"I have to find purpose in my pain to look at the positives it’s brought me even though it seems impossible to find."

Raven Ishak
Nov 15, 2020 @ 7:30 am
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Credit: Jack Dytrych Photographer, @jacktdphoto

Sundays are a day to recharge and reset by hanging with friends, turning off your phone, bathing for hours on end, or doing whatever else works for you. In this column (in conjunction with our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series), we ask editors, experts, influencers, writers, and more what a perfect self-care Sunday means to them, from tending to their mental and physical health to connecting with their community to indulging in personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night.

Kelsey Darragh, a comedian and mental health advocate, first opened up about her chronic pain when she was a video producer and development partner at BuzzFeed back in 2015. Wanting to bring attention to what it was like to live with a chronic illness, she posted a vulnerable and honest video about her experience with Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN)—neuropathic, chronic pain in her jaw—and her use of marijuana as a pain reliever. Because of the video, which now has over 12 million views, fans reached out to show support and connect about their own chronic pain stories with Darragh.

Since leaving her full-time role at BuzzFeed in 2018, she's transitioned her work from a developmental producer to a comedian and consulting producer on E! Entertainment. Darragh is also a mental health advocate and author, with her book, Don't F*CKING Panic: The Sh*t They Don't Tell You In Therapy About Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, and Depression, which is coming out soon. "I never could have imagined [it] would be released during a global pandemic," the 30-year-old tells HelloGiggles.

But if there's any time for a book about anxiety and depression to come out, it's now. Darragh says she's noticed how the current climate of social unrest and anxiety over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shifted people's mindsets to stay closer to their community and loved ones. "People are saying, 'I've got your back and you've got mine' louder than ever before," she explains. "We’re all being forced to take inventory of our emotions for the first time as a planet, not to be dramatic, and recognize what is important to us and how can we maintain joy while surviving."

That's why the timing of her new book is so important. It's packed with exercises, personal essays about Darragh's experience with anxiety, panic, and depression, and tips and tricks for readers dealing with mental illness. For instance, one of her pieces of advice is to move your body when you're feeling down. "The same way we are all activating our minds right now into the election or helping our neighbors, we need to activate our bodies to stay moving," Darragh says.

For this week’s Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Darragh to learn more about her journey with chronic pain and wellness, her go-to self-care rituals, and her advice for people experiencing chronic illness for the first time.

Mental Health

HelloGiggles (HG): How has your relationship with chronic pain over the years impacted your mental health?

Kelsey Darragh (KD): There is a deep grieving process that can last a long time that we must go through to honor our former lives. It’s fucked up when you say it like that—almost as if someone has died. But that's what chronic pain feels like. It feels like the “old you” has died.

I have to find purpose in my pain to look at the positives it’s brought me even though it seems impossible to find. I’ve gotten to connect with a community of chronic pain Spoonies (our term for people with chronic pain and illness), and these Spoonies are helping to change the way that doctors are listening to their patients. We are changing the narrative to be believed and taken care of. Why else are we paying for insurance? I have to demand change for the way we look at people with chronic pain—that we are capable of being successful and hardworking and happy. 

HG: What are some practices or regimens you suggest others do if they feel like their chronic pain is affecting their mental health?

KD: Get a therapist! Preferably a pain management therapist, hypnotherapist, or healer. I will scream this from the mountaintops until I die (and also noting that therapy is a privilege). Having someone to talk to that really gets what chronic pain is like is so imperative. If therapy isn’t an option for you, I would suggest looking into Facebook groups, Zoom meetings, and once all this COVID passes, getting a chronic pain club formed in your area. I couldn’t find one close to where I lived, so another Spoonie friend and I made our own. At one point, we had about 15 girls in my living room laughing and crying and just hearing each other out. It was amazing. 

Physical Practices

HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately to help you connect with your body?

KD: I got a standing mat that has a built-in massage ball that massages my feet. I switched out my office chair for a yoga ball to keep my core tight and my booty bouncing. I stretch every day for at least 20 mins. I also go to physical therapy three times a week. 

HG: How do you suggest others physically connect with their bodies if they don’t feel comfortable with themselves?

KD: I’m getting into crystals right now. I know it might sound a little woo-woo to some but I feel like I’m at a point where I've tried all the traditional Western shit and pills. Crystals are pretty, I like their healing powers, and it forces me to look at nerve channels, chakras, and mind/body meditations when I want to use them. Acupuncture has also saved me from many pain holes. 

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Community Care

HG: How have you been trying to stay connected with loved ones during this time?

KD: The family group chat is busier than ever. I'm trying to send more pictures and videos and—oh my god—more TikTok links that make everyone smile and laugh. I highly suggest getting into dog TikToks because that can make anyone smile. 

HG: How have you been trying to support your community during this time?

KD: My DMs are always open. I’m always giving out codes for therapy on BetterHelp, which is a company I work with. I have my weekly podcast (Confidently Insecure) that some people tell me feels like therapy to them! 

Personal Joys

HG: How do you connect with your joy during this time?

KD: That's so funny you ask because I just discussed this with my couples therapist last night. She says that even when you don’t feel like doing anything, sometimes forcing yourself to do shit is exactly what you need to turn your parasympathetic nervous system on and change your own mood. Joy is contentment meets gratitude and you can cultivate that at any time. 

HG: What is your advice for people who may be experiencing chronic pain for the first time in their lives, and don’t know what to do?

KD: The internet is your friend. Amazon products are cheaper than the stuff they’ll try and sell you in the doctor's office.

Ask friends for help. A lot more people suffer from chronic pain than you realize.

Trust your gut about doctors. If you feel that you’re not being listened to or getting weird feelings that you’re being rushed through the appointment—speak up! I know this is hard to do because I have a hard time doing it, too, but last time I was in a room with four older male physicians who were all talking over me and making assumptions, I yelled at them, “I need space to speak. I need to be listened to right now!" They were a little shocked but I got to speak. These were supposed to be the “best doctors in the country” in their field and I had paid money to fly across the country to see them—and I was going to be heard. I left feeling completely hopeless about my treatment. They couldn't help me but I was so fucking proud of myself for speaking up. It was worth it to find that power inside of me!