My story begins with a bike ride. On July 15th, 2012 I was on a one-hundred mile bike ride when an abnormal pressure manifested in my right leg. The sensation wasn’t particularly painful, so I didn’t think much of it. One week later, I went on another bike ride; however, this time the pressure became excruciating, to the point where I thought I had torn a muscle in my leg. Over the next few days I rested and then went to the doctor. To my relief, the doctor said it was nothing serious, most likely a strain due to overexertion, and that I could resume my normal activities, road biking and rock climbing, within a week. As per the doctor’s orders, I rested and then went back to my normal workout routine. Unfortunately, my leg still didn’t feel quite right. When I rode my bike, my right shin felt like it had a clamp screwing down with each pedal revolution. Fast forward one month, when I began my senior year of college. After about one week of school, my body started to go haywire. The pain in my leg spontaneously spread into my back, hips, and right shoulder. Needless to say, I began panicking. What the fuck was going on with me? How did pain in my leg leech into other parts of my body? My orthopedist back home seemed dumbfounded by my condition, so I decided to see a chiropractor. Chiropractic care was my first experience hearing the phrase, “I’ve seen conditions like yours before. We’ll get you better in no time.” Unfortunately, I would continue to hear that phrase from numerous caregivers over the ensuing year. The charming and over-charismatic chiropractor I met with, declared that the muscles in my hips were unusually tight, and that my muscles were sending referral pain to other parts of my body. This was the first time I had ever heard of referral pain (pain felt in one part of the body that stems from a different part of the body), but the explanation seemed to make sense. Sadly, after a few appointments with the chiropractor, I felt worse and started getting more scared about my body and health. The next eight months were a whirlwind of blood tests, MRI’s, PT appointments, doctor appointments, massage therapies, school work, social life, and an ever-increasing fear that something was seriously wrong with me. Each time a treatment failed or a test came back negative it got harder to bounce back. I morbidly wanted doctors to find something seriously wrong with me so that I could just know what was going on. I was so desperate to call my pain something, to name it. It boggled my mind that even though I was being treated in Boston, the epicenter of modern medicine, no one had the faintest inkling of what was going on with my body or how to heal it. As April 2013 rolled around, I became truly desperate for relief. My life had basically been stripped down to getting my school work done, eating, fixating on pain, and sleeping. Pretty much all physical activity seemed to aggravate my pain and make my muscles flare up. My social life had whittled away because everything from sitting, to walking, to watching TV was incredibly uncomfortable. I was a wreck. Not being able to participate in physical activity put a huge strain on my mental wellbeing. Cycling and rock climbing had not only acted as a way for me to stay fit, but also as a therapeutic tool to release mental stress and socialize with friends. My dad, a Boston physician, put me in contact with a physiatrist, supposedly the best in the business for dealing with chronic pain. I began a three-tiered treatment involving dry needling (trigger point injections) into my muscles, full body alignment with an osteopath, and another round of PT. Dry needling is a treatment in which a caregiver prods your muscles with a needle until the muscles twitch, and release their tension. Needless to say, my muscles had a lot of tension. For about two months, I thought I had finally found the right people to cure me. As good as it was to finally feel some relief, my body kept reverting back to its painful state within a few days after each treatment. I began to realize that this course of treatment acted as a bandaid and wasn’t getting to the root of my problem. When I graduated college, I lost all hope of ever having a normal life again. I thought I would spend the rest of my life living in/with chronic pain. As anyone with chronic pain will tell you, pain does some fucked up things to your head. At a certain point, being dead felt like one of the only ways to get relief. I had no desire to kill myself, but I did not want to live in constant excruciating discomfort anymore. June of 2013 was the lowest point of my life. I pretty much slept all day to try to escape my pain. I didn’t recognize the person I had become. How did I get here? Why couldn’t any doctor or person help me get better? Being in the pain is an all encompassing experience. Pain is everything you think about and feel. Nothing else really enters your radar. As July 2013 rolled