FINDING HOPE IN CHRONIC PAIN

By: ABIGAIL REIGHARD & MIGHTY PURSUIT

For over 15 years, Abigail Reighard has had to go through suffocating bouts of pain due to two incurable conditions -- chronic kidney stones and a bladder disease. In Abigail's words, it's like someone is stabbing you. So what do you do when the pain doesn't go away? In this conversation we talk about chronic pain, mental breakdowns, self-harm and how to find light in the darkness. Mighty Pursuit: We’re really excited to have you here today. I think the conversation around chronic pain is one that needs to be talked about way more than it is. And what do you do in a situation where you're in pain and that pain isn't going away, right? And what meaning does life have then? And, how do you just move forward? If life isn't isn't exactly the way you thought it would be. So you have a condition that causes you to have chronic kidney stones. And obviously people watching may have had one kidney stone in their life and it's probably one of the most painful experiences that they've had. But you have this chronically like all the time. So tell me about that. Abigail Reighard: Yeah. So I had my first one when I was in college. And then it just became an issue that got worse and worse and worse. And, you know, I've had hundreds at one time, before. And I go through seasons with it. But it is one of the most painful things in the world. Like you said, if there're people that are listening that have had one, it's like this club that when you run into somebody that's had a kidney stone, immediately you get it. You know exactly what I'm talking about. It's a very, intense, intense, intense pain. And the thing with kidney stones is they can hit, there's like no warning, right? Like they just hit, and you're like, what is going on? Like, where did this come from? But it's like an unmistakable pain. And once you've had it, any kind of twinge of that, you're like, oh my gosh, it's a kidney stone. Mighty Pursuit: So if you were to describe what the pain is like, what words would you use, how would you describe the experience? Abigail Reighard: Stabbing, like stabbing pain. That kind of starts like, in your flank goes all the way around. And the thing with kidney stones is the pain can start and you can pass it in 48 hours, or it can be something that can linger on for weeks and weeks. Just depending on how fast it moves or if it gets stuck and all these other different kinds of factors. Mighty Pursuit: If someone were to equate to, like literally being stabbed, what would you say about that? Abigail Reighard: I feel like it would probably be like literally being stabbed. It's like, take your breath away kind of pain. Mighty Pursuit: So when you're in it and the pain starts to come, is it like, okay, this is going to be over soon or there's just like an unknown of how long? Abigail Reighard: There's an unknown. I think that that's one of the harder parts with it is because you don't know how long it's going to last. Mighty Pursuit: What is the longest bout you've had that you can think of? Abigail Reighard: With one stone, probably 3 or 4 months, from the time that it started moving until it actually came out. But you have to be really careful with how long it's in there, because then you can develop infection and different things around it, so it can be really dangerous. And then they'll go in, sometimes when you have to have it surgically removed and they'll put a stint in, and a stent is basically like a straw. And it goes kind of up like from your kidneys goes down to your bladder. And those are incredibly, incredibly, incredibly painful. Mighty Pursuit: My dad has gotten that done before. So there was a period of like 3 to 4 months when you were in intense pain all the time? Abigail Reighard: Oh, yes. Mighty Pursuit: And then if I'm tracking this correctly, you've had about 20 different operations with the stent put in and removed? Abigail Reighard: Yes. Mighty Pursuit:And that's over the course of how many years? Abigail Reighard:So I'm about to be 40. And it really started when I was like 20. Like in college. Mighty Pursuit: Are you in pain right now? Abigail Reighard: Yes. Very much so. Mighty Pursuit: You said you never use your ten. Abigail Reighard: Yeah, I never use my ten. But I was at 8 or 9 yesterday. This morning I was like, at seven.

