RSS Feed

Category Archives: recovery

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.

 

Advertisements

Dis-connecting to connect

We just got back from a  refreshing vacation along the shores of Lake Michigan and I only briefly missed the fact that I had poor cell phone reception, no internet connection and was unable to get TV or radio news for days.

I reflected on how we change our daily expectations and routines when we are on vacation. Sleeping late, lazing around in pj’s on the cottage deck, enjoying leisurely meals, savoring each others company, taking more walks, doing things that bring joy and not wanting to rush are the priorities.  Multi-tasking and feeling pressure from obligations seem like unhealthy things to do. They do not belong here.

I saw this video clip last night from Sunjay Gupta entitled “Is Technology Making Us Dummer?” It is about a group of neuroscientists who abandoned technology for five days and immersed themselves in nature.  They were experimenting with the notion promoted in great literature by Thoreau and Muir, that getting away and into nature does have restorative effects for our brains and that may even be essential for our brain to take a break from constant activity.

My promise to myself is to try and allow myself  “vacation privileges” sometime each day to try and stay connected to the bliss that comes from dis-connecting. This may be turning my computer OFF, allowing myself to just “be” without having to feel obligated to “do” or just remembering to do something that brings me joy and nourishment.

Have you found ways to bridge the gap between dis-connecting from the everyday demands and connecting to a more sacred space?

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?

Can Happiness be achieved with Chronic Pain

MaryByrneEigelDo we have to sacrifice being happy when we are left to deal with chronic pain? The happiness we might have experienced in the past doing such things as tending a backyard garden  can become overwhelming and exact a heavy pain price when you add chronic pain to the mixture.  I have cringed hearing folks share how they just had to get out and tend their garden even though they knew it would cause their pain to escalate. How can this bring the same happiness?

Gretchen Rubin spent a year testing past wisdom and current research regarding  how to be happy. Her findings are published  in her new book “The Happiness Project”. It offers several suggestions/strategies for taking a look at all the parts of our life, sorting out the essential things and allowing ourselves to be mindful of what does make us happy. And by getting to know ourselves better we might be able to limit or dismiss activities that no longer fit without sacrificing happiness.

Living with chronic pain often means that many compromises have to be made.  I have chosen to be happy with planting flowers in hanging baskets on my patio when in years past my whole yard was a blaze of daylilies, irises and annuals. But reading some of Gretchen’s findings, this same choice is often made by those without chronic pain because they realize they no longer have the time for certain activities.

Have you had to modify what makes you happy? What do you think about the Happiness Project? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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?

Insight into Pain

I just finished reading “My Stroke Of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor. She is a Harvard trained neuroanatomist doing brain research who woke up one morning and experienced a stroke on the left side of her brain.  She documents her stoke and recovery from an extremely unique perspective, she knew what was happening as it was happening. Among the many lessons she shares is  how we each possess the ability to find “peace”, to quiet mental chatter and exist in the moment. Here is a link to her TEDtv appearance.

For me, the book validates  the importance of activities, like meditation, that I employ  to quiet chronic pain. It addresses the unique relationship that our thoughts have in regards to our well being. The wisdom that she presents, in  a very readable form, impacts our understanding of the mind/body relationship.

Have you read or heard about the book? What are your thoughts?