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Author Archives: Mary Byrne Eigel

Painful Lessons: Listening to the Boot

I have the good fortune to still be wearing this large, black, heavily Velcro-ed boot to stabilize my foot after injuring it. This boot has forced me to reorganize my entire agenda, so I decided we needed a serious talk.Eigel_boot

“So, boot, you are making sure I limit activities and focus on things that I can do while sitting. Is there something I should be learning?”

Silence.

“Hmm … what I am hearing is that you are a good thing. You are reminding me of how many directions I travel. Am I spreading myself too thin?”

Silence.

“Ok, so what I am feeling is that I am able to do certain things while sitting, like writing and focusing on the children’s’ books that I keep telling myself I am working on. Is that what I should be doing?”

Silence.

“Oh, I see. You are making me realize how much time and effort these beautiful stories require. I have spent days, not knowing how joyous it is to be engaged in developing these ideas.”

Silence.

“Ok, ok, I get it. You came as a grip-check forcing me to look at what was going on in my life and help me re-prioritize where I should be spending time.”

Silence.

“Then I will bless your presence and honor the lesson you have taught me. Who knows, you might end up in one of these children’s stories. I might even give you some super powers like insight, that you have given me. We’ll just have to see.”

Restrained by Pain

 

Do you know how they keep strong adult elephants restricted by a single metal cuff around their ankles?

Here’s how.

When the elephants are infants, their keepers place a chained metal cuff on one of their legs. Since the elephants are small, they may struggle to free themselves, but are not able to escape. These elephants grow up believing that the metal band is stronger than they are.

Their belief limits their actions.

I have been pain-free for many years since my hip replacement surgeries, and I had to work hard to stay there. Recently a twisted ankle has brought me back to the dreaded house of pain. But being in pain is not my biggest problem. I physically hurt, but the way my head has responded, hurts even worse.Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 12.46.33 PM

Old beliefs and the fear of being in pain, rooted deep in my mind, have almost paralyzed me. Being angry, resistant and failing to accept that my ankle requires tending has allowed the original injury to amplify my suffering. Old beliefs limit us and sound like, “If I admit to what I know to be true it will mean I will be sidelined and have to depend on others for many things and lose being able to control my daily routine.”

Recognize when these old beliefs show up — and shut them out. We can do this by being able to put space between ourselves and a problem.

  • Step away from the situation for a second.
  • What’s really going on here? Is it really a sprained ankle, or something deeper? (It’s usually something deeper.)

This allows you to respond to your unique issue at hand rather than mindlessly react because you are letting yourself be restricted by old beliefs. Don’t let your past experiences win; they are just that — something that happened to you in the past. Unshackle yourself from the tiny, metal cuff of old beliefs. You have grown to be much bigger than than, and they can’t hold you anymore.

Can You Miss Your Pain?

My forty-year journey with chronic pain ended with the total replacement of both of my hip joints. I was free from the shackles of physical pain. This should have been a good thing, right?

Wrong. I now faced the biggest contradiction of my life. I was filled with gratitude. My pain was gone. Why was I conflicted about its absence? I felt like someone was trying to lure me out of the protective confines of my self-imposed cave, but I had no way of knowing if it was a smart move.

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I had never known my body without pain. Pain and I had been in a long-term relationship. We conversed every day, all day. And when the surgeons physically removed my pain, I missed my pain.

How was this even possible?

How could I miss something that had been so brutal, so cruel and so endlessly tormenting? I don’t know why I missed my pain, but I did. No one warned me, nor did I anticipate, that the removal of my pain would cause such mental turmoil.

I was thrilled to be without it. It allowed me to imagine myself doing things that had previously been unimaginable, like touring major cities in Europe. I longed to begin this new chapter of my life. But in the quiet of my thoughts, I was confused.

Was my pain really gone, or was this just another one of the mental games we played? I felt like I had been violated and knew that my perpetrator still lived somewhere in my neighborhood. I wanted a guarantee that I was safe from harm.

This dilemma prompted me to write my memoir Silent Courage.

Telling my story means I no longer carry it. I travel lighter in this world. Taking time to write allowed me to process my experience and properly say “good riddance” to my pain.

An unanticipated gift the book has brought to me has been the opportunity to travel and help others mine the story their souls long to tell.

I would love to have you join me. Powerful truths and self revelations have been uncovered.

“I write but want to go deeper. I am leaving here with tools that I can continue to work with.”

“I am surprised at the images and thoughts that have surfaced for me. I am anxious to explore where they might lead.”

My next workshop will be March 14th in Chicago at Equilibrium . This link will take you to my website and future events.

Contact me if you would like to host a workshop. I’d love to help you mine the gold of your own story.