THE FIRST TIME PAIN CAME

Mighty Pursuit: So take me behind the first time you discovered that you had a stone and how you originally got diagnosed. What was that day like? Abigail Reighard: I was in my apartment at college and I'll never forget it. For the rest of my life. I had a pain in my flank. And it literally, like, took my breath away. And I can remember backing up against the cabinets. And I called my parents and I said, I have a pain like I've never had in my life. It felt like a weight was on my chest, like I couldn't catch my breath. And they said, well, you need to go to the emergency room. And so I went to the emergency room and they said, oh, yeah, it's a kidney stone. You have a kidney stone. And I just kept thinking, I had never seen someone go from being okay and not having any pain to just immobilized by pain. So I think that I had a roommate take me and that was the first experience with that. Mighty Pursuit: So obviously at that point you didn't know that this was going to be a chronic thing. Abigail Reighard: Oh, no, I had no idea. My grandfather had kidney stones. But like not my mom or dad at that point had had them. And so I just thought this was like one and done like, I'll be okay after this. Mighty Pursuit: When did you realize that you weren't going to get cured of this and that it just started happening more often? Abigail Reighard: It started happening with more frequency, I think six months later I got another one, and then two months after that I got another one. And, they started running tests and there's different types of kidney stones that you can have, like uric acid or calcium oxalate stones. But I was making all different types of stones. Mighty Pursuit: Was there a day that a doctor told you this isn't going to go away? Abigail Reighard: So I went to Mayo Clinic and I actually spent, probably three months collectively at Mayo Clinic. I started at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida and then they transferred me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. And when they transferred my case to Minnesota, I realized, like, okay, they've sent me to this pain management program, and no one ever really sat me down and said, this isn't going to get better. This is what, you know, this is the next step. But I kind of logically was like, I'm in this like 21 day program of how to manage chronic pain. And I'm like, is this going to be a chronic issue? But nobody's really told me because they don't want to scare me. And so I really realized they're like, oh, wow, this is an issue that might be chronic. And then I came home from Rochester and still continued to seek help from different doctors and get different opinions. And I went to Emory University in Atlanta, and I was with one of the head nephrology researchers. And he looked at my parents, because I have very supportive parents, and they were there with me. And I said, so when is this going to be over? And he said, it's probably not. Like this is going to be a lifelong condition that you have. And I don't think I've ever felt so hopeless. I think that that was one of my darkest days when I've been to the best places in the world. Like Mayo Clinic is world renowned. And then to be at Emory and have one of the leading researchers on this tell me it's not going to get better. Mighty Pursuit: What did you do that day when you went home? Abigail Reighard: I'll never forget the drive from Emory back to our house. There was a sadness that was in the car that day with my parents. We knew that we were grieving something like that, I was, but collectively we were as a family too. And it just felt so heavy. And I can remember going home and going straight upstairs to my room and feeling like this is what it's going to feel like. I'm just going to be alone. I mean, again, I have my parents. I had a great support system in them. But yeah, that day, this is kind of one of the first times I've really reflected on that actual day. I think that day was the first day that I felt like “I have to isolate”, and that isolating would be the kindest thing that I could do for everybody that I loved. I didn't really share what I was going through with my friends. I have always just been really private and so I didn't really share what I was going through. And so I just kind of shut down after that and really pulled back, away from everybody. Mighty Pursuit: Why did you feel like you had to isolate? Abigail Reighard: I felt like I was a grenade and I was going to explode. Like it wasn't going to get any better. And again I felt like it was a kind thing for me to do, for everybody else, because I didn't want to hurt other people. I felt like if other people cared about me deeply, and if they saw me going through this, that it would be difficult for them. Mighty Pursuit: So how old were you at that point? Abigail Reighard: Let's see. There's so many numbers in math. I was probably 26. Mighty Pursuit: And so you got this news and was it like something that happened immediately in the moment of your whole life kind of flashed by your eyes of the things you can or can't do and I'm going to be in pain for the rest of my life? Abigail Reighard: It was just a heaviness that I had never felt because I am naturally sort of an optimistic person. And I kept thinking like, okay, we just haven't gotten the right doctors and we just haven't gotten me the right, like I'm just going to keep on persevering and keep on trying to find this cure, this answer. And when they were like, it's not going to get better, because I don't think that I've mentioned, so I also have a bladder disease. When I first got a kidney stone. And when I was in college, I went to the doctor and there was like this pamphlet there in the waiting room, and this pamphlet said burning during urination, like all of these different kinds of things, does it feel like you chronically have a urinary tract infection? And I was like reading this and it was like, this is me. So I took the pamphlet back and I was again just there for a checkup after my kidney stones. And I said, I know I have kidney stones, but I also think that I have this. And I handed it to the doctor and he said, we actually need to remove those from our waiting room. A lot of people think that they have this. It's very rare. Yeah, it's called interstitial cystitis. And he said it's very rare. And, it's just not going to happen to you. I don't think that's your issue. Abigail Reighard:And so I had this, I had two co-occurring conditions. Long story short, I was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis. It usually takes on average, eight years, from the onset of your symptoms with interstitial cystitis to actually be diagnosed because it is so difficult to diagnose. They have to put you to sleep. And, it's basically interstitial cystitis, it's like the lining of your bladder is compromised, so you have ulcers on your bladder. And, again, like, burning. It's incredibly, incredibly, incredibly painful. So I had this issue when I was getting this news from this doctor at Emory in Atlanta. It was like, so, Abigail, you have these co-occurring issues going on. But the medication that we could give you to treat you or help mitigate the kidney stones, it's going to exacerbate your IC symptoms. And it was just like this vicious circle and cycle when I was like, okay, I know that IC is a lifelong condition. I had learned that. What I figured out that day was what he's saying is there's not really anything that we can do then about the kidney stones and about the frequency at which you produce them. We can try some things with diet. And I tried different diets at that point, elimination diets, all these different things. But this is probably going to be your life. So it was just kind of like, the world just came colliding together with the reality of the situation and the expectation of what I thought was going to happen with my life. And yeah, that was a lot. Mighty Pursuit: So like you got diagnosed, you have these two kinds of co-morbid things happening. You had that hopeless moment on that ride home. Do you feel like you immediately went down like a dark path after that? What kind of happened in the days and months