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Category Archives: chronic pain recovery

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 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

Reflections of PainCLoudgate_reflect

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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Narrative Therapy & The Message of My Pain

On a recent visit to California I had the pleasure of meeting one of my heroes, Dr. Steve Grinstead. In my mind I had imagined him larger than life. He had been a treasure-of-a-find five years ago when I began blogging. As a psychotherapist, he understood that pain was more than just a physical phenomena. He was one of the first healers I found in all my Internet searching who was treating the “whole” person when it came to pain management. He “got it” like no other professional I had encountered. He understood that pain worked its way into your psyche and spirit and needed to be treated on those levels. Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.39.17 AM

I should have guessed that the reason he had so much compassion was because he experienced his own physical pain. He had to step away from careers as both a master electrician and martial artist because of a game- changing injury. But the message he received drove him to become  a seasoned psychotherapist and the Director of Grinstead Treatment, Training & Coaching Services,

My chronic pain gave me a reason to consider what I could do besides teach art, which required standing for long hours. It allowed me to open my own art studio and flourish as an artist.

With the release of Silent Courage, I now find myself traveling in another new direction. When Steve read my book, he told me that what I had done was “narrative therapy.” I did not even know what the term meant, but I did know that internal debris I had been carrying all my life was gone. Mental self-defeating chatter that had burdened my thoughts for years was now silent.

I am loving the fact that through my workshops I can connect with others who are interested in mining what their souls know. It is the new message my pain has delivered. A new journey has begun, and I have my pain to thank for this.

What Author Talks Offer

The best part about Author Talks seems to be that you get such great questions from those who attend. Last Friday night we did a combo of Talking and Wine Tasting at Garland Wines Book Event–and a lot of thoughtful questions did come up.


One of the topics that arose was worrying about what family members will say if you speak your truth. One response was, “But if you do not own your reality, then you cannot do anything to work with it or change it.  You have to be able to talk about things. But you cannot talk if you do not own.”

Another friend shared that she had grown up in an Irish family like me and they did not discuss difficult subjects. She wondered if it was just an “Irish” thing or an “immigrant” thing or if other cultures thought the same way. A great discussion ensued. Clearly, it is not just the Irish who are challenged with difficult subjects.

Someone also shared that she had moved away from her native country and loved that it allowed her to see how another culture behaved. It gave her the ability to make her own choices about how she wanted to live her life and not just be constrained by one way of thinking.

Another touching observation was when two people who had read my book knew that even though my parents and I never discussed my chronic pain or compromised hips, they lovingly did what they could by buying me a bike and skates that allowed me to travel as fast as my friends.

In between the thoughtful discussions and catching up with friends, the two hours flew by. I look forward to more opportunities to talk with others about subjects/topics that Silent Courage brings to mind. Thanks to everyone who shared.

I know not everyone can attend the book events, so if you have read my book, let me know what you think. I am always fascinated by what strikes a chord with different people about my story. If you really like the book, I kindly ask you to consider writing an Amazon review of Silent CourageIt’s such a compliment and it helps me get the word out. Thank you again for sharing my book with friends and family. Maybe someday soon I can convince you to share your story.


If you’ve been thinking about sharing or writing your story, I’m leading two workshops at Equilibrium (47 S. Polk St.) in Chicago this summer. Equilibrium is a wonderful education center located in downtown Chicago’s Dearborn Station. I’d love to see you at one (or both) of the events:

  • “Whole Person Healing” on July 21. 6-8 p.m.
  • “Mining Your Soul Story” on August 16. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

For full details and to sign up, visit the Equilibrium website or call them at (312) 786-1882.

Photo Credit: Slava Bowman

Rockhaven Reflection

This past weekend at Rockhaven Ecozoic Center, a haven for healing and rejuvenation, I had the good fortune to co-present a workshop, with my daughter Katie. The workshop, “Soul-stice Soul Writing,” encouraged participants to get in touch with the story their soul longed to tell. My personal experience of writing my story allowed me to see the healing side of digging deeply with my writing.

Rockhaven Ecozoic Center

For almost 23 years after the source of my physical pain had been surgically removed with two hip replacements, I continued to stumble over the mental and emotional residue from my forty-year journey with chronic pain. When friends asked if I wanted to join them for events like 6-mile bike rides, I still panicked, worrying that it was going to be physically painful. After writing my story, I now find myself looking for ways to challenge myself, like biking the Golden Gate Bridge, which I did last year.

How do years of memories of painful experiences just vaporize? I believe it was because I wrote my story. I unearthed it from inside myself and no longer felt the need to carry it.

The group this weekend, some already gifted writers, was open to the idea of going beyond journaling to connect with something deeper within.

The reward was that thoughts were appearing on the page, as one participant put it, “faster than I could write.” Another participant shared, “I have been working on getting into journaling for like six months–and suddenly yesterday morning and this morning, I’m writing like I never wrote before. Pages and pages flowing. Thank you for the inspiration.”

