‘I experimented with 9 months of sensory isolation. There was never a moment when the pain was below a 7.’: Man shares story of triumph over chronic pain and illness

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“Imagine a nightmarish lifetime of pain, bizarre and intense symptoms, and seemingly endless limitations on your life. You cannot work, you can barely move, and your thoughts and feelings are dominated by misery and dozens of negative symptoms.

It’s a place so hopeless that you can’t trust that there will ever be a halfway-normal existence for you due to searing nerve pain through 80% of your body. Even the sound of someone’s voice or the sight of a television stabs your hypersensitive nervous system with every change of tone or scene. You sit over 30 hours each time you’re awake, in the same position so that you won’t flex your pained muscles, waiting for the next dose of narcotics or muscle relaxers. The only thing you look forward to is falling asleep to briefly escape from the waking nightmare, but each day you awaken in a slightly worse version of it for 15 straight years.

man with his father while he is in pain
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

Now imagine all that pain, those symptoms, and that bleakness melting away into a radiant dawn of perfect health, happiness, and purpose. You continually have success using the method you devised to help others escape from chronic pain and illness just as you have.

It sounds like a fairy tale, but this is my life! I want to tell you my story of how I survived 35 years of crippling darkness from multiple autoimmune diseases and severe chronic pain and emerged an expert at guiding others to do the same.

I was born into a wonderful, loving family, the youngest of three. Of course, there were stresses, but as one of my friends says, I won ‘the good parent lottery,’ and I adore my siblings. I quickly exhibited a love of learning and was well-liked by peers.

baby boy being held by his mom
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

But there were signs that I was in for a terrible ordeal. Recurrent ear infections and antibiotics were staples before I was ten. My childhood was dominated by one question I could not answer: ‘Christopher, why do you have to go to the bathroom so often?’ How is a five-year-old to know that he was suffering from chronic bladder inflammation of the autoimmune disease interstitial cystitis when the doctors didn’t even diagnose it until 21 years later?

Thankfully, while some teachers and doctors doubted the truth of my condition, my parents took me seriously. They took me to every doctor they could find as symptoms multiplied, and I developed more problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia, which basically means your gut burns, you’re often in the bathroom, and hurt all over. Exercise-induced asthma at age 10 robbed me of my promising athletic potential, and I started getting pudgy. I became chained to the bathroom.

The many doctors and tests didn’t find anything abnormal, which led me to two false ideas: 1. I could expect a course of pills might make things better briefly, but the trend would continue downward. 2. Health was an incomprehensible fog of symptom suppression, and no one could conquer chronic illnesses or pain. From these conclusions, I developed my coping tactic—gritting my teeth through pain and symptoms and pushing them out of my mind to function on my limited level. This approach could only work for so long. The root causes of my health problems were unaddressed, and dysfunction was multiplying as the timer to total disaster ticked down in my body.

little boy surrounded by his stuffed animals
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

I could not keep up with kids my age, no matter how hard I tried. It made me cry and mostly inwardly grieve, but I eventually accepted that I could not measure myself by normal standards. I was ‘the sick kid’ who was teased or bullied when my stomach made strange sounds, for being at home so much, and for wetting my pants when the teacher told me: ‘you can’t use the restroom again. You’ve gone enough today.’ I coped by shutting down socially. I was popular in grade school but a ghost after that. It was better to be unknown than known as inferior.

The burning in my bladder became constant when I was 16, as did the symptoms of my other conditions. The pain was always between three to six out of ten and would have days worse than that.

The joy I felt in my early years was replaced by a flat sadness and the mental shackles of limitations that kept shutting down my courage to do and be more. I lived in anxiety, chewing my fingernails mushy and bloody over fears of bathroom trips interrupting a test and hoping that the other kids wouldn’t find out what was wrong with me. I managed to get to my senior year of high school without anyone knowing much about me. But I kept trying to be my best. I never stopped making efforts to learn something new or become better at something I loved, like writing. I knew my life mattered and that I deserved a good one, even if it was impaired.

man suffering through pain
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

In college, I decided to reset my personality. There weren’t any cliques or much past knowledge of me, so I could reboot and open up. I got more fit from daily walks to class, and I tried lifting weights. I got into the best shape of my life and back to being gregarious, easily making friends. I developed a dream of inspiring others to be their best through my fiction stories.

