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Category Archives: health

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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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.

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,  http://www.freedomfromsufferingnow.com.

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.

Chronic Pain Conversation

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Recently, our local YMCA branch asked me to speak at a community luncheon about Chronic Pain. They know I have a book coming out on the subject and thought chronic pain management would be of interest to their clients.

I agreed. A date was set. Then I began to worry.

Who really wants to hear about chronic pain? Folks who are in chronic pain often want to deny that they are there. Doctors get frustrated when their patients don’t follow their medical reasoning and advice about it.

The next question I had for myself was – who will attend? The Y is doing the advertising. Members will see the posters. But these people already come for wellness/exercise programs. Won’t this be like preaching to the choir?

Friday came, and I arrived early. The staff was setting up tables and food. People began to stream in from exercise classes and the parking lot. The audience ranged in age from 40ish to 80ish, filling almost 40 chairs.

An older lady who sat in the front commented, “You can just look in someone’s eyes and know they are in pain.” I told her that was only half true. Those of us who know what the experience is like can read the subtle signs. But if someone has never been in long-term pain how can they be expected to understand?

It was special to be together, engaged in a group and validating that pain is real.  That pain is often an uninvited guest requiring special accommodations. That only those who have shared a painful experience can really understand. And that using every available resource to be the best version of yourself requires access to information and opportunities.

I shared my experiences, current research findings and both Internet and local resources. Our sharing was beneficial. Being able to intelligently converse, not just complain about pain, gave people permission to find their voice and speak their truth. I may have been preaching to the choir but it allowed me to see that even they enjoyed adding to their repertoire.

Chronic Pain Conversations

EIGEL_oneWAYBut Why?

I remember hearing this question from each of my daughters when they were young, resisting what they were asked to do. The question is both innocent and wise.

I am nearing the completion of writing a book that chronicles my lifelong journey and triumph over chronic pain. There were many mornings I could have hung it all up because I did not have a definitive answer as to “why” I was taking all this time to write. Is it going to be of value? Will it lead to another career path? All I had was an intuitive hunch that folks did not understand some things I shared regarding the mind, body and spirit aspects of pain and maybe that was reason enough to want to put pen to paper.

It was not until now, when I am in a position to get feedback from friends and professionals I respect, that I realize the journey was worth taking. That it was of value to allow myself to be vulnerable and put my story out there.

I am thankful that I was innocent enough to keep going and not demand an answer.

And now I look forward to the publication of my book in the near future with the hope it can expand the conversation about the experience of pain and successfully dealing managing it.

Artists Reaching beyond Limitations

I read this article in the September 21st issue of the news magazine, American Profile, in the Hometown Hero section, about a vision-impared artist, Jeff Hanson. He is helping the world one painting at a time. A childhood optic tumor damaged his vision but has not let it define what he can or cannot do. To date he has contributed $1 million dollars to charity.

My friend Mike Wasserman is doing the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale with his monthly Facebook auctions. 100% of the proceeds benefit a nonprofit of your choice working to enhance the quality of life for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Winner picks the nonprofit and pays direct to group selected. He includes FREE shipping! Here is one of his latest pieces up for auction entitled “La Jolla Flowers”.

La Jolla FlowersI am in awe of both of these gentlemen. They inspire and remind us we never need to let our limitations define us.  Their reaching out has made the world a more beautiful place. May you keep gifting us with your work and your charities with money. And may you serve to inspire us to consider how we, too, can reach out.

Happy Painting!