Hi! My name is Marisa and I am 24 years old. When I was 16 years old, I started having a really bad pain in my back and hip. I was initially diagnosed with CRPS, and most recently lumbosacral plexopathy, but after 8 years, my diagnosis is still up in the air. Having no diagnosis can be even more frustrating for those with chronic pain, especially because we as human beings like concrete answers. We like definite answers that guide us toward a path of healing, but that was not the case for me. Over the 8 years, my treatment has been a lot of trial and error with meds, injections, alternative healing methods, etc, and it is something I still struggle with now. Some days I feel helpless. Somedays I feel helpless because those around me feel helpless. But one thing chronic pain has taught me is that one can still feel love, see beauty and be a compassionate being in addition to having pain. Chronic pain has taught me about equanimity and resilience. Amidst the struggle of chronic pain, I have become grateful for my pain…and here is why.
My pain has brought me to some of the most incredible people and places in my life. I was introduced to Iyengar yoga through the UCLA Pediatric Pain team, which was essential for me after recovering from the first few years of pain flares. I met incredible teachers and experts in Iyengar yoga, which also led me to the practice of meditation. I started practicing meditation more seriously in the past few years, and it has helped me hold space for a feeling of peace and pain together. I am even in a chronic pain meditation class, where we all share that experience of chronic pain, and no one has to explain themselves. Having that community, and sharing that common humanity has been one of the most incredible elements of being in this class. We always hear about others who struggle with chronic pain, but putting a face to a name is very powerful for me.
Another place my chronic pain has led me to getting my bachelors in Psychology and masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. I always knew I wanted to help people, especially other children and adolescents struggling with chronic pain, but I did not know how. I realized through my own pain journey that mental health and physical health are deeply intertwined, so I thought that working on the mental health side can help improve the physical health as well, especially for those with chronic pain. In Spring 2017, I received my Bachelors in Psychology, and in Spring 2019, I graduated from USC with my MFT. I am currently finishing an internship working in community mental health, and I plan to work with children and adolescents with chronic pain. With that said, I worked very hard, and worked alongside my pain. In my experience through college and grad school, I learned that speaking up is an important part of having chronic pain. Speaking up and recognizing my own limits is how I got through school. That is why I am so thankful for CHYP because it will give people a chance to learn how to speak up for themselves in their environments.
My pain has also guided me to learning about different alternative healing methods that I use all the time such as meditation, baking, drawing/coloring, taking a nap, working out, sleep, getting outside, snuggling with my dog.
As far as advice for others with chronic pain, be compassionate and kind to yourself. It is so easy to judge ourselves for having a bad pain day, for having to take extra meds, for missing out on events etc., especially as a teenager with chronic pain. With that said, my biggest piece of advice would be to cultivate compassion and kindness for yourself. Having that compassion and kindness practice has completely changed how I approach myself in pain, and I know it has done the same for others.
There is a lot I would want others to know…1. If I don’t say ‘yes’ to doing something, or if I have to leave an event early, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to be there, I just have to take care of myself. 2. My pain, (and other people’s pain) is triggered by stress. It’s not our fault, it’s just biology. 3.I have good and bad days. Just because I am smiling, doesn’t mean I am “cured.”