Old Age, Chronic Pain, and Physical Disability: No Match for a Problem Solver

By: EJ Khazzoom, Street Artist, Aspiring Consultant, and Loolwa's Funky & Fabulous Mom

November 28th, 2008 • Mind-Body MedicinePrint Print

Before I unpack my toolbox for living with old age, chronic pain, and physical disability, I would like to put out there that I developed my pain late in life, and that I brought it on myself by the lifestyle choices that I made. I think it may make a large difference in how I relate to my pain, because I do not feel the anger that can accompany pain that was caused by negligence of another person or the feeling of “why me” that can accompany those struck down in their prime. I also think I was chemically disposed at birth to be a problem solver.

I share this so that I do not come off as thinking what others are going through is easy, that all people have to do is X, Y, and Z, or that I have all the answers if people would just do things my way.

My largest tool — the one that makes all the others possible — is my creativity, which is part of the package deal of my severe ADHD: When something happens to me, I tend to cut to the chase, pondering, “What can I do about it?” I also constantly notice little things around me, seeing them not as they are customarily used, but as they might be used to solve my problem. My mental picture of this is the chimp who makes a tool out of a stick.

I became a street artist  when I was 49 yrs old, 25 years ago.  Although I had some difficulty getting around, because I weighed 267 pounds, I did not have pain. I could handle my art stand without any trouble.  I had to take a lot of weight out of my Volkswagon bus in the morning and put it back in the evening. It worked great until I got ostestoarthitis in one knee.

Mini vans had just come out, and soon as I saw them, I bought one — because it was just right for what I had to do. Instead of lifting my stand out in pieces, I bought closet organizers with wheels.  Three of the middle-sized ones boasted just the amount of space that I was allowed to have by the rules of the street artist program.  It was actually amazing how much I could get into and onto those organizers.

I painted and attached felt squares all over the organizers and put lots of heavy ceramics in the drawers.  I used two boards side-by-side, to take the stands in and out.

Finally my pain progressed to the point where I could no longer deal with that system, and I cast around for some other solution. I wasn’t happy with any of the possible solutions, but I had to do something; so I settled on a larger van with a ramp that was not quite right.  I was on my way to the bank to get money for that van, when I turned at the wrong block and saw a school bus for sale.

I immediatly bought that bus, because it was perfect.  I used it happily for ten years, but then, because my pain and mobility were getting worse, I began to need help getting the stands in and out, even on that ramp.

Note from Loolwa:

A few months before her accident, my mom asked me to look over this article, which she wrote for publication on my blog. That week, I happened to be mad at her about something, so I didn’t want to deal with reading her email. Then I totally forgot about the article.

An email I received today reminded me about it. My mom didn’t finish the article before sending it to me to review. So you’re going to have to pray hard for her recovery if you want to hear what happens next!

Just yesterday, my mom proclaimed, during one of her touch-and-go lucid moments, “I’m now entering the third phase of my life.” We then discussed how, even though she might not be able to work as a street artist anymore, we would problem-solve her situation together; and whatever she’d end up doing, she’d be totally funky and fabulous. 

After reading this article, I’m wondering if my mom might pursue a dream she’s mentioned here and there: to be a consultant, teaching people with physical and mental disabilities how to problem-solve and cope. If you think you can benefit from my mom’s coaching, let me know in the comment box (click on the title, then scroll down to the bottom of that page to get there), and I’ll pass it on when she’s well.


Joyce Wieselmann December 4th, 2008

Hi Loolwa,

This article is very good. I spoke with your Mom on Sunday and it was a bad time for me to call. She sounded exhausted at the time.

How are you doing?



Janis Mara December 15th, 2008

This is great – I’m looking for solutions to physical problems myself and am looking forward to hearing more.

Dave France December 17th, 2008

I have been in CP for over 25 years secondary to post polio syndrome, rheumatoid arth, ankylosing spondylitis, spinal stenosis lumbar & cervical – inoperable. Got an MA in psych studying CP. I had frontal brain damage 16 year before post-polio precipitated pain. I am working on a theory that brain damage can change pain perception (in frontal lobes, hypothalamus, other areas in circuit of Papez. Looking for other brain damaged CP patients who have difficulty in getting non-drug techniques of any kind to work for them. Results of research will be shared if privately contacted. Dave France

Kim Archer December 28th, 2008

Hello. I have been suffering with pain for 27years now. I have been diabetic for 34 years. I have been to all kinds of doctors. I was told i am a druggie. It’s all in my head. Left to deal with it on my own, my boyfriend starting taking me to a man who specializes in herbs and energy. It has helped some but still i hurt so bad. I read the article in AARP Escape From Chronic Pain With Out Drugs. This article was like reading my life on paper. I am looking so forward to finding out more about this. I am most excited to hear I am not crazy. This article has given me new hope. Thankyou.

Reida April 11th, 2011

I am 59 weigh 230 lbs , have had significant arthritis pain for 10  years…..It has recently gotten worse…I need to read that article inn AARP because I take two arthritis pain meds which might or might not be doing damage to my kidneys depending on which doctor your speak to…  The truth is I am sort of in panic mode because 59 is way too, young the way I see it , to start shutting down.  I have so much more I want to do and I have a beautiful new grandson coming that I want to love and spoil   (along with my other 3 precious grand boys ) like a “Force of Nature” , but the pain makes you weak and depressed.  Depression shuts you down…I refuse to take any more meds than I have to so that lets antidepressants out.  I did try them for a while after my divorce and they worked okay but I hate taking pills…I just do.  I take the arthritis meds because the allow me to function somewhat normally and work…but I don’t like it.   My prayer is that your mom will recuperate and she can share her secrets for not letting pain get in the way of living your life.

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