When degenerative disc disease caused incessant back pain and a botched ankle surgery left me with nerve pain in my foot, I considered early retirement or disability. I took some medical time off and began the process. But an ad in the newspaper caught my attention, an executive directorship that sounded fun and exciting. The first words of the ad were, “High energy person wanted.” And I thought, “Nope. Not anymore.” I struggled with myself for a few weeks and decided to apply. The excitement culminated with a great interview and I got the job! I am excited every day to go to work and enjoy one of the best jobs of my life.

Here are my top 12 tips for working through chronic pain.

1. Do what you can do and delegate the rest. Know your limits and respect them.

2. Beware the opiods.

3. Meditate. Most helpful for nerve pain is to use sensory integration techniques. When I am floating on the lake, I am weightless. I feel the movement of the waves, the cool water, the hot sun, the warm wind on my skin. I hear the birds and smell the lake water. The variety of stimuli helps my damaged nerves form new pathways to sort the information, alleviating nerve pain completely at times. When I am at work and stressed or at night when the nerve pain is burning, I can visualize my time in the water and frayed nerve endings respond with some sort of muscle memory. 

4. Follow doctor’s orders to the letter, go to PT and do the exercises at home.

5. Make time to do what you love. I’m a writer and I love writing, 1000 words a day if possible. Be grateful for aspects of your job that allow you to do what you love. I now love grant writing.

6. Get outside. Even if you can’t get sunlight, spend at least 5 minutes a day outside. Sometimes I stand in the middle of a snowstorm for a few minutes, just to admire the power of nature, and practice sensory integration through mindfulness.

7. Exercise however you can. This is hard because injuries and pain prevent us doing the things we normally love. Some days I can’t walk, but I can do PT exercises, isometrics and pilates stretches lying down. Non-weight bearing is best. Start with 5 minutes a day.

8. Find your natural solace. Some like it hot, some like it cold–ice packs or heating pads, warm baths, Bio-freeze, lavender creams, scented candles. Practice religiously.

9. Get your sleep. Unplug the electronics, open your shades and get into the circadian rhythm of things. Get a great mattress and comfortable bedclothes.

10. Build a nest. Have a quiet, restful place where you can go, both at work and at home. I have the most beautiful office in the world where I sit in the beautiful  empty Victorian theater to take breaks from the office.

11. Take care of your mental health as well as your physical health. Therapy can help.

12. Don’t be mean. Pain can make you unconsciously mean and you become less aware of how you are treating others. Pay attention when you are hurting. Either fess up to your coworkers or family and/or retreat to your nest. “Sorry, back spasm! Give me a minute,” goes a lot farther than snapping at someone.