Jessica Martin

@jessica-martin | contributor
Jessica Martin writes about her journey from brain surgery to a lifetime with chronic pain. She shares her brutally honest story about how she manages pain naturally and found joy despite her invisible illness.
Jessica Martin

Using Alcohol to Cope With Chronic Pain

My life began falling apart due to chronic pain around the age of 20. I had spent more than five years searching for a cure, having many surgeries, being on multitudes of medications and having my hope for a cure destroyed on a weekly basis and I was done. I could no longer juggle going to college, trying to receive good grades, spending three out of seven days of the week in doctors’ offices and trying to make and keep friends. I dropped out of college and completely gave up on myself and my health.  I drove from New Jersey to Colorado where I had a couple friends who were kind enough to let me stay with them until I figured out what I was going to do with my life. Truth be told, I didn’t believe I had a chance at life and was just trying to get by and not think about pain. I hung out with people who enjoyed drinking and loved the college scene. My friends were drinking to be social and have fun during their years in college while I was drinking to numb chronic pain. I still had yet to be told I had chronic pain, as this was not a term used widely as it is now. All I knew is that I had a terrible bike accident that nearly killed me and I was left with pain that was invisible to everyone except myself. I had never been prescribed pain medication and taking Advil had the same effectiveness on alleviating pain as eating Tic Tac’s all day would. So, I took drinking with friends to the next level. Being in a college town that was known for its partying made self-medicating my invisible illness quite easy. I fit in. We were always able to think of an excuse to drink: Taco Tuesdays, Wine Wednesdays, Thirsty  Thursdays, then the weekend was an obvious excuse to party: TGIF! Most of my friends were in college full-time as I had been prior to dropping out and fleeing New Jersey. They had extra reasons to celebrate and drink with everyone: doing well on an exam, the end of mid-terms and the breaks we all know and love. I felt awful celebrating with them when I was doing nothing with my life. I loved school and had had so many dreams that I truly believed were stolen from me because of chronic pain. The more I hated myself, the more I drank and ate. Within six months I had gained a lot of weight. I ate all day and drank all night. Having a hangover was easier than dealing with chronic pain. My friends understood hangovers but did not understand how in the world I had this pain when I looked perfectly healthy on the outside. Hangovers were amazing compared to dealing with my invisible illness. I started to get more and more depressed and hopeless. Drinking was no longer fun; it was a means to an end. I only drank to numb the physical pain I felt. My tolerance went up and I needed to drink more to get the same pain relief. Instead of laughing and having fun with my friends I always ended up sitting on our deck or on a mattress crying into the bottle of red wine I had grown to hate. Each day and night seemed to get worse until one day I woke up very late in the morning and all I could smell was stale red wine. I looked beyond my mattress and saw red wine stains covering the carpet. I started to cry like I had never cried before. I knew I had hit my rock bottom and it was either drink myself to death or find a way to manage chronic pain that I had not found in the many years I had dealt with this invisible illness. As I cried on that mattress surrounded by red wine stains my good friend researched places that specialized in chronic pain. He looked up every hospital and Pain Center in America and finally stumbled upon the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Two days later, we were in my car driving from Boulder, Colorado to Rochester, Minnesota. A few weeks later my life changed forever as I entered the Pain Rehab Center at the Mayo Clinic where I spent a month learning how to manage pain naturally. The following year was tough as I spent that year solely focusing on my health and practicing everything I had learned at the Mayo Clinic. I never thought about numbing my pain with anything and the thought of red wine made me want to vomit. I have been using the tools I learned at the Mayo Clinic since I was 22 years old. After my year of focusing on my health I entered college in Denver, Colorado and got my degree in Social Work. I loved learning about how to help people, especially people with an invisible illness. I am 35 now and it has not always been a smooth ride in my journey with chronic pain. There have been bumps, curves and some U-turns along the way, but nothing can compare to my days and nights of numbing my chronic pain with alcohol. My lifestyle is not conventional and I live a structured life that incorporates ways to manage pain with positive coping mechanisms. If I can find a way to live a life with chronic pain without the need to numb the pain, anyone can. One day you will believe me…maybe not today, but one day. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Thinkstock photo via kieferpix.