Using “Dibs” to clear Chronic Pain

There is a wintertime ritual that takes place each winter in my hometown of Chicago. When snow arrives in large amounts, folks spend valuable time and energy shoveling out a place to park their car. There is an unspoken rule that no one else can occupy that space. To ensure this, when someone must vacate their spot to go to work, they place random objects in their spot. This is called “dibs.” Ironing boards, lava lamps, lawn chairs and other things you’d place in a yard sale are all considered fair markers indicating, “this space is occupied.” CAM00498

I have worked for many years to excavate pain from the interior places in my body. It has taken hard conscious efforts to employ several pain management techniques. Meditation, stress management, life style modifications, Reiki, and narrative therapy are some of the tools I have employed.

When I travel back home and see folks engage in “dibs,” I am reminded that I need to continually guard my pain-free spaces. Not exercising, not eating right, overdoing and not making healthy decisions allow pain to penetrate my cleared space and knock down my “dibs.” When this happens, when my “dibs” space is invaded, I am capable of becoming as violent as I have seen others become when someone dares to move their stuff from an unofficially marked parking space.

To those of you have spent time or are in the process of clearing pain from your body, be sure to check your “dibs” and make sure the cherished space that has been emptied does not get reinvaded. And make sure you have strong dibs. Weak dibs, like yellow construction tape, is not effective enough to keep pain from trespassing.

Passionately claim your healed space and long live “dibs.”

If you’re looking for a good laugh, which is a great pain-management technique, check out the Chicago Dibs tumblr. 

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A Slice of Chronic Pain

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A slice of the chronic pain world is about all you get from the movie “Cake”. The movie’s focus concentrates primarily on what a life with Chronic Pain is like when you you choose to cut yourself off from available resources and, as one character points out, use anger as a pain management tool.

I had high hopes that the movie would provide a broader understanding of the challenges and wealth of resources that are available for those attempting to manage their pain.

The take away for me was “Don’t try this alone” when it comes to managing pain. And if the movie speaks  to those currently walking this path alone, then it will have some redeeming value.

 

Digesting “Cake” the movie

The movie “Cake” starring Jennifer Aniston allows us to journey into the life of a chronic pain patient. I anticipated the movie providing the transformational energy of a watershed moment. I anticipated hundreds of people commenting on relevant articles about the movie. I anticipated people and conversations would stir with insight.

The Pain community is doing a great job of getting the word out through media sources. But I am left wondering “Why is “Cake” not stirring more conversation?”

Statistics cite over 100 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic pain. We all know someone or have been that someone who is included in these numbers. I spent over 40 years with this unwelcome bedfellow.

Maybe I should not be so surprised. Pain has its own unique set of dynamics.

Pain patients are often their own worst enemy. Many of us go years denying what we are experiencing, fearing it may require lengthy, expensive and inconvenient measures to correct. Or we spend years frustratingly going from doctor to doctor, procedure to procedure, medication to medication searching for relief or proper diagnosis. In both cases, we struggle to find the words to truly explain how we feel.

“Cake” exposes some raw truths that perhaps we would rather not know. It is disturbing to think that a friend or loved one might be undergoing the same tortured life as Claire, the main character.

It is unpleasant to be on a plane with a crying baby. It makes us uncomfortable. We need the baby to be soothed. It disturbs our comfort when we are aware of someone who is unconsolable.

Does the movie “Cake” touch on something deep within us that is too difficult to consider? We live in a world where we have the tools to fix a lot of medical problems. Does the fact that chronic pain is no easy fix seem incomprehensible? Is it to costly to imagine that there are many Claire’s in this world trying to make it through each day?

The movie provides an opportunity to engage in conversation. I pray it increases awareness and moves us closer to identifying causes, cures and resources. I pray it broadens understanding of the multi-faceted complexity of pain. I pray it minimizes the gap between patients and those who love and care for them.

 

New Pain Management Tool: Muscle Activation Techniques

My artificial hips are now 24 years old. As thankful as I am for my titanium and plastic prosthetic parts, I recognize my need to maintain as much range of motion as possible as I age. I heavily rely on supporting muscles, like those in my shoulders and arms, to facilitate moves that challenge my hips, like getting up out of a low chair. But the extra strain has lead to increased pain.

I am always searching for manageable ways to remain pain free, and I bless the day that I came across MAT, short for Muscle Activation Techniques. My initial encounter with a practitioner was at a swanky Chicago corporate health club where my friend Patty belonged. I was shown how to engage single muscles and concentrate on their extensions and contractions. It was eye opening. My only disappointment was that I was going home and would not have access to this type of professional expertise.

A few months ago I was delighted to meet Christine (Chris) Kissel, a local St. Louis area MAT practitioner.

