How my brain cured my pain
Pic credit: Jenny McCarthy .
Broadcaster Andrea Hayes suffered chronic pain for years before a diagnosis enabled her to tackle her daily struggle of living with an invisible illness. She explains what happened when she tapped into her subconscious mind.
I have experienced chronic pain since childhood, from earache to spine pain, carrying this heavy load for decades, a silent burden that no one can understand, quantify or explain. All through my 20’s I searched for the cause of my mysterious illusive affliction, moving through the health care system until eventually, after multiple procedures and endless medication, I found myself in St Vincent’s hospital on a 3-week multi-disciplinary pain-management course. It marked the beginning of a new phase in my relationship with pain. I needed to accept my prognosis, and my torture and torment wasn’t going away!
Chronic unexplained pain is a prevalent disorder and yet pain sufferers are under-serviced, despite all the cutting- edge research being done – for example, we now know that stress has a large effect on how intensely you feel pain. The subjective nature of pain is very frustrating, not only for the patients, but also the highly trained healthcare professionals who are trying to find a cure.
Step 1: Diagnosis
I wanted to become my own cure. My mindset changed after my diagnosis of ‘Chiari Malformation 1’ in December 2012. In simple terms, this is a neurological disorder where part of the brain, the cerebellum cerebellar tonsils, descends out of the skull into the spinal area. This causes compression of parts of the brain and spinal cord, and disrupts the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Could this rare malformation
be the underlying cause of my life long companion pain? Because Chiari involves the nervous system, symptoms can be numerous and varied. While it can be asymptomatic in some people, among a myriad of other symptoms, the hallmark for the condition is chronic head and neck pain.
The notion of having anything wrong with my brain seemed very scary, more serious than unexplained aches and persistent pains. I felt I needed to do something drastic, so what began as a three-month sabbatical from work to ‘heal’ turned into a voyage of wellness that led me to explore many alternative ways of managing my pain. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but I have been transformed into an empowered patient, and I am now living (in my mind) pain free.
You can read the full article, which appears in the print edition of Sláinte here: Andrea Hayes: How my brain cured my pain