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When People Ask How I Do My Job With My Chronic Pain

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I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) when I was 13 years old, back in 2000. I didn’t have anywhere to turn or any peers that were going through the same things. It was really lonely. Your teen years are already confusing enough, but add to it a chronic illness that is not understood — that made it all the more lonely for me.

In my junior year of high school, my guidance counselor asked me what I wanted to study in college. I had thought long and hard about it, and wanted to do the same thing my sister was studying in college: recreation therapy. I wanted to work with people with disabilities and help them be as independent as possible in their leisure and recreational pursuits. So that’s what I did. I studied at the University of New Hampshire and graduated in 2008.

I currently work at a wellness center that has a special needs department. I’m the program manager. I plan and organize all the groups that are offered to our participants, and even run a few groups here and there. We offer music therapy, art, adaptive karate and Zumba, as well as social groups for different ages. It’s my passion, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Even on my miserable pain days, I love going to work. Watching a participant bowl a strike or to listening to a parent share how their child has never felt included until they started attending our program warms my heart and reminds me why I love doing what I’m doing. I fight through my own pain so I can help my participants flourish, make friends and not feel so alone, like I did at their age.

woman playing on playground
Kerry at a playground

People ask me all the time how I can do the work that I do — that it must be so stressful on my own body and must take so much out of me to work while in pain. They’re right. My body doesn’t handle the stress of work well, and I’m exhausted by the time I get home at the end of the day. But to see the smiles, receive the hugs and witness growth of those that I work with makes all my added pain at the end of the day worth it.

I’m not saying my days aren’t difficult. They absolutely are. The way I look at it, however, is that I’m helping our participants, but they are also helping me. They give me a purpose. They help push me when I feel like my pain is too high, because they’ve shown up to group meetings after the pain of struggling with bullies at school all day. They may not know that I have a disability, but they encourage me every day to keep going!

I don’t know if my career path would have been the same had I not been dealt a hand that included a chronic illness. However, even on my worst days, I’m glad CRPS came into my life. It’s given me an understanding of the ups and downs of having a disability, and it’s given me a desire to make sure people are included and don’t feel so alone in the world.

woman in fruit orchard
Kerry picking fruit

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? 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 Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: January 20, 2016
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