I had an absolutely incredible experience last week, and wanted to share it with you.
Several weeks ago, a good friend of mine (a registered nurse who specializes in chronic pain and is now a nursing instructor) invited me to speak to her 2nd year nursing students on the impacts of chronic pain. I was flattered, to say the least, and was really excited at the opportunity.
I didn't quite know how to approach the topic, so I talked a bit about myself, my active childhood, my active years of raising kids, my "Super Mom", "Super Friend" and "Super Wife" attitude and how things have changed since then. To keep their mind on the chronic pain issue itself, I had each of them clip a clothespin to a part of their body where it felt somewhat uncomfortable, and asked them to leave it there until the end of the presentation. I threw in as much humour as possible, showed a poster with photos of friends I've met through various pain clinics, etc. who all look "soooooo good" as a reminder that you "can't judge a chronic pain patient by their cover" and then showed them the meds I use daily, my breakthrough meds and my "extras" for diarrhea, nausea, constipation.....you know the drill! :< I think that is where they had their eyes opened, especially because I looked exceptionally good the day of my presentation. Previous to that, I had spent four or five days with diarrhea, vomiting and nausea; all side effects of one of my new trial drugs, so I was sure to throw that in as well.
The outcome was incredible. I had a good friend go with me, as she has been an amazing caregiver when my hubby is away or at work and has had to help me make medical decisions when my emotions have run away on me. When the instructor called us later with feedback from the students, the words used were "extremely powerful presentation" - I was walking on air for at least two days!! They commented that they will NEVER think of a chronic pain patient quite the same now, and several said they will think of me each time they treat someone with chronic pain. I couldn't ask for more, and can't tell you how satisfying that felt; I'd forgotten what empowerment and self-satisfaction felt like, so it was a HUGE boost.
Several of the students approached us afterwards and we spoke with them; two of them were in tears, and we ended up comforting them. It broke my heart, as one is only 25 and struggling with neck and back problems (I started with neck and back issues at age 22, so I know the frustrations that lay ahead for her), and the other has a young fiance who is very angry after a failed back surgery and is basically setting himself up for self-destruction.
In some small way, I made a difference and reached my goal. As I have now been approved for two levels of disability and no longer have the job I loved, my job NOW is to help educate others with what I have learned over the past 20+ years.
As I was finishing my lecture the other day, I came to the realization that when my pain got out of control, I gave up everything I loved (i.e. sports, crafting, etc.) before I finally had the strength to give up my job.....I've learned something about prioritizing!