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Reinventing Ourselves

Driving home, listening to NPR, they were discussing the current economic situation. It occured to me that these economic times and chronic pain have a lot in common. Both have robbed many of us of our livelihoods which can translate to self image. And we are forced to reinvent who we are, what we can and cannot do and what brings us joy.

Many years ago, before hip surgery, standing for any length of time was intolerable. I was a teacher. Teachers do a lot of standing. My pain forced me to think of other options. My backgound was in art, but the only way to have a secure income was to do something like teach. I had never considered the possibility of being a studio artist, who could sit and work.  But my pain caused me to open that door of possibility. And it was a wise move. I have had a successful second career as a practicing artist. In a way, I have my pain to thank.

Have you had to reinvent yourself? How have you done it? What were the biggest challenges?

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Recuperation vs. Recovery

There is a great article in the Health section of the New York Times by Dana Jennings discussing the diference between recuperating and recovering from an illness. “Healing Physically, Yet Still Not Whole”

He touches on so many crucial aspects of how totally a chronic pain/disease experience can be and what is required to be yourself again.

Can you identify with aspects of his experience?

Painful Memories

We used to have a vise like this in the basement. I remember thinking that I could put my finger in the vise, crank the jaws of the vise to close around my finger and that the pain from that could not equal the pain that I felt inside my body. It would just be a distraction for my leg pain.

The horror of those thoughts frightens me  as I reflect back on it.  They were not thoughts I  could  share  with friends or family or especially parents.

What I did not know now was that it was not normal to have those thoughts.  There must have been some strange comfort in entertaining  those thoughts. It must have been a mental means of coping with my constant pain.

It warms my heart when I see the resources that are available to children and adults  today who are in chronic pain situations. I pray that those working with the pained patients understand the darkness of the thoughts that can occur.

Do you have any dark memories of trying to cope with your pain?

Lift your spirits with color

Artists are fortunate. Even on the grayest of days, we can choose to surround ourselves with color and get lost in it.

Today is very gray. Thought I would share some of my color.

M. Byrne EigelWhat gives you a lift when you spirit is in need?

Thought can be Painful

Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviours.
Keep your behaviours positive, because your behaviours become your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.
Mahatma Gandhi

A friend recently posted this quote by Gandhi on her website. Thought is powerful in regards to pain in ways that defy logic.

About 5 years ago I was in an auto accident. No bones were broken, but my whole body of nerves and muscle were bitterly affected. It took a few years to get out of the funk. And when I was feeling good all I had to do was to be overwhelmed by demands put on me and my body was back in pain again.

One December, school semester was ended, I had submitted grades and all I wanted to do was to sit down in my favorite chair to have a cup of coffee. I was feeling wonderful and happy to be on semester break. Now I could do “my stuff”.

I had been keeping a list of have-to’s. The simple act of unfolding the list and looking at what needed to be done in the next week sent a wave of pain from my head to toes. I felt limp and robbed of my enthusiasm. My body just echoed with ache. I knew I had to lie down and try to meditate or at least relax.

I awoke about an hour later. I tried to rationalize what had happened that morning: I felt energetic, looked at a list of to-do’s and spiraled into pain. What was this about?

I slowly realized that just thinking about things that I felt I needed to do was enough to take the wind out of my sails. So I knew I had to adjust my thinking.  I could control pain on some level through my thoughts.

I threw the list away.  I allowed myself one to-do. And said that when that was complete, I would add one more to-do. One to-do at a time.

It meant that I had to distinguish between what I needed to do and what I wanted to do. There were a lot things that I had to delegate to others or disregard.

No one was hurt. I felt remarkable better.  It was a lifestyle change and it gave me life. Now I know that thoughts alone can be painful.

Have you had the experience that your thoughts alone can cause pain?

How have you dealt with it?

Separate the Pain from the Person

Anyone who has been in chronic pain knows how it feels. But it is hard to comprehend the extent to which it “invades” our mind and body. If there was a  machine that could see through our bodies and visually capture the presence of the pain, how would that look?

Would it see how it changes our personality. How it makes us less tolerant of anything that requires effort because it is just another thing we have to do with less ability to do it.

Would it see how it changes our lifestyle because we have to pay a pain price for everything that we chose to do and how we have to negotiate with our pain.

Would it see how it changes our self image because it has modified our bodies and its movements.

I feel that it is important to separate the Pain from the Person. To be able to blame our pain for these losses. And to know and to let others know that if it were not for the pain, we would choose to do things differently.

It is when we assume the pain and become our pain that we lose ourselves. I think that we need to remind ourselves and others that it is not our choice to have the pain. But it is our choice how we choose to deal with the pain.

I have read of  primitive African cultures that  give their pain a name. That seems wise and would remind you that your pain has its own identity. Have you tried to identify your pain? give it a name, shape or form? I would love to hear what you have done.

Chronic Pain Addiction Recovery

There is Chronic Pain and there is Addiction, and I feel there can be addiction to Chronic Pain.

After my hip replacement surgery which was over 18 years ago, I felt so blessed to be pain free in my leg and hip for the first time in my life. BUT…. I also felt very lost. Pain had been a part of me since childhood and defined what I could and could not do. Now that I could walk relatively pain free, I felt this emotional tugging. Would I really continue to be pain free?

I know that I envisioned my pain as a “person” dwelling inside my own skin. And I found myself continuing to want to cosult this person for permission to move about. I asked the surgeon, on my follow up visit, if there were any support groups for folks that had been in long term chronic pain and were now pain free. I know he did not know where I was coming from. I thought I had phrased the question pretty accurately.

To cope with extreme long term pain I had mentally severed my legs. My relationship with my body was not healthy. And there were mental blocks that it has taken years to address for me to now be in a healthier place with my feelings and physical body.

It is my feeling that it is the “debris” that pain has left behind that needs some focus. And  to truly be appreciative of a pain-free state, there is a lot of inner healing that needs to occur. If you have been there and are fortunate enough to be pain free have you had any similar experiences trying to recover?