Jonie Moffitt-Falbo is a graphic designer, personal wellness coach and personal training specialist who is on a mission to help not only herself manage chronic pain, but to also help others who are in pain to enjoy a good quality of life. Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than six months, can be mild to debilitating, and that has typically been known to be resistant to most medical treatments. As Jonie explains below, managing chronic pain is a complex process that requires dedication and a commitment to learning more about what works for you, including food and nutrition, exercise, weight management, natural therapies, and the art of mindfulness and meditation to relieve stress.
Here, in her own words, is Jonie’s personal experience with chronic pain.
Q: Tell us about yourself, your family, what you do for work, and what makes you happy.
Well, I am a wife and mom of two little girls who keep me on my toes. I am fortunate to be able to work from home as a graphic designer, personal wellness coach and a personal training specialist. The things that make me happy include a hug from my children. They always seem to know just when I need it. I also love to read about any type of personal development. Drawing brings me a great deal of relaxation and calmness.
Q: Let’s talk a bit about your pain. Tell us about a typical day for you and the kind of pain you experience. Where is the pain? What are its causes? How long have you been in pain?
Pain has been a part of my life for 20 years, but I didn’t start seeing a doctor until 15 years ago. I have been trying to figure out exact causes and ‘cures’ ever since. I experience the majority of the pain along my hips and lower back, as well as between the shoulder blades in the mid-part of my back, and in the lower abdomen. These areas cause the pain to radiate out and cause severe migraines and leg pain with numbness.
Potential causes of the pain are still not fully understood or confirmed. I may have injuries to tendons and ligaments as well as old muscle strains that haven’t healed. Some doctors think it may be fibromyalgia and an overactive central nervous system, but I’m still on the search because my type of pain isn’t typical of a fibromyalgia patient. I have come to learn that I may never know the exact cause of my pain. It’s been going on so long that it could be anything, or many things grouped together.
A typical day has me living at a level five and six on a pain scale, where 10 is most extreme. For most average people, pain at that level will cause them to call in sick at work. When someone has been dealing with pain as long as I have, it eventually becomes tolerable.
One begins to learn what their limits are and to stay within them. I have learned to manage the pain and still have an accomplished day. I rely heavily on the spoon theory. Depending on how much I push myself or what I do in the day, that level can rise quickly and suddenly by evening time. Numerous times a week I hit level eight and a few times a month I hit nine and 10. Those days or nights are crippling.
Q: What is your strategy for battling your pain?
Three years ago, I realized I had to make some changes. I found a great doctor who not only listens to me, but is proactive in helping me improve my quality of life, as long as I was willing to do my part. She put in place a number of things I had to do. Pain can come from a variety of places and causes. Because of that, finding an exact cause and cure is not always possible. But finding a way to have a good quality of life and live with the pain without it overtaking my life is what had to be done.
First, I needed to lose excess weight. By doing so, I was able to eliminate added pain to my body by not having weight pressing down on my muscles and joints that were already causing me distress. Less body weight meant less amplified pain and better ability to move about my day.
Next was looking into my nutrition. I found out that there are foods that are known to cause inflammation. So, once I learned to limit certain foods in my diet, I was able to lesson the effects of amplified pain from digestion issues and inflammation and fatigue.
I also was able to start providing my body with the minerals and vitamins it was lacking to help my body fight back.
Then there was exercise. This was a very difficult one for me. Exercise hurts. Even after two years of doing it regularly, it still causes pain today. But I learned that by keeping my muscles strong, I was able to keep my pain from amplifying from normal daily tasks such as picking up my children or carrying a load of laundry, or even pushing a heavy grocery cart through a store. I started off with only 10 minutes a day. It took a long time, but now I can do 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Q: What relief have you sought in the past for your pain? Did it work? Did it include natural remedies? What methods of pain relief have you tried? What works for you?
I have tried many things. Medications were some of the first, and I still take medications. There is a time and place for it. It may not be for everyone but, for me, it helps with those bad days. But medications don’t improve quality of life. I learned that there was so much more I had to do in order to gain some control over this.
Over the years I tried juices, cleanses, all sorts of detoxing, supplements, essential oils, and more. What I found that worked for me was to go back to the basics. Keep it simple. It wasn’t any one item, but rather a combination of things.
Exercise and nutrition were first. Psychology is important because it helps with the mind/body connection. What affects the mind, affects the body and vise versa. Being in pain for many years can cause depression. Depression, in turn, causes more pain. So treating the mind is important.
Chiropractor, acupuncture, massage and physiotherapy are also important. Manual therapy helps to release tight muscles and joints and help with range of motion. I learn exercises and stretching to help improve flexibility, which aides in lessoning any pain that becomes amplified again from daily activities. For example, I have low range of motion in my hips. This will cause pain from something as simple as walking. By helping to restore that, it creates an easier time walking without increased pain.
As mentioned, nutrition is vital. I do my best in my diet, but where I am lacking and still learning to improve my diet I do a supplement shake to help fill in the gaps. I also have learned the art of mindfulness and meditation to help lower stress and manage the pain. If you notice here, pain management is about your entire well-being. It’s not just physical, but all aspects of wellness that play a role.
Q: If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for you, what is it that you achieved?
Well, one thing would be that I achieved continued improvement in my pain management and continued understanding on what amplifies my pain and knowing what works to keep it under control. The next thing would be that I have reached others who are struggling, to help them see they are not alone in this and that management is possible.
That’s the entire reason I become a wellness coach and personal trainer. I want to help others see that no matter what the cause of their pain is, quality of life is possible. It isn’t easy and there may not be a cure, but we can still have a life despite the pain. I want to celebrate others for their own success in managing their pain.