By: Ellen Lenox Smith

We are all coping with different issues as a result of the pandemic. These issues range from housing and living situations, reduction or loss of employment, child care, education with some experiencing virtual learning, financial issues, and isolation from family and friends while attempting to remain safe. However, those of us also living with chronic pain have to add this coping to our list.

One advantage of having no choice but to learn to live with chronic pain is the fact that we have begun finding our niche with ways to take this on. So many are presently experiencing something similar due to the pandemic-life altering changes and having to live a new normal. But despite already learning to cope with our conditions, the pandemic has added even more challenges for chronic pain patients to adjust to. We try to be resilient, but there are times we feel too many buttons being pushed.

We all have to find ways to feel that life, despite pain and medical hardship, has purpose and hope. I will share things that have been working for me and I hope after you read this, that you will consider adding other suggestions that have been helping you.

Things that help me feel human and alive, by addressing the body, mind, and spirit are:

  • I begin each morning by standing at the window, closing my eyes, and thinking about all that I am grateful for. I find focusing on the positive is better for me than dwelling on the negative.
  • I find exercising makes a huge difference. Many of us have limitations, but we need to work with them. For instance, I was once a master swimmer and high school swim coach. Today, I can no longer use my arms or rotate my breathing when swimming, due to two neck fusions, so I kick on my back instead. It isn’t as exciting as what I used to be able to do, but I get my heart rate up and feel wonderful when I am done. And on opposite days, I use a stationary bike in the house.
  • I try to feed the mind to feel happy and more alert. For me, I start the day with the newspaper and end the day with the sudoku, puzzles, or word scrambles. I am not able to read books for a long period without neck and arm pain, so I have to shorten what would have been my normal reading periods.
  • I find that if I am careful to only feed this body with compatible food helps me to feel more positive. With my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I experience many food and drug sensitivities. After I got both a food sensitivity test and a DNA drug sensitivity test done, I have avoided items my body reacts to reduce inflammation and help me to have a clearer head.
  • I get as involved as I am able to with things that are important to me – such as caring and reaching out to help others and advocating for issues that mean a lot to me. There are many times that my advocating is right here in the home, with calls, letters, emails, postings, letters to the editor, and op-eds. We don’t have to be mobile to get expression and support out to others.

I find that if I don’t include purpose and meaning in life my fight gets stagnant. Life, especially combining the pandemic and chronic pain, is creating so much extra anxiety and stress. If we aren’t careful, we can drown in all the chaos going on around us and not take care of ourselves. It’s not selfish to take time to heal and feed yourself with happiness and purpose. We all matter and need to use the good we have been given and share it with others.

This quote showed up on Facebook and I love it.

“I’ve seen better days, but I’ve also seen worse. I don’t have everything that I want, but I do have all I need. I woke up with some aches and pains, but I woke up. My life may not be perfect, but I am blessed.”

I will always try to keep focused that I am grateful to be alive and work towards a better quality of life.

May life be kind to you.

Ellen Lenox Smith has emerged as a leading voice for patients living with pain. Featured in local and national press accounts, Ellen brings a reasoned and compassionate perspective to the need for safe patient access to effective therapies, especially medical cannabis. Currently, Ellen serves as Co-Director of Medical Cannabis Advocacy for U.S. Pain Foundation and is a member of its Board of Directors. She also serves on the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition as secretary, was appointed by the governor to the Adaptive Telephone Equipment Loan Program, and is part of the Oversight Committee for the Compassion Centers in RI. She is also active with the EDS RI support group. Prior to patient advocacy, Ellen was a longtime middle school social studies teacher. She has been married for 46 years and is the proud mother of four adult children and grandmother to five grandchildren. She also is the author of two books, an organic gardener, and was previously a master swimmer and high school swim teacher.