I injured my neck in 1993 while attending a Scout Jamboree in Canada as a carer for a child with cerebral palsy.My pain symptoms didn't really show up until 1997 when I started getting lots of neck and arm pain.
At the time I went through all the usual procedures – x-rays, CTs, MRIs – and I started seeing a pain specialist who tried several things without success. In the end I was taking morphine to manage the pain.
After four years on morphine, I decided I was sick of always feeling doped up, so I simply stopped taking it one day. Apparently I was one of those lucky people who hadn't formed a dependency.
From 2001 to 2009 I pretty much self-managed my pain with nothing stronger then Panadeine Forte. But the pain was always there in the background, nagging at me.
Almost all of my social life stopped. I had to keep working but I stopped everything else. I felt like I could manage my pain by not doing anything. What I didn't take into account was the effect that pain was having on me mentally.
I've always considered myself to be a typical Aussie bloke: pain is just something you put up with (without whinging) and mental health and feelings are taboo subjects. My mental health deteriorated because of my lack of social activity and with that, my pain levels increased, but I didn't make the connection between them.
I was put on antidepressants and sent to a psychologist. I also restarted the process of seeing surgeons because I was convinced that my neck must have deteriorated to the point where maybe someone would fix it – but I was wrong.
Instead, I was referred to a specialist who changed my prescriptions and referred me on to the pain management program at St Vincent's Hospital in Brisbane. My employer kindly offered to pay for me to attend.
I attended the course in November 2009 and I can't speak highly enough of it. The staff was fantastic and I would recommend the course to anyone with chronic pain. While I was at the course, I was diagnosed with a condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome and am now receiving treatment.
In the past six months, my life has turned around. I've gone from feeling that there's no hope and that I'd be better off dead, to actually having a future.
I've accepted that I'm going to have chronic neck and arm pain for the rest of my life. The only thing that matters now is how I manage that pain. This was a huge and difficult realisation for me to make, but one that's absolutely necessary for anyone who has chronic pain.
I've been lucky to have had some really good outside support. Once I actually learnt to explain what's going on, the support of my wife Karyn, my friends, family, employer and colleagues has also been invaluable. Everyone knows what pain is and once I learnt to talk about what's happening, then everyone could understand what it's like.
The medical profession has also come a long way in the past 12 years in pain research and treatment. With appropriate recognition and funding I'm sure it will continue to progress.
Pain is real. It's a double-edged sword that attacks both physically and mentally. It's at best annoying and at worst life destroying.
For me, accepting that chronic pain is part of my life was half the battle. Once I understood that, then practical outside help was of great benefit. I still have pain every day but I no longer let it fully dominate my life. I have my life back and now I want to help others get their lives back too.