Kelly Lehman

As we watch the COVID-19 Delta variant rapidly spreading throughout our country and the world, fears of getting sick and losing one’s health, or life for that matter, are heavy on many people’s minds. However, there is a large population of people that have lived with this fear long before COVID-19 was a thing. Those suffering from chronic pain or illness, or those with weighty diagnoses hanging over their heads, live day in and day out with fear related to what the future may hold. Will they be able to stand at the sidelines of their child’s soccer game, walk into the auditorium for that high school graduation, dance with their children on their wedding days, hold their first grandchild? Questions like these often plague their minds on even the sunniest of days.

“Flowers in a vase (1688-1698) by Johan Teyler (1648-1709). Original from the Rijks Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.” by Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately, some people with chronic illness struggle daily. Pain is a constant companion for these individuals, and this physical pain bleeds into their emotional and spiritual health. The people around them may create distance from them, causing further isolation. Other people with chronic conditions actually may have ‘good days.’ This can be a blessing and a curse because it makes it difficult for them, and the people around them, to know what the next day…or even later that same day…may be like. How can you make plans when you have no idea how you will feel? These people may feel misunderstood and invalidated by those around them who become frustrated with the ups and downs, or even think they are exaggerating or faking altogether.

I would like to take this opportunity to outline some things people with pain or illness can do to help during their darkest moments, as well as what loved ones can do to offer support. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, and since we are all different, there will be some individual preferences and levels of comfort to be considered. However, it is a starting point where conversation can begin.

Receiving a diagnosis may be an explanation for the pain and suffering endured for months or years. In some ways, this can be a relief and serve as validation that you aren’t really “crazy” or attention seeking. However, that diagnosis and prognosis may also come at a time where there are zero symptoms and you’re living your best life. The news can leave you spinning as you cope with the physical, emotional, and financial stress that follows.

So what do you need in those moments?

1. Take some time to absorb the news and catch your breath. You don’t have to respond to pressure from doctors or family. Rather, you can set the pace.

2. Allow yourself to experience your emotions as they come. There will likely be a flood of emotions…sadness, fear, anger, resentment, jealousy, grief. Whatever you are feeling is normal, and it is ok. Feelings are like the waves in the ocean, they will surface, peak, and dissipate on their own. Sometimes all we can do is ride the wave. When the emotions surface, give them a seat at the table for a bit; however, don’t let them buy property within you. You can experience the emotions, give them a voice, and allow them to pass.

3. Focus on the present. Don’t expend energy on all the things you could have or should have done to possibly prevent this diagnosis. The past cant be changed. Likewise, don’t focus on predicting the future. Don’t spend time envisioning yourself in the wheelchair or limited by what statistical survival rates are. You are an individual, and even though your diagnosis may be something your doctor sees frequently, your path is still unique. It is of vital importance to remain in the present. When you are pushing your child on the swing at the park, allow yourself to feel the wind on your cheeks, soak in his squeals, feel the moment. The past cant be changed, and the future is unknown, regardless of what the internet may say about your prognosis. If you spend the time you have living in the past or the future, you are missing these precious present moments. Mindfulness apps and grounding exercises can help.

4. Find a purpose. Invest in those relationships, join a book club or start a backyard garden, sign on for that project at work, volunteer with the local animal rescue, join a Church group….whatever you need to do to be active, distract your mind, and show yourself that you (and your life) are so much more than your diagnosis.

5. Do what you need to do for yourself, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. If you need to stay in your pajamas and watch The Office all day, do it. If you need to cry while you eat a bowl of ice cream, do it. If you need to research alternative therapies or treatment options, do it. If you need to talk to a spiritual leader, do it. This is your life, and you don’t have to defend your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors to those around you.

6. Open up about your feelings and experience. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to family or friends, consider joining a virtual or in person support group or speaking with a counselor. Being diagnosed with a chronic condition or given a poor prognosis can be traumatizing. You do not have to bear the weight on your own.

“Sunshine Cloud Tree” by zhen’s photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you are a loved one of someone who has received a devastating diagnosis or is struggling to cope with debilitating symptoms, you may feel helpless. You cant take the diagnosis or pain away, but you can be a support.

1. Receiving a weighted diagnosis can feel isolating, and often times people close to the person will distance themselves due to their own discomfort and awkwardness. You don’t have to say and do all the ‘right things’ in order to be a support. What matters is that you are there.

