Chronic Pain & Illness Online Photo Project 2016

therapeutic photography The 2nd Annual Chronic Pain & Illness Photography Project starts April 1, 2016! This is a FREE 14-day therapeutic photography e-course for people who live with chronic pain or illness. The project takes place in a closed Facebook group. Each day there will be a photo prompt related to chronic pain/illness. Participate as much or as little as you would like. No experience necessary. Just use your phone-camera, snap away and share in the group. The course is for previous participants and newcomers! I can’t stress enough that you do not need any photography experience.

“This [project] has changed my life, my marriage and my entire outlook on my illness. Your project saved me in a way I can never repay. It has sincerely been life changing and I’m forever grateful to you for it.” ~2015 Participant, Jenna

As noted, the course takes place in a CLOSED Facebook group. The daily photo prompts will all be related to pain/illness and will include an explanation of how to approach each topic. Past prompts have included: acceptance of pain/illness, gratitude, and goals. You and the other participants will then take and post a photo along with a few sentences about your experience related to the prompt. You are also encouraged to reflect on and comment on other participants’ photos. The personal nature of the group quickly creates a supportive environment to share and many lasting friendships are often created.

Have a look at some of last year’s photos. Hear what past participants thought about the project here.

Photography can be incredibly healing for those of us with chronic pain/illness. Photography allows us to express feelings about our pain/illness we might not otherwise be able to. To learn more about the benefits of photography for pain/illness click here.

REGISTER by March 31, 2016: Click here to sign-up. You will receive the link to the projects’ Facebook group in a confirmation email once you register.

I am really excited to be offering this project again after such an enriching and successful project last year. I hope you will join this fun and healing project.

Book Synopsis: How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard

how-to-be-sickHow To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

I recently read How to Be Sick for the third time! Each time I read this book I take away comfort and knowledge…comfort from knowing I am not alone and knowledge from the helpful practices she shares in the book. The author offers both a chronology of her illness and an introduction and explanation of primarily Buddhist-inspired principles and tools that help her deal with being sick.

(Important side note: people of any religion can benefit of this book…the concepts in the book are not ‘religious’ in any way and I believe they should not conflict with one’s own spiritual beliefs).

As I read her book, a feeling of relief comes over me, from knowing I am not the only person practically home-bound due to their health. Of course I know this to be true without reading the book, social media is full of us ‘spoonies’ sharing snippets of our lives, but there is something about reading her account of her illness and its impact on her life which I really connect with. For instance, I can so relate to her going to great lengths to stay at her job. She resorted to teaching her class sitting in a chair instead of standing, not to mention peeing in her office (you have to read the book to get those details)! Her account reminded me of when I was still trying to work and I would lay on the floor of my office during every break and lunch hour and then, like Toni, I would go home and crash for the entire night. We both pushed until we could do it no more. She then shares examples of missing out on family and social activities, being unable to take care of herself and a myriad of others issues we all face when living with pain/illness. She shares her story in an incredibly honest, open and humble way. She admits to breakdowns and at times not handling things well, however, she always moves forward from these challenges. She details the specific tools she uses to handle each type of situation.

The tools she refers to include Buddhist principles and practices such as the four sublime states, Tonglen and mindfulness. In non-Buddhist terms, these principles relate to compassion for oneself and others, acceptance, peace, and awareness. She keeps her explanations simple and easy to understand so readers unfamiliar with Buddhism should have no problem grasping them; while those familiar with Buddhist practices, will welcome learning how to apply the principles to living with illness/pain.

She references the work of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh whose books, meditations and talks first introduced me to mindfulness and led me to the realization that I had finally found an approach that truly could help me live with chronic pain. Therefore, it was validating to have Toni include some of his practices in her book.

She also highly recommends and explains teachings of self-help author and speaker, Byron Katie, in particular, an inquiry tool called “The Work” where one is asked to go through a series of steps to challenge the thoughts towards one’s situation and then turn the thoughts around. I think we all have quite a few thoughts related to our pain/illness that could be effectively challenged with this method.

If it sounds like the book offers a lot of helpful tools and information, you are right! The author summarizes all the tools at the end of the book which makes the book easy to refer to and trust me you will want to refer to it over and over again.

Overall the book is wonderfully written and packed with so many transformative ways to approach dealing with illness and/or pain. Most importantly Toni serves as an inspirational example of someone who, living with illness, is changing lives and making a difference in the world. As Toni says, “there is sickness, but I am not sick.”



FOCUS – my guiding word for managing chronic pain in 2016

my wordI recently finished facilitating an online course called “Choose Your Guiding Word for for people with chronic pain or illness”. I participated in the course along with everyone else. The month before the course, I had already been thinking about what my guiding word for 2016 might be. A variety of words had floated through my mind…SURRENDER, DO, NOURISH, and DISCIPLINE. I wanted to stay open though, so when the course started I completed the exercises with no expectations and I was surprised to find FOCUS was the word that came loud and strong to me. At first I was averse to the word FOCUS as it felt so “harsh” and “boring” compared to the “softer” words I usually choose. Past words of mine have included PEACE and BE.

