In a previous post, I mentioned a few severe pain conditions that you don’t want to have. One of them was RSD-CRPS, which causes terrible constant pain due to your nervous system spiraling out of control . Back in 2009, I ran across Maria Mooney’s blog, and was astounded by her vim and vigor in the presence of a totally sucky disease. From 2009-2012, her positive attitude as well as diet and lifestyle experiments have netted substantial benefits for pain control. Let’s find out more, shall we?
Maria, can you tell us what inspired you to start blogging and give us a bit of background about yourself?
My inspiration to begin blogging stemmed from a health crisis. At the age of 23 years old, just as I was accepted into a Master’s program, I was diagnosed with a “progressive and incurable” neurological disease, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSD/CRPS), a condition that is characterized by a nervous system that receives normal stimuli as excruciatingly painful experiences. As a former athlete, the threat of disability was and has been particularly menacing, especially when traditional medical professionals suggested I set down my goals and apply for disability. I flirted with unsuccessful allopathic medical treatments for several years before I settled into a holistic lifestyle of raw veganism, yoga, meditation, and stress management. With these techniques, I have slowed and even reversed the progression of the disease, finished a Master’s Degree, and now have my sights set on a Ph.D.
What triggered your RSD/CRPS, and how did it affect your school and work life?
The disease was triggered by a running injury to the nerves in my feet when I was running cross-country for the University of Miami. It has made and continues to make school and work life much more difficult, although I continue to excel. It requires a lot more planning and self-care now. Rest is essential to my productivity.
How do you stay so gosh darn positive?
I wish I had a miraculous panacea for the blues. If I told you I possessed supernatural powers to stay positive at all times, I would be deceiving your audience and myself. My ability to stay positive is a daily commitment, and on the truly difficult days, it is a minute to minute commitment. In the past, spending lengthy periods of time in mental health and spiritual counseling gave me the tools necessary to live well with a disabling condition. When I wake up in the morning, I recommit to seeking balance and inner peace , and when those mornings are particularly trying, I allow myself to sink into my sadness and frustration, attending to the difficult feelings and waiting for them to pass. I have found peace. On occasion, I walk away from it, but I always find my way back.
A lot of PainDatabase readers eat a whole foods diet, although this can vary (vegetarian, vegan, paleo, whatever). What types of eating have you tried, and what differences have you felt?
A few weeks after my diagnosis, I transitioned to raw veganism, which is a whole food, anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet focusing on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. I juice fruits and vegetables daily and am currently on a juice fast, where I consume nothing but fresh, homemade juices (about a gallon per day) for deep cellular detoxification. I avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and animal products because of their negative effects on the immune system and body’s inflammatory responses.
Are there any medications or supplements that you responded particularly well to or particularly poorly to?
I do take supplements but have worked with a holistic doctor to tailor them to my needs. I really recommend that. I did not respond well to any traditional medications I took, including, but not limited to, opiates, benzodiazepines, and ketamine infusions. They are palliative and not curative. I have been seeking a cure or way to manage the condition naturally. Sometimes, it isn’t possible, but it is the route I am currently taking. I am medication free and plan on staying that way.
Do you ever interact with other patients with severe pain conditions?
I have through my writings and social media but not regularly. I’ve never been to a support group because of my desire to not adopt the “sick role.” I am incredibly lucky to have enough support from my family. Support groups are wonderful resources, I just do not use them.
When someone’s pain is out of control and life is too stressful, what is the one piece of advice you’d give them?
This too shall pass. It will get better. It has to. Just hang on one more day, and if it isn’t better tomorrow, hang on for another day. Center yourself, breathe, seek out support, and ask for guidance. Look for the lesson. Every experience is an opportunity for personal growth.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What did you physically feel like on a typical bad day before, and on a typical good day now? Meaning where did it hurt, what did the hurt feel like, and when did it hurt?
On a bad day, I would have widespread, burning neurological pain in all four limbs and beyond . I could barely walk and stand, and it was about an 8 on the pain scale of 1-10 (10 being the worst pain you could imagine). On a typical day now, the pain comes and goes depending on many variables, and it can get as low as a 3 or 4 on the pain scale. I can now do yoga and swim/pool run regularly.
Meditation is a subject near and dear to me. I gave up practicing when constant pain set in a few years ago because of the annoyance of sitting alone with pain, but just restarted. Tell me about your meditation practice so that I have a role model for this area.
My meditation practice fluctuates, as well, which is why I like yoga, moving meditation. I don’t have any role models in this area because my circumstances are so rare and individual. I try to just do what leaves me feeling better. In yoga, my role model is Tara Stiles. She suggests you “bend the rules,” which is what I love about her.
Speaking of role models…do you have any others?
My mother and father are my role models. I’ve never met more selfless, genuine, loving, kind, compassionate and empathetic individuals, and I don’t think I ever will. I work for KrisCarr.com, and Kris is also one of my role models. She is resilient, powerful yet soft, kind, vulnerable and loving. She strikes a beautiful balance. Also, any women in a powerful leadership positions traditionally held by men are true role models for me.
Thanks for the interview Maria. Any parting thoughts?
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your audience!
This interview touched on so many important subjects for pain patients. First and foremost — it’s really easy to start thinking like a sick person , which makes you feel like it’s acceptable to veg out on the couch all weekend and eat too munch junk food. Second and…(secondmost?)– Everybody adapts to challenges differently. Some people are made to conquer huge obstacles, and some have to try really hard. But sometimes you see an example that just sticks with you, and Maria would make a great example for many pain patients due to the effort she puts forth to live a happy life.
Finally, let’s talk diet. Although I generally follow a balanced, whole foods diet that includes meat, starches, fruits, and veggies…that doesn’t mean that I am sure it’s the best diet for everyone at all times. In fact, I’ve researched juice fasts similar to the one Maria is doing (which is actually a somewhat common strategy made popular by German physician Max Gerson), and there’s more I need to read. On the one hand, juice fasts conducted improperly can easily lead to malnourished and unhappy campers. On the other hand, juice fasts have a couple reasonably possible mechanisms to address chronic pain.
Number one is avoiding food toxins and gut irritants present in processed foods, meats, and the solid matter of a plant. Number two is the continued large bolus of nutrients present in plant juices. And number three, and most intriguing, is a very slight but important change in body pH levels from avoiding acid-producing wheat, dairy, and meat and glugging alkaline juices instead. I’m not talking woo woo mumbo jumbo stuff here, these are real mechanisms that have not been formally studied much in trials. That being said, don’t go juice fasting for the next month on a whim. There’s a lot to think about, like protein intake, disease/drug interactions, etc. If you’re looking to make an extremely safe change right now, just cut down on foods that come in a box or with a brand-name attached.
Anyway, that’s it for this interview. If you’d like to read more about Maria’s experiences, check out her extensive and informative blog. To borrow/steal a phrase from her…Happy Healing!