2. Offer to help, but be specific. Being vulnerable and asking for help is hard. It is much easier to accept support when it is specific and detailed. Instead of saying, “let me know if you need anything” try something like “I would like to help babysit for you this week, how does Monday afternoon sound?” or “I am planning to make a meal for you this week. Would Tuesday or Wednesday work?” or “Can I come over to do a few loads of laundry for you?”

3. It can also be a huge relief to have assistance with errands. “I would like to pick up the kids from school for you, would that be ok?” Or “I am going to the grocery store today, and I would like to pick up a few things for you.” Offering your support in this way makes it less uncomfortable for the person to have to ask or try to juggle everything solely.

4. Keep inviting the person to do activities or spend time together…even if the answer is no. Coping with a diagnosis or prognosis can be devastating and have extreme highs and lows. They may turn down multiple invites, but there may be one time when they are able to attend. If the invites stop, it can feel incredibly isolating and lonely. Remind yourself that a no is often due to physical or emotional pain, and it is not personal. Be that consistent source of support during a very inconsistent chapter in their life.

5. When you do plan an outing, ask them what they would like to do or where they would like to eat. They may have physical limitations or dietary restraints that make activities challenging. Giving them the option to choose may be less awkward than having to say no to a specific event, and it can provide them with a feeling of control when things likely feel very out of control.

6. Offer to attend a doctor’s appointment. When coping with a serious diagnosis or condition, it can be overwhelming. Prior to the appointment, ask if you can help to write down any questions or concerns that need to be addressed. It is easy to forget things or miss the specialist’s response because of the emotional nature of the situation and thinking of 20 follow up questions. Having a trusted support person present can be invaluable. As the support person, you can take notes on the information provided and help to recap the appointment later.

7. Researching and advocacy are essential when coping with a diagnosis. However, research can be a slippery slope that leads down a rabbit hole to depression and anxiety. As a support person, you can ask, “can I help you do some research on your options?” This can be immensely beneficial in that it allows you to be a rational sounding board and someone who can reel the person back in when the emotions take control.

8. Allow the person to feel whatever they are feeling. Resist the urge to say things like, “you should be grateful…” or “you shouldn’t feel that way…” Focus on validating their experience, and avoid saying you understand when you have not walked in their shoes.

9. Be a presence. Be willing to spend a day on the couch watching movies if that is what they are able to do that day. Bring old pictures of happy memories to reflect back on. Come over armed with funny movies and a bag of sour gummy worms if that is their favorite treat. Be a listening ear, but also be a source of fun and laughter. Your presence can be the light in deep darkness, so don’t underestimate the power you have.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a starting point. Be open and honest with each other. Part of this communication means being able to listen without judgment to things that may be difficult. Life is hard, and chronic pain and illness make it harder. It’s not about being perfect, rather it is simply about waking up every day and doing the best you can that day. If you are living with physical pain or fear related to what a diagnosis received may bring you in the future, and you find yourself in need of professional support, the clinicians at Chrysalis Center are here for you. You don’t have to travel this road alone.

Kelly Lehman

Our Wilmington area community is not just home to some of the most beautiful beaches on the east coast, it is also the home to many active duty military families. Some of these families love the area so much that they decide to make it their permanent home upon retirement.

When men and women choose to serve their country, this decision involves commitment, sacrifice, service, and resiliency. While only the active duty member may wear the uniform, it is the entire family that serves. Spouses and children are frequently left stateside to maintain the home while the active duty member leaves for weeks or months at a time in order to protect and serve. Spouses are left to take on the role of both parents, and often times this is juggled alongside of their own education or work commitments. Children also sacrifice time with their absent parent, and this may mean holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, vacations and other special events are missed due to trainings or deployments. The emotional toll that these long absences can have on families is significant. Over the past 19 years, many military families have experienced multiple long separations. Any military family will acknowledge that memories are cherished, and time together is something that should never be taken for granted.

In addition to these long absences, military families also must be resilient and resourceful. Many families are required to move every 2-3 years (sometimes even more frequently) due to transfer orders. Moving frequently is exhausting. If the military packs and moves their belongings for them, there is the risk of beloved possessions being damaged or lost. If the family chooses to pack and move themselves, the task can feel daunting. When moving so frequently, no place may feel like it’s really home. Buying furniture for one home, only to have it damaged in the moving process or not fit into the next house, can drive one mad! Many working military spouses have to sacrifice their own careers because they cant get licensed in their field when moving from one state to another. Employers may be hesitant to hire a military spouse because of the likelihood of another move at some point in the future. Spouses may have to postpone their higher education pursuits because a move requires them to transfer to another educational institution and possibly lose worked for credit hours. In addition to the logistical nightmare this can turn into, the financial expenses can mount quickly as spouses are required to pay for lost educational credits or additional certifications/licensures. If a move is shorter in duration or involves transitioning to a state where the spouse is unable to secure an income, this can put a significant financial strain on the family. In addition, many spouses are left feeling as though their own ambitions, purpose, and identity are put on hold for the betterment of the military.