Jessica Martin

A Letter to My Dad, Who Supported Me in My Journey With Chronic Pain

This post is dedicated to my hero, also known as my dad. “I am a strong person, but every now and then I also need someone to take my hand and say everything will be all right…” — Unknown I am going to go back in time and write a letter to my dad, who was my closest support system during all the years I’ve had chronic pain. Dear Dad, I know it must be really difficult to see your only child going through such hell because of physical pain no doctor can fix. I feel guilty all the time because I know I am not the daughter I once was and I miss “me.” I know I can be really hard to deal with, and you are usually really patient with me. I am angry, depressed, anxious, scared, and feel worthless. I do not even want to get out of bed anymore and the only reason I do is for class or a doctor’s appointment. You are spending so much money on all these procedures, doctors, medications, and everything else we are trying to rid my body of this horrific pain no one can see. Some days I want to just die, and then I think of what that would do to you, and I cannot imagine hurting you. I hate myself, Dad. The main reason I am able to keep going is because of you and how supportive you are during this awful time for me. I know no one can see my scars or physical pain and many people think I am making this up. You never doubt me. You always believe me and never once have questioned whether or not I am in actual pain despite not being able to see my pain. I never have to prove anything to you. You believe me, and I have never doubted your belief. When I feel as if I am “going crazy,” I remember the person I love more than anything has never once doubted an illness he is unable to see. I am no fun to be around right now. But I look at you and all the effort you put into helping me find a cure, and I know I cannot give up. You take me to all my doctors’ appointments. You must really love me to take so much of your time to sit in waiting rooms with me half of both our weeks! I always feel so guilty when a new medication does not work. I always feel guilty when I have another procedure or surgery the doctor promises me will work and it fails. I do not even feel like the medication or the surgery failed, I feel as if I failed. However, you never look at me like a failure. You never get down and out or seem as consumed with worry as I do. You probably hide it very well because you care so much for me. You truly believe something will eventually work, and how can I give up if you are so adamant that we will not stop until something works for my invisible illness? You keep me going. I continuously feel as if I am letting you down, and yet when I look into your eyes I do not see a dad who is upset with me. Only once can I remember you getting really frustrated with me because I did not believe a certain therapist/holistic healer could help me. You drove me into Philadelphia and sat in the waiting room as I reluctantly and unwillingly went into the therapist’s office who specialized in invisible illnesses. I did not think she could not help me and did not have an open mind and left her office crying endless tears. You got upset with me on the drive home because I refused to ever go back. You were not happy with my negative attitude and you yelled in frustration. I am sure you were not really mad at me, but the invisible illness. It has to be frustrating for you to keep trying everything in your power to help me and my pain, and yet nothing helps. You are human after all. I know deep down I am not letting you down. The two most important things you did for me during my darkest hours of chronic pain were believing in me and my invisible illness and never giving up on me. What more could anyone ask for? All I really needed was to be believed, validated, and supported.  I truly cannot think of anything you could have done differently. In many ways you saved my life. Even now at the age of 35 you are the one person who knows the ins and outs of my journey with chronic pain. Sometimes I think you forget I still have chronic pain because I never talk about it and manage it so well, and I just want you to remember it is still there, and there are times when I am extra quiet or cranky because of my invisible illness. Even at the age of 35, a mother myself, I need someone to hold my hand say everything will be all right. Love, Your daughter, Jessica 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. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by ASIFE

