- Written by Jessica Riel
- Published: 15 June 2018
Dino is “on the path of living a life WITH chronic pain and not letting it RUN my life”
When Dino Schnelle retired two years ago, his retirement did not seem to hold the promise of “golden years.” Having suffered hip dysplasia for his entire adult life and then a heart attack in 2011, Dino also left his working life with diabetes and chronic nerve and muscle pain.
“With all these problems and conditions, I felt like my life had been taken away from me,” says Dino.
Dino, now 66, had always led an active life. In the 1980s, he moved to a remodeled one-room schoolhouse in Heath. “I started here as an organic farmer,” says Dino, “growing fresh culinary and medicinal herbs, heirloom vegetables and organizing one of the first Community Supported Agriculture projects in western Franklin County.”
In 1997, Dino took a job with Community Action before becoming the Food Pantry Program coordinator for the Center for Self-Reliance, a position he held for 16 years until his retirement.
His health conditions are what brought on his decision to retire. “Not being able to sit, stand or walk for extended periods of time, not being able to lift or carry large boxes of food, not being able to ‘play’ in my garden or go hiking were all things that restricted my ability to do my job, relax and enjoy the things that were important for me.”
Many people with chronic health conditions feel that, after a diagnosis, they are largely on their own with managing their health, as our modern healthcare system is not built to support the daily management of a long-term condition in the 15 minutes most of us have during a doctor’s visit. Dino was given prescriptions for pain medications and a recommendation to join the YMCA. “Managing my health was now my full-time job,” says Dino.
Last summer, Dino was at the YMCA in Greenfield for a gentle yoga class when he saw a flyer for a free workshop through the Healthy Living Program at LifePath. “Since I did not know anyone who had participated in the workshops, I really was not sure what to expect,” says Dino, but he decided to try it out. “I signed up for the Chronic Pain Self-Management workshop at the Greenfield YMCA in the fall – from late September through November, 2017. I was just hoping to meet others who were struggling with the same problems and looking for practical solutions.”
At the start of the first workshop session, says Dino, his feelings were mixed. “I felt that the reputation of LifePath and my experience working with the organization in the past was one of consistent professionalism, dedication and genuine concern for the people they were working with. I was concerned about the length of the sessions (2 ½ hours each) and was a little intimidated when I saw the ‘workbook’ that was distributed the first session.”
His concerns were understandable. People with chronic pain, as Dino shared, may have difficulty sitting for extended periods of time. Healthy Living workshop peer-leaders, who are also living with chronic health conditions, encourage participants to get up and move around, even to leave the room for a moment as-needed during the sessions to better ensure their comfort.
Fortunately, the heavy workbook turned out to be an invaluable tool. “The workbook laid out in easy detail a wide range of tools and techniques to deal with the ‘limits’ my pain had imposed on me.” Because people who attend the workshop are given the book to keep free of charge, it can also serve as a continued learning resource at home after the sessions have ended.
But on that first workshop day, Dino felt a sense of relief. “It was just a real change to walk into a room of full of people I did not know and NOT have to explain why I was not ‘having a good day’ because of my health problems.”
Surrounded by people from his community who were also trying to manage a life with chronic pain, Dino’s perspective began to shift. “The thing that surprised me about the workshop was the inspiration I got from the other participants, some who were older, some who had struggled with more challenging pain conditions, some who suffered from very different sources and forms of pain. But all of them were demonstrating in their own ways how engaging and facing your pain can empower you.”
Now several months after the six-week workshop ended, thanks to the tools he learned from Healthy Living, Dino says he is “on the path of living a life WITH chronic pain and not letting it RUN my life.”
Healthy Living workshops all have the common practice of teaching people to break their goals down into what Dino calls “simple, easy steps.” Dino reports that “the goal-setting and expectations-management tools have been one of the most important things that I learned, and the exercise and diet tools continue to help me reclaim my life.”
In practice, this means that Dino plans out each day to “maximize my participation in life,” he says, balancing activity with rest so he does not tire himself out to the point of exhaustion. “By planning out my week, I can focus on the priorities in my life of classes and appointments and organizing what I do with whom and when so that I do not suffer the severe ups and downs of over-doing my schedule for a few days and then requiring several more to get my energy back and get my pain back under control. I am now able to attend my gentle yoga and TaiChi classes twice a week, participate in a pain pals support group and am busy in the garden. I maintain my network of friends and, in general, have fewer of those ‘down days’ that are spent on the couch or not being motivated to do all the things I enjoy.”
The workshops include sections on communicating with healthcare providers to make the most of those often short appointments. “Because of the workshop I worked with my health care providers to sensibly reduce some of my pain and blood pressure medications which I felt was only contributing to the ‘woolly-head’ feeling I had from time to time and was one of the things that was reducing my engagement in and enjoyment of my life.”
Dino has even been able to share what he has learned to help someone else: his 87-year-old mother. Immediately following the workshop’s end Dino spent three weeks with his mother after she was released for a 12-day hospital stay for blood clots in her legs. “Upon reviewing the workbook with her, we were able to find exercises that we both could do that would help her build up the strength she had lost in her arms and legs,” says Dino. “She has had a full recovery, and we continue to inspire, support and challenge each other as we get ready to celebrate her 88th birthday!”