I reflected on this and realized that my past words were gentle and calming as that is what I needed at the time. Those words led me to establish a committed daily meditation practice and incorporate mindfulness into all aspects of my day. My priority at the time was to create practices to help me handle the setbacks that my pain causes me on a regular basis.  With this solid calm base, I am now ready to FOCUS.

Overall, I recognize that this year, I need to FOCUS my time on activities that are best for my health and wellness. This means less time scrolling Facebook and Instagram and instead focusing on what my body and soul need. This year I am going to:

FOCUS on things that fill me with peace and joy – nature, time with my nephews, and photography.
FOCUS on purpose – offer more e-courses and other projects.
FOCUS on gratitude – return to writing in my gratitude journal on a daily basis and continue to turn lacking thoughts to grateful ones.
FOCUS on nourishing practices – journal by candlelight, listen to classical music, have long bubble baths and make lots of vision/belief boards and collages.
FOCUS on self-care – including flossing (yes, flossing!)
FOCUS on a strong meditation practice – record more personalized guided meditations, meditate in the morning as well as the evening.

I have discovered that my word is not just for setting goals but can also be used as a tool during pain flares. Yesterday, I had my first major pain flare of the year and as I lay on my back I repeated…FOCUS on breathing…FOCUS on calm…FOCUS on only this moment. My guiding word kept me completely grounded and present during this tense period of time.

For a word that I was so hesitant about, I am now more excited than I have ever been about any of my guiding words. I feel like FOCUS can apply to every aspect of my life and the many situations I will likely be faced with in 2016.

I am going to FOCUS on making it a year full of purpose and practices that improve my health and wellness. May your word provide you with the same enthusiasm and inspiration!

PS – Just realized my word always plays into my love of photography…now I KNOW it was meant to be!

Free CHOOSE YOUR WORD e-course for people with chronic pain or illness

choose your wordChoose Your GUIDING WORD for Health & Wellness is a FREE 5-day e-course (with optional Facebook group) to help you choose a word to set your focus for managing your chronic pain &/or chronic illness in 2016. The intention is that your chosen word will help you to improve your physical and emotional health and wellness by:
~renewing your hope
~focusing you on what you need to do for your body, soul, and heart
~easing the intensity of your emotions
~calming and grounding you
~keeping you motivate

In the years I’ve been choosing a word for the year, my physical and mental health, has certainly benefited. Some of my previous words – BE (I have used this a couple of years) and EASE have provided me with grounding, calm and peace. They led me to adopt healthy practices such as pacing and meditation. Other words such as STRENGTH and COURAGE bolstered me up when I needed emotional support to face my health challenges and encouraged me to ask for help. I’m looking forward to discovering how my word for 2016 will help me with my chronic pain in the year ahead.

The more years I choose a word, the more I understand why it’s such a valuable practice to do each year. I want to share with you how powerful having a guiding word can be and help you figure out just the perfect one for your year ahead.

Choose Your GUIDING WORD for Health and Wellness is a FREE 5-day e-course starting January 4, 2016 to help you figure out your guiding word for the coming year.

Click here to register!


Share a clothesPAIN selfie for Pain Awareness Week


To bring awareness to Pain Awareness Week (November 1-7, 2015) I am promoting Pain BC’s ClothesPAIN Experiment and anyone who submits a ClothesPAIN selfie to Chronic Pain Life will be entered into a random draw for an item, of the winner’s choice, from my Spoonie Store (a couple of new items will be in the store this week!).

INSTRUCTIONS for the ClothesPAIN experiment:
Take a clothespin and pin it to your ear for 1 hour. Snap a selfie and share what #livingwithpain feels like. Challenge your family and friends to participate…let them get a little taste of what it is like to live with pain…how pain can consume one’s thoughts, drain one’s energy and affect one’s mood.

Although the clothespin is not representative of actual chronic pain, using a clothespin on the ear is a common tool used when training healthcare providers about chronic pain and has been proven to be a good way to raise people’s understanding of what it can be like to live with pain.

To enter the draw*:
1) Post your photo in the “Chronic Pain Life” Facebook group.
2) Post your photo to Instagram; tag and follow @chronicpainlife.
3) Tweet your photo; tag and follow @cpainlife.
4) Share this post.

You will get one entry for EACH method of submission. The draw will take place on November 8, 2015.

*By entering a photo in the draw you agree to allow Chronic Pain Life to use your photo on Chronic Pain Life’s website and social media.

Spoonie Store

Chronic Pain Life has opened an Etsy shop, Spoonie Store, selling Spoonie jewellery and other items. So far there are a variety of spoonie earrings for sale. Buy and wear these earrings if you need some extra spoons and at the same time teach people about the Spoon Theory!  The first 50 orders will also receive a  FREE “Official Spoonie Card with self-laminating sleeve. Buy earrings for your spoonie friends and for yourself!

Check the store regularly as many other items are being created and will be added soon.

