My Journey with Chronic Undiagnosed Pain Led Me to Physical Therapy...
I am ready to speak up. If I don’t do it nobody will. I have chronic undiagnosed pain. It is unexplainable and it never goes away. It's managed with medication and barre/ physical therapy, but it is still there. One day I wake up and feel fine, but by 4 PM I am in bed without being able to get up and eat dinner. Migraines, neck pain, IBS, eczema, joint pain, dizziness, nausea, anxiety, you name it and I have it. However, I have never been to a specialist who truly wanted to help me get to the root cause of my issues. Masking the pain is their go to fix.
Doctors in the past have denied that my problems exist. I was told by a qualified Rheumatologist that I am just super flexible because of my past in competitive cheerleading. One even said “I will diagnose you with Fibromyalgia if that is what you want”. If that is what I want? Of course it’s not! What I want is to live life more freely like other people my age. At 21 years old, I sometimes feel like i'm 80. That is not normal, and pain is not what I want, but it is what I have. All I want is some answers. I have been through countless rounds of blood work. All have some concerningly high numbers, but somehow it equates to nothing significant. All I know is I am in pain, and I have yet to find anybody to fix it.
Through my experiences with chronic pain, I lost interest in medicine. I was pre med with a whole life ahead of me as a medical doctor. I graduated my undergrad at a top forty institution in three years. However, each time I shadowed a doctor, I found myself contradicting more and more of what I believed in. I was lost. I had a degree in Microbiology and Immunology, but I was not passionate about anything. I knew I wanted to go into women’s health because of my mom’s challenges with pregnancy and loss, but I had no idea what path I wanted to take to get there.
When I moved to Charleston, I began actively seeking shadowing opportunities. Mind you, this was July of 2020, so COVID was not very conducive to letting me find experiences. I hounded one physical therapist until she finally said okay fine, your background of Microbiology may be an interesting touch to my office. Little did either of us know back then, that I would later become her intern, and then her office manager. This physical therapist is Susan Chalela, MPT. Susan is a leader in physical therapy and a source of inspiration to her patients. She too suffers from chronic pain and hypermobility, but her issues have a known cause: Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is a group of disorders that typically affect the joints, skin and blood vessels. In reality, after spending much time in the clinic, it is clear that EDS affects the entire body and every system.
I can’t express how thankful I am for Susan becoming a part of my life. She has taught me so many valuable lessons about how to manage my pain, and how to not give up hope. She fights for herself and her patients harder than any other practitioner I have ever met, or believe exists. Alongside her colleague Beth Marks, MPT, the pair are unstoppable. Watching them in the clinic gives me hope and gives me purpose. I am proud to be part of the clinic family, and can’t wait to take steps towards getting my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree so I can one day work alongside incredible minds such as Susan Chalela and Beth Marks.
Susan Chalela, MPT
I might not have full control on my pain levels or even a diagnosis. However, through mobility, prevention, and lifestyle changes, I am a brand new me. Physical therapy has given me a seed in which I can grow an incredible Women’s Health practice. A place where women are truly heard for their concerns, and are treated with the respect and understanding, they so rightfully deserve. A place where they can learn through movement, lifestyle, empowerment and advocacy how to heal themselves and lead the path for other women to do the same.