Joletta Belton Chronic pain speaker, educator, advocate

Hi! I’m Jo. Thanks for stopping by.

I started this page a few years ago to share a bit of my path through life and through pain in the hopes that some of it may resonate with you, the reader. That it may somehow add value to whoever stumbles upon it and reads a post or two.

I am a nature lover, a pretty good cook, an amateur photographer, a science geek, a bibliophile, and an appreciator of art and music and all forms of creative expression. I like to move and be active, preferably outside. I walk a lot. I think a lot. I write a lot.

Joletta Belton - my firefighting days

I have lived with chronic pain

Back in January of 2010, I stepped off a fire engine awkwardly on a routine call and felt a twinge in my hip. Little did I know that what I initially thought was nothing of consequence at the time would lead to months of various therapies, treatments, and eventual surgery, to a medical retirement from my job as a firefighter, and to an ongoing experience of pain.

I struggled for a long time. I felt lost, scared, confused, uncertain. I didn’t know who I was when I was suddenly no longer a firefighter. I lost my identity, my sense of purpose, my career. I lost myself. All I thought about was pain, it became my world. A small, dark, painful world.

But I gradually came to realize that I could lead a meaningful life, that we all can lead a meaningful life, no matter our current situation. That the rhythms of life – the rhythms I feel most strongly when I’m in nature, moving, being creative,  or spending quality time with friends and family – are still present, even in the presence of pain. But their dampened, their volume is turned down as the volume of pain turns up.

I realized that the key to changing my pain was to turn up the rhythms of life and turn down the noise and discordance of pain.

It took me a long while to understand that life wasn’t pain. I’d spent so long fighting pain, battling it, trying to get rid of it. And by focusing all of my energies on the pain, I became pain. It defined me. It controlled me. It defeated me.

But I didn’t understand pain in those days, it didn’t make sense. And despite going to so many clinicians, no one helped me make sense of it. I thought pain was damage, that it meant injury, that something had to be very wrong and that it had to be fixed in order for me to get back to my life. Meanwhile, my life was on hold.

After my medical retirement, I went back to graduate school to earn my Master of Science degree in human movement. I chose pain science as my research focus. And finally, things started to make sense. Understanding the biology of pain, the biopsychosocial nature of pain, the complexities of pain, allowed me to finally move forward. To finally start living again.

Pain science opened the door to living

The work of Professor Lorimer Moseley changed my life. I had the great fortune of interviewing him for a school project, too, and that chat led me down a different path. A path empowered by knowledge. An understanding that we are bioplastic and that there is so much we can do to change our experiences, including our experience of pain.

But even more than all of that, I finally saw that it was living my life, that it was loving and being loved, in the words of Lorimer, that would help me the most.

Understanding the science of pain made me realize it was safe to move, and so I started moving more. For so long moving was worrisome, because I’d believed that pain meant damage so pain with movement meant I was doing more damage. That it would keep me stuck in pain, not help it. Understanding how our brains work meant it was therapeutic to engage in meaningful activities.

From pain centered living to just living

I finally understood I didn’t have to wait for the pain to be gone to get on with things. For so long I’d resisted that, thinking that it was giving in or giving up. That accepting pain as my current reality meant conceding to the pain, conceding to a life of limitation and fear and worry.

But once I was able to accept the pain as a part of my life at that point along my path, once I was able to make some space for it, I was able to make room for all the other things in my life that really mattered to me. I was able to rediscover my worth, my identity, myself. To find purpose and meaning in how I lived, whether I had pain or not.

I got back to living, without pain being at the center of everything all the time. Gradually, my perspective shifted, through nature and photography, walking and movement.  Through cooking, reading, writing, and spending time with people I like a whole lot, especially with the loves of my life, my husband and my dog.

About Jo - John and Buster

And I researched pain science. Getting really curious about it to understand it rather than to find the silver bullet that would fix me. I made sense of things by talking with folks on both sides of the pain equation – the people living with pain and the practitioners trying to help them.

And over time my pain changed

When I stopped focusing on changing the pain and started focusing on changing my life, my pain changed. It takes time to come to that understanding, though. To be able to shift perspective and go from pain-centered living to just living. I’m not sure what it takes to get there and suspect it will be different for everyone with some key underlying elements.

It’s not an easy path and it’s not a direct path to change our experience of pain, to change our lives. There is no map, no specific set of instructions, no Sherpa to lead the way. There is no one method to attain success, no one book to read, no magic surgery or pill or doctor to fix it for us. I wish there was, I wish I could offer that to all of you.

But it’s possible for us each find our own way, with the help of knowledgeable guides, with the help of our loved ones, our friends, our therapists, our trainers, our healthcare providers, but the answers, the way, lies within each of us.

We are fantastically awesome beings, incredibly adaptable, strong, resilient, and capable. And we have the power to do so much for our pain and for ourselves.

We have the power to live a meaningful, valued, exciting, and purposeful lives

I took a wrong step and ended up on an unexpected path: a scary, unfamiliar, dark, and seemingly dangerous path. But it was still my path. It was still my way way forward, my journey, my life. It was just an unplanned route. The thing about unplanned routes, though, so frightening and uncertain at first, is that they can lead to beautiful things, interesting things, wonderful things.

Rather than focus on my pain, I’ve started to focus on my life. Rather than rue what could have been, I celebrate what is, what I can do, what can be. Rather than long for who I used to be, I am proud of who I am right this very minute. Rather than worry about the future, I live for today and I’m grateful for it.

See, there’s much more to me than pain. There’s so much more to life than pain. Once I stopped trying to figure out the meaning of my pain and started focusing on the meaning of my life, the world opened up to me. The world can open up for you, too.

Knowledge, movement, being creative, nature, love, adventure, mindfulness, acceptance. Enjoying the simple things in life.

The things listed above have helped me to find my meaning. They have illuminated my path and guided my journey and are things that matter to me and which I now focus on, instead of the pain. I want to help you find your things that matter, too.

So, that’s pretty much what I talk about here.

My hope is that sharing my path, of how I got here and where I’m going, will help others see their pain a bit differently, too. That it will help them focus less on the pain and more on the aspects of their lives that they value, that they find meaning in, that they enjoy, that they love.

I hope you enjoy the posts. And I would love to hear from you, I would love to hear about your journey.

clouds (2)

With love and warmth,

Joletta Belton (Jo)