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Category Archives: pediatric chronic pain

c. MaryByrneEigelFor me, being able to color, paint, sculpt or draw has been a means of escaping my chronic pain. Loading a paintbrush with a visually stimulating blend of colors and smearing it onto canvas or paper, savoring the ways the colors blend and interact with one another, transports me to another stratosphere, one that denies access to the physical pain echoing in my legs or hips.

Having had chronic pain since childhood, I learned at a young age that if I involved myself in something pleasurable I could alter my sensation of pain. Being able to work with color, whether it was planting flowers, designing with fabric or working with paint, paper or clay, I was able to engage my senses, brain and imagination and take pleasure in what I was creating and escape the confines of pain.

As a child I did not consciously know this but hindsight has shown me that there may have been several factors at work when I was engaged artistically.  Firstly the sheer sensory pleasure derived from working with materials. The earthy smell of clay, the visual vibrancy of bottles of paint, the rough-hewn texture of wood, and the sound of pieces of metal clinking together were all things that captivated me. Secondly, considering the possibilities of how I might do such things as bend colored wire into shapes or carve a solid surface were mentally challenging and required my full attention.  Thirdly, my imagination was sparked when I began to envision and see something taking shape.  It was like reading a good story, you weren’t sure where it was going to take you, but you knew you wanted to go along for the ride.

An additional benefit of art endeavors was that it gave me a sense of confidence that I could do things. Walking was often painful and it was isolating and hard to accept that something others did seemingly without effort was such a challenge for me.  But working creatively was what I could do effortlessly and it helped me regain confidence in myself that pain had stripped away.

Being able to enhance my surroundings with artwork helped to diminish the ugly environment of pain. Leaving that ‘place of pain’ let me feel that I could exercise some control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. I may not feel beautiful but I could gaze on beautiful things and lift my mood.

I have been asked,  “Do you use your artwork to visually describe your pain?”  I have only done this occasionally and for personal work, not work that I intend others to view. Pain can be ugly and brutal, and it is what I wish to escape. I do believe there is great therapeutic value in being able to give pain a face and address it head on. But by focusing on other subjects of interest I can travel to other places and take my mind off of what I am feeling and replace negative feelings with positive.

Strengthening the Weakest Link of Chronic Pain

In any scenario, there is usually a weakest link. It does not possess the strength of everything surrounding it. And when it fails, it usually means chaos for all involved. For those of us with chronic pain, weak links such as muscles, energy or body parts, have to be considered when making any type of plan to do something. Their capability works in tandem to define our overall strength.

I have often told my art students that by working daily we strengthen our strong skills but do not improve our weaknesses unless we make a concerted effort to focus on improving them. Exercising our weak link to encourage strength and flexibility is essential to making it as strong as possible and allowing ourselves more options.  The stronger this one link is, the stronger we become.

What special focus do you give your weakest link?

Visualize Pain

There is a great website, Pain Exhibit.com, that has asked for submissions from chronic pain suffers worldwide to visualize their pain. The focus of the project is to be able to educate others about the experience of pain. It is affirming to be able to see  how using line, colors, texture and shapes folks can communicate their feelings and emotions. It is great to see how many pain related facilities are using the site for educational purposes. Even though some of the images are very honest and graphic, there are also those that affirm the strength of the individual to deal with their pain.

If you are so inclined to want to share your interpretation of pain, they are currently accepting new submissions. And if you are into visually expressing your pain, check out getting paid for submitting work to sites like fotolio.com. This site and others like it have some pretty simplistic images when you search under chronic pain, they do not come close to the intensity of images from those who have endured a chronic pain experience.

Have you done visualizations of your pain? How did it feel doing it?

Chronic Pain and Weight Issues

Talk about a double whammy, it’s bad enough dealing with pain issues but when you couple that with hearing your doctor say “Losing some weight would  take some pressure off your joints and relieve some pain”. That is like asking someone with joint pain to comfortably walk down this rocky road. It is an extremely difficult challenge.

Of course it makes sense, on a logical level. Anyone in pain would do anything to lessen their discomfort. But when you are facing daily doses of pain and the only pleasure you can count on comes from being able to indulge in your favorite snack, being told that you need to lose extra pounds sounds like “And we need to deprive you of your one consistent pleasure”.