But horror was around the corner. The symptoms were always there. The timer was reaching zero. I couldn’t party like the other students. My nose swelled shut whenever someone smoked, or I drank a beer. I became the perpetual designated driver due to the intense stinging sensations I got from even a drop of alcohol. I was always tired and achy. The bathroom trips were increasing. Gritting my teeth wasn’t working anymore. Most of each day, I felt like screaming from the pain and symptoms all over my body. I held it in with a smile on my face as long as I could. Then my semi-functional life ended suddenly after my college graduation. The next fifteen years were worse than anything I thought plausible to write in my fiction stories.

Most people don’t understand what the pain of nine or ten is like, and I’m glad for them. It’s learned through experience and worse than one expects. A true nine or ten is so bad that you can’t even scream or cry. You’re in so much pain that your body locks, you can’t walk, you can’t say anything, and your mind spirals out of control. Imagine being on the edge of that for fifteen years and occasionally edging into it, and you’ll begin to understand the worst years of my journey.

man feeling the chronic pain
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

Every bathroom trip brought traumatic pain. As the intense burning in my pelvic region spread up through my abdomen, I became essentially bedridden at my parents’ house. My parents were wonderfully supportive, but it wasn’t enough. I needed a way to improve, and they couldn’t relate to the prisoner I was becoming to my health. I was alone even when surrounded by loved ones. My life was becoming so strange that it was like I was a different species.

I had a good cry about giving up the outside world and exercising, but I thought: what value is still open to me? I wanted something from my life, even if it would be limited to a cruel and unusual level. I was still in control of the most important of myself: my mind. I seized on that and dove into reading. I studied philosophy and discovered how to think clearly and in principles. It dawned on me: if I could now think in an integrated manner, perhaps I could apply that to health and discover something missing and heal! I began studying conventional and alternative sources of health information and piecing together a method of my creation. This would save me, but the payoff was over a decade away. As I studied and crafted my approach, I became ever sicker and more miserable.

I read about health over 10 hours per day as I raced my body’s descent into the nightmare. I found the potency of lifestyle changes and the promising discipline of Functional Medicine—an approach of looking for root causes of chronic health problems. But I couldn’t make them work. I couldn’t push through the pain and symptoms to move more and was too scared to give up the minor relief I got from my prescriptions. I kept shutting down physically as new levels of pain and symptoms emerged. As my nervous system became overwhelmed by all the symptoms and pain, watching TV and listening to music became painful. So I retreated further and only talked and read books. I was a lab rat in a clinical trial of one, testing my health hypotheses.

man who was miserable with his life
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

When talking and reading began to feel excruciating, I fled to my bedroom to experiment with nine months of sensory isolation. I turned on a white noise machine, pulled closed a blackout shade, and laid in bed in darkness and quiet all day. It was a voluntarily chosen sentence of solitary confinement that I bore as well as I could. Sometimes I wept, such as when I saw the shadow of my dog, Archie, lying up against the door because he wanted to get near me. I had to stay away because the heat of his body would fire up my nerve pain to intolerable levels. I gave up the experiment when I became more sensitive and developed constant intense shoulder, neck, and facial pain through my occipital and trigeminal nerves. I could no longer lie on my head without triggering severe pain and spasms in my body. My new limitation was to sit up for the next seven years and only fall asleep when I was at profound levels of exhaustion.

The nightmare became complete. With the new head pain, there was never a moment with pain below a seven. I felt like I was covered in fire. New symptoms and spasms in my body showed up monthly. I could no longer smile or shave due to the pain. Showers irritated my conditions so much that I only took one every two weeks. I hurt so much that I was trapped in the same sitting position the entire time I was awake, bracing myself to avoid flexing a muscle that would trigger more pain. My upper spine became so curved that I was almost three inches shorter than my previous height. I agreed to go on narcotics and muscle relaxers to get some breaks from pain, which became ever briefer. The doctors put me on 15 medications to suppress the new problems. I put on over 100 pounds. I ended up awake as long as 40 hours. I lost complete touch with the regular world when I’d see the sun or moon more than once each wakeful period.