after that? Abigail Reighard: I feel like it was an immediate sort of dark path. Like that was the descent. I didn't have a breakdown or anything at that point. This was just like it was the beginning of that journey just in the pit. Mighty Pursuit: I'd imagine with the intense pain, I feel like some people feel like this with mental health issues as well, which we're gonna talk about, that's also co-morbid, but there's nothing you can do. You can't escape your body, right? Like you're present in your body. And so something's happening in your body that you can't run away from. And it's just like you don't have any choice in the matter. It's not something you're doing to yourself. Abigail Reighard: Right. Mighty Pursuit: So did you kind of like living chronic fear of the next moment this pain was going to come? Was it almost like running from the pain? Abigail Reighard: Absolutely. It was an anxiety that I had never had before because I was like, this is inside of me, I can't change it. And now I'm dealing with a for-real diagnosis where it's not going to change. And I felt trapped. I felt like I was in prison. And I was attached to this thing that I couldn't escape. I couldn't change the situation. I couldn't change the circumstances. It wasn't something that was like situational. This was like inside of me forever. Mighty Pursuit: Are there like memories of, "this moment stuck out in time" as just particularly a traumatic episode or something that you could reflect back on in your path? Abigail Reighard: I had a kidney stone and it had started blocking my ability to urinate. I was in the beginning stages of renal failure. And, I felt like I can't deal with this pain anymore. Like it was terrible. So they were keeping me overnight. And the infection was so bad that they had to go in and put stents, but they couldn't blast the stone, because they had to get the infection under control. Because if they blasted the stone, you can go septic and I mean, it's really life threatening. But it was like then, I can remember just being in so much pain and like, wow this is something that I thought, this is just a normal stone. We went to the hospital, saw that it was much more serious than that. And, then I really realized, okay, this could actually take my life. Mighty Pursuit: In those moments, at that point, what would you do when the pain would come up? Was it like screaming? Abigail Reighard: Oh, I was screaming so loud in the emergency room that the nurses and stuff were coming in, like I could not contain how bad I was hurting. Like, it was at the top of my lungs. I was in agony. Mighty Pursuit: I imagine, like obviously you talked about the isolation from people, but, when you're in such chronic pain all the time, it literally alters all the different aspects of your life. I mean, I think the only way I can really relate is I've had GI issues before and when those are particularly bad, even when it comes to traveling or moving around or even doing something like this, you have no idea what to expect. And so how is that for you? Just like, adjusting to a new reality of this is life. Abigail Reighard: I missed out on so much at the beginning. Because I didn't want to disappoint people. So that was like one of the things that isolation felt safer. It felt safer for me. And it felt safer for other people because I knew I wouldn't disappoint anybody if I didn't make plans or if I didn't do anything. Because I didn't want the disappointment of having to cancel them or feeling like I was being flaky. And so that really fed into that isolation. Like it fed into that beast of just like, be by yourself. Be by yourself. So I missed out on so much. Like, so much. Mighty Pursuit: Did you have people that would reach out to you? What was that like? Would you respond or how would that kind of, in a practical sense, manifest itself? The distance? Abigail Reighard: I had people that would reach out to me, but again, I never posted about it on Facebook or they didn't have Instagram back then, but I didn't post about what I was going through. So it was just kind of like, I think my friends just thought, oh, well, she's doing other things. But my best friend Courtney. She knew what I was going through, and she gave me my space. Because if somebody would come too close or come on too aggressive, then it would totally scare me. But there were months where I didn't see anybody but my parents and my sister. Mighty Pursuit: And then when it came to like, obviously dreams with romantic relationships and stuff like that, did you feel like that was completely off the table or you tried doing that or -- Abigail Reighard: Yeah, I tried to date. A couple of people. But it was just too much. I think the vulnerability too of feeling like I'm not going to measure up. Like I didn't want to be the wet blanket, like I didn't want somebody else to have to deal with that. I felt like it was a sacrifice I didn't want somebody else to make for me, and, I mean, now my perspective is completely different on it. But then in that moment, it was like, I just wasn't really open to it. Mighty Pursuit: Did you feel like, if I get what you're saying, you're saying that like, you felt like maybe you came with this extra set of circumstances or baggage or whatever, and then someone would have to be with that or marry into that, and that would be their life as well. Abigail Reighard: Yes, absolutely. Because I think that when you have a medical issue, when you have chronic pain, it's not just me that suffers. It's the people around me that suffer and have to deal with it too. Like it doesn't happen in a vacuum. It affects everybody that you love. Mighty Pursuit: Yeah. It's so painful because again, it's one thing if you made a decision in your life that wrecked your life, which is horrible in itself, but at least you could be like, well it's something that I did. Abigail Reighard: Right. Mighty Pursuit: But with you, this condition of just chronic pain and kidney stones has just completely overcome your body. And then when you think about a natural desire to have a companion or something like that, it's not even unreasonable to be like, if they did marry into that or whatever, it's almost like this crazy self-sacrificial act of I don't have to take on that pain myself. But I'm choosing to. And I think that's like a really courageous thing for people to do. But it's also just very sad when someone's suffering and then feeling that they can't find somebody that would be willing to do that. Because it is such a hard thing you know. Abigail Reighard: And even like the thought of children. What does that look like for me? And, it's a rare thing, actually to have interstitial cystitis, but they haven't really found a genetic link. But after I was diagnosed, it kind of opened up my mom's eyes and my grandmother's eyes and my aunts and my cousins eyes. They all have it. And it's not typical in families for it to be genetic. And then finding out that my dad has kidney stones, that he developed after I did. So it's like this thing for me, do I want to bring a child into this world? If I know that, if I'm passing on something that's caused me so much pain. Mighty Pursuit: That's so heavy. And then also, just like the natural desire to want to be a mother and want to have a kid. And feeling like that's not possible. So you were in college. Did this also affect work? Abigail Reighard: Oh, yeah. So it all started my junior year of college. So immediately, when I graduated, I went back home and I just immediately became a professional patient. I mean, that's all I did was go to doctor's appointments and try to manage this condition. But I thought it was going to be like maybe a two month journey. I had no idea I was never going to be able to have a job, or provide for myself or do the things that I wanted to do as far as a career. I went from going to school out-of-state to coming back to my parents house and still living there. So it felt like instead of like naturally progressing and after school, I felt like I was not just in neutral or parked. I was going in reverse. Mighty Pursuit: Where do you go mentally when that happens? Like just all these things that you want in your life?

