“I was 25 and I felt panicked.”
In 1997, Jenni Grover was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was feeling discouraged. “Everyone said, ‘Your life is over,’” she said. “My doctor said, ‘Get ready for a life of pain. Take Advil.’”
Fibromyalgia is a common, complex condition marked by chronic pain all over the body. Jenni felt aching joints, constant exhaustion, and intense, sharp pains in her back, neck, shoulders, rectum, stomach and feet.
“Sometimes the pain in my feet was so intense I couldn’t walk more than a couple blocks without bursting into tears. Hand pain sometimes has made it difficult to work — I’m a writer — and contemplating a potential career change was scary,” she said. “I’ve had episodes of pain flaring up so badly I contemplated suicide. Day-to-day, I always have pain, in many areas of my body.”
Jenni eventually decided to get a second opinion, and soon found herself at the RIC Center for Pain Management — now the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Pain Management Center (PMC). While doctors at PMC confirmed her diagnosis, they also told her about methods for treating chronic pain.
“They said, ‘We can do things to help you,’” Jenni said.
The Pain Management Center’s Toolbox
In the 21 years since she was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, Jenni estimates that she’s participated in just about every therapeutic offering at PMC, from biofeedback to occupational therapy.
“You name a PMC offering, and I’ve done it.”
For years, the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has advocated for an integrated approach to pain management. Through PMC, a team of doctors, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, biofeedback therapists, nurses, and a vocational rehabilitation counselor work together to comprehensively treat all aspects of patients’ pain. Patients then achieve success by combining pharmacology with emotional and psychological support, exercise, sleep improvement and stress management.
You name a Pain Management Center offering, and I’ve done it.Jenni Grover (the "ChronicBabe")
Jenni says she wouldn’t be who she is today without the support of the PMC.
“Knowing that team is there when I need them is great. If I’m going through a stressful period, I can come in once a week or call,” she said. “There’s no cure for fibromyalgia; there are ways to take care of it, but it’s not going anywhere. I have to learn to function with it and deal with ups and downs. Learning how to make changes and adjustments on my own is important.”
Today, she uses a “toolbox” of techniques she learned at the PMC to manage her condition. Jenni’s typical days starts with a wakeup routine; continues with yoga, meditation and journaling throughout the day; includes use of accessories that complement her unique body mechanics, like an ergonomic laundry basket and comfortable steering wheel in her car; and concludes with a sleep hygiene program.
Knowing that team is there when I need them is great. If I’m going through a stressful period, I can come in once a week or call.Jenni Grover ("The ChronicBabe")
Turning Chronic Pain into a Mission to Help
“I’m a lifelong Girl Scout. I did social service in college and after graduation.” Jenni said. “And, I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. It made sense to blog about my experience with chronic pain.”
In 2005 Jenni started writing about her experience with chronic pain in her blog, ChronicBabe. Over the years, she has written thousands of posts, partnered with corporate sponsors, been interviewed more than 100 times by media outlets and written a book called ChronicBabe 101: How to Craft an Incredible Life Beyond Illness.
“Life with chronic pain is really complex,” Jenni said. “It causes you to rethink everything in your life. I like to help people with chronic pain because I’ve been there. ChronicBabe has enabled me to take a bad thing that’s happened to me and turn it into something that helps people and myself.”
Along the way, Jenni has become a champion and change agent for those dealing with chronic pain, advocating for state and federal legislation to benefit them. Her best motivation has always been the readers and community cultivated by her blog.
“Today is a great example,” she said. “I was feeling worn out after a long day, but I got an email that said, ‘Your newsletter makes me happy. Keep it up!’ That really helps.”
Life with chronic pain is really complex. It causes you to rethink everything in your life. 'ChronicBabe' has enabled me to take a bad thing that’s happened to me and turn it into something that helps people and myself.Jenni Grover (the "ChronicBabe")
In her blog, Jenni presents herself as a contrast to common misperceptions about what someone with chronic pain looks and acts like.
“I’m a person who owns a business and home, is a wife and daughter and friend. I’ve got a lot going on,” she said. “If we can get people the treatment they need, they can get back out there and be a bigger part of society. We want to help people do that; we can do better about serving the greater good.”
Jenni’s looking forward to a year full of big milestones. She and her husband have purchased and are moving into a new home — a lifelong dream — and she will be relaunching the ChronicBabe website with some new enhancements.
Wisdom for Others
Jenni’s advice to those living with chronic pain? To surround themselves with the best team.
“Life with chronic pain is complex and requires people to re-engineer their lives,” she said. “I always encourage people to keep an open mind. Focus on the treatment instead of the cure and remain open to treatment options. It’s going to take a team effort to get you back on track, and also requires patience.”
Potential appropriate referrals to the Pain Management Center include any person with a diagnosis that continues to include pain beyond the typical expected healing time. Other indications include patients who are not making progress toward improved function; are not working (or for adolescents, have poor school attendance); are not participating in family and community activities; have psychological challenges that are impacting their progress; have consistent pain levels even with the regular use of analgesic or opioid medications; have continued visits to emergency departments or other providers due to pain; and show little to no improvement with surgical or interventional spine procedures.
To learn more about services the Pain Management Center provides and how to refer a patient, please contact Jennifer Richert, clinical manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 312-238-1249 (Ext. 8-1249).