I told her about my memorable first encounter. Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 8.46.05 AM

She treated me to a few sessions. She explained that we continue to stress or injure ourselves because we do not focus on the contraction of a muscle. Usually attention is placed on stretching and deep muscle massage when we are sore. But if a muscle has “forgotten” how to properly contract, it ends up interfering with the extension of the companion muscle, which results in pain and discomfort. Chris performed a muscle assessment and soon discovered which of my muscles needed reminding and proceeded with some focused therapy.

After just one session, I observed decreased pain and a better range of motion in my shoulder muscles. It is mind boggling that such a gentle therapy can have amazing results. Chris shared that professional athletes were the first to benefit from this approach to correct muscular imbalances.

I encourage you to give it a try if you have pained areas or injuries with reoccurring discomfort. Here is a link to the MAT website. You can contact Chris at kisseljjcr@gmail.com. MAT may turn out to be your new best friend in pain management. I know that I am thankful to have it in my toolbox.

Releasing the Attachment to Pain

I have been in a relatively pain free place for many years, and I continue to be amazed that my mind maintains an attachment to the shadows of pain. This memory of pain lingers in my muscles and bones.

How do I know I have not totally detached?

Every time something wonderful happens, I observe my thoughts asking me, “Are you sure you deserve this?” I know it is the pained part of me that poses the question.

The other day I observed a young infant holding onto the side of the pool for dear life while his instructor lovingly attempted to coach him to let go and swim to her. iStock_000000734968Small

It is trust and faith that allow us to disengage and move from safe havens. Clinging to safety keeps us from enjoying the beauty that life has to offer. I know that I can trust that it’s OK to be pain-free, and I can have faith that pain won’t return if I continue to manage it. Much like the infant, when he learns to trust his swimming coach, he will know that she will always catch him while he learns to swim on his own.

Totally detaching from my pain requires that I relinquish the mental armor that gives me the illusion of control. I want to remember the “just let go, it will be okay” thoughts that I wanted to share with the infant. I want to realize that when I have the nagging thoughts in the back of my head–the “Are you sure you deserve this?” thoughts–that I recognize the need to let go and trust that I do deserve the pain-free moments in life. We all do.

Reflections of Pain

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The other day as I was driving into St. Louis, I observed a man stalled along the highway. His image haunted me. Something about his dilemma reminded me of myself.

He had gone too far on limited resources. His car could go no further. Carrying a gas can, he had a choice to make. He could stand and wait for assistance, but that would require admitting he had made a mistake. And if someone offered to drive him to the next exit and a gas station, he would then need a ride back in the opposite direction to his car–additional help. Instead, he walked against traffic to single handedly find a gas station, avoiding asking for help.

Why is asking for help so difficult?

It requires giving up our need to control events. It requires facing our fears of feeling shame or being judged for actions that may have created a need-based situation.

When I saw him, I reflected on the times that I opted to not ask for help and emotionally and physically suffered because of it.

What this (now) better version of myself has learned to ask is, “If this were happening to a friend, and not me, what would I want my friend to do?”

The answer is always, “Ask for help.”

It can be an occasion for grace to enter our own hearts and remind us that we all have needs and we all have gifts to offer. Maybe the person we ask for help may be in need of a bit of lifting up themselves. And we may end up assisting each other in a way that was unanticipated.

The Path of Pain

As a new school semester begins, I find myself reflecting on my college years. I chose to attend Quincy College, which was hours from my home in Chicago. This new landscape presented endless opportunities and the ability to reinvent myself. But there was some baggage that I did not pack but still that followed me to college–my chronic pain. I had wished it would stay behind. But in this new place I consciously realized that no one had to know whether I packed the chronic pain with me or not. I was free to deny its existence and pretend to be pain free. Who would it hurt?

I paid a stiff price for my silence. I mindlessly volunteered for events like, “Walk to End Hunger” that inflicted excruciating pain. I will never forget peeling off my shoes from my blood-blistered feet. I never envisioned anything beneficial coming from the experience.

But as the current students return to my alma mater and walk into Brenner Library, they will be greeted by a featured book. My dear roommate, Nancy Knoche Crow, arranged a display with the book I just authored, Silent Courage. The hunger walk is one of the stories that I share in the book reflecting on suffering because I refused to own my pain. Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 11.47.36 AM

Nancy and I and our husbands got together recently to catch up on the paths our lives have taken since our years at Quincy:

The college is now a University.

Nancy is now their Associate Librarian.

My book is now part of the Library collection.

And I am offering workshops to teach others the healing benefits of connecting with a personal story.

Breaking my silence has made all the difference for me. It is scary to consider what I would be missing and the gifts I would have denied myself if I had continued to deny my pain. I challenge you to name and claim what you fear because denying that part closes you off from the wisdom it may have to offer.

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