The first thing I do when I wake up every morning, before I even open my eyes is take stock of the position I'm sleeping in. If I'm on my side I think "oh crap". If I'm on my back I can hope today might be a good day.
Then, I'll assess my body for pain. Firstly, how do my shoulders feel? Then, it's crunch time; can I move my head? Usually with an almighty crack in either side of my neck I can just about manage it, but boy does it hurt.
Some days I can forget about it. I don't have to double up on ibuprofen and paracetamol, I don't have to stick menthol heat patches over my neck or wear a hot water bottle draped on my shoulders. Some days I can even get away with not going for a swim and sitting in the steam room at the gym for 20 minutes during my lunch break trying to meditate away the pain.
Unfortunately, those days are few and far between. Usually I have to do all of the above, and even then I'm still grimacing in pain.
My employers are great, they've given me a special chair, I have my desk arrangement assessed and we have a masseuse who comes round the office offering 10 minute sessions.
But nothing seems to cure it. That's the problem with chronic pain, and one that's taken me three long years to figure out; it's not going away.
I've been asked if I've thought of wearing a neck brace (my Dad), whether I've been to the doctor about it (everyone), and whether I've tried taking some painkillers for it (the Doctor).
I've had scans, MRIs, physio, acupuncture, osteopathy; I've been on heavy antidepressants, muscle relaxants and sleeping tablets.
On one occasion I filled a mug with boiling water and held it against my neck to try and take away the pain. If you're wondering - it didn't work (so don't try it!).
Nothing, as yet, offers a long term solution. According to the professionals, I'm a healthy young 25-year-old and there's nothing wrong with me.
It's incredibly tough trying to keep a positive mental attitude when you can't remember the last time you woke up pain free. And I know mine's probably relatively mild compared to others.
Nevertheless, it's hard not to have days when I think 'why me' and burst into tears from the frustration of it all. I've got to the stage where I don't want to see any more doctors or specialists about it because I cannot stand to have my hopes raised and then dashed again. The feeling of being pain free, even just for an hour, doesn't feel worth the downer when the pain returns.
If you are someone who is unfortunate enough to suffer from chronic pain, I'd strongly suggest keeping a diary of what works and what doesn't.
I've been doing so over the past 18 months or so, and I have found a few techniques which help me manage the pain somewhat.
Obviously these won't work for everyone, but if you're like me and you're eager to hear from others in a similar boat, then they might come in helpful:
Swimming: This probably helps the most. Concentrate on backstroke; it loosens up the neck and shoulders. I try to go as often as possible, even if it's just for a short time.
Meditating: This has been a god-send. I tried HeadSpace, which didn't work for me but is worth checking out, and now I listen to Meditation Oasis (which is free!). I listen to it on the bus, before I go to bed, and any other time I'm feeling stressed, anxious or wound up. I find it helps relax my whole body and helps my emotional state.
I've also taken to meditating (without music) in my gym's steam room, which has the added bonus of heat. Obviously this all depends on whether you're a member of a gym, but if you are, I'd strongly recommend trying it.
Heat: All the doctors and physios I've seen have recommended using heat to alleviate the muscle ache. If you have neck or shoulder pain, then try a long one, like YUYU make. It might raise some eyebrows in the office, but it feels too good to care.
I also sleep with a lavender bean bag under my neck, which can be heated up in the microwave and bought off Amazon.
Finally, massaging deep heat - or deep freeze - into the affected areas does wonders. Even better if you can get someone to do it for you!
Keeping active: This, as every physio has told me, is so, so important. Try and get some exercises from your doctor or specialist and set an alarm to do them regularly. Even getting up from your work seat and having a quick wander is better than nothing.
Also try to find an activity which works for you - mine's ballet and pilates. I tried yoga and I hated it. It was excruciating to try to do a downward dog, nor could I hold myself in positions for any length of time. So I abandoned it and found what suited me.
Shoulder support: Part weird bondage thing, part straightjacket, it looks weird but it feels great. I wear mine almost every day as it pulls my shoulders back and stops me from slumping. I got mine from the Back Pain Help site but you can get cheaper versions on Amazon.
If they don't listen at first, keep pestering - chronic pain is a condition which deserves to be taken seriously.Suggest a correction