Anyone who is dealing with chronic pain and weight issues needs the assistance of compassionate professionals and loved ones who understand that this is a very slippery slope that needs to be tenderly navigated.

Shedding the Skin of Pain

I am not someone who likes snakes, but I am envious of their ability to shed their entire skin, crawl away from it and be free from whatever past experiences that skin held.

Being human and capable of conscious thought, I know I can mentally choose to leave the skin of pain behind, but it is challenging. I wonder if it is my ability to think about what I am shedding that presents the problem? Or am I trying to stay connected to past negative experiences from  pain because that was my identity for so long? Or is accepting a new way of being, that is mostly free from pain, so full of challenges that I am fearful of shedding my old skin?

This article by Michelle Bersell “What is Your Body’s Story” points out the importance of reflecting on how we have felt about our bodies in the past to successfully rewrite the new story of where we are now and where we would like to be.

I am going to stop blaming myself, being envious of the snake and be mindful that there is a lot of work to being able to consciously “shed” my entire skin. And when I combat the obstacles of old bad behaviors and beliefs, I will know that these are the places that still need my focus and  attention before that skin can detach. And  every healthy decision will reflect  places where my pain  skin has been successfully shed.

Do you feel like the Skin of Pain still surrounds you? I would love to hear your story.

Entering the Back Door of Chronic Pain

Friends have shared their frustration at not knowing how to address someone they love about their pain. When  experiencing pain we often employ coping devices. And it takes a lot of effort to keep our focus away from  pain. When others ask lovingly “how are you feeling?”  it can cause internal conflict. In order to answer the question it means we have to “feel” our pain that we are trying so hard “not to feel”. They have no idea how complex a process it is to answer this small question.

I  suggest not to ask their loved one how they are feeling but to tell them what you observe. Observations like “I can see that you are limping”  is honest and objective. A person may have an easier time responding to this type of question because it allows them to choose to talk about their pain or not and does not raise brick wall defenses like the ones we put between ourselves and our pain.  I  think of this approach as going in the back door rather than the front door.

Have you had difficulty with conversations about your pain or find yourself being put off when others ask about it?

Who Let the Pain Monster in?

A dark shadow-like evil vilian with razor sharp tentacles is someone I would never invite into my house. But  this creature on a lone dark night was able to invade my body without even asking my permission.

Reading this article by Dr. Scott Brady, MD, entitled “Do you have a Pain Prone Personality?” I realized  I may not have been in control of letting the original pain monster in, but  I did do things to feed the monster. I encourage you to check the article and see if you  might be unknowingly nourishing your pain.

I would love to hear  what you think.

The Part of Chronic Pain that we can control

John O’Leary, a motivational speaker,  was a 9 year old burn victim,with burns covering 100% of his body, who was given less than a 1% chance to live. John is a real inspiration and talks about his ability to move his focus beyond his scars. He has a website and monthly inspirational newsletter that speaks from the heart. Here is a link to a video where he talks about controlling not our circumstances but our approach to them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmqZAlJNYXc

Can you identify with John’s message?

Optical Illusion of Pain

I am convinced that there is a wicked optical illusion game that pain can play. The definition of an optical illusion is “an experience of seeming to see something that does not exist or that is other than it appears”. Like these two orange circles, they appear different in size, but are actually the same size.

The last four months I have been coping with a swollen, painful knee. When I look at it, the swelling seems very obvious. But when it is measured it is only minimally swollen.  So I ask the question how can something that hurts so much be so measurably small? The noise and commotion on the inside of my body are huge and somehow when I look at the area causing the pain I see a larger than usual body part. Maybe what I am seeing has the weight of the pain I am feeling and that causes me to see the joint much larger than it really is. Size, like beauty,  is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Have you had the sensation that your pain makes your painful body part feel much larger than it’s actual physical size?

Pain or Suffering with chronic pain

Those of us in the Chronic Pain club know what we individually experience when we are conscious of our pain. But there is another sensation “suffering” that comes when we are self conscious of our pain. When we feel the pain of our pain. When we feel the loses, the accommodations and the special needs that arise as a result of our pain.

The suffering is easier to control because it is an emotional reaction to the pain. Seperating these two bedfellows can help make an unberable day a little more bearable. I often ask myself “So are you in pain or are you suffering from your pain?”.

How do you feel about pain and suffering? Are they able to be seperated?