I’ve always been a dancer. My ballet training started when I was three, and from there, I went on to modern and jazz. Today, at 66, I’m an avid “barroom” dancer. But there was a time, from my early twenties to mid thirties, when I stopped dancing entirely because I had a serious, but undiagnosed and untreated, pain condition that only lessened during my three pregnancies. Without any medical guidance (no one I could find was addressing chronic pain at that time), I decided that I couldn’t and shouldn’t dance. In fact, I hardly moved at all because I believed that it would hurt me more. I became a “kinesiophobiac”— a person afraid to move. And, as a result of that, my body weakened and I became more and more fearful and depressed. I was stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.
Then, in 1982, while nursing my third baby with horrible pain shooting through my neck and back, I heard a woman on a morning television show talk about chronic pain and how meditation could help. That was a turning point for me. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I could have pain for the rest of my life. I was elated knowing that I was no longer the only person on Earth with such a bizarre and unexplained condition. For the first time in years, I had hope. I not only started meditating after the show (it was worth a try), I started moving again. Gradually and consciously, I moved and stretched my body as much as I believed I could. I did this meditative dance almost every day for more than a year. Little by little, my tightened body loosened and strengthened, and I began to feel well again. I still had pain, but it had lessened and was less a focal point of my life. I was back to being a woman, who could get dressed without help, sleep in a bed, and above all, enjoy her family.
By the early 80s, I was traveling back and forth to the former Soviet Union doing youth exchanges; and, by the mid 80s, I was working at New York City’s PBS station producing live children’s programs in the New York metropolitan area. By the early nineties, my pain was almost gone, and I returned to WNET after being away for several years. This time, I was in charge of national outreach for two shows that changed my life: Before I Die, a program dealing with care at the end of life (including pain management), and Bill Moyer’s addiction series, Close to Home. My work on those programs eventually led to a position as Director of Communications and Advocacy for the newly formed American Pain Foundation (APF), an organization that provided information and education for people with pain—something I knew about from personal experience! In 2006, I joined the American Academy of Pain Management (the Academy) as the Director of Communications, and in 2006, I became the Executive Director.
By 2009, the Academy, which had been interdisciplinary from its inception, changed its mission and embraced an integrative model of pain care—a model that focuses on wellness rather than disease and emphasizes the importance of good food, exercise, and mindfulness exercises.
So, here’s where my personal physical story gets interesting. What I didn’t mention earlier, is that although my pain decreased throughout the years, my body had been seriously damaged by years of limited movement and holding myself tight. My clavicles were pushed up, my shoulders shortened, my shoulder blades were flattened, and I lost range of motion in my neck and arms. But, until I started working with integrative pain clinicians who encouraged body strengthening and movement, I never thought that I could regain those functions. At the age of 60, I decided to start going to a gym and I found an extraordinary female trainer (in her fifties), who had survived cancer many times throughout her life. She really understood her own body and she understood mine. And, lo and behold, after all those years, I regained my ability to move in ways I hadn’t been able to since my twenties, and it didn’t take that long.
Today, at 66, I am moving and dancing more than I ever had in my adult life. Actually, I’m movemaniac. Something I never thought would happen in my, gulp, senior years.
So, readers, I would greatly encourage you to turn on some joyful music and move what you can and as much as you can—right now!