Back and Neck Pain Lead to New Connections: Meet @gailb
Member Spotlights feature interviews with fellow Connect members. Learn more about members you’ve connected with and some you haven’t met yet. Nominate a member you think should share the spotlight.
JEN: What brought you to Mayo Clinic Connect? What motivates you to take part in the community?
@gailb: I was having a great deal of pain from my lumbar spine, or lower back, in my L4, which is one of the lowest spinal segments. The pain was originally on my right side, but after 18 months I suddenly had excruciating pain in my left sciatic area. I was searching for ways to relieve it. Following an MRI, I received a very negative report from my doctor about my condition: I had a compression fracture in my C7, the seventh cervical vertebra in my neck; osteoarthritis; degenerative disk disease; an L4 vertebra that had collapsed onto my L5-S1 near the base of my spine; scoliosis; spondylitis and other issues that were not going away. I had a laminectomy on my L5-S1 in December 2016.
I wanted to share my fears and “talk” with others who were having similar problems to see what they had done to relieve these issues, so I joined Mayo Clinic Connect in January 2017.
My motivation to share with others in the community remains because I have experimented with different ways to deal with problems and I am able to share those experiences freely. I am happy when others try an idea, and I want to comfort and support community members to find their own answers to their issues. Sometimes, a little push helps people to move toward their goal of feeling better. I have to be careful with that and only push when it seems appropriate and do so lightly, comforting others and offering encouragement so that they can feel better. Ultimately, listening and really hearing their problems is the primary way I try to help.
JEN: What about Connect makes you feel comfortable to share and to be open with the community?
@gailb: Generally, I am an open person and share easily about my problems, due to years spent in group therapy sharing my issues. I have lost my fears about what others may think. However, family and friends can only handle so much before they become “deaf” to my daily pain. I understand this. I wanted a place where I could share what I was feeling, be supported as needed and get information about ways to relieve my pain. I found all of that in the Chronic Pain and other groups in which I participated.
JEN: What groups do you participate in?
JEN: Who has been a special connection for you on Connect?
@gailb: I feel a special connection to @gman007, @johnbishop, @sandytoes14, @windwalker, @lioness and @parus. Even though the connections are through the experience of pain, having an understanding of what another is going through and relating their pain to mine is satisfying. I know I’m not alone in the world, and that sharing with them has value.
JEN: What surprised you the most about Connect?
@gailb: The level of sharing people in the community are willing to do was quite a surprise. Also, the wisdom of the moderators and mentors, as well as many of the members, is wonderful. I have learned ways to help myself while I share my experiences that I hope will help others.
JEN: What energizes you, or how do you find balance in your life?
@gailb: Balance in my life has really come only since I retired. I have worked my entire life, beginning in the third grade washing dishes for wealthy people who had parties, and working up to serving them at private dinner parties. I was not fortunate enough to have a stable family life, so education and work became my way out of poverty and into a better life. Learning and participating with groups of people who also are learning energizes me and helps me see the future. When I was working I was totally dedicated to completing my job with excellence and worked my way up to vice president of human resources positions. That consumed me. We also owned our bed-and-breakfast (B&B) for over 16 years in a small town. I got involved in politics, ran for mayor, served on the city council and worked with the state of Missouri to obtain benefits that would keep the town growing and prospering. I felt energized by that work.
Now, I’m retired and spend time reading, writing, enjoying nature and relaxing. I am still new at retirement, and it does take time to adjust to the changes. Finding myself again without a job title defining who I am hasn’t been easy. However, I am now two years out and adjusting much more quickly at this point. I am currently exploring volunteer work, doing artwork again, thinking about trying pottery, getting involved in the senior community locally and getting exercise. The hardest thing for me is getting exercise! I love it when I’m doing it, but I have a hard time getting started. I am particularly enjoying traveling to other countries and learning about other cultures. Going to Costa Rica and Panama two years ago was huge. We stayed in Panama for a month, living in the mountains and getting to know the culture there. My husband and I spent 15 days in French Polynesia this spring. Remarkable. That’s what I love.
JEN: Tell us about your favorite pastime or activity.
@gailb: My favorite pastime is reading and writing, because I learn so much. I participate in political actions fitting my beliefs that all living beings and the environment are so much more important than money, so I march, protest, Tweet and organize marches. All beings deserve respect.
Another love I have is for cats. I became the local cat rescue person when we had our B&B. Over the 20 years we lived there, I took several hundred feral cats to a local veterinarian to be fixed, paying all the costs. I still have kitties, and I so love them and love to care for them.
Last, travel is now my love. When I was having panic attacks and so much anxiety, I couldn’t fly on airplanes or look at breathtaking scenes. My life was narrowed. Now that I am on an antidepressant, I have lost those fears and I am loving my freedom to learn about the rest of the world.
JEN: Do you have a favorite quote, life motto or personal mantra?
@gailb: My motto has always been, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Since I grew up without my parents most of my life and lived in poverty, I always thought I had nothing to lose by trying new ways to do things, despite my fears.
Another motto was, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
I also learned from an executive vice president at General Electric to “take action — don’t wait for someone to tell you. Just do it. It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.”
There are many mottos I have learned in life that have helped me deal with different challenges I have faced. Karpman's triangle, also called the drama triangle model in psychotherapy, and the OK Corral, which is from transactional analysis developed by Eric Berne, have helped me move out of “victim” roles and into a productive and happy life.
JEN: If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see cast as you?
@gailb: Melissa McCarthy or Sandra Bullock. I love their humor and like to think I also have a good sense of humor. I also love their sense of seriousness when needed, their fierce passions and their beauty. I have had weight issues that I finally resolved at 65 years of age with gastric bypass bariatric surgery.
JEN: What do you love about where you live or vacation?
@gailb: Living in Southern California is many people’s dream. However, at one point in my life I had said, “I wouldn’t live in the LA area if you paid me a million dollars.”
Well, here I am now, at 69 years of age, living in the LA area and loving it. My husband and I moved here at the request of my stepdaughter, to help her after the death of her husband from ALS. Two of her seven children were teenagers at the time, and she is an entrepreneur with two businesses. She is tremendously busy .
We have enjoyed living with her and have just moved — most things are still in boxes — to her new, beautiful home in Yorba Linda. The view of the valley to the ocean is fabulous. We can visit Yosemite National Park and other beautiful natural places in an easy drive. Since my husband and I are both retired, we don’t have to drive in the traffic on highways very often. The best part is that we are close to grandchildren and see them often, and soon all of our grandchildren will be living in California, with one exception. Of course, the weather here is wonderful. There are a few problems with wildfires — which we watched from our backyard last year, and have already seen smoke from another yesterday — mudslides, and earthquakes, which are the things I dislike most. However, the good things far outweigh the problems. I love LA.
JEN: Puppies or kittens?
@gailb: Definitely kittens! I love kitties, and am known as the Cat Whisperer. Even on our recent vacation in French Polynesia, on every single island and motu, which is a reef inlet, a cat found me! My husband took pictures of me with every cat each time one came up to me on the beach: in an outdoor restaurant, at the party on the motu, etc. It was comical how I seemed to attract kitties. Love them!