Children raised in military families have tenacity and grit. They are required to leave everything they have come to know as comfortable and secure and start over time after time. I can recall when my youngest daughter came home from school shocked to find out that one of her friends has lived in the same home for her entire life. She commented about how she couldn’t even remember all the houses she has lived in (for the record, she is 10, and her total addresses have been 7). Military kids have to learn how to make new friends, and then ultimately say good-bye. Many struggle with feeling a sense of belonging, and they may have difficulty allowing themselves to get close to others because they know that another move is on the horizon. Hearing our children cry because they are leaving a place and people they have grown to love, only to have to move to a new place and do it all over again, can be heartbreaking for both the children and the parents. Often times, our kids miss out on typical experiences because of this military life. They may miss try-outs for the sport or activity they have committed to and practiced for most of their lives. My own daughter had to give up activities and coaches she loved to move and start from scratch. This can be devastating for kids who feel that much of their identity hinges on these things. As educational requirements for graduation and college admissions become more competitive, military kids may be forced to accept a decreased GPA or class ranking because of state and district differences. They may have to repeat courses in order to get credit at their new school. Some of our high school students spend their 4 years of high school in 2, 3, or 4 schools. Things like class rings, letterman jackets, proms, playing varsity, getting college recommendation letters, applying to colleges and much more can feel like overwhelming challenges.  Many of our college aged kids come ‘home’ from college only to be in a different state altogether. Home never quite feels like home.

With all of these challenges, it is not surprising that the military divorce rate is as high as it is. The financial strains, long separations, frequent moves, loss of supports, and pressures of having to create a new identity every few years can take their toll. When you add the stress of combat deployments, injuries, PTSD, and TBI, the strain can feel like the family is being pulled apart at the seams.

Despite the focus of this blog thus far, there are also many benefits to being a military family. We don’t take time together for granted. Holidays and special occasions where we are all together are cherished, and home isn’t the house your family lives in, rather it is where your family is together.  We develop resilience and flexibility. As a military spouse, I can pack up a house and downsize our belongings in no time.  I can gather medical records, academic records, and veterinary records with my eyes closed. Researching new communities, houses, schools, doctors and more has become a pastime. I have learned to develop my own interests and hobbies, and this has proven to be useful during those challenging moves where you cant work in the field you were educated and trained in due to licensure restrictions. It can be fun to reinvent yourself. I love being a therapist, but I also love being a personal trainer and professional organizer. This lifestyle forces you to learn how to be creative in how you make friends, earn an income, and manage your home.

My daughters have both shown me what resiliency really is. Watching them leave friends, coaches, teachers, teammates, and neighbors only to have to rebuild it all again gives me confidence in their ability to not just survive, but thrive and overcome. When I left my oldest daughter at college, I was sad, but I knew she would be ok. She had already moved and started over before, and she could do it again. And during this last move, I watched with pride as my youngest daughter knocked on our new neighbors doors so that she could introduce herself  (with me at a non-embarrassing  distance, of course!).  Being able to see new places, live in different communities, and make new friends is pretty cool if you go into it with an open mind. Military families have to learn how to see the silver lining in less than desirable circumstances. We learn that not much in life is permanent. The good thing about this is that if we end up in a place we don’t like, we know that in matter of time, we will be off on another adventure again.

The last thing I want to address in this blog is what our civilian friends and neighbors can do to help us. If a military family moves into your neighborhood, please introduce yourselves. Come knock on our door and say hello. If you have kids, bring them over too! Our kids are probably still wiping away tears from recent good-byes and starving to make new connections. We love recommendations for good doctors, restaurants, babysitters, Churches, and more. If a military spouse you know is flying solo while his or her active duty spouse is away…feel free to offer an invite for a glass of wine, movie night, or adult/kid playdate.  During my last 4+ years as a military spouse, I have endured multiple medical complications. The support I got from gym friends, Church life groups, and neighbors was priceless. During some very scary times for my family, meals were made, my kids were picked up and taken where they needed to go, and they were loved on. I will never be able to fully express the gratitude I felt then, and still do today. While many of us get pretty good at looking like we have it altogether, trust me, that isn’t always the case. Some of us really struggle with asking for help, so feel free to jump in and offer from time to time. Most of us are not lucky enough to live near family, so you all become our family. You all become our emergency contacts on our kids’ school paperwork. You all become our lifelines.

