Barbara's story

Barbara Walker entered an ADAPT course in 1995, "feeling very skeptical, as it sounded like some Pollyanna fairy tale. A dozen of us sat there, all in agony, some lying on the floor, as they found it too painful to sit.

“Most of us felt cynical, and disliked the physio and doctors enormously. We'd talk among ourselves, 'Oh it's all right for them to tell us so and so, they're not in pain.' "Like most in the group, I'd been protecting my painful body, using the old reasoning, if it hurts, rest it. I'd bundle my arms around me and pick things up with my toes. My life had become massively restricted.

"It was a huge breakthrough to be told, 'You must start moving again, you won't do more damage, indeed you will do your body good.' "All we grown men and women had tears rolling down our faces with the pain in those first physio sessions, as we started to stretch and reuse limbs.

"I started on the treadmill saying, if I can get to one minute on slow, it will be amazing. By the end of the course I was on six minutes, and now I do an hour a day.

"My breakthrough came when they sent us motley lot on an excursion. We had to walk down to the train station and go to a shopping mall. My goodness, we were all dying, we staggered down to the station and, horror, there were stairs! We were terrified we'd be bumped on the train or pushed in the mall. I cried all that night, I was so angry. Next morning I felt, if I can go that distance, I can go anywhere.

"I saw we were in a competition for life, to live as normally as possible. Like an athlete, you had to go through the pain barrier and keep improving."

Walker had always led a busy life, pushing herself, and still tried to push herself on good days, which inevitably led to pain flare-ups. The group learn to be realistic, pace activities, do a bit at a time, then build up slowly to doing more. The psychologist teaches problem-solving strategies instead of seeing a problem as overwhelming and giving up, generate options for dealing with it.

"It all began to fall into place, like pieces in a puzzle," says Walker.

"The trouble when you're soaked in chronic pain is you can't think about anything else. You lose your identity, self-esteem, energy. It's like a bereavement for the loss of your life and future.

"I've still got the pain, but the course gave me a choice. Either lie down and be an invalid and get worse, or battle through it and achieve a much better quality of life."