When you’re diagnosed with chronic illness, is there anything you can do to improve your health and happiness? Can you (fully) recover from persisting health problems, and if so, how? In this interview on recovery, Anne Doussan from Still Moving shares her story.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello, I’m Anne. I was diagnosed with chronic illnesses in my twenties, and for over a decade I followed the more conventional treatments. After getting little to no relief from surgeries and pharmaceuticals, however, I decided to take matters into my own hands. In February 2017 I went to an inpatient chronic pain and recovery center to get off all my medications and find alternative therapies. Since then, I’ve learned many new approaches to managing my chronic illnesses.
When did you first get sick?
I don’t actually recall a time when I wasn’t displaying symptoms. I remember I was either four or five years-old when I broke my arm playing on the swing set in front of my home. I wasn’t doing anything out-of-the-ordinary, but my shoulder popped out of its socket and caused me to fall. I realize now that most of my injuries while I was growing up were the result of hypermobile joints, but it took years for someone to put it all together.
It wasn’t until I was twenty and studying in Europe that I really understood that everyone didn’t feel the way I did. I struggled to keep up with my peers and had to take cabs everywhere because I was having trouble walking. It was the first time I remember thinking that something might be wrong, and as soon as I got home I began seeking treatment.
What happened after you started seeing doctors for help?
Initially, doctors fixated mostly on my orthopedic issues. I had a few “congenital anomalies” (as they were then broadly called) that, in combination with years of long distance running and ballet, caused serious damage to a few of my joints. I had four surgeries to repair these issues, but they didn’t help for long. I also began displaying other symptoms that demanded more surgery and treatments, but nothing seemed to truly fix what was going on.
Eventually, doctors began running out of ways that they could help me, and their focus shifted to pain relief. For years I took prescription opioids and other medicines to help get me through the day. They helped a bit, but it was never enough, and I was quickly getting worse. That’s when I decided to try a different approach, and found an inpatient facility for people with chronic pain.
I don’t see many medical doctors anymore. Once I tell them I’m not interested in surgery or pharmaceuticals they kind of throw up their hands and don’t know what to do with me. I still have these diagnoses, though, but now I use things like meditation, acupuncture, essential oils, and cupping to manage my symptoms.
What were the first steps you took to start your recovery process? Have you made any lifestyle changes to support your healing?
The first step was going to the inpatient chronic pain and recovery center. I realized I was never going to get well if I continued taking my prescribed medications, so I knew they had to go. Believe it or not, that was the easy part. The most difficult thing has been finding their replacements. Through trial and error I’ve identified what either exacerbates or lessens my symptoms. That’s where the lifestyle changes come in. I’ve evaluated and adjusted nearly every behavior, habit, and routine since I got home last March. Everything, from the food I eat to how I spend my mornings is different, and I make these changes knowing that what works today may not work as well tomorrow.
Have you had any psychological breakthroughs that helped you further on the road to recovery?
I have had so many breakthroughs! When you work with people like shamans, energy healers, and acupuncturists more than just your physical body is treated. Many practitioners around the world believe that our bodies, minds, and spirits are all connected, so they address all of you rather than just one part. This has allowed me to gain invaluable insights into my entire life.
Have you noticed any improvements since you started working on your health? Is it a gradual upward process or have you had any setbacks along the way?
Since I made these changes I’m happier, less fearful about what my future holds, more comfortable with who I am, and more accepting of who other people are. I also sleep better, eat better (and don’t have food cravings!), and have less social anxiety than before. The list goes on and on, and I know the journey isn’t over yet!
I wish I could say this path towards healing has been a gentle, steady climb. The truth, however, is that it’s been full of ups, downs, and surprises. Just when I think I have it all figured out I’ll have a massive pain flair or learn something that makes me question my methods. It really keeps me on my toes! Even on the hardest days, though, I’m so much better off than I used to be.
How do you overcome the obstacles on your way? Where do you find the courage, hope and determination?
I try to gain something, even if it’s small, from every challenge. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that symptoms are our body’s way of communicating. If I view what I’m feeling from this perspective, I’m more likely to benefit from the experience. I’ll be the first to say, however, that sometimes the bad days still get the best of me. When that happens I try to remind myself that my discomfort is only temporary, and I’ll use every tool at my disposal to help me through it. I’ll be especially strict about what I eat and drink, make sure I get lots of downtime, take long baths with essential oils and magnesium flakes, and perhaps add an extra acupuncture or physical therapy session.
How would you define ‘recovery’?
For me, recovery is acceptance. I believe that if I can truly achieve this, everything else will fall into place.
What would you like to tell others who are living with chronic health problems?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from this, a lesson with which I still have to come to terms, is that the only person who can heal me is me. I used to be stuck in this victim role, waiting for a medical breakthrough, a diagnosis to explain my newest symptoms, or a medicine to kick in so that I could get a little relief. I now know, however, that I already have all the answers. With everything on my shoulders, and an endless supply of support around me, I’m no longer waiting for someone or something else to make me better. I know that there’s a solution to my chronic illnesses, and I know that the answer lies with me.
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