around, I somehow managed to secure a graphic design job near my home in Boston. Although sitting was still uncomfortable, I needed some form of task to distract me from myself. July also brought about the beginning of my healing process in a most unexpected way. With the guidance of my mother and sister, I sought out a pain psychologist working at the Arnold Pain Clinic in Boston. My mental health had completely deteriorated. I slept for nearly twelve hours a day and no longer has an appetite for food. I knew I needed help. At the Arnold Pain Clinic I met Dr. Joshua Wootton, who taught me about meditation. He explained the positive effects meditation can have on chronic pain and re-centering the central nervous system. At this point in time, I was so desperate and willing to try anything that if you had told me cracking an egg on my head while jumping into a pool of marbles would help me, I would do it. It’s amazing how desperation forced me to try treatments that at one point seemed far-fetched and NOT for me. Well as it turns out, meditation WAS for me and still IS for me. The form of meditation Dr. Wootton showed me enabled me to forget my pain for 15 minutes, twice a day, seven days a week. By repeating a single mantra I could shift my focus to my breathe and create a relaxation response within my body (i.e. reduced heart rate, increased peripheral body temperature, and slower breathing). The meditation felt calming. Finally, I began to remember what relaxation felt like. Meditation was the platform I needed to rebuild my life. This discovery also inspired me to pursue other forms of alternative medicine that are not always deemed effective by conventional Western Medicine. Because pain had seemingly taken everything from me, I had nothing to lose, and I felt free to try this new experience without reservation. Around the same time I began meditating, I started doing acupuncture with Brendan Carney, who significantly improved my life, allowing me to experience consistent pain relief. Once a week, from September 2013 to March 2014, I received trigger point and acupuncture treatment from him. Although Brendan’s needles gave me temporary relief, the true healing manifested in our conversations. Brendan is one of the kindest, most compassionate, generous, and knowledgable people I have ever met. He really understands chronic pain, both on a physical and emotional level, and knows how to console his patients through what could be the scariest period of their lives. Under Brendan’s guidance I began to understand and uncover the effect the mind has on the body. Although at the time I had no idea I was being coached, Brendan inspired me to change my perspective on the situation. Instead of thinking of myself as a victim of my pain and feeling no control over the course of my life, I began to flip the situation on its head, and frame my pain as an incredible gift. Rather than fixate on the hardship of living with pain I began focusing on instances to feel deep gratitude. For instance, feeling grateful for devoted friends, a loving family, and simple pleasures like a warm shower and a tasty meal enabled me to feel powerful rather than helpless. Once I started adopting gratitude as a mantra, and writing thoughts of gratitude all over my room, my situation started improving. My pain, albeit still present, was not as intense, and I began to regain some mental clarity that I had lost because of suffering from pain. Setting and achieving goals was another coaching technique Brendan used in his treatment. For example, some of the goals I set were to be able to walk two miles, to sit in a movie theatre, and by March 2014, to go on vacation with my family. Flying and vacation was an enormous goal for me, because it had previously seemed like an unattainable fantasy. Travel? Sitting for a prolonged period of time? What if I have a really bad flare up? How would I enjoy vacation when I was in so much pain? When March 2014 finally came, I got on the plane with my family, landed in the Cayman Islands, and then proceeded to have a completely normal vacation filled with walking, sitting, and even scuba diving. Though these were all incredible accomplishments for me, the best part was that I did it almost completely pain free. Cayman Islands was an eye opening experience and got me thinking even more about the mind-body connection. Specifically, I realized the power my environment has on my emotions and consequently, my physical state. Also, changing my physical environment served as a useful tool in gaining distance from thought patterns I associated with a given place. Upon returning to Boston, my pain returned but my mindset was different. I finally believed that my body had the ability to change, and more importantly, that I could heal myself. This idea of being able to heal oneself is unbelievably empowering. To no longer be a victim of circumstance, but rather a proactive player in my own