Jessica Martin

Feeling Selfish With Chronic Pain

For people with chronic pain, self-care is not selfish or irresponsible: it’s survival. I have spent about two-thirds of my life feeling somewhat selfish because of my invisible illness: chronic pain. During the time in which I was searching for a cure to my pain, I was consumed by anger, depression, anxiety, loss and pain so severe I could not even will myself to read a book – something I had always loved. I was called selfish many times. I was the queen of cancelling plans at the last minute and missing classes because I was experiencing so much physical pain and subsequent depression that I could not get out of bed. I missed important family events because I could not imagine being around the people who thought I was this amazing girl headed for college and risk them seeing the pain even my smile could not hide. I was embarrassed, ashamed, confused and in so much physical and emotional pain over being “selfish.” However, I was not being selfish because I was doing whatever I wanted to do and not caring about letting people down. I wanted to be with my friends. I wanted to be in class studying. I wanted to be around the people I loved more than anything in the world. Instead I was balled up in bed alone either crying until the tears could no longer fall or just staring at the wall. Some may call that selfish; however, I truly was just surviving and, over the years, hanging on by a thread. So not only did I feel guilty for an invisible illness that had yet to be diagnosed as chronic pain, but I felt hated because everyone thought I was just a selfish person who ditched the people she claimed she loved. Hell on earth. There are no other words to describe those 10+ years of my life: pure and utter hell, every second of every day of every year. I no longer look back and see myself as being selfish. I was surviving alone with a pain no one could see and a pain I could not fathom. Fast forward to when I finally accepted my chronic pain and learned how to manage this disease naturally. The first amazing thing to enter my existence once I came to a place of acceptance was hope. Then the work began. I began managing pain naturally when I was 22; I am now 35 and it is still part of my daily routine so I can manage pain without pain managing me. I still have chronic pain. I still have difficult hours and sometimes difficult days, but the good days far outweigh the bad. Is there a coincidence that how I now manage pain works, whereas how I used to manage pain (by searching for a cure) didn’t? I truly do not believe so. Is my life perfect? Hell no. However, I am in a place I never thought I would be in after my bike accident and the subsequent pain. My dreams have come true, and more of my dreams will come true. There is no exact destination for me, and the journey does have its ups and downs, but I am finally the Jessica I was meant to be. With that said, I do find that people still call me selfish at times. I would be lying if I said that term did not hurt, but I am working on not allowing other people’s views on how I live or manage pain to interfere with my happiness. Like the saying goes: “Never mock a pain you have not endured.” I have to set some limitations in my life in order to control my pain naturally. I cannot do everything a person without chronic pain can do. Let me rephrase that: I can do everything a person without chronic pain can do, but if I did so, I would be right back in the first paragraph of this article – hell on earth. I have to take care of myself – body, mind and spirit – and know and respect my limitations in order to take care of the people I love and be the person I was meant to be. I say no to invitations and people think that is very selfish of me. Do I say no to all invites or requests to spend time with me? No. However, I do say no when I know a certain day is already busy and going to one extra thing will truly intensify my pain. I listen to my inner wisdom and say no. I have an odd sleeping schedule. I go to sleep early – between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on most nights. There are the occasional nights I stay awake later to spend time with the people I love, but on average I fall asleep with a book in my hand around 9:00 p.m. – and yes, on the weekends as well. I am a morning person and part of my chronic pain management is a good amount of sleep, exercise and meditation. I am a mother. I like to wake up before my 4-year-old so I can exercise and practice a small meditation without her angelic toddler voice saying, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” over 50 times. I have been called selfish for my sleep schedule. Those are just two small examples of why I am called selfish at this point and time in my life. If I could turn back time I would never have fallen off my bike and I would never have had chronic pain. I cannot do so. I understand why people may see me as selfish at times, but what they do not realize is that I still struggle with the fact that I do have chronic pain. Although I am thrilled I am living a happy life despite chronic pain, it still saddens me that I am unable to do everything I would be able to do had it not been for my invisible illness. I beg all of you not to allow (or at least try not to allow) what others say to you regarding how you choose to live your life affect you – and this goes for everyone. I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t, so to speak. If I do not manage pain in a healthy manner I will be a miserable mess and people will call me selfish because I cannot really do anything. But if I manage pain naturally I am also called selfish because I have to set my own limitations. So what is the lesson in that? You have to do what you know intuitively is right for you. If you are not taking care of yourself as only you know how to do, then you are not helping anyone, especially yourself. People will always talk and have an opinion. Tune that crap out. None of you are selfish people. I know you are all doing the best you can and if you had a choice, you would not have chronic pain. You are not selfish people; you are survivors. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via Thinkstock.