EXISTENTIAL QUESTIONS

Abigail Reighard: It was a really dark time. It's really, really, really dark. And I wondered. I mean, I'd be lying if I didn't say that. There were moments where I said, why me? Like, what have I done? I knew that I hadn't done anything wrong. And so I questioned a lot about my faith. Like, how can a loving God allow this to happen? So it had me questioning a lot. Mighty Pursuit: You originally grew up with, like, a kind of faith background. Which in our society is just on its own is something that people wrestle with and wrestle with spirituality and religion and God. And it's like, is God there? If he is, then who is he? Or it or whatever, or creator and stuff. And so, that being such a thing in your life that was like in the background and then naturally, the questions do go there of like, that you didn't do anything and like, you didn't actually didn't choose to be here, to be born, and now you're just kind of handed this thing. And so, do you feel like, as you were going through all this stuff, was there a distinct moment where you just kind of started spiraling? Or was that kind of something that just gradually progressed and time and then you're just in a terrible emotional state? Abigail Reighard: Yeah, I think it was something that was gradual. It didn't happen overnight. I think that the longer that I went on the journey, the more discouraged I became. So yeah, it was something that happened gradually. Mighty Pursuit: How often did you pray for that to be taken away? Abigail Reighard: I prayed a lot. I prayed a lot. And then I went through a period where I didn't pray, because I felt like my faith was so fragile that I didn't want to pray to be healed or for it to be taken away from me. Because I was so scared that if I continued to pray and God didn't answer my prayers, what would happen to my faith? It was scary to have the realization that my faith feels so small that it's scary. Mighty Pursuit: Did it bother you when you heard, you know, some people talk about how prayer works or it's effective, did it irritate you or annoy you or even depress you, when people would say that? Abigail Reighard: No, I don't think that it depressed me. And, I think that the reason I felt that way is because I've seen prayer work. I feel like sometimes it can be used, in a way to not validate somebody's pain. Yeah. Like to say, oh, well, I'll pray for you. Like, you just need to pray about it. But I think that there's a lot of genuine people and that really means that they will come in agreement with you in praying. And that it's not to Pooh Pooh something or to say this may seem like a spiritual problem or whatever. Like people that were well-meaning and I've seen the power of prayer. I don't think prayer is changing God's mind. Prayer is changing us. So I feel like, no, I didn't get mad at people for praying for me. I think sometimes it can be used in a patronizing way though. Mighty Pursuit: If you prayed for this however many times and it didn't happen, obviously you talked about it, it's almost like there's a cost to hoping and then like being disappointed, that nothing's happening. But then did you just even doubt whether God was there, that he was real or you're just making this up or something? Abigail Reighard: I never doubted if he was real. I feel like I doubted where he was in my life or what place he had in my life. I doubted his ability to comfort. If that makes sense. Mighty Pursuit: So how are you managing the pain at this point? Did the doctors just start funneling you painkillers, how did you just manage and just live? Abigail Reighard: I got to a really bad place. Some of them were well-meaning doctors. I think others just gave me medication to just sort of shut me up or to just say this is your lot in life. And we'll just try to make you as comfortable as possible. And, so it was on a fentanyl patch. I was taking morphine, OxyContin, a whole list of of drugs. Mighty Pursuit: All of them together? Abigail Reighard: Yes. Mighty Pursuit: And so like did that kind of exacerbate the mental issues? Abigail Reighard: Absolutely. I didn't see it. I didn't see it at the time, though. But I think that obviously pain medication can be super helpful, right? But when it's taken chronically, I feel like it numbs you to everything. Like everything. And then it becomes like, not just a physical situation, but you just want to numb yourself mentally, especially when you're dealing with this on an everyday basis. You're like, I don't want to feel this. I want the physical pain to be gone, but I just don't even want to have to deal with this mentally. I just wanted to check out. And I think it became something that put blinders on me. Like I couldn't see how bad it was. I couldn't even see how bad it was. I was blind, totally blind to it.

MENTAL BREAKDOWN

Mighty Pursuit: What was the process like? So you eventually ended up in a mental hospital? What were the circumstances that led up to that and what year was that? Abigail Reighard: It was when I was 29. Mighty Pursuit: So, like ten years ago? Abigail Reighard: Yeah, it was ten years ago. Because I just celebrated ten years in October. I had truly a mental breakdown. Like, I always, you know, read about it, like mental breakdowns or nervous breakdowns. And I was like, what does that mean? But I was completely and totally detached from reality. Like, I didn't even know my name. When I finally got somewhere, it was -- Mighty Pursuit: What do you mean you didn't know your name? Abigail Reighard: I didn't even know my name. Like, I was that detached from reality. That was the worst night of my life. I can remember, I started kind of hallucinating, I guess, I didn't know at the time, I wasn't in reality enough to know what was going on. But in hindsight, I can look back and go like, oh, okay, so this was getting weird, like in the couple days before that. It's hard to explain. But I started having some hallucinations, like auditory and visual hallucinations. And then it just felt like this rush of adrenaline. And I was telling my dad like, something's very wrong. Something's very wrong. And, like, I don't feel like I'm myself. I don't feel in control of myself. And he was very patient with me, and, like, it sat with me. I can remember, like, feeling like I'm slipping away. I'm slipping away, like. And kind of not being myself anymore. And it was like, okay, I checked out. I knew who my father was. I knew who my mother was, but I couldn't even really form sentences. Like it was a complete and total nervous breakdown. Like psychotic break. Mighty Pursuit: You mentioned the painkillers, but how much of this do you feel like was your mind working so long to cope with the pain and there just was no answer. And so what else do you do besides kind of, I don't know, dissociate, try to go to a different place in your mind. Do you think that was the main cause of it? Abigail Reighard: I think it was the perfect storm with both things. But I agree with you that I don't think it was just the medication. I think that it was the build up of what, emotionally and mentally, it was doing to me to live in this prison that was my body. And at that time, when all this was going on, I was engaging in self-harm, as well. Never with the intent, never with the intent to take my own life. But I was also engaging in self-harm during the lead up to the mental breakdown. Mighty Pursuit: Why do you feel like you weren't going to the space of like, I just want to end my life because I feel like a lot of people might go there. So you weren't going there at that point. Abigail Reighard:So I didn't want to live. But I never wanted to take my life. If that makes sense. Like I didn't want to be here. But I didn't want to take my own life. Mighty Pursuit:What was causing you to hold on? Abigail Reighard: Truthfully? My parents. Yeah. I have the best parents in the world, and I just did not want to do that to them. My dad lost his first wife and child during childbirth, and my mom lost her fiancé. And then they got together. So they'd been through so much loss. And when they had me, it was like an answer to prayer for both of them. Because they had experienced the saddest most unimaginable loss that you can, at two points where it was like life was taking off. You know, my dad was having a baby, and then my mom was getting married, so it's like two huge losses. I mean, losing anybody at any time that you love is so hard. But it was super unnatural at the ages that they were at to lose their spouse, or their partner and their child. So yeah, I felt like I could not do that to them. Mighty Pursuit: What was it like for them to watch you go through this? Abigail Reighard: I can't. I cannot imagine. I can't imagine what it was like to see your child die in front of you, like my soul. Losing all hope I can. I can't imagine what they went through.

