Tag Archives: chronic pain

How pain can* become a real gain

 PhysicalPain

I loved seeing Lisa Sanfilippo’s segment on Save Money, Good Health recently. She shared some of her yoga for sleep tools (I did some sleep yoga cpd with her years ago and love this gentle way of working with the mind-body connection to aid sleep without any side effects).

What astonished me was the presenter’s conclusion that asking people with insomnia to do 5 or 10 minutes’ yoga before bed was ‘a big ask’. When my insomnia was terrible (from primary school until my mid twenties), I’d have LOVED to know about yoga but it wasn’t part of my world. Instead, I felt doomed and permanently exhausted and on edge.

At the turn of the millennium, when I was in pain every day, not just a few days a month, I think I’d have wanted to punch (and me practically a pacifist!) anyone who suggested that one day I’d be grateful for the pain.

But the other day, I realised that the pain was a catalyst to my completely overhauling my life. Without it, I wouldn’t have celebrated my 13th Business Birthday this month.

Thanks to the pain, I have created a business that is sustainable throughout my energy cycles. After minor surgery, I was told I’d have to keep having surgery every couple of years until menopause (I was in my 20s) and there was no cure. Volunteering on the (then called) National Endometriosis Society helpline meant I routinely heard far worse stories than my own and I became determined to find ways to deal with it myself.

Feeling let down by the medical profession led me to yoga and quitting caffeine (apart from in chocolate) and alcohol. Cat Cow pose was better than hospital prescribed painkillers. I think modern medicine is wonderful and always recommend people see their GPs but am maybe more aware than many, because I was in so much daily pain and desperate, that there’s an awful lot we can do ourselves.

Thankfully, due to all the major and minor lifestyle changes I’ve made, I generally only have a couple of painful days each month and even they are much better than they were. I’m taking fewer painkillers than ever before and some months, don’t need any at all.

How motivated are you?

Everyone who knew me back then didn’t believe I could quit alcohol (I had drunk too much from my early teens) but, with immediate pain from my abdomen encouraging (yelling at me), I managed to find other ways to deal with my emotions. It was hard – I remember imagining myself taking myself for a walk into the depths of the woods in the snow with a giant bottle of whisky in an effort to stop feeling things. Quitting alcohol was probably the most dramatic change I made. And I needed that pain or I wouldn’t have done it.

Are your symptoms easy enough to continue living with or are you ready to try something different?

Back then, my work’s EAP meant I got some counselling to support me pre-surgery (and pre-diagnosis). I still remember the counsellor asking me what my ovaries (where I felt so much of the pain) might be trying to TELL me. I thought she had lost the plot completely but quickly realised that it was worse when I was bottling up my emotions and not saying what needed to be said. My body, in being so painful, coached me to learn to be a little (progress not perfection) more assertive and expressive.

If there’s a part of your body currently screaming for your attention in the only way it has available for communication (ie PAIN), what might it feel like to tune in? Just for a moment? What have you got to lose? No side effects (other than potential embarrassment but this is just in your imagination – no one else need ever know).

What might your symptoms be trying to tell you?

Louise Hay, who died recently, has left an amazing legacy helping the mind-body connection become more mainstream.

Her books can be a lovely starting point, a bit like a dream dictionary might give you ideas about yours but ultimately, you know yourself and your body best. Even when you’ve been ignoring it.

What clues is it giving you now?

 Feel free to comment below.

love,

Eve

*please note that while this was the case for me, am not by ANY stretch suggesting that everyone reframe their pain

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Are you, generally, happy in your own skin?

Image courtesy of Alan Cunningham, 2014
Image courtesy of Alan Cunningham, 2014

I often reassure students and clients with arthritis and other painful conditions that it’s easier for us to be more embodied when we’re feeling strong, well, healthy, flexible and so on.

When we’re in pain, it makes sense that we might try to mentally escape our own bodies. But while it’s more challenging, the benefits make it worthwhile. Research shows that mindfulness helps reduce the symptoms of chronic pain conditions including headaches, fibromyalgia, back and neck pain (as well as stress, anxiety and depression). Best of all, when followed up four years later, participants were still reaping the benefits.

I was reminded of this recently when a chronic pain condition flared up for me. While aware of it (I upped my self-care, ate better, got more sleep and generally was a bit kinder to myself), the fact that I’d been doing lots of swimming, yoga and cycling in the run up meant a few painkillers (spread out appropriately) were all I needed.

The last time this had flared up, for the first time in years the painkillers hadn’t even dented the pain. I’d been back wanting to simply lie face down on the ground until it all went away. Standing upright took an enormous amount of effort.

