Pain won’t stop her from setting goals.
In her early 20s, Cyrynda Walker was always on the go. She worked for the president of Boston University, planning and attending high-profile events, while taking a second job at a retail boutique on the weekends so she could afford a more professional wardrobe. In order to have more energy to work two jobs, she’d run three miles a day, take step aerobics classes, and use the stair climber.
Although diagnosed with fibromyalgia at the age of 28, Cyrynda continued working and remained active until she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome four years later. At that point, her lack of energy no longer allowed her to work or exercise, completely changing the fast-paced lifestyle Cyrynda was used to leading. As she started to slow down, Cyrynda began experiencing joint discomfort and her rheumatologist quickly diagnosed her with osteoarthritis.
“I was fortunate to receive a diagnosis early, and I’ve always had access to excellent care,” she says.
When Cyrynda was pregnant with her son, Liam, her osteoarthritis went into remission. But afterward, the joint pain and inflammation increased. It made it difficult for her to pick up her son, get him in and out of his car seat, and even sit on the ground to play with him. Cyrynda became very depressed, especially once she became a single mother. It was through the love and support of her family and finding a therapist that she was able to get through this difficult time in her life.
A stronger patient
In the early years of her pain journey, Cyrynda says, she learned to be her own best advocate by watching her mother, who had a strong personality and always stepped in to fight on her daughter’s behalf. “Nobody else is going to do it for you,” she says. “I’ve got to be strong and I’ve got to be well-informed to get the best care possible.”
Cyrynda, now 55, says her osteoarthritis has settled as a constant pain in her lower back, but she can feel it in all her joints. Her pain is often made worse by weather changes and the mornings are especially difficult due to the inflammation. Opioids did not provide much relief, nor did nerve blocks, acupuncture, or other physical therapies. A combination of CBD oil, ibuprofen, and tramadol help her manage her pain.
She says that although she is never without pain, she tries to push herself on her good days. “There are plenty of times that I have to cancel plans due to my pain, but there are times that I can push through despite my pain,” she says. Even though she knows she will pay for it the next day, she likes to take advantage of the times when she feels best.
Turning to faith
A Pentecostal Christian, Cyrynda is very involved in her church, Crystal River Church of God, and its different ministries. She teaches classes there on Sunday nights. “I had a foundation from my childhood in the church,” she shares. “And I found that no matter where else I looked for comfort and strength during my struggles and pain, I always came back to Jesus.”
Now, she says, her strongest support system is through her church. “It’s so important not to isolate when you have a chronic illness or illnesses,” she says. “Having that social system as support and backup is a primary source of strength for me.”
Cyrynda is very passionate about helping people, and she plans to get a master’s degree in pastoral counseling so she can one day work as a Christian counselor. She’s open about her illnesses and will speak to people about them. She shares not only to provide education but because she finds that so many others are also suffering from invisible illnesses that they don’t discuss due to the stigma attached.
“Part of it is wanting to educate people—invisible illness is something people don’t know about—and part of it is wanting to let people know they are not alone because everyone is going through something,” explains Cyrynda.
She wants to do everything she can to make a difference.
Putting family first
Cyrynda homeschools her son, now 16, and has for the past five years due to issues he was dealing with in more traditional schooling. She admits it is a full-time job, but she is happy to be able to spend time with him and provide him with the learning environment that best suits his needs.
Because they spend all day together, Liam has become somewhat of a caregiver to his mom, helping with little things around the house that often cause her pain. She believes that while the circumstances haven’t been ideal, it is because of their close relationship and seeing his mom struggle with pain that Liam has become a compassionate, sensitive young man. He, too, has now taken an active role at their church, working with the 4- and 5-year olds at the children’s church and volunteering at the church food bank. Cyrynda believes that Liam has learned the importance of caring for people and helping people as a result of her illnesses.
If there’s one critical lesson she’s learned on her pain journey, Cyrynda says, it’s been the importance of putting herself first. “I’m still learning how to say no, and take care of myself first, but I’m working on it.”
Being passionate about helping people makes it even more difficult for her to take a step back. It’s only in the past five or six years that she finally admitted to herself she was doing too much. She says it was really a process of accepting the person she is today.
When Cyrynda is asked about living in severe chronic pain, being a single mother, homeschooling her son, going to school online, and being an extremely active volunteer at the church, at first she scoffs at the idea that she is doing anything out of the ordinary.
“I don’t really think anything of it until I discuss it with someone who knows the struggles of living with chronic pain,” she says. “It does take a lot out of me, and I do struggle. But I just keep going —partly because, if I stop moving, I have trouble going again and partly because while some of these things cause me pain, they provide me with the mental and emotional support I need.”
While there was no one turning point that changed Cyrynda’s perspective on her pain, in retrospect she can see how her perspective has shifted. “Over the years, as my faith has strengthened, I have learned to accept my circumstances,” she says. “I work with my body now—not fight against it.”
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