Karra Eloff was furniture shopping with her husband Johann when a sharp pain in her right hip caused her to collapse.
“I had just finished a half-marathon, so I thought it was related to that,” Eloff, 32, tells 9Honey.
She assumed she’d sustained an injury and started “intensive rehab” to treat it.
“After a number of years, the pain spread to other joints.”
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It was 2011 and Eloff was 21.
“We had just returned from living in England. We got married and traveled through Europe and had the most adventurous year,” she explains.
“Then we came back to Australia and I collapsed.”
Despite the physiotherapy, Eloff had trouble sitting and standing for long periods of time.
“We both thought I might just have to go to physio a couple of times,” she recalls.
Instead, as the pain spread over the next few years, doctors began looking into the cause.
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Eloff was eventually diagnosed with Spondyloarthritis, a type of arthritis that can affect the spine as well as the joints of the arms and legs.
“It normally takes around five years to diagnose this condition because it is quite tricky,” she explains.
“Then once we realized this was actually a thing, something that was long-term, we had to pivot in our journey as well.”
Her experience of living with chronic pain, and the impact it had on her marriage, prompted her to write the book The Chronic Pain Couple: How to be a joyful partner & have a remarkable relationship in spite of chronic pain.
“We had this remarkable relationship built on adventure and fitness, and as soon as I became unwell everything we had built our relationship on wasn’t possible,” she says.
“Chronic pain impacts the body, but it also started to strip the joy from our relationship as we focused on treatment and my health.”
Eloff went in search of information to help her relationship evolve and improve in spite of her health, however all she could find were suggestions the keep their communication open.
“I wanted specific answers,” she says.
“When my pain is really high, how do I still be an amazing partner? How do I remain a joyful partner when my body isn’t keeping up, if I can’t do the activities we used to do?”
Next, Eloff turned to academic journals and learned all she could about chronic pain, and then she began reading some of the research released by relationship experts.
“Then there was a lot of trial and error in my journey,” she says. “Fatigue was a real concern so I wanted to narrow down what changes I could make that needed little energy but had a big impact on my love life.”
The answer was for Eloff to “strip back” and look intentionally at her day, values and relationship.
“What I loved about running, for example, was nature, health, novelty and the challenge, and I can find those things elsewhere,” she explains.
And having tried many treatments to help reduce her pains, she learned her mental health was just as important when it came to her overall health. She also relies on the support of a pain specialist and healthcare team.
“Pain for me now is kind of like a part-time job,” Eloff says. “I’ve learned what makes my pain go out of control and I have a good grasp on planning my days to inject joy, romance and fun.
“Also a lot of people don’t push for a great healthcare team. There are so many GPs and specialists that care about this area and do have answers.”
Today, Eloff says her relationship is once again “remarkable.” The couple now lives on the Sunshine Coast with their son Josh, who is seven.
The Chronic Pain Couple: How to be a joyful partner & have a remarkable relationship in spite of chronic pain is out now and available via this link.
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