Debbie's Story - A Back Pain Journey
Debbie’s story, like so many of our stories, is complex. Her problems seamlessly intertwine the biomechanical, neurophysiological, nutritional, psychological, and social. Her story is one of the hardest to solve without help. Honestly, I wouldn’t be stretching it to say it’s almost impossible. When you are living inside of the complex web of interacting variables, it’s almost impossible to see the forest through the trees. Debbie’s story is one of my favorites in all of Aligns stories. It is this type of tough, complex health challenge that I am most proud we can help with. I’m sure as you read Debbie’s Story there will be many points that you can relate to. Her honesty and bravery make her story compelling and moving. This is Debbie’s Story.
“My back pain started when I was in my early 20’s. I went to a chiropractor who took x-rays and explained that I had an extra vertebra in my lower lumbar and that I should NEVER go to a chiropractor for help. So, I lived with horrible back pain for over 15 years. And for 11 of those years I was in an abusive relationship. My ex-husband was an alcoholic and drug abuser. He abused me physically and psychologically. He would leave for days at a time. At one point, he abandoned me in Sacramento without my purse. This laid the groundwork for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. This not only worsened my already bad back pain, but I began to hurt all over. In 2011 I went to the doctor with severe pain in almost every joint. After several tests and physical therapy, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I went to 3 more doctors trying to prove that doctor wrong. After the last doctor at UCSF told me I had Fibromyalgia, I decided to accept it. I personally believe my Fibromyalgia comes from the years of Fight or Flight and stress that came from my abusive first marriage.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Fibromyalgia is a medical condition characterized by chronic widespread pain and a heightened pain response to pressure. Other symptoms include extreme fatigue, trouble sleeping, trouble with memory, sensitivity to noise, light, and temperature. It’s very frequently associated with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The cause of Fibromyalgia is unknown and to say that the medical world suspects it’s an incredibly complex disorder is an understatement. The treatments for Fibromyalgia vary widely from getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, healthy nutritional lifestyle, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as more traditional pharmaceutical treatments. An estimated 10 million people in America have similar pain stories as Debbie.
“I have terrible back pain that feels separate from the Fibromyalgia pain. The Fibromyalgia pain is very different. It feels like my nerves are on the outside of my body and when anything touches me, even my clothes, it hurts really bad. It often feels like an elephant is sitting on me. It feels like I’m dragging around 100’s of pounds and that makes everything hurt. Before Align my pain averaged a 7-8 every day and I had been sedentary for over 10 years. I always said I had to mourn the life I used to have because I’d never be able to do the things I used to.”
I have lived with pain levels that high for years on end. It destroys the person you were. It is not an overstatement to say that you are never the same after living with pain that high for that long. I mourned the loss of many aspects of my life. And the fear the pain will never go away, it fills you will hopelessness. It’s easy to get lost in it.
WITHDRAWING FROM LIFE
“Like I said, I was mourning my old life and just stopped doing things. I wouldn’t make plans with anyone because I didn’t want to let people down. I wasn’t in control of my body. I was a prisoner. If it decided to put me in the dirt, it did without my consent. I withdrew from my life. I have kids who are 29 and 27 and grandkids who are 4 & 2. I tried to hide my pain from my family, so they didn’t think I couldn’t take care of them. I couldn’t work. I was put on disability in 2013. I couldn’t get up in the morning or have enough “pain free” days that I could hold down a job. My depression was worse than ever. My husband and I are youth camp directors for our church. Determined to contribute, one year I was on a scooter and another year I was on a cane. I missed a lot during those years.”
Debbie’s situation hit a critical downward spiral. In response to her pain, she was inactive and ate poorly. This made her depression and anxiety worse, so she withdrew from other activitiesand relationships. This creates a feedback loop making her pain worse, which makes her more inactive, choose poor nutritional choices, and withdraw from her passions and relationships. This is the death spiral.
“I’m 48 but felt like I was 80. I had no purpose in my life. I had no hope.”
