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Healing Through Chronic Pain

In the summer of 2007, I was working as a physical therapist/university instructor when IC/PBS reared up and pulled me out of my life. My main symptoms were bladder pain/inflammation, pelvic floor dysfunction, and a nervous system that seemed to be set in overdrive. In the beginning, the pain was intense and debilitating. Here is an excerpt from my journal at that time:

“If this is my life, how can I possibly get through it? How many more years until the kids are raised, and how can I make it? If no one loved me, I could check out, but people are counting on me. I’m trying to be positive, trying to find meaning, trying to be grateful. I’m tired. In the mirror, my face looks exhausted, lined, tear-stained, and pained. I feel like I’m trapped in my own personal hell.”

At first I was passive and scared, but over the first six months I gradually started to take control of my healing. For over five years, I worked diligently to get better, and my list of treatments fills one-and-a-half pages of single-spaced text! Finding the right combination of treatments was often discouraging and frustrating, but with persistence, I found a multi-treatment approach that worked for me.

Almost everyone asks me what one thing “cured” my condition. Sometimes, they look disappointed when I tell them that, in my case, getting better required a combination of methods from Western medicine, Eastern medicine, and alternative treatments that addressed the bladder pain, the pelvic floor muscle spasms and the neurological ramp-up. For me, there was no quick fix, and the healing happened gradually over time at all levels of my being.

It took me years to accept that there may be an emotional component to my illness. Finally, about two years into my illness, I decided to look within, and over the years I uncovered emotions, beliefs and suppressed trauma that were contributing to the ramp up of my nervous system and my pain. When this information came into my conscious awareness, I could choose to work through things and change. Through this process, my mind and body calmed down, and both my internal and external life began to change for the better.

The first book I read when the pain began was Love and Survival, by the cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish. One passage jumped out at me then and seems to summarize my experience even today:

“Curing is when the physical disease gets measurably better. Healing is a process of becoming whole. Even the words heal, whole, and holy come from the same root. . . . In the process of healing, you reach a place of wholeness and deep inner peace from which you can deal with illness with much less fear and suffering and much greater clarity and compassion. While curing is wonderful when it occurs, healing is often more meaningful because it takes you to a place of greater freedom from suffering.”

During my journey with pain, I experienced both curing and healing. The physical disease got better, and I am currently pain-free on most days without medications. But more important, this rough road healed me. Now, I am often joyful—for no real reason and for every real reason.

Don’t get me wrong—this was the most difficult challenge of my life so far—and I needed help in that healing process. But comparing my life and the state of my body, mind, and spirit before my illness to now, I would never want to go back. The journey was rocky, but the rewards were unexpected and amazing.

Mary Ruth Velicki’s full story can be found in the memoir: Healing Through Chronic Pain, A Physical Therapist’s Personal Journey of Body, Mind, Spirit Transformation. (A portion of the Amazon sales made through ICA’s Reading List support ICA’s work in research, education, and patient advocacy.)

Mary Ruth Velicki