health, was a huge achievement for me, and such an important part of feeling mentally and physically healthier. A few weeks after returning from the Cayman Islands, I decided to enlist in a rigorous physical therapy program out of the New England Baptist Hospital. I had heard of the program before, but had been afraid to try it, because I thought it might make my flare ups worse and hurt my body more. However, with the Cayman experience under my belt, and the continued sense of having nothing to lose, I began the Baptist’s two-month PT program. Before I knew it, I was back working out like a normal person! My muscles still felt like shit, but I wasn’t getting worse. Completing the Baptist program was a major accomplishment for me. The workout regimen proved that if something was structurally wrong with my body (a concept that doctors kept on feeding me), I would not have been able to complete the program. Removing the fear of further hurting myself while participating in physical activity was an integral part of healing. So much of my daily routine had been focused around my fear of movement and hurting myself. Diffusing that fear helped me regain an immense amount of confidence in myself. I came to see that fear was a huge factor in amplifying the creation and sensation of pain. Once I finished the Baptist program, my physical therapist gave me a gift-- a book called Healing Back Pain, by Jonathan Sarna, and a weblink to Howard Schubiner’s book, Unlearn Your Pain. These two books enhanced my understanding of my body and my pain. In short, they confirmed and expanded my ever-growing notion that emotions not only play a factor in chronic pain, but can also create chronic pain. The books gave me the courage to move forward with my life. In July 2014, I quit my job and flew to Mexico to go diving for a month. By no longer fearing my body, I no longer feared traveling or returning to my adventurous self. Both Sarna's and Schubiner’s books gave me the tools to begin the long journey of self healing. In particular, Schubiner’s book provided a detailed 28-day writing program, aimed at exposing and relieving emotional stressors that manifest as physical pain. By reading these books, I began learning self-coaching techniques to loosen pain’s control over my life. The more I read, the more I found my story within other people’s experiences. Finally, I was not alone. Finally, a diagnosis that felt right and made sense to me. The reason my pain hadn’t gone away was that I was chasing a physical problem, rather than dealing with an emotional one. Since July 2013, I have been traveling and backpacking through Central America, farming in California, and now working with kids as an outdoor educator. I am participating in activities that seemed inconceivable to do only a short time ago. It took me many months to complete Schubiner’s writing program, but the effort was worth every second. Although my pain still comes back, it is not scary anymore. Rather, I use it as a gauge for emotion problems I encounter. My pain forced me to be intensely and brutally honest regarding issues that I’ve put on the back burner for years. Though it seems strange to say, chronic pain is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Pain alerted me to problems that I didn’t realize I needed to deal with. I am much more appreciative of life now that I’ve engaged with myself in self healing. This brings my story to the present day, in which I am still in pursuit of a pain free life. I recently integrated Qi Gong, a movement practice stemming from Chinese medicine and martial arts, into my routine. I find Qi Gong very helpful and a great addition to my mind-body practice. I know one day I will be completely pain free; I just have some work left to do. I have, returned to doing physical activities like biking, rock climbing, and hiking . When my pain does pop up, it is generally mild, and I know how to deal with it. Most of the time I can even pinpoint the mental stressor that is triggering my pain. For instance, relationships with women and the pressure to create art are still major triggers for me. My brain somehow learned to associate these thoughts with muscle tension. An important lesson I learned through this experience is that people need to be ready to receive information regarding their health. If someone had told me two months into my chronic pain that my muscles were spasming as a result of my emotions and thoughts, I would have told them to fuck off. My acceptance came as a result of my desperation and eventual openness. I know my experience with mindfulness, meditation, goal setting, and perspective shifting can make me a healing presence for people both dealing with chronic pain and folks wanting to live a healthier life; that is why in January 2016, I will start a Masters degree in health and wellness coaching. I want to use my transformative experience to help other suffering with pain and hopelessness.