Jessica Martin

New Year’s Resolutions as a Person With an Invisible Illness

I have heard from multitudes of people that 2016 has been difficult, if not disastrous. As I heal and enter into my next phase of working to bring another angel into this world, I realize that, for me, 2016 has come with many ups and many downs. I’ve had some of the greatest moments in my life this year and, honestly, some of my worst. I’m trying to discover the lessons the difficult times and amazing times have taught me. With that said, I’m sharing my New Year’s resolutions in the hopes that some of you can relate to certain changes. 1. I’m an overthinker, a worry wart and a person who logically knows things work out, but I still find it difficult not to worry. I don’t know what came first: anxiety or chronic pain. Anxiety and chronic pain can become a vicious cycle. Anxiety increases pain and pain increases anxiety. I’m going to truly work on changing my thoughts. Once I begin thinking about something that worries to me to no end, I go into catastrophic mode and start thinking months and years into the future, wondering what will happen, when it will happen and how it will happen. And then I start thinking about the what if’s. I’m going to start deleting “what if’s” from my conscious mind and my vocabulary. I’m going to practice following my dreams but not forcing my dreams. I need to allow things to come into my life with open arms instead of worrying my dreams won’t come to fruition. Like the saying goes, “Worrying is like paying interest on a debt you will probably never owe.” 2. I find myself comparing myself and my life with other people’s lives, which is not only illogical but causes me sadness. As far as I’ve come in my journey with chronic pain, I still find myself almost annoyed when I see someone in acute pain (pain that only lasts hours or, at most, days). People with chronic pain would be thrilled to have acute pain, however, my reality is chronic pain and comparing myself to other people’s lives steals my inner peace and joy. I should applaud myself for how far I have come and what I great life I have despite my invisible illness. 3. I’ve started practicing yoga more and have lessened the amount of cardio I do for both chronic pain and anxiety. For about two weeks, I’ve practiced yoga sessions each morning and see how much it truly touches my body, mind and spirit. It’s not only the poses and exercises I love. It’s the words coming from the instructor’s voice. I learn a lot of lessons both consciously and subconsciously as I move through each pose. I never imagined yoga would teach me so much. 4. I need to chill out. I become so consumed with fear of the future and thoughts from my past that I forget to live in the present moment. I used to tell my patients: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift and that is why it is called the present.” It’s so easy to say aloud or even write down, but living in the present is one of the most difficult things to do. We are rarely fully present and miss out on so much of life’s blessings and joys because we are always thinking ahead. I’ve found that if I focus on my breathing and calm myself down when I start getting anxious about the future (even if the future thought is 10 minutes ahead of me), I can bring myself back to the present time. 5. Finally, I need to tap into my faith. I need to surrender my dreams to the universe and allow what’s going to come into my life to come without worry or grief. I need to believe, surrender and let go. I plan to truly take one day at a time. Some days will be difficult and some days will be amazing, but there is some joy in every day. One of the last presents I gave my grandmother before she passed was a magnet that says: “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” I think in this coming year we all need to cultivate more faith into our lives and let go and be led towards what I believe is our divine plan. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Jessica Martin

Being Judged Because of Chronic Pain

I was recently asked a question: if there had been a time in my life where I had been judged because of my invisible illness: chronic pain. This question was not difficult for me to answer, not because I could not think of a time when I was judged for chronic pain, but because there have been so many hundreds of times I have been judged due to this invisible illness I could not think of just one. Even as I write that sentence, moments, days, times of judgement and pain run through my mind like a never-ending waterfall of emotions that I cannot believed I survived. Not only survived but thrived… eventually. Following my bike accident and subsequent brain surgery due to a blood clot and traumatic brain injury, I had half a shaved head, a swollen face, bruises, and scars that took years to heal. I was only 13, going into the seventh grade at a new school, and three months of recovery was not enough physically or emotionally. Being the new girl at the age of 13 is never easy for anyone, much less for someone whose appearance was very scarred. I was made fun of daily, judged by every classmate except a few friends who are still my closest friends and eventually started eating lunch in the bathroom stall just so I would not feel judged and alone. Sometimes it is lonelier being around people than it is to be literally alone, which is the loneliest feeling there is. By eighth grade my hair had grown back for the most part and all of my visible scars had either healed or were hidden. I tried to fit in by buying the clothes my peers wore and buying the best acne face wash and slowly I began to make friends. People no longer made fun of me because I looked “normal.” I was young and I had friends to sit at lunch with and people started to like me, the real me, not the outside version. I had a good year but that did not last for very long. High school came faster than I could imagine and the physical pain I had felt since my bike accident began to become more consistent and more painful. I started to get bullied again by certain peers because I was constantly rubbing my face and head without even realizing I was doing so. The pain was/is located in those places and I was trying to massage to pain away without even knowing what I was doing. Other people noticed and I was once again made fun of: the freak who rubbed her face all during school. It was almost like a tic that I could not stop because the pain was slowly but surely taking over my life. It was around this time that I started my 10-year search for a cure to a disease I had never heard of: chronic pain. I was then judged for making up my invisible illness. I missed school a lot and spent hours upon hours in doctor’s offices and none of my peers believed me because I looked “fine.” People just thought I wanted attention. I began to isolate myself from people because it was emotionally painful to have the few people I loved and trusted not believe me because my illness was invisible. Then I was the girl who was constantly canceling plans and “lying” about being in pain. I felt depressed, guilty, and began to believe I was going crazy as no doctor or specialist could help me. I brought people down and I was not fun to be around. I did not even like being around myself, much less exposing the people I did care for to a version of me that was not me at all. I was pain: pain was me. I spent the following 10 years being judged because of my invisible illness, and even once I hit my rock-bottom of pain and ended up at the Pain Rehab Center at the Mayo Clinic and learned how to manage pain naturally, I still was judged. I was judged by many people for how I lived when I was fighting pain, searching for a cure, and numbing my pain by drinking with friends and then I was judged for living a healthy lifestyle that had little in common with my former life. I was exercising, practicing meditation, eating well, and no longer had any desire to numb my pain or party with friends. I lost tons of friends because of my transformation. I get judged to this day for my lifestyle. “Why do you need to work out? You are so tiny as it is?!” “You never go out and have ‘fun’ anymore, you used to be the life of the party!” I do not know if it is age or wisdom, but those comments do not bother me at all anymore. I like me. There is a beautiful quote that says: “Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.” What I have learned over the years is that people are always going to judge you no matter what you do, so you may as well do what makes you healthy and happy. I personally do not judge others for their actions as I know we are all fighting battles the world may know nothing about. I will say something if I see someone being judged for their actions, if I have the energy, that is. I have also learned that the more a person judges another, the unhappier he or she is with his or her own life. As Abraham Hicks says: “People will love you and people will hate you and none of it will have anything to do with you.” We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Jessica Martin