STRUGGLES WITH SELF-HARM

Mighty Pursuit: The stuff around self-harm, I think a lot of people don't understand, how you could be in pain, but then engage in more like pain. And so why did you start doing that? Abigail Reighard: So for me, it wasn't that I was engaging in more pain. For me, it was a release. And that's why I did it. I felt like I had control again when I would do that. It felt like these other things were like a pain that I couldn't control. But I think that self-harm became something for me where I was like, this is release and I will control this pain. So it was a control issue, it wasn't like I was trying to, obviously I was hurting myself, but at the time I had bought into this lie, that it was a pain that I could control. And I was mad. I was angry at my body. I was angry at myself. So it's like I was doing it to myself. But I also felt like I was letting out the pain that was inside of me. Mighty Pursuit: When was the first time you did that? Abigail Reighard: The first time that I ever engaged in self-harm I was in college the very first time and it wasn't premeditated. I'd never thought about ever doing that. And I can remember it was after I had started getting kidney stones and I just saw a pair of scissors and I was frustrated with pain. And I just took the scissors and went like that on my arm, and I was like oh my God, that feels good. And it scared me. Because I'd never done anything like that. I've never. I'd never taken drugs or anything like that. So it's the closest thing that I knew to, like being high. It was like a sense of euphoria. And it was just all kind of like, on a whim that I did it. Mighty Pursuit: And so you did that first time. How long did it take before it became a more habitual thing? Abigail Reighard: I feel like that was the only time that happened in college, was that one time and then it was probably about four years after that. After I graduated, before I ever even thought about doing it again. The feeling scared me. But it felt really good. It was scary good. But I didn't have a compulsion to do it, again. Like, initially after. Mighty Pursuit: So when did that come back? Abigail Reighard: Probably right around the time that I went to Mayo Clinic. Mighty Pursuit: Do you feel like that became an outlet or addicted to doing that? Abigail Reighard: I guess it would meet the criteria for addiction. But it wasn't something that I engaged in every day, but it was a harmful behavior that I didn't want to stop doing. I would feel like my emotions or I would, like, take all I could take. If I was a coffee cup. It was like, okay, things are rising to the top. And then it would just explode. And that was like my outlet before it exploded. That's what I use as kind of like a mediator. But it wasn't an everyday behavior. But it would be like when I had had all I could do, tried to keep it together because it was like I was holding balloons underwater and it was like I was holding, managing my emotions or like managing all these things. And it was like, finally when I couldn't do it anymore, it'd be like, that was the thing that I kind of went to. Mighty Pursuit: Do you remember the first time your parents found out you were doing that? Abigail Reighard: Yeah, I do. That was a hard, hard, hard night. It was so hard for both of my parents. I remember my dad got a washcloth, and he put it around me to stop the bleeding. And, he said, Abigail, this is not you. This is not you, sweetie. Like, we know that this is not you. We can't imagine what it's like to deal with the pain that you're dealing with. But this is not you. And they loved me through it. They did not judge me through that. Mighty Pursuit: That tension is so hard to hold in the moment of like, yeah, you see your daughter doing that. But then, I mean, everything you've just shared to this point, there's just no easy answer and there's no easy way out. And there's no, like, simplifying or just do this or do that. Abigail Reighard: Right. Mighty Pursuit: And to hold that tension of I just don't know. It's just hard to live there because you want answers. You want some sort of hope. What do you feel like people most misunderstand about self harm? Abigail Reighard: That it's for attention or that it's, yeah, I think that it's for attention, and that it's not a release. Like I think people at least for me, what I felt like was I'm not doing this to harm myself. It was harming me. So it sounds weird when I say that, but I'm not doing this to try to end my life. I'm doing this because I'm in so much pain. I'm in so much pain, like I'm hurting. And. So it's not glamorous or it's not like, a thing that is trendy. I think that people have said that lately. You know, if you have anxiety or depression, it's like becoming too trendy now. And I'm like, that is so not what is happening in the mind of somebody that does that. At least it was not for me. Mighty Pursuit:Talked a little bit on the phone of the idea of like control and the parallels of a rape victim and then the maybe sexual behavior that they were exhibit afterwards. And thruline there with the word control is like in the instance of self-harm. It's like this pain, the kidney stones and everything that's happening to you. But the self-harm restored some agency in the same way that a rape victim, it would be like they're going out and they're having some sort of sexual behavior. It's like they're now trying to control their own destiny. Abigail Reighard: Yeah. Mighty Pursuit: Why do you feel like that matters so much internally? Abigail Reighard: When you feel like you can't control anything inside of you, it's like you want to. Like it gives you, it gives you agency over your body or over things that you can't control that have been done to you or that are happening within you. When you engage in that behavior that can seem like you're retraumatizing yourself or you're harming yourself. It also kind of helps you to feel like you're in charge again, if that makes sense.

