There are all kinds of pain, and all of us experience some kind of pain on a daily basis. In addition to the normal pains of life, some of us deal with the challenge of deep and chronic pain that is better charted in moments than days since there really are no days when we are not in pain…it’s just a matter of degrees.
I’ve dealt with chronic pain for many years now. Between fibromyalgia, 6 herniated discs and a meningioma tumor pressing on my brain stem and spinal cord, there always seems to be something to deal with. Many days, it can feel like my only job is just this one thing:
“How do I manage this pain I feel and not allow it to rob me of this day and all the possibilities it holds!”
I do acknowledge that there are countless people in worse pain than I ever experience, and that thought actually can make it worse because I feel so much compassion and empathy for those who suffer even more deeply than I do.
For me, there is always the conflict between acknowledging the pain and realizing that it needs to be addressed, and not focusing on the pain as the only thing that exists in my life…
I have a few things that I do to deal with chronic pain. Here are a few of the practical and tangible things that help me:
- Chiropractic care is extremely important to my well-being. My spine being properly aligned is step 1 for me.
- Accupuncture is a crucial part of my pain management. It’s also a big part of my holistic approach to dealing with my brain tumor.
- Following a mainly plant-based, grain-free, processed food and all sugar-free diet is paramount to limiting the systemic inflammation that I battle.
- Since I take no pharmaceutical pain-killers, I rely on Omegas 3 & 6, turmeric, green tea, yoga and icing the points of severe pain.
- I’m horrible about remembering to stay hydrated, so my first defense is to drink a glass of water when I experience pain.
But even with these things, there are many days when I struggle to even get out of bed. On those days here’s what I’m learning to do:
- Stop denying that I’m in pain. Stop qualifying my pain by saying it’s not as bad as it could be. The “it could be worse” mantra can actually make my mind go in the direction of “what if”…”what if it gets so bad I can’t take it?” Instead, I state where the pain is bothering me the most. State it just as a fact…no more, no less. Give myself permission to admit that I’m hurting, but then turn to a solution right away.
- Focus on what I can do. Stop telling myself that there’s nothing I can do…that the pain will never decrease. Decide on at least one thing I can do right now that will help decrease my pain level.
- Breathe. Once I’ve acknowledged my pain and I’ve determined something that I can do to address it, I allow myself to breathe into the pain, rather than holding my breath and allowing the pain to control me. So, if I’m feeling severe pain in my spine…shooting into my shoulder, I’ll stretch my shoulder until I feel the source of the pain and breathe until I feel my breath deeper than the pain. *Stretch, acknowledge, breathe…breathe in for 6 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 9 counts.
- Exhale. It sounds cliche, but often in my breathing, especially when I’m stressed or in pain, I will breathe, but I won’t focus on exhaling. The exhale is as important as the inhale. It’s in the exhale that we let things go. It’s in that process that we consciously focus on not holding on to what’s weighing us down, making us sick, or causing us deep pain. This is why, in my measured breathing, I exhale for more counts than I inhale…I want to take extra time in the letting go – because the healing is in the letting go.
- Express gratitude. This is an important step that I was missing for many years. I was so focused on the pain I was in and the guilt I felt because of the things that the pain was keeping me from, that I would begin the mantra of how terrible I felt…then came the downward spiral toward feelings of how terrible I am… I would inevitably make the leap from how I feel to my feelings being the sum total of my being. This is just a lie. Now, on the days when I feel the worst, when I feel searing, teeth-clenching pain, I can tell myself how grateful I am that I am so strong. I can focus on all of the great things in my life, all of the people who love me, all of the good that can be done even in the midst of my pain. I can remind myself that my pain is my platform and that everything I’ve experienced is leading me to be a more compassionate, empathetic soul who understands more deeply the sufferings of others. I can encourage myself.
- Find my bliss. Instead of focusing on my limitations, I try to think of the things that I enjoy…that make me unique. I think about the things that only I can do. I plan my next expression. I think about what I’m going to do the very minute that I feel strong enough to do it. Many times, just doing this causes me to want to “get up and do” so badly that I will at least do more than I thought I could do just 5 minutes earlier. Some days, it’s only as far as bathing and getting dressed, but some days, “one step at a time” can lead me to go from stretching to actual exercise, to texting a friend, to making a piece of jewelry….then before I know it I’ve done some things that really help me to feel great about my day. Sometimes true bliss is just as simple as trying to encourage someone else – so if I can’t run that day, but I encourage someone else who can run…then I’m still in the race…just in a different position.
These steps obviously don’t magically make all my pain go away, it’s more about management. It’s also about the end-goal of all of my days. It’s not my goal in life to focus on or spend every minute managing my pain, but it is my goal to become a better person in the process. Everything in life is a lesson. I am not the sum total of everything that has happened to me, I am not defined by these things. I am more defined by my response…by what I do with the lessons I’ve learned. If pain makes me bitter and not better, then I am missing the opportunity for growth and change. Life is full of struggles, but I truly believe that…
…The struggle will lead me home.
Peace to you…