Carrie Ann Inaba Discusses Living with Chronic Illness: ‘Pain Is a Life Stealer’

She’s juggled a full-time job on television, (now two of them!) but behind the scenes, Carrie Ann Inaba has dealt with years of private pain.

“I’ve been through a lot of trauma in my life,” the Dancing with the Stars judge and new co-host of The Talk tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “But tragedies are usually the biggest gifts.”

It was in 2007, while judging her fourth season of Dancing, when Inaba, a former dancer, was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that can cause pain and numbness.

“I think it started because I went from being a very active person to a non-active person,” Inaba says. “I remember going to the doctor and I couldn’t move my head. I was in excruciating pain for years.”

Continues Inaba, 51: “When you’re in chronic pain, you become exhausted because your body is fighting this pain all the time. Pain is a life stealer. And it’s hidden, so people can’t see it or understand it.”

Just six years later, while she was still navigating the best methods of treating her spinal stenosis, Inaba was dealt another blow: She was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an incurable immune disorder that can cause pain and fatigue.

“It was debilitating,” says Inaba, who gained weight because she wasn’t able to work out. “I was in so much pain, I just had to survive. I had to stay in bed three days a week, and I’m so fortunate because I had the kind of job where I could do that. There were days I could barely make my coffee because I was so exhausted.”

In the process of coming to terms with Sjogren’s, Inaba says she looked inward. “It helped me evaluate who I am,” she says. “I did a lot of soul searching. I learned about who I am besides being a sexy dancer chick. And ironically, as I let all that go, I found my way back to feeling vibrant and radiant again.”

  • For more from Inaba, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

Now, thanks to a regimen of craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, yoga, Pilates and Reiki, Inaba is coping with her pain and looking forward to the future with an air of gratitude for what she’s learned.

“I love when life throws me something challenging,” Inaba says.  “Because I know something beautiful is just around the corner.”

The Talk airs weekdays at 2 p.m. ET on CBS.

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