About the Author

Welcome to Euston Arch!

My name is Annie Sisk. I’m a writer, speaker, marketing consultant, web developer, and single mom. I’m also a ten-year-and-counting survivor of chronic pain.

And you? You are here at Euston Arch, a new site for chronically pained women to learn and share the lessons we’re all constantly learning about how to live gorgeously with chronic pain — how to thrive with chronic pain, instead of merely survive in spite of it.

This is what I do: I research chronic pain conditions (especially my own — degenerative disk disease, scoliosis, and the always-fun and totally grokked-by-the-medical community fibromyalgia). And I write about what I find here.

About This Site

Euston Arch began life as another site entirely: The Tramadol Diaries. The name was a tongue-in-cheek nod to my own gratitude for the little white pills that saved my life.

Unfortunately, Google didn’t think it was so funny, and we kept getting dinged in search engine results and spam checkers. (Thanks ever so much, tramadol spammers. Really. I owe you.)

So, I consulted the Goddess Quorum — a group of awesome female friends blessed with boatloads of creativity and wit. One of those goddesses, Carolie Brekke of WordMagix (who also just happens to be the most awesome typesetter and book designer around), suggested “Euston Arch.” Carolie, you complete me.

And here we are, as of March 2, 2011, in the new digs! There’s a lot planned for this site, and it’s all a work in progress. I decided against working behind the digital curtain, debuting the site when it was complete. I believe in transparency, so I opened up the whole process. I’m blogging about it at my personal site, AnnieSisk.com, and talking about it on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes view of building a web-based lifestyle brand, check out the conversations on those channels.

In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be adding a killer professional logo, courtesy of my good buddy Rand Careaga, and (I’m so excited about this part) a cool forum called “The DollHouse” where all us Dolls can gather and share our hard-won wisdom with each other. Bookmark us and keep coming back!

Annie’s Story

Every Doll has a story. Mine is somewhat fraught, but, hey, good stories always have drama, right?

I’m a “recovering lawyer” in more than one sense of the somewhat-overused phrase. My career ended — OK, exploded — early in 2009 as a result of a sudden, dramatic downturn in my health, and I transitioned into full-time writing and coaching.

How It All Began: Pregnant and In Serious Pain

In 1999, my pregnancy was marred by a near-constant case of severe, debilitating sciatica — a painful inflammation of the sciatic nerve which runs the length of the back of each leg. After a very difficult 40-hour induced labor, I gave birth to my daughter via Caesarean section but although I had that gorgeous bouncing ball of bliss to cuddle, the sciatica decided to stick around.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with severe degenerative disc disease resulting from a childhood case of scoliosis that had never been properly treated. The material that cushions the space between the L4 and L5 vertebrae, in particular, had been pushed out so extensively that it was impinging on the sciatic nerve.

Months of conservative treatment (physical therapy, massage, ice, TENS treatments) gave no relief, so I consulted a neurosurgeon. I will never forget the first consultation. The surgeon’s nurse looked at me with this strange mix of awe and pity, and said, “Oh, so you’re the one … that’s some spine you got there!” The surgeon put it more bluntly: “You have the spine of a sixty-year-old.” (I was 33.) How nice.

After the microdiscectomy, the sciatica vanished — but a whole new set of symptoms showed up. All-over body pain, extreme fatigue, severe sensitivity to light and noise, and a mortifying cycle of GI symptoms, none of which responded to over-the-counter treatments, brought me back to the doctor in the spring of 2000. Following a string of tests to rule out other problems, I finally received a diagnosis.

Diagnosis: Fibromyalgia

Oddly, my reaction was one of exhilarating relief. I finally had a name for what I’d thought of as some weird, never-ending flu.

However, that relief was somewhat short-lived, as the reality of my condition sank in. Fibromyalgia is incurable, though not usually considered degenerative (although some fibromites I know might disagree with the latter part).

It’s a life sentence, so I had to learn to live with it. My symptoms would get worse, then get better, and just as I started to think I’d turned some corner, I’d collapse in the grocery store. (No, really. That happened. Somewhere between the canned mandarin oranges and the Ramen noodles.)

Tramadol: The Little White Pill That Saved My Life

I tried a plethora of conservative pain management techniques over a period of four years. Physical therapy, acupuncture, different forms of yoga therapy, chiropractic treatments, nutritional supplements, and massage — in combination and alone, some gave me a little relief, but nothing gave me my life back.

Now, normally, I’m a pretty positive person. But this constant pain, day in and day out, had worn me down to the point past depression. Although I’m soberly grateful I never seriously contemplated killing myself, for the first time in my life I began to understand how people got to that desolate, desperate point.

So, I gave up my insistence on “no drugs” and agreed to add pain medication to my treatment plan. I began taking tramadol in carefully monitored daily doses, together with acetaminophen.

As soon as that first dose took effect and the pain immediately receded, I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time. I gradually uptitrated the dose with my MD’s supervision until we reached a management level that worked for me. I stayed on that dose level for four years, then last year (2010) gradually decreased it by a third.

Dolls Cannot Thrive on Medication Alone …

That’s not the extent of my management plan, of course. There’s more — a lot more. It can seem like a full-time job by itself some days.

There are diet principles to follow, and a certain level and quality of physical movement to achieve. There’s a meditation practice, and rules about sleep hygiene to obey. I have to be scrupulous about hygiene — if I get the flu, I’m not just bedridden for a few days: I’m out for weeks.

And that’s to say nothing of the time it takes to keep up to date on the latest research and policy/advocacy issues (which I love to do, don’t get me wrong).

It might be a pain in the butt, but it’s better than the pain in the rest of my body!

Dealing With Chronic Pain

As a fibromyalgia survivor, I understand that chronic pain conditions affect much more than a patient’s body: they affect every aspect of life.

From financial crisis to work disputes to challenges in personal relationships and parenting, I’ve experienced first-hand the sometimes devastating impact of chronic pain.

The good news is that change is possible. It’s within our power to manage the pain and create amazing lives. I know this for a fact, because I’ve done it, and I’ve helped other people do it, too — some of them in even worse pain than I was in.

My mission in life now is to help others learn how to create their own best lives and “thrive, not just survive.”

So, please browse around and check out the many articles I’ve written and published here. You can check out the articles, drop me a line, find a new resource to help you manage your chronic pain condition, and even learn about upcoming events where we can meet in person.

I think you’ll find a lot of good stuff here. But if there’s anything you think I’ve missed, or want to see covered here, just drop me a line or give me a shout on Twitter.