My Journey with Chronic Pain

A NEW CHAPTER IN LIFE: GUEST CONTRIBUTOR JUSTINE SHARES HER JOURNEY


A year and a half ago, I started a big, new chapter in my life, and readily closed another. I had just graduated from university with a degree in Media, Information and Technoculture from Western University, started my own creative design business, and I had just left a three year emotionally abusive relationship. Like many other new grads, I was eager to find my footing in the world. However, unlike many of my peers, this journey for me was much more complicated. 

In the aftermath of my traumatic break up in March, I found myself not only dealing with the psychological symptoms of grief, but also living with the physical symptoms: daily pain, chronic migraines, and extreme fatigue. The physical pain almost mirrored the mental anguish I had experienced over the past three years. In the last few months of the relationship, I struggled to work and complete my degree, took a reduced course load and often called in sick to work with debilitating headaches and panic attacks. This mental and physical pain continued even after leaving the relationship, but I had found distraction in a passion project, which eventually turned into my own design business. I launched my website, and officially opened the books for Fourth Wave Media two days after leaving the relationship. It gave me something to focus on and get excited about. So right out of university I nurtured this dream successfully for about six months, but then I started to crash again. 

I SAID TO HER, “I THINK I’M SICK,” AND I WILL REMEMBER THAT MOMENT FOR A LONG TIME.

In November of that year, my current partner came home to find me crying and I finally admitted there was something seriously wrong. I said to her, “I think I’m sick,” and I will remember that moment for a long time. Later that month, sitting in a cold doctor’s office, we started discussing the diagnosing plan for fibromyalgia. This is a chronic illness that causes pain, fatigue, cognitive issues, anxiety, depression, and is linked to a host of other autoimmune disorders.

I also learned that there is a strong link between fibro and trauma. It was surreal hearing the doctors talk outside the room about my past relationship as trauma. This was a fact I had not yet fully accepted for myself, but I now had a debilitating daily reminder of that pain, something I couldn’t keep in the past and move on from, something I had to carry with me. I walked out of there with a script for blood work but no real answers. I had no idea where to start looking for relief. This was overwhelming, frustrating, and in that moment, devastating. 

Having my main business office in my bedroom was key to being able to keep working through this hard time. I was able to find clients and projects online, and work from my bed, surrounded by pillows and heating pads. Sitting at a desk was out of the question most days due to extreme shoulder and back pain that could develop into tension migraines. However, staying in bed all the time was taking a toll on my mental health, so I turned to something that had been helping distract me from my pain for a few years: smoking cannabis.

Getting high helped with the depression and anxiety I felt on a daily basis, gave me a bit of an appetite, and was able to distract me from my pain for a while. But being stoned all the time wasn’t a particularly productive strategy for me. If I wanted to keep up with my business ambitions, I needed to find other support to use as well. Being my own boss meant I could work as flexibly as I needed to while learning how to live and work with my illness. If I could only work a couple hours – that was okay, I could take a nap in the middle of my work day, or cancel everything if I woke up with a flare. It also helped that I love my work. 

My Journey with Chronic Pain by Justine L.

During my undergrad, I became deeply passionate about intersectional feminist activism, and worked with not-for-profits and advocacy groups in visual communications. My work focused on LGBTQ+, mental health, animal and environmental rights, and inclusive, intersectional feminist media. Being a highly visual person, I had always expressed myself through art, and was drawn to communicating emotion to others through visual design. Fourth Wave Media brought together my passion for advocacy and helping others with my love of emotional visual expression. Now I help others communicate through their visual content and create spaces for their voices to be heard. The inspiration from the incredible people I worked with continues to be the fire behind my work and helps me feel like I have something to contribute. 

My passion for this work is what helps me keep fighting to find better ways to balance my illness and my ambitions as a designer. The traditional designer life doesn’t fit me. I had tried to be like others in my industry but felt I couldn’t keep up while struggling to balance living with chronic illness and the financial difficulties being newly self employed. Eventually I had to reevaluate what I was really working towards, which was to make a difference through my work while finding a way to live a comfortable, happy life. 

SPOON THEORY IS OFTEN USED IN THE CHRONIC ILLNESS COMMUNITY TO HELP DESCRIBE THE ENERGY VALUE OF DAY-TO-DAY TASKS.

Frequently having to prioritize symptom management and working to make a living over socializing can often make chronic illness feel very isolating. Connecting with other spoonie business owners was the key to finding the path to my goals. Spoon theory is often used in the chronic illness community to help describe the energy value of day-to-day tasks. Everyone starts out with a set number of spoonfuls of energy at the start of the day, and each task uses a certain number of spoons. For people with chronic illness who identify as spoonies, we start with less spoons every day, and often each task requires the use of more spoons than your average person. The connections I found with these spoonies and small business owners gave me incredible support, inspiration, and motivation to improve my life the way I needed it. 

This new support system helped me find new pain management strategies and taught me how to talk more gently with myself. They provide me with suggestions for everything from medications to essential oils, figuring out strategies for pacing through my work, aiding me in creating a relieving bedtime routine, and suggesting I try CBD. Others had also found some relief in smoking cannabis but recommended adding CBD in a few aspects of my wellness routine.

My Journey with Chronic Pain by Justine L.

And that’s when I found feelcbd. I loved that they are a Canadian company, and I was very interested in their blends of essential oils. I now use the Relief Stick for sore muscles and joints, the Sleep Drops to add to my bedtime tea, and the Calm Vape Pen for quick pain and anxiety relief. With these new support blocks, I was able to begin building a strong wellness plan to manage my illness and help me continue working towards my business ambitions. I found a balance between caring for myself and my career aspirations.

I am using the Fourth Wave Media platform to not only support the advocacy efforts of others, but also to raise awareness of invisible disabilities and spoonie life. I have teamed up with other chronic illness warriors to launch a clothing line called spoonie apparel to continue to start these conversations. By using part of the proceeds to invest in support resources for those with chronic illness, invisible disability, and mental illness, we hope this apparel line will help break the stigma of talking about invisible disability and reassure others that they are not alone in their fight. We are working to create an accessible community for others to help them find their next steps, and providing support as individuals who understand their struggle. 

I am so proud of how Fourth Wave Media has helped empower my life through the work that I love. While it is still a struggle for me most days, I am starting to find relief from my pain. And even though the cause of my illness will haunt the back of my mind, I can help make the world a better place. Despite my pain, I can find happiness again.


This blog post was created by Justine L. To see more of her work, check out the link in her author’s bio below:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JUSTINE L.
Justine is the owner of Empowered by Fourth Wave and a wellness advocate. Fourth Wave is a growing support platform and community resource for individuals with auto-immune or mental health conditions that have experienced trauma.
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