LOSING TOUCH WITH REALITY

Mighty Pursuit: Circling back to, we kind of left off while you're in the mental hospital, we just talked about self harm, and then you just felt like you were losing touch with reality. And so, you got there. And so what happens next? Abigail Reighard: In the mental hospital? I'm sure that there are good treatment facilities and places, but in that acute situation, I wasn't a human anymore is the way that I was treated. When I would talk to somebody, when I would talk to a nurse -- because I had come into my right mind at that point -- and so I was trying to have conversations like, what is this? I'm scared. I've never been in this situation before. Can you tell me what's going on? And, it was as if I wasn't there or I was like an animal, like they didn't talk to me like a human. It was the most dehumanizing awful experience for me to go through that and it opened my eyes up to to just a whole nother world of the way that people and the stigma and all the things like of what you hear about people that deal with mental health issues and then you end up there and you're like, wow, there no wonder people feel marginalized, or they feel lost. Because it was just like overnight I went from having a voice or like people paying attention to if I ask something to, you know, like washing your hair with Purell. Basic things like, even having, you know, not having to wear, like, a paper jumpsuit from the hospital like clothes. And I hadn't done anything wrong. Like this is my brain. I didn't do anything wrong. But I felt like it's the closest thing to I guess jail, a feeling like your voice does not matter. And like, you're just here to do x, y and z. This is what you're going to do. And you don't have you don't have a say in anything. Mighty Pursuit: Yeah, so tough. It's one of the areas where I feel like when I've heard personal experiences from people, it kind of is in a sense kind of what you see in the movie. I mean, in the sense of like, what that feels like. How long were you there? Abigail Reighard: So I was in acute care for like three days. And then after that, I made the decision with my parents that I would go somewhere to get further help, like an inpatient center. So this wasn't, like, locked down, this was like a voluntary thing that I went to, a place called Skyline Trail in Atlanta. And, they really kind of help to diagnose what was going on or get me real help in an inpatient sort of setting. And so I went there; I think there was like a two week wait, so it's like a two week window before I entered an inpatient program. Mighty Pursuit: And so what was revealed to you at that time? Abigail Reighard: I was struggling with depression and anxiety. What they felt like the psychosis was like a drug induced psychosis from the medication that had been prescribed to me, and I wasn't misusing any of the medication. This was all medication that had been prescribed to me, but it had been grossly over prescribed to me. Mighty Pursuit: You mentioned depression and anxiety and I think a lot of the questions about that in our culture, I mean, it's like a chicken or the egg type of thing. But what started first? And so just listening to your story, it feels like more, straightforward in terms of like, you weren't having these symptoms before the chronic kidney stones and then the bladder disease and stuff like that. And so how much of your ability to move forward had to do with reframing the way that you saw pain? Abigail Reighard: So much of my ability to move forward is about reframing. Because I had to look at it just completely differently and see that pain did not define me. That I didn't want that label of becoming a professional patient. I knew that I had a deeper sort of calling on my life. But when I was at Skyline Trail, like, what is probably the first real turn of events for me. Mighty Pursuit: This is the inpatient? Abigail Reighard: Yes. I was talking to my dad on the phone, and I said, I can't believe that I'm here. What has happened in my life that this is rock bottom, Dad. And he said, Abigail, you live your story now the way that you want to tell it later. And that was like the light bulb went on and I immediately was like, I've been entrusted with this and I do want to live my story now. I want to be in the driver's seat of this story and take back control. And I think that the fog from the medications because at that point you're talking about like 2 to 3 weeks of not being on those medications since I had the breakdown. And so you're talking about three weeks later, there was the fog starting to lift and I was starting to see like, oh my gosh, like things had really spiraled out of control. And I was like I want to take my life back.

