Danielle Stern, founder of creative bespoke brand, Lefty’s Right Mind has been living with chronic body mind throughout her life. As a mother and a professional, she’s had to overcome this massive obstacle to create a life she envisioned for herself. Here, she’s telling her story in the hopes that other women struggling with unrelenting pain can perhaps begin to see theirs, too.
I can’t recall if it was when I barely made it down the driveway to put Mila on the bus or if it was when I couldn’t walk up the stairs to my room, that I had my most recent “feel bad for myself” breakdown. Needless to say it was my last; I committed to work towards living a life, a month, even a day, with chronic pain.
Let me preface by saying that this is me at my most vulnerable. I’m struggling to type my trigger words like “scoliosis” or “arthritis.” But I keep reminding myself of why I’m writing this in the first place. It’s to remind anyone else living with pain, that they are not alone.
So yeah, I’ll come out and say it, I wore a back brace in middle school. Fortunately, I didn’t wear it during the day, but you bet I wore it during sleepovers and at sleepaway camp – talk about a character builder! I was that 8-year-old who was exempt from nurse scoliosis checks during Phys Ed (and felt so cool about it.)
Fast forward to my 20’s, I feared when a friend or date asked me to a concert. Standing up and standing still, to this day, is my kryptonite. The pain gets so intense that I’d rather be home than out having fun. I was and still am, that person sitting down at a concert, and maybe (ahem, always) falling asleep.
For a time, I attempted specialized yoga for scoliosis. It became the support group that made me feel less alone. It was the first time I was motivated to work out, feeling stronger than ever (although I much prefer playing sports) until a discouraging private session that tore my right labrum. Even with surgery, my hip will never be the same.
When I got pregnant with our first baby girl, Mila, I endured all the things – vomiting, food aversions, reflux, and of course, my trusty steed, the pain. I ended up receiving cortisone shots in my lower back when I couldn’t bear it. I’d get stuck on the couch and my husband Noah, like Prince Charming on his white horse, would have to pick me up and carry me to bed. To this day, I can’t lay on my back without experiencing shooting pains in my left ass cheek. While most first-time parents are out living their last days of “freedom”, we stayed home because I couldn’t walk. Pretty sure my 96-year-old-great aunt was in better shape.
Baby number two, Demi, was a much harder pregnancy. I was in my second trimester by the time the pandemic hit, so cortisone shots were hard to come by. The pain started much sooner this time. Thankfully, we were living with my parents, so I had an incredible amount of support. My doctor prescribed lidocaine patches to help numb the fireworks going off inside my body. I was essentially covered in what looked like toilet paper, but hey, I was willing to try anything.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I had two scheduled c-sections. My right hip didn’t bounce back after surgery and my doctor was convinced that if I tried to give birth naturally, my pelvis would shatter. Growing up with back issues, I always had a feeling this was my fate, but it was still a hard pill to swallow when it became reality; there were tears. I’d be lying if I didn’t fantasize about that movie moment where I get to scream at my husband, who is running around like a chicken without a head, supporting me anyway he can, covered in sweat while I simultaneously push a baby out of my lady parts. But cesarean sections are all I know and from one baby to the next, the experience got easier because I knew what to expect. When life gives you lemons, ask for salt and tequila, am I right?
While most first-time parents are out living their last days of ‘freedom,’ we stayed home because I couldn’t walk.
Throughout my journey, luckily, I’ve met some wonderful surgeons and pain specialists. I’ve read books like Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John E. Sarno and continue to make regular visits to acupuncturists and physical therapists. They play an instrumental part in my life, and I will forever be grateful for their care and advice.
Whether it was from scoliosis or my newly diagnosed arthritis, I can’t remember a day where I wasn’t in physical pain. This is not meant to be a sob story but more a reminder of the importance of resilience and taking care of yourself. I’m sure we all love the proverbial female struggle of finding time for ourselves. It’s easier said than done when pressure is coming at you from all angles and a mere shower seems impossible to navigate. But prioritizing ourselves is a must if we want to be our best selves for everyone around us as well. My girls call my full-body heating pad a superhero cap. They’re not wrong. Whatever your journey is, never forget to prioritize you.
My motivation wavers and THAT IS OKAY. Ups and downs are imminent but I know I’ll never give up. I WILL play competitive tennis again. I WILL run around with my girls. I WILL live out ALL of my career dreams. When I feel down, I remind myself that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and that it’s all about perspective. A smart man once said, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Rather than succumb to the pain, I’ve made it my mission to face my chronic pain head on. I will be okay! And hey, my silver lining? My high threshold for pain makes laser hair removal feel like a back tickle!