My Thriving Story
By C Amber Rose Dullea, MA, MDiv
In the beginning . . .
A car accident in December of 2002 began my journey with chronic pain. It was not a serious accident in terms of sirens, blood and ambulances; and I figured some massage and chiropractic would make me heal up fast. As a licensed massage therapist I had helped many people who dealt with injuries and chronic pain.
I sustained whiplash, low back injury, symptoms of post concussive disorder, thoracic outlet syndrome and migraine headaches. Over the next year it became evident that I was not getting better. The pain and the effects got worse.
Why isn’t it going away . . .
I found myself thinking, “So many of my clients get better, what was wrong with me?”
Now I was the one on the table in pain. I suffered from crying jags, anxiety, and depression. I had issues with memory, fatigue, debilitating migraines and insomnia. I could no longer give massage due to my own pain and I lost my office. In other words, it was not fun!
I thought my experience as a massage therapist would give me an advantage when seeking help. I knew the language and was not intimidated. I started with the therapies that I knew best: physical therapy, massage and chiropractors. Next came neurologists, a rheumatologist, naturopath, occupational therapy, and acupuncture. I was willing to try anything.
Dealing with insurance companies, going to appointments, doing what I could around the house, and focusing on my own healing became my full time job. My world shrank as I lost many of the things I loved.
Getting support . . .
I was blessed with an attorney who sent me to Oregon Health Science University, which had one of the top researchers and an innovative multidisciplinary approach to chronic pain. He sent me there to get more support and a diagnosis.
I was diagnosed with post-traumatic fibromyalgia and was given tools, hope, and support to get the insurance company to believe that I was not faking and that it was not all in my head. With this diagnosis, I received a new level of understanding and medications that actually helped my symptoms. I learned to listen more deeply to myself and to understand and accept my limits.
I know the despair and depression that can accompany pain. I also get how it can lead to thoughts of suicide. When I was about 16, I tried to commit suicide due to the emotional pain of depression.
It is hard to explain, but something snapped in me when I saw the look on my father’s face when he realized I had tried to kill myself. I understood in that moment that I was not separate and that I couldn’t kill myself without affecting others. Now, even though I live with chronic pain and soft bipolar, suicide is not an option for me.
Thriving with pain means that I am a survivor who still deals with chronic pain and lives a whole life. I deal with flares of chronic pain and live a whole, joyous, vibrant life. It is a daily journey to live the thriving cycle. I can’t do it alone. I have found healers, friends, peers, and mentors along the way who inspire, heal, enliven, and guide me.
Wrestling with the why . . .
I was asking God/the Universe the night of the accident — what am I to do, to contribute? The immediate answer I got was a car pulling out in front of me. The longer answer is that I am here to be me. Chronic pain stripped me of what I thought I was: a massage therapist, teacher, author and ballroom dancer. But it also showed me who I am and that I can thrive with pain. It has also brought me to being able to share this wisdom with others who live with pain by navigating the thriving journey.
Thriving means to flourish and prosper in the face of obstacles. To thrive with pain is to turn it around and not let it rule your world. The pain does not have to win! You can move beyond suffering and blame. Grab whatever interests you, serve another, change your expectations and thrive!
C Amber Rose Dullea, MA, M.Div. lives in Portland, Oregon and has developed Thriving with Pain LLC, a multimodal coaching program for people who live with chronic pain.