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Invisible Fight Photo Gallery

“I struggle with more than just ‪#‎narcolepsy‬ — but this is a very visible reminder of ‪#‎myinvisiblefight‬” – Gina


I have received some really powerful photos from people showing their #invisiblefight with illness and/or pain. Check out the gallery of images so far! You still have time to submit a photo in order to be entered in a draw for a pair of Spoonie Earrings in honor of Invisible Illness Awareness Week.

*Read submission details here.

What is your Invisible Fight? Share a photo and win a pair of Spoonie Earrings!

The #myinvisiblefight Photo Campaign has been launched by Invisible Illness Awareness Week and since Chronic Pain Life is all about promoting the therapeutic value of photography, for individuals living with pain/illness, we have been asked to help promote the campaign! So we are going to showcase a photo gallery on our website of your #myinvisiblefight photos. Submit your photo to be included in our online photo gallery and you will have a chance to win a pair of Spoonie Earrings!

#myinvisiblefight3 WAYS TO ENTER THE DRAW:
1.  Join the Chronic Pain Life Facebook group and post a photo of your “Invisible Fight”. Be sure to tag it #myinvisiblefight.
2.  Post a photo of your “Invisible Fight” on Instagram, tag me @chronicpainlife and hashtag #myinvisiblefight.
3.  Email me a photo at

*Winner will be randomly selected on the last day of Invisible Illness Awareness Week – October 4, 2015.

*Your name will be kept confidential.
*By entering the contest you permit Chronic Pain Life to display your photo on our gallery page and use it for future purposes. Your name will be kept confidential unless otherwise requested. 

Adult Coloring for Chronic Pain or Illness


IMG_1021Adult coloring is all the rage right now. People living with pain should definitely explore this new fad as coloring can provide incredible relaxation and allow one to temporarily forget about physical pain.

Not to mention that scientists have found that coloring actually quiets the part of the brain, the amygdala, that causes stress and is often activated when we are distressed by our pain.

A recent Huffington Post article stated that the famous psychologist, Carl Jung believed that the coloring of mandalas could be used as a relaxation technique. I personally find mandalas to be the most calm-inducing items to color as the patterns are repetitive and require concentration. I get so focussed I literally am completely in the moment and don’t worry about my pain or anything else. Here is a photo of two manadult coloring bookdalas that I recently colored from the Just Add Color Mandalas Adult Coloring Book. I used two types of markers,
Stabilo Point 88 Pen Sets rollerset set of 25 and Stabilo Point 88 Pen Sets rollerset set of 25. These types of extra fine-tipped pens are required, especially if you plan on coloring the detailed drawings in the most popular adult coloring book right now, The Secret Garden.












If you want to see if coloring should be added to your “pain toolkit”, you can download two free beautiful coloring pages, “Today is Going to Be Awesome” and a gorgeous owl.










For people with chronic pain or illness, the great thing about adult coloring is that it can be done just about anywhere. You can color laying down, standing up or sitting. You can be in bed, at a desk, in the waiting room of your doctor’s office or my favourite place to colour, at the beach.

Is coloring going to heal your pain or illness vanish…no, but at least for brief periods of time you can hopefully forget about your health and feel a sense of peace and calm…a state of mind that is a welcome respite from the stress of living with chronic pain/illness.

Have you found coloring to be helpful when living with chronic pain or illness? If so, I would love to hear about your experience!


Chronic Pain/Illness Photography Project Follow-Up

“Know This…You’re not alone and you’re more than your pain.” – Participant, Janice Feinstein

Chronic Pain Life’s online 21-Day Chronic Pain/Illness Photography Project recently completed. The participants’ photographs and accompanying explanations were all incredibly impactful, insightful and powerful. The most popular of the project’s daily photo prompts were: Goals, Identity, Know This, Who I Was and Acceptance.

Day after day as participants explored and shared their experiences of pain/illness, through taking and sharing photos as well as viewing and commenting on other members’ photos, a sense of community was established. The online group space remains open indefinitely so that members can continue to connect and support one another through the sharing of photographs related to their pain/illness.

“I’ve come to love this group of women and men who share the same burden in life that I do. This group has changed my life, my marriage and my entire outlook on my illness. Your project saved me in a way I can never repay. I’m forever grateful to you for it.”

chronic pain therapeutic photography
“I used the door and the half of me because one part of me puts on a good show for all to see but behind that door is pain non stop, worry, depression, stress, wonder, and the one with the eye means lots of people don’t see or understand at all. And the last one is the real whole healthy me.”

Several members expressed how photography provided a safe and less vulnerable way to explore and share their feelings about their pain/illness. As most of the participants do not regularly practice photography, most were surprised at how much insight, clarity and healing could take place through taking and analyzing photos.

“I had not used any visual means to express anything I felt about my illness/pain before this project. It gave me a way of saying things […] and helped me see myself more clearly.” –Participant

The success of the project validated my belief in the therapeutic value of photography for people who live with chronic pain/illness. Chronic Pain Life will continue to offer a variety of photography-related projects related to pain/illness. To learn more about these projects and therapeutic photography, join the Chronic Pain Life Facebook group and sign up for blog updates.

You can view more photos from the project on the Participant’s Photography page of the Chronic Pain Life website.