Woman Wishes She Could Tell Younger Self in Pain That She Will Be OK

I get a multitude of reactions from people when I tell them I have an invisible illness: chronic pain. I never tell people for pity or praise. I only tell them because they ask me what I write about. I have yet to meet a person with chronic pain who enjoys being pitied. It’s bad enough when we, as individuals, get in self-hate or self-pity mode, but to watch others pity us is just agonizing. A woman asked me yesterday about my story about my bike accident during my daughter Kayci’s dance class. The woman was beyond kind and was genuinely interested and even asked me to send her a link to my site. She had one of the greatest reactions I have ever encountered from a person who had no idea I lived with chronic pain. She stroked my hair, but not in a “I feel bad for you” way. She did it in a way that said, “You are amazing.” It is very hard to explain, but sometimes gestures and eye movements are more meaningful than words. She was one of the first people who genuinely wanted to read my story, and she asked me questions that didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or different from anyone else in the room. There was no pity in her eyes, just empathy. I showed her a picture of myself when I was at my rock bottom in my journey with chronic pain. It’s very similar to the before and after picture seen above. A lot of people who have met me in the past 10 years don’t believe the Jessica on the left side of the photo above is truly me. I can promise you all that it is. Chronic pain was at its worse, and I had already gone through every doctor, specialist, surgery and medication to try and cure my relentless pain. Nothing worked. Ten years of searching for a cure can really suck the life out of a person. The only thing that actually numbed my physical pain for a brief time was alcohol. I ate horribly, drank with my friends on a nightly basis and spent the days crying in bed. Pain had completely taken over my life — body, mind and soul. I look at the picture of the Jessica who was falling apart due to chronic pain, and I sincerely don’t recognize her. My friend from my daughter’s dance class asked me if I feel like I’m still that person seen above, and I honestly feel no identification to that Jessica at all. Chronic pain changed me. How could it not? The first 10 plus years in my battle with my invisible illness changed me for the worse. I don’t hate the Jessica I once was because I was doing the best I could with the cards I had been dealt. I was so unhappy I thought about ending my life more times than I care to remember. I may have been bigger on the outside, but I was totally hollow on the inside. The Jessica I found through the help of the Pain Rehabilitation Center at the Mayo Clinic is the true Jessica seen on the right-hand side of the picture above. She is happy. I wish I could say chronic pain finally went away or I found that magic cure but I did not. I found a way to manage pain naturally and work my ass off on a daily basis in order to never feel the way I felt 15 years ago. It took me a long time to love myself. After my bike accident, I hated chronic pain, but I didn’t hate myself. After years and years of searching for a cure and becoming hopeless and a total mess inside and out, I began to hate myself along with the pain. I empathize with the Jessica on the left-hand side of the picture above, and I wish I could give her a hug and tell her everything would be OK one day. I would never have believed the older Jessica, but I would still love to give that younger pain-filled Jessica a hug. The friend I have made at my daughter’s dance class embodies a presence of love and empathy, and I truly hope that with my stories people begin to see how a person with an invisible illness wants to be treated. She made me feel good and clearly knows the difference between pity and empathy. That is a rare quality to find in a person, and I am very happy to have bonded with her as I have. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Follow this journey on No One Gets Flowers for Chronic Pain.

