Angela Wice, 35, has been through a lot. She was diagnosed with TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder) at 15 and had surgery to reconstruct the articulating disc that had shattered because of her grinding and clenching her teeth.
Two years later, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which the blood vessels or nerves between the collarbone and first rib (thoracic outlet) become compressed, causing pain in the shoulders and neck, as well as numbness in the fingers.
The diagnoses didn’t stop there. When Wice was 25, doctors determined she suffered from migraines, and at 27, stage IV endometriosis.
Pain has changed me in many ways, says Wice, who lives in Toronto. I am no longer that athlete who can go out and play sports. My friends have come and gone because of their lack of empathy. I became chronically depressed and suicidal.
One thing that raised her spirits was counseling pain sufferers.
I realized what helped me the most was being there for other people, says Wice.
I feel as long as I am helping someone, I am not thinking of myself, Wice says. I don’t think of my pain, and I don’t get depressed. I also do it because I have fought this battle alone. I could not see someone suffer the way I did.
Tip: Some of the greatest benefits of volunteering are not feeling isolated and being able to concentrate on others needs rather than on yourself. But what if your condition doesn’t allow to you to volunteer in person?
Volunteering doesn’t have to involve hours of time or even have a formal quality, says Linda Ruehlman, Ph.D., co-founder and director of the Goalistics Chronic Pain Management Program. The key is for each person to start at his or her own level and to have a broad idea of what it means to help others, given ones own limitations.
One way to volunteer from home on your schedule is to write thank-you letters to military families, in service as well as veterans, through Blue Star Families Operation Appreciation.
Volunteering is good for your health
Studies have shown that taking time to help others provides emotional as well as physical rewards. Volunteering can give you added purpose and may decrease the intensity of your pain. The gains of giving include:
- Higher self-esteem and self-confidence
- Reduced feelings of loneliness and depression
- More vigor and sense of meaning