Can giving to others help someone in chronic pain? Jeanne Qualkinbush would definitely say yes! She is one of the inspiring individuals PainPathways would like to recognize during National Pain Awareness Month.

We reached Jeanne in her RV in Orlando traveling with her grandchildren. She took a break from the activities and the heat to talk with us. Jeanne is full of positive energy, and it was a pleasure to speak with her.

JeannePP: When did you first start experiencing pain?

JQ: I was first diagnosed with RSD in 2006. At the time, I had four kids and a successful career at Whole Foods Market. I experienced the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome that didn’t seem to get better. When my hands started getting sweaty, my physical therapist suggested I meet with a neurosurgeon. I began getting treated for RSD and, unfortunately, the pain started spreading to my legs.

PP: What did you do?

JQ: I knew I had to “move it or lose it” so I got a dog who I had to walk every day. That helped keep my legs moving. To keep my hands moving, I found the perfect-sized crochet hook and remembered a basic stitch that my aunt taught me when I was 11. Crocheting was also meditative and good for my mind. I began crocheting daily, and soon I was making scarves for everyone I knew.

[pullquote]“Everyone has something to give – even if it’s a small gesture, like a smile or kind word.”[/pullquote]

PP: How did Hugs for Hope get started?

JQ: My scarves got larger – more like a shawl – and became a “hug” that could be wrapped around someone to feel good. With RSD, skin is so sensitive that a gentle wrap can be a comfort. So my journey began sending out boxes of “hugs” to anyone who I thought could benefit from them. Soon I was receiving notes from people around the country. I started adding a pin to every place I received a note from so I could see where my “hugs” ended up. When I look at the map in my office, I’m reminded of all the people I’ve comforted in some small way and it is very rewarding to me. It gives me a purpose.

PP: How have you managed to stay so positive?

hugs for hope map

Map in my office that tracks my connections across the country

JQ: I try to make the best of out of every day and give myself permission to have bad moments too. My family has been very supportive. I also think that having natural childbirth with all four of my children taught me to detach my mind from my pain. And, of course, I want to be strong for my grandchildren.

PP: Who has influenced you?

JQ: After reading the book Tuesdays with Morrie, I was so inspired that I wrote to the author, Mitch Albom. In return he sent me a signed book and a thoughtful note. I was so touched that he would reach out to me that I decided to pay it forward and reach out to others. I’ve connected with total strangers over the common understanding of RSD and it’s helped me tremendously.

PP: How has giving to others helped you?

hugs

My friend, Noelle, and her dog, Bear, wrapped in a Hug

JQ: Another reason I love making and sending out my hugs is it provides a way to reach beyond myself and not feel so isolated. I am a people person and it’s tough when you can’t leave your house. Also, I wanted to share my message of hope with my children and grandchildren – Everyone has something to give. No matter what happens to you in life, you can rise above it.

PP: How can people learn more about you?

JQ: They can go to my Facebook page. I’d be honored to hear from people.

Who or what helps you with your pain? We’d like to hear your stories too. Please go to Share Your Story Forum.

Comment below with your thoughts about Jeanne, and we’ll randomly select someone to receive one of her “hugs.”