It is my hope that this blog gives a bit of insight into what it means to be part of a military family. While there are challenges to this life, it is one that also comes with many blessings and opportunities. As my own family completes this twilight tour, there are many mixed emotions. Much of this life we have known for all these years will be missed dearly. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s made my family who we are today.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

Kelly Lehman

chronic pain

We all grow up with an idea of how life is going to look, imagining our career path, choice of a life partner, whether or not we will be parents, how we will spend our golden years, etc….Rarely does anyone include chronic pain or illness into this view of their potential future. No one wakes up one day and says, “I sure hope I spend the rest of my life feeling sick or being in pain.” However, for many people, this becomes their reality. If you have experienced this in your own life, you know all too well how isolating and lonely it can feel. You know the depression, the anger, the resentment, the jealousy, the guilt, and the fear that frequently accompanies an often unexpected journey. Whether you were born with your condition, developed it after an accident or medical issue, or simply woke up with symptoms one day, it can feel tremendously unfair. Maybe you look “normal” on the outside, and you find yourself confronted with doubting questions or insensitive remarks. Maybe sometimes you find yourself wishing you looked as sick as you felt because then it might actually be validated by those around you.

If you can relate to any of the above, please know you are not alone. Whether you struggle with chronic migraines, a metabolic condition, an autoimmune disorder, cancer, joint pain, a physical limitation, or some other condition, the emotional effects are experienced daily by countless others. Becoming chronically ill can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. The life trajectory you thought you were experiencing has drastically shifted, and it may feel like you have lost your purpose. Maybe you have had to give up a career that gave you meaning or an activity you loved. Maybe you have lost members of your support system because they didn’t understand or couldn’t deal with it all. Maybe you’ve been dismissed as “crazy” by family, friends, or medical professionals. Whatever your experience, it is valid. It can be helpful to develop support from others who are navigating similar paths. Sharing your stories and experiences can help to instill hope and purpose in a life that has seemingly gone off course.

While support from others can be immensely helpful in the journey to acceptance and the creation of a new life purpose, we do have to be careful not to slip into the land of self pity and victimization. While you may have been a victim at one point, you don’t have to remain a victim. This is where a supportive therapy group can be beneficial. You can gain support from others who intimately understand the experience of chronic pain and illness, but in an environment that is guided through a purpose. Whether your pain is a temporary or permanent reality for you, it doesn’t have to define you.

A new group “Purpose through Pain” is designed to provide support, but also direction as you navigate through the developmental process of creating the new you. It will encourage grieving the loss of your former self, addressing physical limitations and challenges, acknowledging the emotional aftermath, and letting go of the fear that often comes with medical uncertainty. It will also touch on becoming your own advocate, maneuvering through social challenges and awkwardness, and ultimately creating a new identity and purpose.

I feel passionately about providing a supportive and educational environment where group members feel safe to be vulnerable as part of the process of gaining their strength. This group is about being validated, while also being encouraged to be an active participant in your medical treatment and life.  We will also address cognitive shifts that can be monumental in coping with pain, as well as behavioral techniques that can be beneficial. Research shows that much of our pain is experienced within the brain. There is more and more work being done that is encouraging in that it gives chronic pain sufferers a little bit of control over their symptoms. While relaxation strategies and neural re-training are not miracles in that they don’t make you the person you were prior to injury or illness, they are showing marked results in peoples’ experiences with pain. Any little bit can help. If learning how to calm down the fear response resulted in your amygdala firing off fewer pain signals, wouldn’t that be a good thing? It’s certainly worth a try! I encourage healthy skepticism, but also an open mind.

chronic pain support group


Change happens when we are willing to ask tough questions, but also when we are open minded to the process of growth. If you have been living in a chronic state of pain or illness, I encourage you to give our office a call. I would love to chat with you about your experience and whether or not this group may be a good option for you. There is also the option of individual counseling in the event that a group setting isn’t something you are comfortable with at this time. Regardless, there is help out there, and you do not have to live in your pain. I look forward to talking with you and assisting you on your journey as you find new purpose through your pain!


Kelly Lehman, M.Ed., LPC is a professional counselor who specializes in helping clients navigate the journey of chronic pain, chronic illness, and medical trauma. If you are interested in this group or scheduling an individual appointment, call our office at (910) 790-9500 or email

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