This all went on for four straight years. Despite my ability to deal with so many limitations, this drove my mind to the edge of emotional despair. I was getting desperate and thought I would die before I or some scientist or doctor discovered how to stop my deterioration.

man who was on the mend
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

The nightmare reached its climax on January 16th, 2017. I was on an immunosuppressant treatment for autoimmune disease that started giving me frightening symptoms. I sweated intensely and began to see flashing black spots all around me. I shook for eight straight terrifying hours with my body alternating from a feeling of fire and ice, worrying that this might be the end of my life while my parents comforted me.

This was it. Time was up, and it was life or death. Either I committed fully to the integrated method I’d been studying and crafting, or I’d never escape the nightmare. There was so much in life I’d never done. I hadn’t worked. I hadn’t found the love of my life. I hadn’t written any novels due to the pain. My desire to live propelled me to give it my all. I vowed that I wasn’t going to die this way. I would push through the pain to move and drop the medications no matter what.

  1. I was going to implement three pillars of health:
  2. I would make as many lifestyle changes as I could
  3. I would work on my mindset to not expect doom from every change

I’d enact everything from Functional Medicine to get to the root causes of all that was wrong with me and address it simultaneously

man dealing with his chronic pain
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

It worked! I began to improve! Later in the year, I met former Mayo Clinic doctor Jim Lemons. He taught me the last of the four necessary pillars for helping chronic health problems: neuroscience. With the Four Pillars, I began to improve rapidly!

Fast-forward five years, and I’m still getting better! It’s taken a constant commitment to come back from the brink. It wasn’t easy, but it’s all been worth it. I feel the best I ever have! I just had eighteen straight days with time without pain after living with it for 25 years! I’ve been in remission from all my autoimmune diseases and symptom-free since October 2020. The quietness from the lack of pain and symptoms in my body is wonderful!

man taking a selfie and smiling
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

I lived a nightmare. But with my drive and the Four Pillars method I devised, I woke up to a world better than my wildest dreams. I have a life of purpose, filled with values that bring me profound happiness. I revere every moment of my life and only have healthy limits. No more mapping where bathrooms are, no more fear of exercise! I’m doing everything I always wanted to. I walked the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. I climb mountains, lift weights four days a week, run 5ks each day, and go bouldering. I am fit!

I finally get to enjoy my wonderful family. The worry is gone from us, and we get to enjoy our mutual flourishing. I have better friendships with deeper connections than ever. I socialize when I want to and don’t have anything to hide about myself!

Most importantly, I have work I love! Two years ago, I realized that my nightmare never had to happen and that millions of others are living their own nightmares with chronic health problems. Dr. Lemons told me that in his over 40 years of work, he had never seen someone recover from such severe health problems and pain. So we decided to write a book about how to best manage and sometimes reverse chronic health problems.

But that wasn’t enough for me; I wanted to help others directly. So I became an ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coach and a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach. I opened my own business to educate and partner with chronically ill and pained individuals every step of the way to make their journeys easier.

man on a rock climbing wall after dealing with pain
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

I guide my clients to implement my method and to escape from the shackles of their ill health and pain. Last year, it was tremendously rewarding when I helped a 19-year-old man drive his interstitial cystitis into remission. He’ll never know how bad it could have gotten, and I couldn’t be happier for him! My method is working with a host of conditions: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Hashimoto’s, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and more.

I look forward to every appointment I have and every word I write and say to spread awareness of this method. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and feel like I never work a day!

Instead of an endless nightmare, I have joy and dreams. I cherish how great my body feels and the freedom I have. I will help as many people suffering from chronic health problems as I can, and I will write my fiction stories in my retirement years. It turns out that I have another way to inspire others to be their best and help them implement it!

Each day is the grand adventure my life should have always been and will be from now on. I eagerly await seeing how many people I can help to a similar future.”

man after dealing with chronic pain smiling
Courtesy of Christopher Blakeslee

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christopher Blakeslee from Overland Park, KS. Follow his journey on Instagram, YouTube, and website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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