RADICAL ACCEPTANCE

Mighty Pursuit: When you say take your life back, how much of that is like a full radical acceptance of your diagnosis? Abigail Reighard: That really was like a full radical acceptance, like. At Skyland, we talked a lot, we did DBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, which talks a lot about radical acceptance. And, you know, acceptance is not liking or wanting or choosing the situation that you're in. I think that acceptance is, it's really active and it's every day that you're choosing it like, it's I have to continually choose it. You radically accept it. But sometimes that acceptance happens every day, multiple times a day. And for me, that radical acceptance was just like huge in me taking back my own life. Mighty Pursuit: Obviously you didn't have a choice in having these conditions to begin with, but do you feel like people have a choice in general or like what to do with it? Abigail Reighard: Absolutely, yeah. I think that you really can choose what you want to do with your story, and it doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt. It doesn't mean that you like it, or that you're just rolling over and you're like, okay, well, I guess this is my plight. It's like there's so much power that you take back when you're like. This is how it is. And yes, it sucks. Or yes, I would have chosen something different, but I'm going to do something with this. For me it was like realizing that I wasn't just there, like this just didn't all happen to Abigail, because it happened to me, I can help other people and I can make other people feel like less alone because of what I've been through. And I think that that is such a gift. That is such a gift to be able to hold space for somebody. When we go through hard things to know, like I can do something with this. It does help you feel like you have a choice in the matter, and you aren't just passively going along with it. Mighty Pursuit: There's no shortage of suffering in the world. It's just interesting to kind of observe the cultural phenomenon within ourselves of if you've lost a parent or a child to cancer or something like it, the empathy and the drive to help people that are in a similar situation is restored and there's so much meaning and purpose that comes out of that. And then you have an empathy, in your situation, for pain and other people that are in that same situation, that it would have literally been impossible to develop otherwise. I think I shared this with you over the phone, but I was diagnosed with OCD in 2016. Obviously that's a mental disorder or whatever. But like I had similar things like wishing that this would just go away and other stuff and it's very painful sometimes emotionally or like going through that. But in one sense it feels like a curse, but then when you have the meaning and the purpose attached to it. It could feel like you're on this earth and it's almost like a blessing. And like, you get to step into that space. And the meaning that you get from it, there's nothing like it, you know? Abigail Reighard: Yes and I'm recalling that part of our conversation. Because I don't think that purpose is something that you do. I think it's something like who you are, your purpose is who you are. That's innately inside of you and to feel like you have a gift that you can give other people, but you would never have had that gift to give other people and to be there for people if you hadn't gone through it and walked through it yourself. It's like your words aren't empty anymore. You know, they hold weight. Mighty Pursuit: The mental decline in your story was a progression to step into some of these realizations. And so we had talked about a turning point in 2014, which involved a turtle. Abigail Reighard: Yes. Mighty Pursuit: What happened then? Abigail Reighard:I have the turtle ring on. So after I got out of Skyland, I was reading this book and I was in Hawaii with my family, and I put the book in, in my suitcase, and I was having a really bad day, pain wise. And so I'd stayed at the hotel and everybody else had left, and I'd had this experience through getting help. Mental health for the first time, but I was feeling defeated kind of for the first time since then. And so I took the book to the beach and I was like, I'm just going to read this. And it was just the words that he had written, it was like it was written to me. And I was like, God, if this is for me, if this is really what you have for me, you're restoring my hope, but I'm scared to hope again and to believe again in myself and in a commitment to the future. If this is what you want for me, please, Lord, just show me a sign. And I went down to the water with my feet in the sand, and I was crying and the waves were coming in and I just had this moment with God. And I opened my eyes and as I opened my eyes, this turtle was just staring at me, poking its head up out of the water. And it was like, God just showed me that, like the beauty in that moment, keep swimming. I know it sounds cheesy, but for real, just keep swimming. And you can be in an ocean of sorrow or doubt or have just so many things that pull you away from me. But I've always got you. It was just a beautiful sign of hope that I desperately needed at that time. When my dad said when I was at Skyland, live your story now the way you want to tell it later, that kind of gave me the courage to get back involved in wanting to be a part of society or a community or have relationships. So then that led me to this book and seeing the turtle and then, it was a progression then to like 2016. And that was another real watershed moment in my life. Where I really surrendered, like really surrendered. Mighty Pursuit: We had mentioned before that, people that are listening to this right now kind of wrestle with God or don't believe in God. And so this kind of like a watershed moment, in kind of finding your way back in that, now where you are at, how do you make sense of like a good God that could allow something like this in your life? Abigail Reighard: I think that a good and loving God. You can't have that without, without tragedy and without sorrow. We wouldn't know goodness and light if there wasn't dark. And so I just yeah that to remember that faith isn't something that has to be perfected. It's a journey. And you know, the Bible says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. And he has space for that. That when you when your heart is sick, it can cloud your vision. It can make you question if there is really even a god? But I believe it with all of my heart. Because I know that it's the only reason why I'm here. Mighty Pursuit:One of the other guests that we are having on, episode is going to air probably soon, she's one of the leading scientists in the field of near-death studies. And, so she studied near-death experiences for 40 years. And, the reason why I bring that up is because, a near-death experience is defined by someone who clinically dies, and no brain activity, heartbeat. And then there's just this whole field investigating what they saw, and, so people report encountering God or being of light when they die. And again, these people are clinically dead. And a lot of people talk about it in the sense of like, one person explained it, they're living life with a little flashlight. They're in a giant warehouse with a little flashlight. All they can see is, like, what's right in front of them. But that when they had died, and then obviously, they had these miraculous circumstances come back to life. It was like the entire warehouse opened up, and they could see everything that was in the warehouse. And I think when it comes to suffering it is like that, in the sense of there's no really easy answers of how we could exist in this world and suffer like this and try to have the most articulate and intellectual answer when it comes to it. And there are philosophical answers when it comes to these questions. But sometimes there's a reality of you just have to sit in it and be like I don't know. And recognize that we are living in a warehouse with a flashlight. And we can only see what's right in front of us and we won't know the full story right now. And I think what we can take out of it is the meaning and the purpose in the pain and the beauty in that. But obviously, whatever's happening to you at the moment, there's a grieving process. And so you had to go through that. And so how do you grieve the life you thought you were going to live? Abigail Reighard:I went to a place in 2020 that is called On Site, and it's like an emotional wellness retreat. Because I love self-growth and things like that, but On Site's incredible. It's basically a human school. It teaches you how to be the best human that you can be. And, On Site was a huge part of my healing journey and really understanding that this wasn't the life I thought I was going to lead or that I missed out on certain things, but it really helped me process the impact of how that's impacted me. And then it helps you think about the track that you're going on in life. And like, if I don't deal with the impact of what this is done and be really realistic and say this is how it's impacted me, this is how it's going to impact my relationships. Then your track can't change. So it helped me to really realize the impact of what it did, sit and process it, but not stay in it. But it helped get me on the right track in life to say I don't want to be a person who lives in the past. I want to continue to move forward and to feel it so that I am able to heal it. Mighty Pursuit: I think what is so remarkable is you've been through all this stuff, but you're sitting here talking about it, which I think is so beautiful and powerful. And then even kind of these full circle moments of like, I mean, you literally just got up and had to pass a kidney stone, and so, you're still dealing with this reality, but you're also opening yourself up to things in life that you weren't previously opening yourself up to. And so one of those moments, you didn't feel like you could ever be in a relationship, and then you did end up getting married. And now you have a girl. And so what was that process of shielding, isolating people away and like, I can't bring people into this pain and then letting someone into that, your husband and that moment? Abigail Reighard: It was unbelievable. So just a little bit of backstory. So Nick and I, my husband and I went to high school together and then we reconnected and he had a little girl, and she was five months old when we met, and he was raising our daughter 100% on his own. And, we just fell in love from the beginning. And so for me, it was so perfect. Because if life had ended up where I thought it was going to end up or where I wanted it to end up, so many years before, I would not have met the man who is, my partner, my best friend, and I wouldn't get to be a mom. Earlier in the podcast, I said, I didn't know what that looked like, genetically, if I had a child, what would that look like? And now you know, I'm a mom to a five and a half year old beautiful little girl named Kaybee. And she's my world. She's such a light. And, I look back at my story and she's had a lot of health issues. She had hip dysplasia, so she was in a body cast for several months and she's recently been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. And I look at my life and I go, God, all those moments where I was like, why me? Why me? He said, because of this. I couldn't be an advocate for her the way that I am. I couldn't have held the space and for her the way that he's enabled me to do that, if I hadn't been through what I've been through. And so I see it and it's all like, for a reason. It's so much bigger than me. And, it's so much sweeter than anything that I could have ever dreamed for myself or written up for myself. Letting go of that control and saying, I just want to do the next right thing, like you said in the warehouse with the flashlight. Like you can only see one step ahead of you. Sometimes that's what you have to do. And then later on in life that everything is illuminated where we can see it. But yeah and it's also scary to let yourself be open.

