Becky's Story

I fell asleep at the wheel, careened off the road and flipped over so many times my Jeep was unrecognizable when it came to a stop. My husband, who was driving another vehicle ahead of me, watched the whole thing in his rearview mirror. 

In this remote spot of Montana, there were no cell towers. Fortunately for me an off-duty paramedic was the first person to stop. I would've died or been totally paralyzed without his expert attention.

Days later when I emerged from the coma, I came to understand what was meant by “incomplete C4 spinal cord injury”—muscle spasticity with weakness on my left side and impaired sensation on my right. At that point, the burning nerve pain seemed manageable after what I’d lived through. Thinking these were the primary issues I would deal with, I jumped enthusiastically into the recovery process and celebrated progress as I learned how to walk, dress, feed myself, and write all over again.

Two years later—just when life was returning to “normal”—the pain increased significantly. An MRI revealed a spinal cord syringomyelia (syrinx) at the site of the injury. Pressure from the fluid-filled cyst was causing searing pain throughout my entire body—constant and unyielding to the strongest pain killers. The verdict: inoperable, untreatable.

I felt my life was over. I could not possibly endure this pain. I was stuck.

The month I eventually spent in a pain clinic, however, gave me a shred of hope that I might be able to control the pain somewhat with lifestyle adjustments. Back home, though, I was slipping back into the role of helpless victim. My family hovered and protected me; everyone was consumed by my pain.

Realizing no one could help me but myself, I went on a search for more ways to cope, and read about the powerful role of the brain in the pain experience. One of the most helpful texts was Dr. Norman Doidge's book, The Brain That Changes Itself.  I began to understand how something as simple as my own thinking could make a difference in my pain.

Prior to my accident, I had trained as a life coach, and from that experience I recognized coaching as a discipline well suited to moving someone from the “stuck” position to becoming self-energized.  Could coaching help people who were struggling with complicated pain? Life coaching and wellness coaching are primarily geared toward highly-motivated people who want to lose a few pounds or take on new goals. Those living with complicated pain have usually lost hope, and can't be motivated towards something they can't even imagine—living well with intense pain.

I started and refined an effective pain-management routine for myself, then coached an acquaintance who had been to a pain clinic—learned mental and physical techniques for pain control—but fallen back into old habits of focusing on the pain. She also put together a well-organized pain-management program and got her pain under control. Her progress was transformative.

Suddenly I was consumed with helping others live better in spite of their pain. With a health coaching certificate, I started coaching anyone who would work with me, and watched as program participants got out of recliners and returned to hobbies and work—thrilled that they could feel alive again. One desperate man told me, "I'm not as brave as you—I can't do this." I thought he was going to walk away and end up committing suicide. I remember my reply: "Would you like to borrow my courage until you have your own?"

This inspired the name for my coaching service: Take Courage Coaching.™  That was six years ago, and today I have 20 certified pain-management coaches who work with me and help people all over the country—English-speaking and Hispanic—by telephone. We have coached people who have lived with complicated pain for short periods following an accident or surgery and many who have lived in agony for over 20 years. Results are phenomenal. Program graduates have returned to hobbies, taken up new sports, reengaged with family members, and discovered how to love life again.

I still live with central nerve pain every hour of every day.  I wear a leg brace, and I do most everything with one hand. Do I miss playing the piano, swimming well, walking without a limp?  You bet I do if I think about it. But throwing myself into what I can do has turned a nightmare into a life work I wouldn't trade for a good leg or being pain-free. This is not an infomercial—it's my life. But you're welcome to learn what I've learned and live a much better life in spite of complicated pain. Come see us at takecouragecoaching.com

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