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My Routine for Managing Chronic Pain Naturally

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I received a message from a very brave woman who like many others is at the end of her rope, so to speak, in her battle with chronic pain. And she does not realize the strength she has because she may think she has given up, but she is nowhere near the end. She may be just beginning, and I believe in her. She asked me to go over how I manage pain naturally and what my routine is — a question asked often and one I never mind reviewing. It took me over a year to see a huge difference in my life. I went from coming close to ending my life because of chronic pain, to living with it naturally and finding a way through the pain — not out, but through.

Some of the ways I manage pain may seem impossible and some may seem ridiculous, but bear with me. I spent a more than a third of my life on medications, getting surgeries, and watching the clock of my life tick by. That is why I commend anyone for reading my blog, because had I seen a blog about a woman who manages chronic pain naturally and is happy despite chronic pain, I would laugh/cry/scream and never read another one of her posts again. With that said, I am going to try and give a layout of the routine I utilize to manage chronic pain.

Exercise: Very scary word, and believe it or not I never exercised until I learned how to manage chronic pain naturally. I loved watching ice hockey, but I believed exercise would only increase my pain and I was on way too many medications to even fathom exercise. I started slow: Yes, my first work out DVD was Richard Simmons. I had no idea what I was doing and the thought of a gym scared me. Over time I began to love exercise and began finding so many DVDs and later classes and yoga. No one in my late teens or early 20s would believe party/chronic pain/medicated Jessica would be a runner, have a certification to teach aerobics, and love yoga.

I exercise first thing in the morning and I listen to my body. Some days, like today, I did 40 minutes of kickboxing because I awoke very anxious. Some days, I can feel a “difficult day” coming on so I practice yoga. Either way, I think stretching is very important, whether I begin exercising or not. You do not need to run a half marathon to exercise. It took me 10 years to get to that point, and running is not for everyone.

Mindfulness/Meditation: Another scary word! I will be honest that I was very anti-meditation for a long time. It was the one thing I did not practice after I left the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. I believed if I laid there in silence, all I would think about was pain, and I was right once I tried to meditate. However, I made meditation way too complicated! First off, I needed to have some sort of CD that walked me through a meditation. I personally love CDs that take me to the moon or gardens. Visualization is what works best for me. I love yoga nidra: the meditative heart of yoga. Talk about a life-changer. It is a meditation that puts you in a deep “sleep.”

Distractions, Distractions, Distractions: It took me years to train my brain to not think about pain. My thoughts become my reality, and the more I focus on something, whether that be positive or negative, the more I feel that certain physical or emotional feeling. To be quite honest, distracting my mind from pain has been my most helpful tool in my management with chronic pain. Pain still enters my mind on a daily basis, especially if I am going through a stressful time or things in my life are causing me to feel sad or angry. When pain does enter my mind, I quickly find something else to focus on.

selfie photo of a young girl and her mom
Jessica and her daughter.

For me that means action. I have a very difficult time just telling my mind to stop thinking about pain and lay there and try and think about something positive. I get up and I do something I enjoy. So many of us forget our hobbies and passions because of chronic pain and/or give up on those hobbies and passions. This is a double-edged sword, because your hobbies and passions are your biggest allies in your journey with chronic pain. I love being a mother and taking my daughter places or just playing at home, I love reading and writing, I love cooking and discovering new things that are healthy to make or purchase, I love being outside, I love the beach, walking around our lake, and spending time with the people in my life who make me laugh. I love helping people and I love teaching my daughter the lessons I learned through my journey with chronic pain.

My life is busy but fulfilling, and the things I do now are in pursuit of my dreams instead of pursuit of a cure. However, when I first began managing pain naturally, I went maybe 10 minutes without thinking about pain, no matter what distractions I used. I used to take a book everywhere I went. If I was the passenger in a car and I began to think about pain, I would grab that book and start reading.

People always say, “I just want to be happy.” OK, no kidding: Most of us do. But, what makes you happy? What did you used to do before chronic pain became the center of your life? Dig down deep, and I don’t care if you have to dig back into your formative years when you used to love to color. Get yourself a coloring book and start coloring — they make awesome ones for adults now. Whatever takes your mind away from pain, aside from illegal activities (joking, for the most part) do it! There should be no shame in your game. This is a process, and if you have the expectation that distracting your mind from pain will be the answer right away, you are going to be very disappointed.

Nutrition: I just started simple. I stopped eating crap. When I first began eating healthy, I used to buy Lean Cuisines and have one every night. I was also single at the time and never cooked once in my life. Now, I enjoy cooking and making healthy meals, especially for my daughter who to this day hates sugar — now that I do not understand. You can make nutrition fun: I never thought I would say that, but now it is a huge passion of mine. Try and not overthink it. I eat as healthy as I can and work on portion control and make sure I am getting fruits, vegetables and protein. I am from New Jersey, very close to Philadelphia. I love cheesesteaks, but I only have one on a special occasion. There is a lot of truth to the saying: “We are what we eat” or “Eat a bagel, feel like a bagel.”

Sleep: I get it, it is very difficult to sleep when you have chronic pain — sometimes impossible. If you are like me, you continuously look at the clock while trying to sleep, counting down how many hours you may or may not get. Put that clock away. Put it in a drawer and stop looking at the time. On the nights I cannot sleep (a living hell, I get that) I practice yoga nidra the next day. It helps immensely.

These are just some of the ways I manage pain naturally. I beg you to not expect an outcome. Just consider starting slow and seeing what happens.

Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Follow this journey on No One Gets Flowers for Chronic Pain.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Originally published: April 7, 2016
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