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Facing our Fears: Chronic Pain Management

Anxiously driving to my doctor’s office yesterday, to have a small skin cancer removed, I heard this program on our local NPR station. The focus was on a group of compromised veterans who were challenging themselves to climb Halfdome in  Yosemite Park. I was gathering courage to face a small knife and here they were mustering courage to trust their prosthetic limbs on the face of a mountain.

As they passed the microphone around, they spoke of the importance of challenging yourself and building your confidence and trust.

What a marvelous way to think about dealing with chronic pain management. Finding those things that can reinforce our mental and emotional ability to deal is as important as our physical strength.

Check it out. They inspired me!

Measuring Chronic Pain Progress

It feels so great to be back posting. I have missed my blog friends but knew the only way a book gets written is to minimize distractions. I am nearing a conclusion, feeling good about it and look forward to sharing more about it soon!!

It dawned on me the other day that I might be using the wrong ruler to chart my progress. If I use one that has big spaces between numbers it feels like I make little progress. But if I scale down to a level that progress is actually measurable, like ounces on a digital scale, I have reason to rejoice.

Have you checked the type of ruler you are using lately?

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Turn Resistance to Chronic Pain Issues into Assistance

I have found myself in places I would rather not be. Being in pain is one of them. I have spent a lot of time and energy “trying not to be there.” I have denied my pain by refusing to recognize the importance of daily exercise, and suffered for it. I have challenged my pain by doing things I knew I should not do, and suffered for it. I have refused to accommodate my pain by doing things like wearing sensible shoes, and suffered for it.

A speaker I heard last week, Jaison, spoke about how we can change “resistance to assistance”  by altering our beliefs. Accepting that “You are in your rightful place” allows the energy you might spend denying a situation to be spent assisting with the situation.

Several years ago I was told that my blood sugar levels were high and I needed to see someone about controlling it. Expecting that this meant nothing more getting a lecture and another brochure, I willingly made the appointment. When I arrived the specialist took out a glucose meter and said “I want you to start taking your blood sugar levels every day.” I could have bolted at that moment. It took a lot of energy  not to flee.

I am not sure how much of what she said I actually heard.  Simultaneously echoing inside my head was,  “I don’t belong here, she is mistaken. My blood sugars aren’t that bad. I am a good person, I should not be hearing this.”

This was several years ago. I have accepted this diagnosis, but also realize that I still have resistance. I still need assistance with my resistance. When I realize that, like Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much,” it is a red flag to me that my resistance is strong and I am going to need a lot of assistance.  It is my choice whether to spend energy resisting or assisting.

Do you have a chronic pain related issue that you struggle to accept? What types of assistance have you had to use?

Working with Chronic Pain Obstacles

  The obstacle is the path.    

         Zen Proverb

I just saw this great quote on Beth Havey’s blog. She is a boomer licensed nurse/writer blogging about keeping our lives on track in the midst of all  that life presents to us each day. When I read or hear about  all the demands that are placed on us, many that we lovingly absorb, I am reminded how much tougher this makes a day for someone navigating around chronic pain. I encourage you to check out her site. In addition to pain management, life management skills, on which she offers some great ideas, are an essential part of the equation.

Reflecting on the quote, I was hearing something I did not want to hear. If the obstacle is the path, then meeting it head on is what we should be doing. This takes courage. It is always much easier to skirt what is in our way rather than confront it. Running and hiding, in a comfortable place where we cannot even see the obstacle, is another viable option. The quote suggests the contrary, we should identify our challenge and work with it to discover our life path.

It takes a lot of centeredness to approach life with this perspective. If we choose to acknowledge what lies in our path it is a means of staying centered. It is a giant post-it note reminding us that we cannot forget ourselves and the nourishment we need, before we decide how much we have to give to others.

What strategies or “post-it notes” reminders do you use to ensure you don’t give all your energy away to others, ignoring what you need for yourself?

First Aid for Chronic Pain

This past weekend I was hit with a virus. It took me back to my pain days, when I was spending more time in bed than on my feet. I am guessing that most folks have had at least one encounter with a major virus, and can remember the anger, frustration and lack of energy that are part of this experience. Imagine how it would be if you were constantly trapped in this situation.

If you come across someone you love who battles chronic pain and you see them engaging in what might seem like a leisurely activity, like laying down and reading, don’t rush to judgement. They may appear to be lounging, but in reality, they are engaging in a healthy dose of “First Aid.” They are seeking a diversion from their situation. They are choosing to take control of their life and engage in something  manageable and meaningful. They are attempting to avoid suffering. This is good medicine. Encourage them and their efforts to stay engaged.

To see someone in pain, not engaging in a healthy activity, that is when you should worry. These folks are feeling a loss of control and trapped in their pain. Depression is sure to follow.

First Aid can consist of simple measures, but can also be life saving. Do you have certain “First Aid” measures that you employ to ward of suffering? What gives you a sense of being able to escape the ugly pit of chronic pain? Have you found yourself misjudged as being lazy when in fact you are doing the best that you can at a given point in time?

Transforming Pain

As a child, I remember my father doing a trick where he would hold a coin in his hand, make it disappear and then magically reappear behind one of my ears.I was amazed at how this happened.

This morning watching the Royal Wedding, it was equally magical for me thinking about how Kate was transformed from a commoner to a Princess with her wedding vows. She is no different a person than who she was yesterday, but now her life will have the capacity to expand in unimaginable ways.

Sometimes I think that as chronic pain sufferers, our pain has robbed us of our original identity. It has taken away from our self image and perceived value. What we need to do is give value back to ourselves. Believe that we are worthy of the best that life has to offer and never stop believing that tomorrow can be transformational, just like today was for Princess Kate.

Keep believing that transformations, large or small, are possible. Here are some magic coins for safekeeping.

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.

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.

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.