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Role Reversal: More Lessons from the Boot

Yesterday, I had a follow up visit with my foot doctor, Dr. Julia. We share great conversations about pain and pain management. I told her the pain from my foot is one issue but the mental pain from not being able to “Do” and just “Be” while I rest is a bigger problem. I asked her if she did psychiatric counseling.

“Psychiatric Podiatrist, interesting concept, Mary,” she chuckled.

She thought I was kidding. I was dead straight.

Being limited physically, allowing others to wait on you hand and foot, rubs up against our freedom and independence. Relying on others and canceling commitments makes me a person I do not want to be. I am the doer, the caretaker, the supporter, the one who has been there for others. But now I am having to reverse roles. Now, I am the receiver, the one who needs support, the one who needs others to be here.

Tough lesson, boot.

A younger version of myself might have used food or wine to navigate these waters. Lots of it. But I know better. That only compounds suffering.

I am trying to spend time with the thoughts that are arising. How do I see myself? Do I have to “Do” to “Be”? Why is it so hard to just “Be”?

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The boot seems to be telling me my ego is feeling very threatened by not “Do-ing”.  My ever present little pug, Trey, allows me to see there is beauty in just “Be-ing”.

I will keep taking centering breaths, not engage the negative thoughts my ego keeps trying to present, and attempt to absorb what Trey knows. It is his peace I desire.

And what I have learned is that if I take pen to paper I might be able to mine some gems from this experience.

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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.