Stevie Turner, Author
Understanding Chronic Pain
This interview features Pamela Jessen, who amongst other complaints suffers with chronic pain and chronic fatigue syndrome. I wanted to add Pamela's answers to my 20 questions as I am impressed with her positive attitude to life, despite living daily with these and other debilitating conditions.
1. Were you healthy as a child?
I had all the typical kids' illnesses - chicken pox, colds, 'flu, etc, but wasn’t a “sickly” child. What I did notice is that it took me a longer time to recover after sports than other kids - I wasn’t especially athletic. I played field hockey, but tired out after running any great length, and was better at indoor floor hockey and volleyball, if I had to play something. I never enjoyed sports though - they always exhausted me. I preferred reading and doing arts and crafts.
2. Did chronic pain or chronic fatigue run in your family?
My half sister and a cousin on my birth mother’s side both have fibromyalgia.
3. Did anything in particular cause you to develop chronic fatigue syndrome?
I was in a car accident in 1991 that was quite traumatic on my body. Also in 2004 I had a major surgery for GERD that resulted in nerve damage in the sternum area that lasted for almost a year before the feeling in the nerve came back. I think those two events caused my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue to really flare up and cause major problems in my life.
4. You have 'There is always hope' tattooed on your left arm. Is your cup half full or half empty?
My cup is overflowing!!! I’ve been blessed with an extremely positive outlook on life. I am a Christ Follower (not a Christian) and my faith in God is extremely important to surviving living with Chronic pain and fatigue. I try to impart my positive attitude to everyone around me - you don’t have to be miserable because you’re in pain…I believe it’s a choice. I choose happiness.
5. Are you of the mind-set that we must make our own happiness in life? Do you think that happiness comes to those who wait, or to those who are proactive?
I believe we make our own happiness - you can choose your attitude and you can choose how you want to feel on a daily basis. That’s not to say I’m all roses and sunshine…I have my sad days and dark days…I just don’t stay there and dwell there. I allow myself to feel those emotions and then I pick myself back up again and get back to being my positive self. For me, it’s no different than when I have low pain days and high pain days…I know things can change, and they will.
6. What can a person suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome do to help themselves?
As much as people hate it when I say this, stay active as best you can. The worst thing you can do when you have Chronic Fatigue is to lay around the house all day doing nothing. Your muscles atrophy and tighten up and you end up having to loosen them up again, over and over and over. If you do some form of exercise every day, whether it’s walking or biking or swimming, you’re keeping your muscles supple and conditioned and they won’t get stiff on you the way they do just sitting around doing nothing. That’s not to say that some days you may not be able to do anything because your fatigue is so great, but you must push through on the other days.
7. Do you find people are sympathetic to your problems of chronic pain and chronic fatigue?
Yes, because they see me trying to overcome my circumstances. If I was just sitting around at home eating chocolates, I think it would be different, but I don’t do that. I volunteer and am currently sitting on 4 different committees and am very actively involved in each. One committee is based in the Victoria area so I attend their meetings in person. Two of the committees I attend via online WebEx conferences and one meeting is held in person in Vancouver which I fly in for the day.
8. Would you advise a new chronic pain patient to practise mindfulness techniques such as pacing and distraction at first, rather than begin taking painkillers?
I think there is a place for both in the medicine chest of a chronic pain patient. I always prefer to see non-medicinal results tried first, and especially prefer to see opioids held off for as long as possible, but doctors prescribing opioids to patients is a very touchy subject right now.
9. Would losing weight, gentle exercise and eating healthily help a sufferer of chronic knee/hip arthritis rather than a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy food?
Of course doing all those things can only benefit a person but there’s no guarantee it’s going to make a difference for a person’s hip/knee arthritis. That’s a degenerate condition and no matter how well you eat, degenerative is degenerative.
10. You advise on many healthcare panels, and were on the Advisory Committee for Opioid Guidelines in Canada. Do you think opioids are an effective long-term option to treat chronic pain?
