s what the community shared with us:

1. “When I’m having a good pain day I try to meal prep for several days so all I have to do is heat and eat.”

2. “Try to use the least amount of dishes possible while cooking. Casseroles, grilling or one-pot meals make cleaning much easier.”

3. “Frozen food. I hire a cook that comes and cooks several dishes for up to two weeks. Well worth it. I also do not go to the stores anymore. [I] have everything delivered and buy mostly online.”

4. “A foam comfy mat at my stove to stand on. They make a wonderful difference.”

5. “Plan B meals. Whenever I make any food that can be frozen, i.e. stocks, baked goods, casseroles, soups, etc., I split the meal in half so I can freeze half in a disposable dish and have the other for dinner. Prior to freezing it I jot down instructions on a piece of paper and place it on top so we know what it is we are eating and the temperature to cook it at. On high pain or just out of the hospital days, my husband or I can just pop one in the oven and have a home-cooked meal that much faster.”

6. “I had a tall stool in the kitchen so I could sit at the stove. Not having to stand meant I could take my time, meaning less exertion.”

7. “When I couldn’t do it anymore by myself, [my husband] started to help me! First, he brought a chair from the dining room into the kitchen and asked, ‘What do I need to make and how do I it?’ I told him what he needed and he got everything out and I gave him instructions on how to make it and he learned by doing. Now when I want to make a meal, I just ask for help and he knows the steps and the ingredients and we’re a great team. Anything I can’t lift, or that’s too much ‘work’ for me, he does, and I do the rest. But he lifts it all into and out of the oven, or deals with cleaning the Crockpot for cleaning. I can’t even try to lift that thing!”

8. “I have a large ‘spider web’ (used in Asian cooking – wire web-like scoop) that I used instead of a collander – keeps me from having to lift a large pot of boiling water to the sink for pasta, eggs, etc.”

9. “I plan and pace… So I’ll prep some of the ingredients, and then go lie down/rest. Go back and prep some more, and then go lie down/rest again. Continue to rinse/repeat until I’ve finished my meal.”

10. “Semi-homemade cooking is your friend. Buy the chopped veggies if you don’t have a chopper helper at home. Even though my husband helps with chopping I still buy the bagged cauliflower rice and such. Any shortcut like that can save the hands, back and shoulders pain.”

11. “Crockpot freezer meals! Google is full of links to ‘Make Eight Freezer Meals in Two Hours!’ It takes time to prep (which, for a lot of us, means a day of rest and recovering afterwards). But then you have X amount of meals ready to throw in the crockpot on bad pain/fatigue days! And buy those disposable crockpot bags. Some might say it’s lazy or expensive, but not having to scrub out a Crockpot is worth it!”

12. “Don’t get too hung up on leaving dishes in the sink. Sometimes cooking takes so much energy and I just can’t deal with the dishes right away. I give myself permission to do them the next morning when I will have more energy.”

13. “I get everything I need for that meal out on the counter in front of me so I don’t have to go back and forth to the fridge and cabinets and I bring our bar stool over to where I’m cutting and prepping so I can sit down as much as I can. Listening to music and singing helps me keep my mind off the pain I’m in and makes the time go a little faster!”

14. “I don’t know if you have access to this where you live, but I do ‘click and collect’ at the large store. That means I buy online and they load up my car. I don’t even have to exit the vehicle. For other items, or one-offs, I tend to frequent local shops which are smaller and tend to be quite accommodating. When they get to know you they will generally go the extra mile to help you shop.”

15. “I use my husband’s office chair and sit while I cook. It also has wheels so I can just push myself around the tile floor in the kitchen.”

16. “Meal planning: On Sundays, I try to plan out menus for the week, based on what I have on hand. From that, I can make a short grocery list and minimize my time and energy there.”

17. “First, I buy my groceries to be delivered – skips one of the hardest steps in food prep! Then, I try to purchase things I can either heat quickly or ones that can be put in the oven for a long time. I can’t babysit the stove/oven so anything complicated or high maintenance is out. But, between that and my weekly produce delivery I can feed myself in a pretty healthy and low-maintenance way.”

18. “Prepping my food at a table where I can sit down. I’m able to chop, peel, etc. without being in pain.”

19. “Meal delivery services have changed my life for the better. You don’t have to go to the grocery store because the ingredients are shipped directly to your door. This is really helps me get through the week.”

20. “If I need help during meal prep or cooking, I ask for it and feel no guilt. I struggled with that for a while because cooking has always been primarily my responsibility, but I can no longer do it all by myself whether because my hands are too swollen and achy or my feet hurt so bad I can’t stand on them.”

21. “Accept degrees of your ability. Cook days you’re able to, make extra to have leftovers available (frozen and refrigerated). Also have easy-to-heat-up options, and if all else fails, have peanut butter and bread or crackers on hand.”

person balancing while walking on a log

How I Learned to Walk the Tight Rope of Life With Chronic Pain


I’ve found that living with chronic pain is a constant balancing act. Each day I have to monitor how my body is doing so I don’t create flare-ups. I have to check in with myself emotionally so I can keep on an even keel and stay as positive as possible. I have to say no to many things I would like to do so I can say yes to healing.

All of us living with pain have to become masters at this. We have to learn to walk the path in the middle of extremes.

 

How Much Is Too Much?

I have to learn to pay just the right amount of attention to my pain without becoming its servant or making my entire existence about taking care of it, but also not living in complete denial and trying to numb myself out both physically and emotionally so I don’t feel anything.

I’m learning to live as positively as possible, while not pretending everything is fine (never talking about our pain or expressing it) or going to the other end of the spectrum and becoming someone who lives as a victim awash in powerlessness.

I’m learning to walk the middle path of honoring my emotional self and my feelings about being in pain and how that limits my life. I’m learning that shoving them back down again can just cause more pain later.

Saying Yes, Saying No

I have to find that balance point between the yes and the no, between going too far into a kind of forced positivity and giving up and sliding into depression and hopelessness.

I’m learning to be able to find ways to continue to participate in life while still living within my physical limits, somehow finding a balance between overdoing it and making myself worse or becoming a shut-away.

I have to learn to say no without becoming overly negative. Instead, I’m learning to say it from a place of self-awareness and self-respect. No, I don’t want any more advice, thanks. No, I will not be available today. No, I do not choose that treatment right now.

And I’m learning to say yes to myself. Yes, to taking it slow. Yes, to being alone when I need to. Yes, to help when it’s offered. Yes, to doing things that feel nurturing and healing. Yes, to what I need in the moment, even if it’s an unpopular choice with others.

Becoming a Master of Balance

This is my challenge. It is the challenge of every human to some extent, but for those of us living with pain, it is more sharply highlighted, more immediate and more necessary. It becomes a daily practice, often an hourly practice.

person balancing while walking on a log

In a way, it’s my spiritual path. Becoming more aware of myself and my own needs in balance with those around me and in balance with the demands from my condition.

All of us who live with chronic pain become adept at walking that middle road. We become masters of balance, saying no when it matters and saying yes to ourselves, which matters even more.

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