I’ve written recently about suffering with chronic pain. I’ve done so for two years, since a few months into my pregnancy, and have experienced many ups and downs with it. There have been many visits to many different doctors, trying different medications, different physical therapies and many mornings waking up and hoping “Today Is The Day” (As of yet, It’s never been the day). Pain is a constant in my life, which I’m working on reducing alongside some incredible medical professionals, but one that I try my hardest not to get me down.
While listening to podcasts while out walking one day recently, I came across an interview which my Dad had recommended I listen to, Sean Moncrieff interviewing the TV Presenter and author Andrea Hayes. She spoke about her life living with chronic pain, the feelings it instilled in her, different things she had done to cope. While her pain is from a different source, listening to her I related so much to the interview and found myself sending it to other friends who have suffered with chronic illness – all of whom reacted the same as me “I’m not cracking up, it’s not just me, she’s telling our story”. So, when I got home I downloaded a copy of the book “Pain Free Life: My Journey To Wellness” and was excited to get stuck in.
The book is broken into two halves; “My Story” and “My Wellness Plan”. Despite willing this book to cure me immediately with all of it’s wisdom, I decided to read it in order and am glad that I did, as the “My Story” section definitely spoke to me and gave me a lot of that “It isn’t just me” feeling back again. Andrea tells of her pain journey from childhood, through her college years and adult life with spinal stenosis and eventual diagnosis after many years of tests and treatments with Chiari Malformation 1, a rare brain disorder.
The section I really related to, which any other pain sufferers I know have also found very relatable, is regarding pain management medication and the amount of “playing doctor” individual patients can do, especially when they feel it isn’t working or forgetting to take it some days – messing about with medications never ends well but I’ve definitely been there in my efforts to ease this incessant pain.
The turning point in the book is her diagnosis with Chiari Malformation 1 – it’s at this point that Andrea took some time out of work and threw herself (gently, hopefully) into finding alternatives to the pain medication plan she was on and into ways to manage her pain. This leads us into the section documenting the different things she tries and does to manage her pain, including medication, various therapies, natural remedies, and lots others besides. She also became qualified as a clinical hypnotherapist.The book includes a code to unlock the daily relaxation hypnotherapy session available on her website here. This self-scripted relaxation recording has been very effective in helping me switch off on days where pain has spiked and is distracting from my day to day actions.
I learned so much from this book, in particular about the amazing work done by Chronic Pain Ireland and the existence of Pain Management courses – to know that there are alternatives to the rather large (and bloody expensive) amount of medications there is reassuring and has been something I’ve been researching. Unfortunately there isn’t much around Cork, but I’m hopeful- I’ve already signed up for my first day long workshop to hopefully learn some techniques of self management.
Andrea’s optimism and attitude towards her chronic pain is inspiring and has certainly made me sit up and look at things slightly differently. It can be so hard to put that smile on and get on with life on bad pain days but she puts forward positive thinking and that truly is a force to be reckoned with. I’ve spent some of my time bitter and angry at my lot in life, and still have those days, they are part and package of this life, but reading her book has made me feel a whole lot less alone in the process. It’s easy to read, full of information and something I’d recommend to pain sufferers and their family and close ones alike – by building an understanding of what is involved, it may make things easier for those around you to deal with and help with your pain.
I was lucky enough to meet with Andrea at her book signing in Eason’s Mahon Point, where we had a brief chat and mandatory photo. She was absolutely lovely and so open when we were chatting, so when I started writing this review I popped her an email with some questions to add some insight if she’d like, and she very graciously agreed.
How are you doing at the moment?
I feel very blessed that I have so much to be grateful for in my life at the moment so I am very happy personally. Health wise and pain wise I take it day by day. It has been tough in recent weeks, I’ve increased pain in my head and behind my eyes and I’m having some motor issues with my hands, but I’ve a great ‘care bubble’ of people who offer support so I’m lucky.
What was it that pushed you to write Pain Free Life?
My life changed in 2013. After years of struggling to manage and hide my chronic pain which at the time I believed to be caused by spinal stenosis and disk degeneration, I was told that an MRI scan had found I had a rare brain disorder called Chiari Malformation 1.
At the time I was busy in work and knew I was barely existing and taking a lot of medication to get by so I decided to ask for time off from my work in TV3 and effectively began to take charge of my own healing. I began a journey of wellness to try to manage my own chronic pain. I had a very difficult road ahead and I kept a journal of how I was managing and really that was the beginning of the book, I really wanted to share what I have learned along the way and highlight from the patients perspective what it’s like having an invisible illness.
How have you found the response to the book?Â
It has been wonderful, I am so humbled by the response, it has been received so well far and wide. I feel so thankful to all the people who have been very gracious with their kind words of support and reviews. I am so pleased I decided to share my story as I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do as it’s very honest and a deeply personal account of my life managing a chronic condition.
Are there any reactions that surprised you?
Well the saying ‘you can’t judge a book by the cover’ springs to mind! As many people couldn’t believe I lived in pain daily and hadn’t shared my struggle before they read about it in the book. I have also been so overwhelmed by the amount of people who reached out to me through my website (www.andreahayes.ie) and shared their story. The sheer volume of people who have to live in pain daily is mind boggling. I’m very happy I’ve been able to raise awareness in a small way the whole area of incurable invisible illness.
If you were to offer one key piece of advice to fellow pain sufferers, what would it be?
Your pain is real! Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out get support and believe in your own ability to be an empowered patient and even heal yourself. Find ways of managing your pain that work for you. I work closely with Chronic Pain Ireland. It is a great charity for support and advice, don’t be afraid to get in touch.
Thanks Andrea for taking time out of your very busy schedule for that quick chat. It was great to get a better insight into your story!
Since then, Andrea has also released a Life Goals Journal. It’s bursting with her positivity and can be used to really change your mindset about life. You can get it from Gill Books here.