I think opioids have their place long term for some patients but not for all. Some patients do better on medicinal marijuana, some on other medications. It’s a highly personalized decision. What I do know is that the decision shouldn’t be made for a patient in some corporate boardroom. It should be made between a doctor and patient and that’s it.
11. Long term taking of opioids have been known to cause hot flushes/loss of libido in men due to a reduction in testosterone levels, and a similar effect in women due to a reduction in oestrogen. Do you think opioids should only be prescribed for short-term pain control?
I think short term is best, but unfortunately, there are not a lot of long term solutions for chronic pain right now. Opioid medications are often the only choice for long term pain and when that’s the case, I don’t think they should be withheld from patients who can actually benefit from them. Again, that should be a decision between the doctor and patient and no one else.
12. Have you ever experienced opioid withdrawal symptoms?
Yes. I had to undergo a medical test, a Gastric Emptying test and I wasn’t allowed to be on ANY of my medications as we had to ensure none of them was causing the problems. I had to stop all medications 2 days before the procedure which involved having x-rays done after eating an egg sandwich with a nuclear tracer in it. I was soooo sick from withdrawing that food was going right through me and when it came time to eating the sandwich, I had to sit on the toilet to do so. I was also so nauseated that even water disgusted me. I had chills and hot flashes, the shakes….you name it. It was hideous. I was so glad to gulp my pills as soon as the test was over!!!!!
13. Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
Hopefully still volunteering, hopefully still riding the motorcycle with my husband. My biggest hopefully will be having a new left hip to match my right one, and to have my ankle re-built and my brain surgery done for my Trigeminal Neuralgia. I’d like to say I’ll be as healthy then as I am now, but I know there’s no guarantees.
14. Do you think there will ever be a cure for chronic pain?
I think that as science advances and discovers what causes chronic pain like Fibromyalgia they will be able to come up with cures. Hard work, patience and dedication are the keys along with patient oriented research.
15. You write short stories and poetry. Have you published any? If so, please leave a purchase link to where readers can find your work.
I’ve been published on The Mighty - my profile can be found here:
16. Where do you find the inspiration for your short stories?
I write mostly poetry and have written one short story. To be honest, when I wrote the short story, the idea for it literally came out of nowhere - it just fell onto the pages. That’s how most of my writing happens. I have no formal writing experience, I find that words suddenly just fall out of sky and land on the paper and say what I want them to say.
17. Are you writing a story at the moment?
I have been trying to write my life story from when I left home at 15 as the wild child and hitchhiked around the United States to present, but I keep getting side tracked.
18. You are a moderator at the Facebook group 'Sharing, Inspiring, Promoting Bloggers'. Can you give a few examples of how an author might benefit from joining this group?
If you have a blog, it’s a wonderful group to join for getting your blog promoted in various formats and for forming friendships. The founder is Esme Slabs and she puts together a weekly list of how your blog can be promoted: Monday is Member of the Week, Tuesday might be Twitter, Thursday is Open Blog posting, Saturday could be any Social Media, etc. There are lots of opportunities to have your blog promoted and there are two other moderators I work with to keep the forum in good shape, answering questions, etc. It’s a fun and friendly group and almost 200 people strong.
19. You like to read biographies. Which biography have you read recently?
I just finished ready Amanda Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking” and I’m a huge fan of Jenny Lawson and her books “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” and “Furiously Happy”.
20. What is the one thing you cannot do without?
I can’t live without God or my husband. God is the centre of my life and my husband is the most important person He put in it. Ray is everything to me…my husband, my friend, my caregiver, my life partner. We’ve been together for 24 years and counting and he’s been with me through the highest highs and lowest lows, never wavering. He is quite simply my rock to which I cling.
Thanks very much to Pamela Jessen for agreeing to be interviewed. You can find Pamela at the following social media sites:
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pamelajessen