Nicole Hemmenway was just 17 when her lifetime of pain began. Her experience with chronic pain inspired her to write a book, join the U.S. Pain Foundation and, now, become the director of the INvisible Project. Through it all, her mission is to educate caregivers, patients and the general public about what life is like for someone experiencing chronic pain and how patients can learn to enjoy their lives one day at a time.

Mediaplanet: When did your journey with chronic pain begin?

Nicole Hemmenway: Two weeks into my senior year, my world changed. I tried to give my best friend a 
high-five when our hands somehow missed. Instead, my right ring and pinkie fingers made direct contact with her left palm. Instantly I felt burning pain, and within an hour, my right hand closed into a swollen fist (a fist that would remain closed for most of the next 5 years).

Within a span of seconds, I went from being a normal teenage girl with two functioning hands to a pain patient with one immobile, fisted hand. I then spent the majority of my time at doctor’s offices, hospitals and medical facilities. Finally, I received the diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

 MP: At what point in your journey did you decide to write a book?

NH: Too often during my own journey with pain, I felt alone, misunderstood and unheard. I felt as if others were belittling and mocking my health, when I desperately wanted validation. I believe that no one should have to face this darkness alone, which is why I decided to write my memoir, “No, It is Not in My Head: The Journey of a Chronic Pain Survivor from Wheelchair to Marathon.” The book tackles the themes of despair and shame while highlighting the underlying message of hope and perseverance.

After publishing my book, I soon joined the U.S. Pain Foundation as vice president. With a mission to educate, connect, inform and empower those living with pain while also advocating on behalf of the entire pain community, U.S. Pain is committed to creating pain awareness by breaking down barriers and advocating for change.

MP: Do you have any tips to staying positive with dealing with pain?

NH: I believe having a positive attitude when dealing with pain and tragedy is essential to healing. During those dark moments when life seems to be falling apart, it is important to remember that you control your own emotions. You still control how you cope with the pain. Becoming empowered and involved is key to taking control of your pain and living a proactive, fulfilling life again.