ONE LAST TRY
“When I came to Align, my expectations were not very high. I had tried everything. Personal training made me worse. Yoga made me worse. All the shakes and pills did nothing. I was expecting much of the same with this, but I didn’t want to give up. Really, I just wanted them to give me something to do at home. That’s not exactly what happened. The guys at Align wanted to dive in. They talked about all of the things that contributed to my situation and that we had to work on all of them one by one. We had to take baby steps.”
In Align parlance we say, we don’t know with 100% certainty what will fix it, but we need to optimize everything we can that will influence it. Sleep. Food. Hydration. Sunlight. Biomechanical stresses. Neurophysiological dysfunction. Hormones. Stress. Relationships. Having a purpose. All of these are factors that were worsening the situation. A holistic perspective needs to be taken. Any of these things alone won’t be enough, everything interconnected with everything else. That’s what the Align Method is all about.
THE FIRST DAY
“I was definitely skeptical… especially after I walked in you called me BUD.” She laughed remembering the first few times she walked into Align and experienced the team’s idiosyncratic behavior. We are a little bit of a nerdy bunch and we like it that way.
“The first ‘workout’ I pretty much just did static back. I was thinking ‘what am I doing?’ I can lay on the ground on my back with my feet on my couch for free. I had no clue what was happening. I didn’t realize it at the time, but you were taking me through the baby steps to fixing me. In hindsight, that’s one of the things I appreciate the most. I also really liked the education that came with the exercise. At Align, you don’t just have people do things without explaining them. That really helps to understand why we do the things we are doing. We took baby steps. I kept learning. I started feeling HOPE.”
THE FISH BOWL
“I LOVE coming to Align because it feels like a family. My workout partner Cassie is the best. I love our fishbowl (that’s what we call our little group). I love being able to jump over to the other fish bowl with Sam and get just as much attention to what I need. You guys know what is wrong with me and know how to help. You don’t push me when I’m hurting. You help me. You know when I need to stretch, when I need to push, and when I need to take a day off. You guys have challenged me to change but are also compassionate and understanding to the challenge. That really makes the difference. It hasn’t been easy, but I always felt I was doing something good for my body. I never had any doubt in that.”
“I was in bed or on the couch almost every day. I was in pain constantly. My flares would last for weeks or months. Three months into coming to Align I’m up almost EVERY DAY. I’ve only had a few flare ups and they only last a day or two. My back pain is essentially gone. My pain went from averaging a 7-8 to averaging a 3. And 2 months into coming to Align I hiked 3 miles to Whiskeytown Falls! The biggest change is that now I have hope.
I’m living again. I’m doing so many things I haven’t done in years. I am in church service every Sunday. I’m helping around the house. I’m doing things with my husband. I’m making plans and keeping them! I don’t feel like a disappointment to everyone around me anymore.”
Debbie is now experiencing the upward spiral. Her back pain is gone. She is doing aerobic activity and eating healthy. This is energizing her. That means she’s more likely to attend social gatherings and do fun activities. This releases positive hormones which decrease her pain which makes her want to exercise more. The upward spiral.
ADVICE TO OTHERS
When you are in pain every day and you lose so much, family, friends, even the will to live, I understand. If you are looking for a miracle cure in a bottle or a medication that will be what gives you your life back, then more than likely you will never find it. It’s all about the choices we make and the people we trust. We have to be our own advocates in our journey with pain. Doctors throw meds at you and put a band aid on it. They see so many patients you become a chart. That is NOT what happens when you go to Align, you are not a chart, a number, a dollar sign. Like I said, if you’re looking for a miracle cure, you’ll never find it. If you are looking for a place that is invested in you and what you are going through; If you want a place you can go where you will feel like you are getting sincere help and understanding; If you want HOPE, then go through those doors and take that chance. I promise you will NOT regret it. If you trust them. Listen and be open to change. You won’t be sorry. I know that I’m where I need to be now. My pain will never be perfect. But I’m living again. I have hope.”