PELL CITY - From the time Melissa Hopkins Gilliam, of Pell City, starts her day, until the time she goes to sleep at night, she is in pain.
“I am in pain sitting here with you,” said Gilliam, who was diagnosed with a rare progressive disease called CRPS, or complex regional pain syndrome, formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy. The disease attacks the autonomic nervous system.
“I am in pain, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Gilliam said.
She said the pain is always there, but the degree of pain varies.
“I don’t ever wake up and say, ‘I don’t feel pain,’” Gilliam said.
CRPS is one of the most painful diseases someone could have, and it is debilitating, she said.
“I grieve for my old life,” Gilliam said. “I grieve for my old career.”
The 39-year-old woman is legally disabled.
“At the age of 31, I became permanently disabled,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam wanted to teach.
She has a master’s degree in elementary education, but because of pain, she cannot take the day-to-day rigors of the classroom.
“I can’t work as a teacher,” Gilliam said.
She cannot have a normal schedule because of pain, and not knowing from day-to-day how much pain she will suffer has robbed her of something she always wanted to do – until now.
“I am not the type of person who just sits at home,” Gilliam said.
She discovered and joined a support group and was selected for special training through the U.S. Pain Foundation to become a support group leader.
She points out people with chronic pain usually can’t travel long distances, like to Birmingham, so she is organizing the Pell City Pain Warriors Chronic Pain Support Group.
Gilliam said the group is open to anyone who suffers from chronic pain conditions, like lupus, back pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, cancer and other ailments associated with chronic pain.
“I want to teach them how to improve their lives and to get through their grieving,” Gilliam said. “I want to help them move forward.”
She noted many people with chronic pain also suffer from depression and anxiety.
Gilliam said The Brook Besor, 4204 Martin St. S., Cropwell, is allowing the group to meet in its coffee shop at no cost.
Gilliam said the group will meet at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month.
She said people have a hard time understanding what other people with chronic pain go through.
“This will provide a safe space where they can be themselves and be able to talk about how they hurt and be understood,” Gilliam said.
She said participants will receive real strategies that will help them deal with their chronic pain.
“I hope and pray this will help them live with the pain a little easier,” Gilliam said. “That’s my goal.”
For more information about the Pell City Pain Warriors Chronic Pain Support Group, call Gilliam at 205-863-1361.