Pedaling away from pain: one woman’s story of living with chronic pain
If you’ve spent any time in our online shop, you’ve likely seen the stylish socks made by This is Cambridge. In addition to their socks, the small company’s bread and butter are their beautifully, hand-tailored caps. We are big fans of their products but perhaps even more so, of the story behind This is Cambridge and specifically, that of founder Daphne Kaufhold. Her perseverance and love of the bike is incredibly inspiring, and she was kind enough to share her story with us below. If you, too, are moved by her story, be sure to check out This is Cambridge’s 1 in 7 campaign and support chronic pain awareness.
Looking back on her childhood in Eastern Germany, Daphne Kaufhold holds fond memories of cycling. She didn’t have bike at home and so memories take her back to holidays with her grandparents, her granddad teaching her to ride on an old steel folding bike, and the freedom to roam.
“It’s one of those experiences you never forget – riding your first bike. I have very fond memories of that,” said Kaufhold.
The joy of bike riding didn’t resurface again until she was 20. Now living in the UK, Kaufhold got tired of sitting “on the tube” every day and bought a fixie. At the same time she was introduced to triathlon and a love affair with two wheels was sparked.
“That’s where it all started. I now have five bike — some for the pleasure of riding around town, others are performance bikes. I completely fell in love with it but the bike became significantly more important to me after the accident,” she said.
Five years ago Kaufhold got sandwiched in a car-on-car-on-car pile up. At the time the injuries she sustained didn’t seem so serious but she has been suffering from chronic pain and the consequent psychological issues ever since. Her health is a constant battle and it has gotten worse, not better.
Painkillers can only provide temporary relief, can’t be used long-term and often carry significant side effects as well. For Kaufhold the best relief comes on the bike.
“I was quite shocked when the accident happened and had a severe whiplash but I had never expected it to get this bad. The impact was severe. I have never really recovered,” said Kaufhold. “The pain got worse over the years. And it took a while for someone to diagnose what was wrong and why the pain wasn’t going away. In trying to find ways of dealing with my daily pain both physically and mentally, the bike has become a massively important part of my life.”
“It’s like having the fire alarm on constantly and you can’t turn it down.”
Since the accident, Kaufhold has received a myriad of treatments but none have been effective long-term.
Chronic pain, as Kaufhold explains it, is the central nervous system changes constantly sending triggers that there is pain and injury eventhough there is no longer any damage. Not unlike a short circuiting computer.
“Over time the nervous system gets more and more active and sensitive so it starts picking up things that no normal person would find painful. Any small stress sends alerts to the brain,” said Kaufhold. “It’s like having the fire alarm on constantly and you can’t turn it down. Think of the worst pain you have experienced and imagine it will stay with you for the rest of your life.”
Despite the fact that an estimated one-in-five people globally suffer from chronic pain, Kaufhold said that there is still very little understanding about chronic pain, how to manage it, how patients can live with it, etc.
“The problem is that medication doesn’t really work. There are some short term solutions but they do not work long term and have a huge amount of risks,” said Kaufhold. “There is still very much a culture of wanting a pill to fix things but the latest research coming up is that the best way to manage it is to exercise and to stay active so that it doesn’t get worse and it’s a good way to deal with it mentally. Many people with chronic pain, myself included. also develop depression and other mental issues from being in pain every single day. It’s a massive life changing issue and there is no escape from it apart from the bicycle for me.”
“The one thing that never disappoints me is my bike”
Following the collision, Kaufhold didn’t ride for nearly two years.
“I was in a lot of pain and was doing all kinds of physio. It took me perhaps two years after the accident to get back into it again. One of the first rides back on the bike again was here in Cambridge and I was going up one of the hills and looking down into the Valley I remember thinking “this must be the way forward”. Just to enjoy life again and to get on and have a distraction,” said Kaufhold.
“I have very fond memories of cycling from before the accident and before the pain. It’s just such a liberating way of getting around and just enjoying life. It was the love of the bike that helped me get through it,” Kaufhold continued. “Being in pain a lot, I am not the most social person, but when you go out on the bike, you blend in because everyone kind of suffers on the bike. It’s outdoors, it’s social, it’s exercise — cycling fills all the gaps my pain brings. Bike time is sacred time.”
Research show that those suffering from chronic pain should commit to a daily exercise routine to help them manage their pain. For Kaufhold that means a strict cycling –outdoors or on the stationary trainer –and yoga routine.
“I do hurt when I’m on the bike but I also get a lot of pain relief especially after the bike ride for a few hours. Plus in a way, it takes your mind off the pain. It gives you a different focus. So for me it has been one of the best ways to find relief. The pain does come back afterwards so you just have to get back on the bike,” said Kaufhold.
The sad fact is that at this moment there is no cure. And it all comes down to self-management, which, of course, is different for every person suffering from chronic pain.
“For me that means continuing to love my bike and finding ways to stay motivated so I can manage the everyday. The outlook isn’t very positive and you get disappointed that treatment never works very long, but the one thing that never disappoints me is my bike,” said Kaufold.
When she started riding again, Kaufhold decided to challenge herself and her illness and tackle the famous Col du Galibier.
“I knew I wanted to get back into becoming active and be fit again. I got fitter year after year and I decided that I was going to do something to test myself every year,” said Kaufhold. “Riding Col du Galibier was a defining moment for me. I don’t know why I picked the hardest one the first time around but I wanted to challenge myself and prove to myself that I can do it. I certainly wasn’t the fastest up but I did it.”
If she could get one message across to all those suffering from chronic pain, it’s to not let it stop you from being you.
“It’s important that you don’t lose you or your personality. You can’t let [chronic pain] slow you down. You just have to problem-solve and find ways to do things differently,” said Kaufhold, adding that she would encourage others to give cycling a go.
“[Cycling] is low impact so you are not going to impact your body or aggravate your pain too much. You do have to be patient to start off but for me it is the best pain relief. And it’s not just about the fitness or exercise. The people and community that surround [cycling] is lovely, too. What excites me amost of the time is having a coffee and cake stop along the way instead of the sport and the exertion. You don’t need any introduction. You already share the same passion. It is a very wonderful way of enjoying life and what it’s all about.”
Kaufhold’s passion for cycling and everything that surrounds evolved into This is Cambridge, a small company known for their beautifully tailored cycling caps.
“I always thought that caps were cheaply produced products. They hadn’t been really well considered. Everything about our bike and clothing is meticulously laboured over and selected on merit of quality, durability and style, so why would you just buy this cheap piece of cloth and put it on your head if it’s not tailored or fitted?” Kaufhold said. “Plus, living in Cambridge, we have such a history of tailoring and I thought it would be a lovely link to bring that heritage into cycling while giving the cap a little more what it deserves.”
This is Cambridge (TIC) carries a range of caps that come in no less than five different sizes to ensure that all heads are catered for. And business is going well. They’re attracting customers from the world over and have been asked to collaborate with a number of different artists, brands and projects.
Turning her product into a vehicle of awareness, TIC has several 1in7 caps to raise awareness about the fact that one-in-seven people living in the UK suffer from chronic pain.Some of the proceeds for the sale of each cap will be donated to a chronic pain charity.
Learn more about Daphne Kaufhold and This is Cambridge at this-is-cambridge.com.