In 2012, Jennifer McKay slipped on a wet floor at work and tore a ligament in her mid foot. This injury lead to her developing crps in her foot.
First, the accident caused severe pain in her foot. A year later, this was complicated by a procedure that was meant to help her upcoming surgery to fix the unstable joint in her injured foot.
Jennifer had a cortisone injection prior to surgery. Within hours of the injection, a severe pain known as CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome) turned on.
CRPS caused nerve pain and hypersensitivity in her foot. It also caused changes in colour and circulation. These changes spread up her leg and were starting to move across to the other leg. She had terrible muscles spasms and the sensitivity was so bad she was unable to put her foot on floor. She had zero time in the day being pain-free.
This was the start of a six year quest to get out of pain, and get back her quality of life. Along the way, Jennifer would face and overcome challenges bigger than any she’d faced before, but in the end she would emerge stronger and more compassionate.
As most people do in this situation, Jennifer first went down the conventional path to find a cure for her pain. This didn’t meet with immediate success. By the time she found Life After Pain, Jennifer was on her fourth pain consultant and had been through two pain management programs in New York. She’d seen two orthopaedic surgeons, as well as several doctors and physios.
She’d tried ketamine infusions for the CRPS, and nerve blocks to free up movement in her leg. She was on several medications for neuropathic pain: Gabapentin and Amitriptyline, but they didn’t help. After several years, she felt she was running out of options.
When you’ve been in pain for years, one of the hardest things is to be told by experts to ‘just accept your pain.’ Jennifer wasn’t prepared to do this because it meant accepting how her life was at that time. When she joined the our program, the relentless and intense nature of the pain took its toll and caused her to question how she could continue to live like this.
After so many failed treatments, Jennifer joined the Life After Pain with some trepidation and started the process of retraining her pain system.
Inside the our flagship program, students learn about pain sensitisation. This is a process where your pain system has become extremely sensitive, and neurological changes take place. The end result is that people end up feeling much more pain than they should.
One of the main tools we use to reverse the sensitisation process are NeuroMind techniques. There’s a library of techniques and students select them based on their strongest learning mode.
When it came to selecting her NeuroMind techniques, Jennifer took the test and discovered she’s a highly kinaesthetic learner. So techniques like the Comfort Focus were effective for her. She experimented to find the ones that worked best, and in the end, combined several techniques to get the most effective.
Jennifer found she could use some techniques on her emotions first. This helped particularly at start of the program when she was feeling tired and run down. After that she would move on and use the same techniques to deal with pain.
“It was hard at the beginning because it’s like starting to build something without knowing that it’s there. You almost have to live off the hope of some of the other people in the community and have faith that it will work.”
Jennifer didn’t notice any changes in her pain until she’d practiced the techniques for around 35 hours. It takes lot commitment to do this, and she found it hard to concentrate when the pain was intense. So the first part of the course was definitely an exercise in having hope and faith.
The turning point came when one day, Jennifer was in pain. She started to do exercises, and realised her pain had lessened. It wasn’t all gone, but it had definitely diminished. That was the start of the upward ascent.
The more Jennifer could see the pain improving, the more she wanted to practice her NeuroMind techniques. She saw she could have a life, and this vision of what was possible lit a fire in her to keep going.
The first day Jennifer joined the program was a really bad pain day for her. “Listening to the course videos was really a life support for getting through that day – the pain was so intense.”
This is a real benefit of doing a course where the materials’ accessible online – you can access it anytime, day or night, no matter where you are in the world.
The community of program students was also a key ingredient in Jennifer’s success. “Because the people in the community are all over the world, no matter what time it is, there’s always someone around. There’s always someone with hope to share with you.”
Being told by experts “This is what you’re going to have to live with,” can have a negative effect on morale and motivation. So Jennifer found it very helpful to have the Life After Pain community around her.
“When you hear from lots of people inside a group that they’re getting better, it’s different from, say, reading one person’s story in a magazine. You get to know the other students, you know they’re real people, with real challenges, and you see them making real progress.
“This was one of the most important things for me at the beginning – hope. I think personally there’s such an absence of hope in chronic pain in general, so this was a real strength of the Phoenix Program.”
Although she acknowledges her health is still a work in progress, Jennifer has seen a substantial reduction in pain. She has around 50% less pain than when she started.
‘My life has transformed in so many ways.’
She was on Fentanyl patches, and is off those completely now. There’s also a lot less sensitivity in her foot, and the changes in colour and circulation caused by CRPS have gone almost completely.
The reduction in pain has had a huge affect on her quality of life.
“I did a talk 3 years before where I was hugely worried about standing for that length of time. This time I did the same talk, and I didn’t notice any problem standing for that length of time.
“I’m able to walk longer distances, go out with friends more, and I don’t have to plan ahead quite so much before going out. I had hypersensitivity to sound and light and that’s also much better now.”
Jennifer is a retired professional ballet dancer. She’s been able to slowly go back to doing ballet for enjoyment.
A key mindset shift for Jennifer was becoming an expert in her own care and learning how to pace herself.
“It’s about taking things into your own hands, becoming expert in own symptoms. After all I’m the person who’s experiencing them.”
Before, she was very good at masking just how bad the pain was. Jennifer come from a profession (ballet) where you have to block out pain. Ballet dancers learn to work through bleeding feet, aches and pains. Changing this meant mindset meant changing some ingrained habits.
These days, Jennifer’s able to halt an activity or call off on doing something guilt-free. This is because she can see a bigger picture, and has made her health the priority.
“You need discipline to practice pacing. If you think about it – people would put their leg in a plaster in order to heal. Why not make the same kind of behaviour changes in order to heal chronic pain – which has been around usually a lot longer?”
Jennifer also noticed she doesn’t talk about pain as much. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s something that’s happened naturally, as the pain became less intrusive in her life.
“My advice when you’re starting this process is to have patience, at a time when you really don’t feel like having patience any more. Use the group of people that are there and willing to answer questions.”
Looking back, Jennifer’s advice is also to make this transformation your first priority.
“You have to make time for this because in the scale of your life, it is your life.
“If you really want to, you can cut back on most other things if you really want to, and make your health the first most important thing. I see this as a short term investment on a very major thing in my life.
“Save your energy to do this work. Be honest. Sometimes people want to please others, and put themselves second. But it’s ok to be real about where you’re at, and give yourself time and space to get better.
“What’s really encouraging is when you get to a point where you have confidence in your progress. I know it can’t just be chance that consistently getting improvement in my pain levels. I have proof to back up this is working. My (compassionate) goals now include having more fun, making my life bigger, being more social and getting back to teaching dancing.”
Click the following link to find out more about retraining your pain system: