Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million people in the U.S. One of those people is Selene Suarez.
Life with lupus: Selene, who lives just outside Salt Lake City, Utah, has had lupus for 10 years. She has been dealing with symptoms like swollen joints, severe fatigue, and general inflammation and pain in her body while raising two young children and trying to take care of her family.
"My main problem is I have lupus, so it leads to arthritis and swelling and hurts pretty much my whole body," she says. To help with the pain, Selene's doctor prescribed opioid medication, strong drugs that help some people reduce severe pain but that can be very addictive. Though opioids helped with her pain, Selene didn't quite feel like herself when taking them and was open to other ways of feeling better.
"Instead, you're changing your pain into something else, a good thought or a good memory."
- Selene Suarez
Trying mindfulness: Selene had never heard of mindfulness before her doctor mentioned a local study, which was led by National Institutes of Health-supported researcher Eric Garland, Ph.D., LCSW. "That was the very first time I heard about it. The first time you go, you think it is not going to work, but something told me, just finish it, we'll see what happens," Selene says.
"I had a really, really good experience." Selene went to a local health clinic every Saturday for mindfulness treatment for two months. "First [the social worker] would talk and say to close your eyes and breathe, go here and go there, and when everything was done, she would ask, 'How was this for you and your experience? How do you feel?' and we would talk about it." Selene's provider gave her homework and different mindfulness strategies every week, so she could also practice by herself.
Embracing daily mindfulness: Today, Selene practices mindfulness daily. "When I started the treatment, I was taking two to three pills a day," Selene says. "Now, I'm taking two to three pills a month, and only when I really need it." Mindfulness has had benefits for Selene beyond pain management and physical healing. It's also helped her combat daily stress and find joy in the little things, instead of focusing on pain.
"Every day is stressful and that [mindfulness] helped me a lot to relax," Selene says. "Not to be thinking all the time, it hurts here and it hurts there. Instead, you're changing your pain into something else, a good thought or a good memory."
A message to others with chronic pain: Selene hopes her story helps others with chronic pain. She wants them to know that there are other options out there. "When you take opioids, sometimes you get in a comfort zone," Selene says. "Look around, try something else that could work if you're open to it."