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A mom moves past pain and finds joy: Nikki’s story

Emily Leland By Emily Leland

From the series "My health story" Learning to fly

When I was growing up, the front of my legs grew at an angle. From then on, I had multiple knee dislocations all through my life, and it never seemed to heal. I had pain…excruciating pain.

So I went to go see a doctor. And he said, “You’re never going to heal.” I started having a lot of anxiety and depression. I couldn’t stand to fix meals. I couldn’t stand up to brush my teeth, fix my hair. I couldn’t play with my kids. I wanted to be an active mom. So I reached out to Aetna and got counseling with Summer.

Summer helped me see that it’s not the end of the world. She just made me so comfortable. I’m probably more comfortable with myself now than I’ve ever been. I thought, you know, what’s something maybe that I could still get out there and do with my kids that they enjoy. And they’ve always enjoyed riding bikes.

When I ride bikes with my kids, I feel like I’m flying. On my bike, I don’t have pain. And my kids are giggling and enjoying being outside, and I’m enjoying it. It’s almost surreal. I feel like now I’m making it to the other side. I can tell by my kids that I’m a different mom than I was, because I have a totally different attitude on life.

Nikki Flowers is a real member who’s given us permission to use her story.

An afternoon bike ride might not seem like a major accomplishment, but for Nikki Flowers, it’s life-changing. The mother of two describes her younger self as “an active, happy, bubbly person.” But after surgery failed to correct knee problems that had plagued her since childhood, Nikki battled severe chronic pain.

“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t stand up to brush my teeth, fix my hair. I couldn’t play with my kids,” Nikki says. Long-term physical therapy and pain medication (including spinal injections) had no effect. Her mood took a dark turn. “The anxiety got so bad that I couldn’t even step out on my front porch to check my mail anymore,” she admits.

Nikki’s husband recognized her struggle and gave her the phone number for Aetna’s Resources for Living counseling program, offered through his employer. Hoping to find some relief by talking about the vicious cycle of pain and stress, Nikki connected with Summer Sage-Sorley, a licensed clinical social worker.

In regular video chats, Summer helped Nikki develop strategies for coping with her physical and emotional challenges, including relaxation exercises and journaling. “Summer encouraged me to write down my story. I’d never told it to anyone from beginning to end,” Nikki says.

“Even though she felt weak when we first started working together, Nikki had great courage,” Summer says. “She was willing to try anything to help her be an active mom and wife. It’s amazing how different she sounds now.”

Nikki and Summer continue to work together on Nikki’s health goals, and to celebrate small but significant successes. “The first time I walked through the grocery store, my kids and husband were cheering for me, like I’m winning a football game,” Nikki says, laughing. “As far as I’ve come, I hope a year from now I’m a million miles from where I am today. I want to see where I can go from here.”

Read more about Nikki’s counselor, Summer Sage-Sorley.

About the author

Emily Leland is a writer and marketing professional living in Charleston, SC. Her goal is more exercise, less caffeine and finding balance as a working mom.

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