What I've learned as a 26-year-old living with chronic pain

A few months ago, my feet began to hurt.

At first, I thought that it was just from standing a lot for work, but then it continued to get worse. The day the pain spread to my hands, I knew something was wrong.

But it was when it spread to the rest of my body — my shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles — that I panicked. What was happening to me? All of a sudden everything hurt, all the time: sitting, standing, walking. At first, lying down was my only relief. But then the pain got so bad every joint would throb, no matter how comfortable I was.


Within two months, I went from being a personal trainer, strong and fit with a passion for hanging upside down and balancing on my hands to not being able to dress myself, cut my own food, or tie my shoelaces.

Me playing around pre-arthritis. All photos provided by Ashley Hunt, used with permission.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and swelling in the joints. It's extremely painful. Around 10 million people in the U.K. have arthritis, 700,000 of which have RA. It is most common in women aged 45-60.

This is the third autoimmune condition I've been diagnosed with (I also have celiac disease and Berger's disease). That's the unfortunate thing with autoimmune conditions: Once you have one, you are more likely to develop another.

RA is often called the silent illness because people with RA don't look sick.

I'm a generally positive person, but I'll be honest: These last few months have really challenged me.

Every day is a constant struggle as I try to move through life in constant pain. It's a dark and isolating place to be. On top of the physical pain, there is also the fear that my body is changing, that it's completely out of my control, and the realization there are some things I will never be able to do again.

I've been in some dark places. I've felt sorry for myself. I've spent whole days in bed, I've used alcohol to numb the pain. It has been a process to come to terms with these changes taking over my body. But every day, I wake up and fight this battle again, getting stronger each time as I learn to accept the hand I've been dealt.

These are the lessons I have learned from living with chronic pain:

1. There is a time and a place for modern medicine.

While I am a huge advocate for natural health, we are so lucky to live in a modern world with amazing pharmaceuticals. I wish I could tell an inspirational story about how I rejected the drugs and decided to cure myself naturally, but it is so far from the truth. After the pain that I was feeling, when the doctors offered me a chance to have even half of it taken away by a steroid injection, even after listing the plethora of potential side effects, I jumped at it without hesitating for a second. As the kind of person who would never even take meds for a headache, this was a tough pill to swallow. Sometimes your values will be challenged as your circumstances change.

2. It's OK to ask for help.

I have always been stubbornly independent, never wanting to rely on anyone, priding myself on being completely self-sufficient. I'd never even let anyone open a jar for me, but oh, how the mighty have fallen!

I've had no choice but to put all of my pride aside as I begin to require assistance for almost everything. Now I understand the importance of having a strong support network and the gratitude that comes with having around me people I love who would do anything to help me.

3. Self-care isn't an option; it is a necessity.

I used to race through life, with clients morning and evening, full-time PR work during the day, pole dancing, yoga, travel, writing, friends, family... I used to feel that any moment I wasn't productive was wasted. I even used to meditate with the sole purpose of being more productive!

When I was first diagnosed, I got so frustrated with myself for not being able to do as much as I used to do. Now, I have learned to accept my situation, and I understand that I need to look after myself. I put myself first because I have to, and I listen to my body. If I need to spend an afternoon in bed, that's what I do. And it's OK. If I need to turn away a potential new client because I don't have the time or energy, that's fine too. You can't do it all. Make yourself a priority. Turns out, resting is pretty f*cking awesome.

4. Positive thinking is not always the answer.

Instagram mantras like "positive mind, positive life," "I'm in charge of how I feel and today I'm choosing happiness," and "wake up and be awesome," may seem inspirational, but I've learned that life is not so simple.

While I see a huge difference in my pain when I am in a good mood versus when I'm in a bad mood and I'm a big believer in the mind-body connection, it only goes so far. Telling someone like me to "think positive" or telling me that the reason this happened to me is that I poisoned myself with negative thoughts is insulting and so far from the truth.

Sometimes I wake up feeling like crap. I have a crap day. The people around me are being crappy. And that's fine. Then I go to bed and hope that tomorrow will be different. It's a new day.

5. Chronic pain can be extremely isolating.

People with RA are twice as likely as others to develop depression, and up to 4 of every 10 people with RA lose their job within five years due to their condition. 1 in 7 give up work altogether within one year of their diagnosis.

When I explain my illness to people, they nod and offer sympathies, but they don't really get it. The most valuable thing for me since being diagnosed has been to connect with other young sufferers, to know that I am not alone. There is unique solace to be found in someone else who also has issues pouring a cup of tea and who fully understands my fear of being locked in a public bathroom as my hands struggle with locks and handles.

6. It's never too early to start meditating.

Living with chronic pain conditions can take a huge toll on your mental health. For me, years of developing a meditation practice has made a big difference in my ability to handle difficult situations. It has been vital in allowing me to come to terms with my condition as well as staying positive, overcoming anxiety, and making the most out of my situation.

And meditation is not just for people with illnesses; it's an amazing tool for everyone! Stress and anxiety play a huge role in developing and worsening chronic illnesses. Meditation is a way of working on your well-being at the best of times so that when challenges come along, you have tools to help you gain control.

In the end, I've realized that my struggles have made me stronger.

It sounds cliché, but I can't even explain how true this rings for me right now. Even when I'm feeling my worst, I'm constantly realizing what I'm capable of. Every time I conquer yet another day of pain, I remind myself that I can get through this.

And if I can get through this, I can get through anything.

Pexels
True
Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.