Jessica Martin

Woman With Chronic Pain Wants to Focus on Her Achievements

I had a few days where I had to leave my comfort zone and just relax and rest. If you know me, I’m not a fan of resting and being still for too long. I’m the definition of an over-thinker and having an invisible illness such as chronic pain has only intensified my roller coaster of thoughts. After 10 years of searching for a cure for my chronic pain and finally finding a way to manage it and live a life that makes me happy, it’s very difficult for me to step away from the routine I am so accustomed to. My day usually begins around five in the morning with stretches and exercise. Of all the tools I use to manage chronic pain, exercise is definitely one of my favorites and most useful. It helps with my chronic pain and my subsequent anxiety. I stay busy throughout the day, which is quite easy to do with a 4-year-old daughter, work and running a home that I am proud of. My other favorite tool for managing my chronic pain naturally is the utilization of distractions. I train my brain to not think about pain and am usually quite successful in this exercise. However, for the past few days, I’ve been forced to rest in bed, which on one hand has been difficult. I want to play with my daughter, run my errands, make dinner and finish the damn laundry that has been sitting in the laundry room for two days. I don’t enjoy being vulnerable and relying on other people to help me and do things for me. I begin to feel guilty and frustrated, and the little control freak buried inside me comes out in the silliest ways one can imagine. For instance, I find it difficult to walk into my daughter’s playroom because I know it is not organized the “Jessica” way. On the other hand, the past few days have been a great lesson for me. I have had to let things go and find distractions that have nothing to do with exercise and/or activity. I have caught up on my favorite television shows and books, and I even went back to my gratitude journal and began doing the exercises in the book “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I’ve read this inspiring book but have never attempted to go through the workbook that accompanies it. The first three assignments were quite simple for me. I was asked to write down 50 things I am grateful for like having food in the fridge to being blessed with a beautiful, happy daughter. In second assignment, I had to write down the five things I want in my life more than anything. Number one on my list was to have more children (no brainer there). The third exercise was to write down the things I wanted to work on within myself to find more inner joy. Ironically, this was the easiest exercise the workbook asked of me. I wrote down so many things that I ran out of room on the allotted page. Sadly, the fourth exercise was much more difficult than I thought it would be. The exercise asked me to write down five things or more that I loved about myself. I came up with two right away: being empathetic and funny. I even felt a little guilty about writing down “funny.” It took me longer to find five things I am sincerely proud of about myself than it did to find 50 things I was grateful for. No one else needs to read my simple abundance workbook, so why was I so hesitant to write exactly how I felt about myself? Yes, there are things I want to work on and am working on, but there are more than two things about myself that I am proud of. However, I felt a ridiculous sense of guilt putting them down on paper. I learned I need to own the things I feel good about regarding myself and my life. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, especially with chronic pain. I have a lot to be proud of and shouldn’t feel ashamed for feeling good about those things in my life. I focus more on the things I need to work on than the goals I have already achieved. I believe this to be true: No matter where we are in our journey with chronic pain, or life in general, we should be more focused on our gifts than our downfalls. The more we focus on the good in ourselves, the easier it will be to work on the things we know need some help with. None of us are perfect, and chronic pain can make life incredibly difficult at times, but we all have special gifts that we need to start putting more focus on. Follow this journey on No One Gets Flowers for Chronic Pain.