Coming after years of managing it so well that I can teach yoga (albeit less dynamic) even with flare ups, it was a little disheartening but my mindfulness practice helped me understand that my self-care hadn’t been adequate in the run up and my body basically screamed at me as a way to remind me that I need to be more disciplined about my own self-care.

Because I’ve become friendlier with my own body through yoga and so on, I am better at quickly pausing to say, ‘OK, Body, what do you want from me? What do you need?’ Usually, it doesn’t need to scream at me because I’m mindful enough to heed the whispers and regular voice warnings.

I knew that a cold had meant I hadn’t been having my usual swims and this meant I hadn’t been cycling as much. It was actually great (with hindsight. It sucked at the time) to get the reminder about exercise being so healing and preventing pain.

During that bad flare up, I felt so sorry for myself, even though I was mindful of it not helping, I amped up my sugar and crisp intake (I’ll never give up chocolate and crisps but I feel better when they’re treats rather than meal replacements).

So lesson (for now, I’m human. Bound to forget and relearn again when I get complacent about it) learned.

What are your warning signs? 

Maybe you have a chronic pain condition with clear warning bells?

Maybe you’ve got to know your body’s stress signals? (An estimated 90% of GP visits are due to stress and stress symptoms exacerbating existing conditions) What tells you you need to amp up your self care?

Do you listen to your body’s whispers to guide you back on course or do you sometimes make it scream for attention?

What have you learned about your body that will help you put supports in place for the next time you feel vulnerable and less happily embodied?

What’s a nourishing, gentle and easy to implement treat you can soothe yourself with even on your most amoeba like days? (I genuinely start feeling like an amoeba if I don’t get my swims in.)

Feel free to comment below.

Trust your body.

Make friends with it.

Bionic medical advances aside, it’s the only one we get.

love,

Eve x

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How can you make pain less painful?

Image courtesy of Ambro / freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro / freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve had a chronic pain condition since my 20s and am really fortunate in that it now affects me less than 10% of the time and I know how to manage it (mostly).

I remember hearing Maya Angelou’s ‘Just because you’re IN pain doesn’t mean you have to BE a pain’ when I experienced pain for most of every day and I wanted to not be a pain but, to be honest, I was.

Still, I do my best to take better care of myself when impacted and to do all sorts of self-care things (from eating better to ensuring enough sleep and getting as much exercise as possible) as well as ensuring I have a healthy supply of painkillers.

Because I’ve had this for a long time, I am used to it. But when I had a different kind of pain the other day (broken tooth. On a CRISP of all things), even though I’ve had far worse tooth issues and other types of pain, this really impacted my mood.

I felt broken and elderly. I couldn’t even cycle to the pool for an early morning swim because the cold made it agony. When my superstar dentist fixed it, I almost hugged him (instead I went back with a more appropriate Thank You card and box of chocs). I felt whole again and able to do things (and I treated myself to an afternoon swim).

I know lots of people struggle with different types of physical as well as emotional pain on a daily basis. If you’re one of them, think about the things that help you most.

I’m going to hear Jon Kabat-Zinn (the guy credited with bringing mindfulness meditation to a secular audience) today and love the research around mindfulness helping with pain management. Mindfulness can actually change our experience of pain.

I learned about this during my yoga therapy for mental health training and, as I continue to work with The Minded Institute (doing social media, PR etc), I get to learn about developments in this exciting field.

Kabat-Zinn’s research in 1982 demonstrated that mindfulness meditation could substantially reduce short and long term chronic pain. In 2012, Tim Gard et al found that participants were able to reduce anxiety around pain by 29% when in a mindful state.

Because mindfulness meditation changes the brain (increasing our capacity for neuroplasticity as well as impacting the lateral prefrontal cortex, right posterior insula and rostral anterior cingulate cortex) it can also change our experience of and relationship to pain.

And my psychosynthesis counselling training taught me that rememembering that we are more than our pain (or anything else we might be struggling with) can itself shift our relationship to it.

But it can take practice. Personally speaking, while I know that it’s good for me and do know how to persevere, I find it much easier to be mindful and embodied when I’m feeling strong and healthy than when weak and vulnerable and in pain.

If you’re new to mindfulness, maybe listening to a Body Scan will be a nice, relaxing introduction. It’s just something to explore.

Anything that helps you relax will have benefits for your pain as stress exacerbates so many painful conditions. And ultimately, you know yourself and your pain best.

Get into the habit of asking yourself what will help you most right now and do all you can to support yourself.

Much love xx

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