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Health Talk 04 Chronic pain: cultivating resources, community, and a daily ritual to manage pain

About Health Talk

Living with a chronic condition can feel isolating. Health Talk by Flowly was born from wanting to bring often isolated voices into the fold, and connecting different ideas, experiences, and tools to your own health journey. We talk to health practitioners and chronic health patients to deconstruct the chronic condition journey— from how many have managed the challenging diagnosis experience, to new tools and tips that might help you. We cover conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, autoimmune diseases, and more. Hosted by Celine, the founder of Flowly, this weekly podcast will dive into conversations with world class researchers, practitioners, and even more importantly, chronic condition warriors themselves.

You can also find Flowly Health Talk on Apple Podcast and Spotify.

Celine chats with Kirsten Soong, a chronic pain patient who brings both her own experience as a public sector leader and her seven year battle with chronic pain into the conversation. Important topics like finding the right community to support you, the right doctors who believe you, and developing physical habits to assist in daily health management all come up in this Health Talk. Kirsten has worked in the public sector as a leader in grassroots organizing for Planned Parenthood and ACLU, and she was recently at Google where she led the multinational strategy for Google Maps and Cloud products. Not only is Kirsten now an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School, but she herself is a chronic pain warrior. I’ve wanted to interview Kirsten because she brings not just her professional experience in the public sector to the table, but also her own learnings and experience managing her chronic pain.