Jessica Martin

Being Judged for Looking Too Healthy to Have Chronic Pain

This is exactly what someone looks like with chronic pain. This picture below was taken at a place called Long Wood Gardens which is where we spent my dad’s past birthday. The people walking by who do not know me would never believe I have chronic pain. I am trying to go back in time and visualize this picture 15 years ago when I looked nothing like this and my world was spiraling out of control due to chronic pain. If 21-year-old Jessica saw this mother and daughter at a well-known garden exhibit, she probably would have cried wishing she could be the person seen below. The Jessica of past would never have thought this Jessica has chronic pain and would have been filled with jealously just at the fact that this person seen above was a smiling, happy mother spending the day with her family. Twenty-something Jessica would have thought: “Sure, maybe this in-shape, happy mom isn’t perfect, but I would give my right arm to have her life. If this lady could live with pain like I do for just one day she would never be able to have a beautiful daughter and be happy at a place like this. I’ll never have anything like this girl.” I wish I could tell my younger self that one day she would be the woman she sees who is smiling a real smile, healthy, and a mother of a beautiful daughter. I am misunderstood on a weekly if not daily basis. It was easier for people to believe I had chronic pain when I was depressed, unhealthy, and at the doctor’s for pain at least three times a week. I never worked out a day in my life until I was the age of 22. I never ate extremely healthy. I could do keg stands with the best of them and my idea of a healthy dinner was pizza with broccoli on top. People who know the Jessica I am now have a very hard time believing me when I tell them of my past because of how dedicated to health I am. I used to hear whispers at the gym when people did not realize I could hear them over their headphones: “That girl says she has chronic pain but there is no way she does. It is probably just for attention. If I was in a lot of pain I would not be able to run on the treadmill or lift a weight.” Hearing comments like such or knowing that some people do not believe me used to infuriate me, but not so much anymore. I used to feel the need to justify myself, which takes a lot of energy and is a total waste of time. When asked or confronted about how I was able to do things when I had “chronic pain” I used to go into my entire story: “Believe it or not, I exercise and live the way I do because of chronic pain. I spent 10 years searching for a cure and taking tons of medications for pain until I wanted to end my life and ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where I learned to manage pain naturally. They taught me to exercise correctly, and physical therapy taught me about weight lifting and the importance of strength training. If I did not exercise or do all the things I do for my natural management of chronic pain I would be a total wreck just like I was in my young 20s. You should see pictures of me from back then.” This is literally a paragraph I would say on a daily basis: at least once a day. Then I woke up. I began to realize that the more and more I justified my invisible illness, the more I was focusing on my pain. I spent years working on not focusing on pain, and now I was spending an hour a day justifying myself to people who I was not even close to. People are going to judge you no matter what: invisible illness or no invisible illness. I truly believe people talk about other people as a way to not have to deal with their own problems. I know. I used to be one of those people. You have no need to justify yourself to anyone. The only person you need to improve for or impress is you. We need to be more concerned with how we feel about ourselves and less concerned with how others feel about us. It is your life, your health and your happiness. Do not waste the energy that some of you fight damn hard for on other people’s opinions of you and your life. Never forget that everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Jessica Martin

Why Chronic Pain Feels Like White Noise

Years ago, when chronic pain ruled my world, the only place I felt heard was alone in the ocean. I loved the waves crashing over me, melting away the screams I could no longer manage to voice. I loved looking out into the endless ocean because it was the only place that gave me hope that life still existed: the ocean expanded so far, I felt that maybe no matter how bad of a place I was in I, too, could one day expand as the ocean did. I loved the feeling of being crushed by the rough waves and treading under water as I heard the faint noise of the water above. What most people feared about the ocean, was what I found as the only peace that still existed in my world of pain. The Oxford dictionary defines white noise as noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities. Invisible illnesses such as chronic pain also contain many frequencies with somewhat equal intensities. Chronic pain does not come alone. Chronic pain is followed by many other white noises: fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hopelessness, and sadly sometimes suicidal thoughts and ideations. Over time people forget one has chronic pain and their screams can literally only be heard as white noise. They may feel alone, hopeless, and many find places such as I did with the ocean as the only place he or she feels heard and/or understood. In 2005, the movie “White Noise” came out starring Michael Keaton. He plays a man who loses his wife, Anna, unexpectedly and becomes obsessed with finding her on “the other side.” He meets a man who works with the supernatural using a device called electronic voice phenomenon (EVP). He is a skeptic at first, but soon becomes a believer and makes it his life’s mission to speak to his wife through EVP or as others call it, white noise. I enjoy this genre of film and although this is not my favorite “ghost movie” it does correlate with how I view my struggle with chronic pain. Jessica’s daughter Both the characters played by Michael Keaton and his deceased wife are trying desperately to speak to one another, but all they are able to hear is white noise. Trying to explain an invisible illness, such as chronic pain, comes out to those who do not have chronic pain as white noise.  The words are there but they are not comprehensible to the people we so desperately want to understand us and what we live through each day. For over 10 years I knew no one with chronic pain. My life was filled with white noise drowned out by the voices of doctors, friends and family. No one could hear me and soon my screams could only be heard inside myself. It was not until I went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and entered the Pain Rehab Center that I met others who also had chronic pain and my white noise slowly faded away. I did not need to explain what I felt because I was surrounded by others who felt the same exact way. I learned so much while at the Mayo Clinic and practice the tools I learned there daily to manage pain without medication or treatment. However, what I benefited from most was the commonality I found amongst my peers who also had chronic pain. The worst part of an invisible illness is not being understood. All you need is one person, whether that be a friend or family member or in my case a total stranger I met in the middle of Minnesota, to truly understand how you feel. I hope my writings and stories help drown out your own personal white noise. You are definitely not alone.

