Hi! I’m Jo. Thanks for stopping by.
I started this site 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.
I have lived with chronic pain
Back in January of 2010, I stepped awkwardly off the fire engine on a routine call and felt a twinge in my hip. Little did I know that what I thought was nothing of consequence at the time would lead to months and years of various therapies, treatments, and eventual surgery, to a medical retirement from my job as a firefighter, and to an ongoing experience of unrelenting 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 entire world. My isolated, dark, painful world.
Gradually came to realize that I could still lead a meaningful life, though, even if I had pain.
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. They’re just dampened, their volume turned down as the volume of pain turns up.
I realized the key to changing my pain was to turn up the rhythms of life and turn down the noise and discordance of pain.
I’d spent so long fighting pain, battling pain, trying to be rid of pain, that pain had become everything. By focusing all of my energies on the pain, pain became the center of my universe. I became pain. Pain defined me, controlled me. Defeated me.
I didn’t understand pain in those days, it just didn’t make sense.
Despite going to so many clinicians, no one helped me make sense of my experience or told me what I could do about it. For years I thought pain meant damage, meant injury, meant that something had to be very wrong and that it had to be fixed in order for me to get back to my life, back to myself.
Meanwhile, my life was on hold, my self in limbo.
After I medically retired from the fire service, I went back to graduate school to earn my Master of Science degree in human movement. I was going to become my own body mechanic and fix my pain. Fortunately, though, I chose pain science as my research focus.
Finally, things started to make some sense. Understanding the biology of pain, the biopsychosocial nature of pain, the complexities of pain, validated my experiences and allowed me to finally move forward. To finally start living again.
Pain science opened the door to living again
The work of Professor Lorimer Moseley changed my life. I had the great fortune of interviewing him for a school project, and that chat led me down a different path. A path empowered by the knowledge that we are bioplastic and that there is so much we can do to change our experiences, including our experience of pain.
Most importantly, though, was that I finally saw I could live my life, that I could love and be loved, in the words of Lorimer, without waiting for pain to be gone. That living my life and loving and being loved could help me overcome the difficulties of pain more than anything else could.
Understanding the science made me realize it was safe to move, and so I started moving more.
For so long moving had been worrisome. Believing that pain meant damage meant, I thought that pain with movement meant I was doing more damage, which meant it was scary to move. I didn’t want to do more harm. My movement became more and more limited, and more and more painful. I was stuck.
Learning that it was not only ok to move, but therapeutic to do so, that it was good for me, was freeing.
Understanding bioplasticity opened the door for me to get back to meaningful living.
From pain centered living to meaningful living
I finally understood I didn’t have to wait for the pain to be gone to get on with things. I could accept pain as a part of my current reality and make some space for it so there could be room for everything else, for all the things that mattered to me that I had been avoiding.
For so long I’d resisted that, thinking that it was giving in or giving up. That accepting pain meant conceding to the pain, conceding to a life of limitation and fear and worry. That acceptance was resignation. That it meant accepting a future of pain and suffering.
That’s not what acceptance is, though. 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 I value and find meaningful.
I was able to rediscover my worth, my identity, my purpose. Myself. I was able to start living again, my life no longer on hold, pain no longer at the center of things.
Gradually, my perspective shifted. I began to see the world again, see that it had been there all along, despite my absence from it. I reengaged with the world through nature and photography, walking and movement.
I reengaged with myself again, doing things I enjoyed like 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.
I got curious about pain and being human, trying 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 took time. A lot of time. But to be able to go from pain-centered living to just living was well worth that time, well worth the effort, the practice. 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, to change our lives. There is no map, no specific set of instructions, no Sherpa to lead the way. There is no one method, 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.
I can offer hope. Realistic hope. It is possible for us each find our way forward, with the help of knowledgeable guides, with the help of our loved ones, our friends, our therapists, our trainers, our healthcare providers. 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. It was still my path, though. Still my way way forward, my journey, my life, no matter how unfair it seemed. It was an unplanned route, that’s for sure. It was not how I expected my life to unfold.
The thing about unplanned routes, though, so frightening and uncertain at first, is that they can lead to beautiful things. To interesting things, surprising things, wonderful things. They can lead to learning and growth, to love and gratitude, to vulnerability and strength, to being able to appreciate and savor the simple things in life. To discover what is truly meaningful, to find out who we really are.
Along this path, I began focusing on my life rather than the pain. I could respect pain without fearing it, acknowledge it without focusing all of my energy on it. I could make space it for it so there was room for the people, places, and experiences that matter to me.
Rather than rue what could have been, I celebrate what is and what can be. Rather than focus on what I can no longer do, I focus on what I can do. Rather than long for who I used to be, I am proud of who I am right this very moment. Rather than worry about the future, I live for today and I’m grateful for it.
There’s much more to me than pain. There’s so much more to my 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, being of service. Enjoying the simple things in life.
These are the things that have helped me to find my meaning. They have illuminated my path and guided my journey. They are things that matter to me, that I live for, that give me purpose.
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.
With love and warmth,
Joletta Belton (Jo)