Posted on November 22 2018
I’ve had chronic pain since my early 20s.
University was super difficult; the insomnia, depression, anxiety, brain fog and pain made it so much more difficult than it would be for a healthy student.
The hardest part is, many people just don’t get it; you look well so they don’t think you’re suffering, or they simply don’t know about chronic pain.
Most of my friends were able to take full time classes and hold down a job (and a social life!)
As for me, I could only take 4 classes, and I wasn’t able to work at all during my first degree.
At one point my pain was so bad I took a whole summer off just so I could rest and try to heal...unfortunately that didn’t help either.
I’ve tried medications; both over the counter and prescription, with only mild relief.
I tried every supplement you can think of, again, only mild relief.
It took me many years to find a lifestyle that helped me feel my best.
I don’t want anyone else to have to go through a decade (or more) long journey to finally be able to function; so here I am sharing my story in the hopes that it will inspire you to start your healing journey.
What is chronic pain and how does it affect your life?
There are many different types of chronic pain, but I have fibromyalgia. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a chronic muscle pain disorder, but it’s much more than that. It comes as a package deal with chronic fatigue, insomnia, IBS and chronic migraines, oh yah and crazy brain fog.
I can honestly say medications have, and do help me, as do supplements, but nutrition and physical therapies have made a huge impact as well. It’s only once I put them all together that I really started seeing a difference in my health.
They have been lifesavers.
(that reminds me, I have to make a chiropractic appointment!)
Most of the time, I didn’t have any coverage for these services, and I wasn’t working the greatest job. But I saved up and paid for it, because i knew it was an investment in my health, and it would be worth it when I got my pain under control.
The Root Causes: Gut Health and Trauma
I’ve had gut issues since I was a young child, and no one seemed to be able to tell me why. I was told I had IBS and to avoid trigger foods. Super helpful, thanks!
Only once I started seeing a naturopath did we really get to the bottom of my gut issues; dysbiosis (a fancy word for bacterial imbalance), as well as food allergies. She created a custom diet and supplement protocol for me which made a HUGE difference.
I am now a firm believer that there is an underlying cause of all gut issues and also a huge connection to mental health! (seriously, Google it, there’s a TON of research in this growing field)
This evidence, combined with evidence for chronic pain, and the relief I experienced is why, as a nutritionist I focus mostly on gut health as the main root cause of most health issues, including chronic pain.
How exactly does the gut affect pain?
Bacterial overgrowth in the gut causes inflammation (the bad bacteria produce endotoxins) which travel throughout the body causing systemic inflammation which can cause pain and many other symptoms.
Healthy gut bacteria are responsible for producing brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, and then transporting them to the brain. When you have a bacterial imbalance (too much bad bacteria and not enough good) your levels of various brain chemicals are out of whack. This not only affects your mental health, but your pain perception as well.
Effect of Emotional and Physical Trauma on the Brain
Physical and emotional trauma, over time, affects certain parts of the brain which affects memories, mood, and pain perception; all part of chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia.
To further understand this connection, check out this quote from Psychology Today:
“ During a traumatic event, the nervous system goes into survival mode (the sympathetic nervous system) and sometimes has difficulty reverting back into its normal, relaxed mode again (the parasympathetic nervous system).
If the nervous system stays in survival mode, stress hormones such as cortisol are constantly released, causing an increase in blood pressure and blood sugar, which can in turn reduce the immune system's ability to heal. Physical symptoms start to manifest when the body is in constant distress.” - Susanne Babbel Ph.D., M.F.T.
Basically, in order to truly heal from chronic pain you have to heal the emotional wounds that helped to create it.
This is why I’m all about the mind-body connection; when you start your healing journey be prepared to heal on all levels - physical and emotional.
If I have a patient that is struggling with chronic pain, I often encourage them to seek counselling or some other form of emotional healing. Energy work such as Reiki and Craniosacral therapy are also very helpful for emotional healing.
I've been there, I get it; it's hard! A lot of people don't understand what it's like to live with chronic pain, and many doctors just think you're nuts.
My advice to you:
- do your research and seek out practitioners who will actually listen and help
- don't try to heal yourself: it's a lot of trial and error and wasted money on products that may or may not help. Let a practitioner design a science-based protocol for you and you'll get the results you want - much faster too
Stay tuned for Part II of Living My Best Life with Chronic Pain - I’ll cover the lifestyle changes I made that allowed me to get my life back!