Jessica Martin

To the Teacher of a Student with Chronic Pain

Middle school is not easy for anyone, whether you are in the “popular group,” the “intellectual group,” the “athletic group,” “the party group,” and so on. I did not fit into any group when I first entered seventh grade. My bike accident happened right as summer began after my sixth grade at a private school. I was excited for the summer but very anxious to enter a public school where I knew no one and would be the new kid on the block. My anxieties about entering a brand-new school were only intensified after my bike accident when I then had half a shaved head, chronic pain, and a face that was still difficult to recognize even after recovering for three months. One would think that the students would be cruel to me, but it was not just the students that misunderstood me. There were some teachers who truly made that first year at a new school a bigger disaster than it already was. The funny part is that my scars still were evident: my hair had not grown back all the way, I still had bruises and as I stated before, my face was not yet healed by any means. I was in both physical and emotional pain and I feared going to school every day of the week. I had one teacher who taught history/geography in my first year of middle school. I had never been very interested in either history or geography, but this class was right before my lunch period where I ate lunch in the bathroom alone daily just so no one could see me and I would not be made fun of, or worse be the only kid among 100 students eating all alone. I spent the 50 minutes of the class I already did not like watching the clock tick by, dreading the sound of the bell for lunch time. There are certain moments we never forget, and one of those moments for me happened in this particular class. I was called to the front of the room to point out a certain state on the map the teacher had hung up on the chalkboard. I could hear the whispers behind me as I timidly walked up to the front of the room, facing 30 other kids. My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating and I had totally forgotten what the teacher had asked me to point out for the class. I may have been watching the clock while he was teaching the lesson and had no clue what he had even asked me to do. Either way, I could not find the state or city the teacher had asked me to find. He was not kind about my inability to follow his directions and kept pushing me to find what I knew deep down I could not find on this damn map.  After about five minutes, tears welled up in my eyes and I ran out of the classroom and into the nearest bathroom where I slammed the door and let my tears fall. No one came to see if I was OK. I stayed there until the bell rang for the dreaded lunch I would be eating in that same bathroom stall. To this day I have trouble with geography. Up until a couple of years ago, I thought Seattle was a state. There may be no correlation to my ignorance to geography at the age of 35 and my experiences in seventh grade, but I am sure there has to be some relation. Eighth grade was a tad easier for me in school. My visible scars had healed, my hair had grown back and I was able to hide chronic pain for a long time. I began to have friends and enjoy learning again. I did not eat lunch in the bathroom and made two friends who are still my closest friends 20 years later. Nothing was ever easy as I was fighting an invisible battle with pain, but at least I did not have the added stress of being put down by certain teachers and peers. I believe teachers need to have an extreme sense of empathy just as I had when I was a social worker. We all need to remember that people are fighting battles we know nothing about. There is a reason kids act out in school: No one is born “bad” and I truly do not believe there is such a thing as a bad kid. I could not count on my peers when I entered this new school because I was not only the new kid but I was the new kid who looked like a “freak.” I should have been able to rely on my teachers and there were many who were extremely helpful to me. Without their empathy and support, I am not sure I would have made it through that first year of middle school. Just because one is a doctor does not mean he or she is a good doctor, and just because someone is a parent does not mean he or she is a good parent: the same goes for teachers. You can have all the knowledge in the world of geometry and world history, but what students need to learn the most is how to treat other people. I will never understand how geography is more important that empathy. I thank this teacher for being so hard on me and teaching me what I know is not OK. No, I never found that damn state on the map during that geography class, but I did learn strength and I learned how important it is not to judge someone no matter what they look like, and I started to learn how important empathy is.