TO THE PERSON IN PAIN

Mighty Pursuit:What would you say to someone that is in a place where they're like, oh, I'm too ill. I'm too damaged to let somebody love me or bring them into my journey. What would you say to that person? Abigail Reighard:I would say, I see you. I see you. I understand what it's like to be so scared and to have shame. And my counselor says that shame is self-hatred at my expense. And, I understand what it's like to feel that way and to feel like that the kindest thing that you could do for other people is to avoid them. But I would encourage you to open yourself up and to let somebody else open yourself up. Be open to allowing that to happen. Because there's healing that can take place, in relationships, whether it's romantic or not romantic relationships, that can't take place outside of people. Mighty Pursuit:That's so good. So you talked about how you're still going through this? And so can you recount recent episodes? You said yesterday you're at an eight or nine on the pain scale. How do you deal with them now versus how you dealt with them earlier in your life? Abigail Reighard:So now I have some coping strategies when I feel things are spiraling and even with my emotional health. Because when you have physical pain, your emotions can become dysregulated. So there are certain things I do like grounding, like putting my feet on the soil, and in the sunlight. I know that might sound crazy because it's like, what is that going to do? But it gets you back in your body. I also feel like another thing for me, when I feel completely dysregulated, is putting ice in my hands. And it gets me back in my own body and it does it really quickly. Like, there's definitely research that talks about that, when you're dissociating or feeling that way. So, I feel like I have go-to things like breathing. When you listen to your body, when you really listen to your body, it tells you so much. I can feel the tightening in my chest or like this shallow breathing. And when I take a step back and when I really am able to breathe, and when I'm focusing on that, it does help relax these other parts of my body. And I know that, when I am in physical pain, that all of my emotions are just going to be exacerbated. So doing what I can do to kind of keep that in check helps me to manage the pain and be more in wise-mind and to manage that and make the best decisions I can. Mighty Pursuit:And when the pain is just really bad, we had talked about disassociating before, it's almost like you can't imagine, like you equated it to someone stabbing you before. And so where do you go in your head? Abigail Reighard:In my head where do I go? Mighty Pursuit:Yeah, how do you deal with that moment? Abigail Reighard:One thing that I do and I'm fortunate enough to have my husband, I can't even think at that moment. Like, I will ask Nick. I'll be like, okay, so I have a stone and it's moving right now, and I'm in so much pain, what do I need to do? And he's like, okay, so let's take your flomax or he will go through these steps with me. And it's things that you don't think about, that would come second nature to you when you're like not in crazy pain, but where you have a system where I'm like, okay walk me through the basics. How do I do this? What do I need? Do I need water? Do I need to get outside? What do I need? Like just listening to myself and having that person to kind of help me say, okay, have we done X, Y, and Z first? It's helpful. Mighty Pursuit:It seems like completely transformative to have somebody just by your side when that's happening. Abigail Reighard:Absolutely. And that's why we aren't supposed to do it alone. That answer of telling somebody you don't like, should I let myself be open again? Or do I just want to be by myself? Again, it doesn't have to be a romantic partner but to let other people into your story, like. Don't cheat somebody else out of a blessing. And it can be a blessing to them to walk by your side through hard things because you are worthy of it. Mighty Pursuit:We've kind of alluded to this idea of our life being a test, quote unquote. But how do you feel your pain has helped you develop resilience and character? How has it formed you in a deeper way? Abigail Reighard:Wow, that's a really good question. I feel like it's helped form resiliency and helped me see that I'm resilient because I feel like you can't take other people further than where you've gone yourself. And when I sit back and I look at photos from the past, I'm like, wow, if I hadn't had that thing happen to me back there, the person that I am now that I'm proud of, all of this crap in the back is how I became that person. It's not reaching the goal that matters, because it's not really the goal that you're after. It's the person that you've become on the journey to the goal or to the thing. It's that person that you become on the way that you're like , wow I didn't even know that was happening to me. But it was because I'm becoming that person. Mighty Pursuit:What do you feel like you have now that you wouldn't have had if it was for that pain? Abigail Reighard:The empathy piece. I feel like to see people, to love people and to know people and to have just a calling on my life that I want to walk with people that are going through tough things. And it doesn't even have to be chronic pain. But just life disappointments and trauma and to become a mental health coach. And to speak and talk about resiliency. And what does that look like? And what does it look like to become more emotionally intelligent and to help people truly live your story now, the way that you want to tell it later? Because it's so important. And like, once people realize that, number one, that they're worthy of having a story that's worthy of being told. That's like the beginning of everything. And that you are here for a reason. You're listening to this. If you're listening to this podcast, I think that you're listening to it for a reason. And it might not be for you. Maybe it's for somebody else that needs to hear it. But when you sort of step back and you go, wow, I'm just like a small piece in this whole beautiful universe. Mighty Pursuit:You told me offline a little bit about the mental health coaching and helping people. And I couldn't really think of a better way to kind of close. But then just to speak to the person that you are reaching, that you're going to reach, maybe somebody that's struggling with hope. Maybe they're experiencing chronic pain, maybe they're not, but just hope in general. And you've been in such hopeless places. So what would you say to that person? Abigail Reighard:I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again like I see you. I understand what it is like, to not be able to see the next step. But I would just encourage you to keep your eyes open. Keep your heart open to receiving. And you are not going to stay in the place that you're at. There are going to be brighter days. There will be brighter days. And hope is a commitment to the future. And sometimes that future can look like tomorrow. Sometimes it can look like the next hour. But if somebody is listening to this and they want hope. Just get to the next minute. Just get to the next minute on the clock. And you're here for a reason and believe that. Live your story now the way you want to tell it later. Mighty Pursuit:So good. Well, thank you for coming on today and sharing this. So beautiful. So much hope. So thank you. Abigail Reighard:Thank you. What you guys are doing is amazing. And thank you for the way that you see people, because, being on the other side of this and looking at you interviewing me, you're really walking in my story with me. So thank you for doing that with me today. Mighty Pursuit:Of course, it's an honor.

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