This experience was so gratifying for me, and very eye-opening for the participants. We are already planning part two of this workshop. I feel this is just the beginning of my journey to helping others share their stories. The more we share, the more we heal and connect not just to ourselves and our truths, but we connect more deeply with each other. More details on future workshops to come.

One last thing, this Friday, I am looking forward to another pleasurable experience, hosting a Book Signing/Wine Tasting Event at Garland Wines in Webster Groves. I am truly blessed to be able to meet with both old and new friends and reap the rewards of being having chosen to put my story in print so that it might inspire others to get in touch with their stories.

Silent Courage: My First Author Talk

Last Thursday I had the good fortune to do my first Author Talk in my hometown of Chicago at Women & Children First, an independent bookstore that has historically prided itself in supporting women’s voices for over 30 years. Much of my story takes place in different locations within the Chicago area and it’s where most of my siblings and family still reside. It was such an awesome feeling being surrounded with the love and support of family and friends.


Choosing to write and publish my story was not an easy one. In addition to the time and money it was going to take, I had reservations about how other family members might feel about me talking about our shared lives together. I was worried and “waited for the other shoe to fall.” My fears at times were stronger than my desire to write.

Thankfully, fear did not win. And what I never anticipated was that choosing to be vulnerable would open doors not only for myself but for my siblings. Our shared conversations tell me that they see the value of revisiting their personal stories for the healing it might hold for them.


The occasion allowed me to touch base with how becoming an author at age 62 has inspired the younger members of our family. Their presence and encouragement allowed me to assure them that dreams can come true. And that they should never give up believing in the desires that resonate within their  hearts.

In the words of Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.” It has unseen rewards.



Communicating vs. Complaining

I was asked to speak at a local retirement complex last week regarding Pain Management and issues related to my new book, Silent Courage. One of the topics that encouraged our group discussion was the need to express our needs. One of the participants asked, “But isn’t that complaining?”


I said no. “It’s a good thing to communicate.”

Then she asked, “Why do we feel it is a bad thing?”

What a great question.

It seems that we confuse complaining with communicating. And the only difference between the two may be our attitude. Communicating is relaying information. Complaining implies that we moan or groan as we speak.

When we communicate that we have particular needs we are asking the world to stop, look, and listen. Then simply say, “What may work for you does not work for me. I need [state what you need].”

By sharing that we require something like a handicapped parking spot because walking long distances is difficult we are raising awareness that distance matters. If we travel through this world only thinking of ourselves, it is easy to remain selfish. If folks who were in wheelchairs, who could not climb stairs, never expressed their challenges, we may not have elevators that benefit us all in buildings today.

It is our attitude when we express our feelings that categorizes what we say.

My husband’s roommate in college was blind. When you would enter his space I remember asking him if it was okay if I turned a light on. His reply was, “Sure, I forgot you have that problem.”

Never be afraid to claim the space you  need for your journey. Others may benefit, too.

Silent Courage: My 1st Book Signing & 1st Reviews

This Saturday–May 3, 2014–at 2 p.m., I will be signing Silent Courage books at Halcyon Spa in Augusta, MO, as part of the Plein Air Art Festival. Come stop by! I promise you won’t be disappointed–there will be chair massages in the spa, the Yo! Salsa food truck parked out front from 4-8 p.m., and a multitude of local wineries (and a brewery) down the street. And, you can see 100+ artists live painting in downtown Augusta during the Plein Air Art Fest.

Halcyon Spa is approximately 15 miles from Hwy 40/61 off Hwy 94. Turn right off Hwy 94 (at the Augusta bell tower sign) onto Jackson, go down to 211 Jackson St, Augusta, MO 63332.

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In other book news, Silent Courage has been officially “live” for one week. In that short amount of time, I am floored to have received two book reviews from two writers whom I really respect–Beth Havey and Chris Stuckenschneider.

Boomer Highway

Beth Havey, the creator and founder of Boomer Highway, added my book to her “Armor for the Journey: Books for Boomers Part 2″ series. Beth is not only a trusted resource on wellness and aging, but she provides us boomers with the humor, happiness, and health empowerment we need to travel the “highway” together.


Washington Missourian (online)

Our local newspaper’s book editor and resident book lover, Chris Stuckenschneider, read my book in one sitting and reviewed it on the Washington Missourian site. Chris is extremely well read, very witty, and a delight to read–whether she’s reviewing a book or chronicling her keen observations on life.  Check out her review here.


A huge thank you to both Beth and Chris for reading and reviewing Silent Courage. I am truly honored. If you have read it, please let me know what you think. I’d love to connect and hear your thoughts. There’s no greater compliment for an author than receiving an Amazon review, so if you like Silent Courage, you can drop your thoughts off there.

Silent Courage is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle forms.

I hope you’re having a great week, and look forward to seeing some of you this weekend at the book signing at Halcyon Spa.