*This transcript is auto-generated

hey y'all my name is Celine and i'm the

founder of Flowly

and your host for health talk by foley

as many of you know Flowly is a mobile

platform for chronic pain and anxiety

and essentially we teach users how to

control their breathing

and their heart rate to better manage

their nervous system

we use something called biofeedback for

relaxation training

and virtual reality so that you can do

it while fully immersed

in basically another world but we also

started this podcast in this interview

series because

we wanted a way to connect other members

of the chronic pain

illness mental health community with

each other as well as bring in health

advocates health patients

and professionals in the space to really

share their own ideas their own

tips journeys and lessons they've

learned along the way

in their invisible illness journey as we

all know

everyone is so different so we want to

bring in as much perspective

and different experiences as possible

and so i'm really looking forward to

today's chat with kirsten song

kirsten has worked in the public sector

as a leader in grassroots organizing for

planned parenthood

and aclu and she was recently at google

where she led the multinational strategy

for google maps and cloud products not

only is kirsten now an mba candidate at

harvard business school

but she herself is a chronic pain

warrior i wanted to interview kirsten

because she brings not just her own

professional experience

in the public sector to the table but

also her

own learnings and experiencing managed

chronic pain

so without further ado welcome kirsten

thank you so much for having me and

you're you're

coming all the way from are you in

cambridge boston right now

i am yes yes in cambridge right now yes

cool so i wanted to start at the

beginning of sort of your diagnosis


and i do that a lot as a first question

with our patient advocates and

patient warriors because it's been a few

years since you started

experiencing your chronic pain or the

symptoms around it

and as we all know the diagnosis journey

can be really

challenging to say the least for many


and especially for women um in

the health journey and so i wanted to

know you know what was your journey with

that and did you have any particular

challenges you faced along the way

um so my journey started

about seven years ago and it

was probably the most difficult thing

i've ever had to deal

with it started basically with just some


that i started just getting some

flare-ups and so i decided to see my

primary care doctor

slowly the pain actually started getting

worse and worse and worse over time

and that doctor connected me with an

orthopedic doctor

that you know had a three-month wait so

i'm still suffering through

all this time and then that doctor

didn't think i needed surgery at the

time but we tested

a bunch of pretty painful processes


injections a bunch of different

processes that didn't seem to

to work so then i was kind of in this

scary place where i didn't really know

what to do next i was trying physical


and different things and so i was just


talking trial and error talking to

different people all while

being in a ton of pain and i remember

being told that there was this top

doctor in palo alto that was

the you know the best that i could see

and so i was in a ton of pain it was

raining i was on the brink of crying i

was just in so much pain

but i drove down from san francisco and

that doctor actually only

was a specialist in one like

vertebrae of the spine and so i didn't

know that and so he saw me

and said you know i can't really examine

you or help you

but you know from what you're saying it

sounds like either this is in your head

or it's something that you'll probably

have to deal with the rest of your life

and you know especially being in that

that place of he's it has a medical

background i don't

and i'm in tons of pain i remember just

going to my car and just

hysterically crying just not knowing you

know is this

really going to be the best i'm ever

going to feel for my life and i don't

really know how

to navigate this journey i remember just

being so scared and then i

actually had to take some time off work


decided after like a small accident to

defer a year from harvard

and spend a about a year and a half just

fully dedicated to

getting better you know through that i


met around 40 plus doctors but um was

able to meet some incredible people that

helped support me through my journey and

i think

you know remembering if you're out there

and you're feeling

pain that there are people that

will provide you hope and that it

reminded me

to the importance of being an advocate

for yourself and

trusting your gut when you meet

particular practitioners

you know i was in a really scary place

five years ago

and today you know i i don't have pain


you know that's a pretty incredible and

grateful place to be right now

and i know you're saying that you met

over 40 plus doctors and

you know you really find i think for

most of the people

that we've spoken to and a lot of users

will say that

a lot of times they will encounter very

negative practitioners or practitioners

that don't believe them

when they go into the room and they talk

about their own symptoms i know we've

talked about this before where

you found a lot of hope with some

practitioners and maybe just people in

your life that have created

a community for you um so what was that


of being able to create that community

around you that provided

hope and support in that time yeah i

think that it was definitely really


to when i you know explaining for


the experience in palo alto and i had a

lot of

different doctor experiences but i was

grateful for them because it made me


to be my own advocate and to trust my


even though you know you may not be

trained in the

medical field you know your body and

when you meet with someone just because

you know they have one opinion

if you don't feel like that that makes


for yourself and for your body that you

don't have to they're not the be all end

all and you should continue your journey

of finding

new people you know for me it was a lot

of trial and error but it was

it's kind of like friends like once you


one amazing person for me that was a

physical therapist

who helped find me a really great

physiatrist and then

a lot of times those people uh know

really amazing other people

and can refer you to kind of this team

so that's what happened to me was

i have two two doctors that are actually

some of my

closest friends now i would see them

like a few times a week

i think that that trusting your gut is


i think the number one piece of advice i

think secondly

being selective in just this whole


process of of dealing of being able to

have hope and support through this

not everyone understands necessarily

what you're going through

and i'm generally a person that shares a

lot about you know what i'm dealing with

what i'm going through

you know whether that be family members

or friends there's a certain people that

when i had conversations it was

much more challenging and difficult for

me especially starting at for example

harvard and meeting hundreds of new


i didn't necessarily want to explain my

whole entire story of like

every single detail what i was going

through so it actually helped me a lot


spending some time just writing down and

practicing like a can response

of um you know this is what i'm going

through this is what i feel comfortable

sharing and that actually helped me a

lot to feel

supported and not feeling like and

feeling like i can share with people

what i wanted to

and then being selective in the other in

who i actually wanted to

kind of go deeper and um explaining in

detail what i was going through so that

really helped me um feel helpful and

supported through through my journey

i think that's an amazing piece of

advice the idea of

writing down first and then maybe

creating a response that

you could use especially when you're

meeting new people or more unfamiliar

people because

i do think that we don't we

underestimate how vulnerable

health is to each of us and in fact i

struggle to think of something as

vulnerable as your own identity as so

much is tied to your own health and how


experience it and perceive it and

i think that's something that we've

heard a little bit of from a lot of the

patients that we work with is it's

frustrating like

being needing to explain yourself first

of all every time you meet a new

practitioner or

like you're going into a new clinical

setting and then much less like talking


you know going to family events or going

to social settings like needing to


why you might have to sit down every

hour you can't dance at the wedding or

you know just little things and i think

that's that's something that i'm

definitely going to take to her and

share that advice because

that's really really interesting and


but i think one thing is and i i always

want to be

very cautious of balancing like the

positive with the negative

because it's there's no way we're going

to go around the big challenge of being

a chronic illness chronic pain patient

but at the same time i think there are

some techniques and tools that we can

have in our toolbox

for how we manage the roller coaster

of emotions physically and mentally um

and i know you had said to me that for

you recovery a lot of time feels like

you know one step four or two steps

forward one step back

so how do you manage the times when

you do feel you're one step back and

then maybe also how do you manage when

you're two steps forward too because

that can be

you know like it can be learning to

manage that on both sides

yeah absolutely i feel like it's kind of


in my pain journey just in life i think


idea of kind of two steps forward one

step back has helped me a lot

it was actually one of my doctors who i

would see quite often when i had


when just basically that phrase just

kind of changed my life

and you know i'd come into his office um

basically almost crying on the table

and when you're in that much pain and

you're in a flare-up

um it's a