I recently got some bad-ish news. I may be looking at a yet another surgery in my future, it isn’t terrible news but not the most fun. Surgery is really an inevitable thing with my current issues, but it is disheartening that it is so soon. Plus no one (well I would hope no one) gets excited about going under the knife.
Stuff like this happens, such is life, especially in chronic pain issues. There are times where it feels like all the hard work, emotion, effort, blood, sweat, tears and ground you have gained is lost with one fell swoop. It could be a fall, a really bad pain day/week/month after a reprieve, or even just a bad day at work. Small things can seem HUGE when you are in pain or low on sleep or just feeling like you have reached your limit. There are two choices when you are feeling emotionally and physically pushed to the extreme.
First choice – give up, throw your hands in the air and just throw in the towel on life. Things like “it’s too hard,” “it’s not fair,” “I can’t.”
Second choice – knock the lemons out of life’s hands, punch it in the solar plexus, pull it by its hair to the ground, and sit on its chest force feeding it the lemons until it whistles Dixie. ( 9 ._.)9 bring it!
If you can’t tell, I am more inclined towards the latter. It wasn’t always so, I struggled in my early years with depression and nearly lost the fight a few times. And I admit I tried to give up a few times, but thanks to having good people in my life, I made it through all of those times. Learning along the way, with failures and successes, I came to understand that those who give up will always lose. Those the fight for everything with all their body, mind and soul, will always succeed in what they set their mind to.
Everyone has heard a news story or heard of someone who was told they wouldn’t be able to walk, or use some limb, live past a certain age, and then out of sheer determination were able to. If you look at the people who do this, they all are incredibly focused on regaining what was lost, or keeping what they have. Some even seem to accomplish their healing through sheer force of will. And it is scientifically possible that their mind actually did play a large role in their healing.
Really. No joke.
There are tons of psychosomatic disorders, where a belief in the mind actually causes a physical manifestation in the body. One of the most dramatic (or at least I think so) is Pseudocyesis. This is a false pregnancy that due to the strong belief in the mind that the body is pregnant, and the body starts to display symptoms of pregnancy. There have been studies that prayer, of any sort, can help heal where other conventional means couldn’t. The religion doesn’t matter, praying for your self, or knowing others are praying for you really does help. You don’t even need to believe it seems in some cases, it seems just knowing that people are praying (and therefore caring about you) can help with healing. Prayer has been studied for the past few decades by medical science, and we still do not know why it works, but it does. There are also lots of studies being done with phantom limb pain and the mind, by tricking the mind to believe that the body is whole with mirror visual feedback or through other methods pain and other issues are able to be treated. People who study martial arts, especially in a traditional way, will know that you can use “brain hacks” to trick your or your opponents body into behaving the way you want it to. The most famous mind trick is the placebo effect, scientists still don’t fully know why a sugar pill in some cases works as well as the actual medication. The mind is a powerful thing, but it can be fooled, and you can use that to your advantage.
How does this all relate to you and your pain? Well in loads of ways, I used to study Yoga, currently practice Tai Chi and have thoroughly studied many meditative practices. The one thing in common is the harnessing of the mind and the senses, and bending them to your will. Yoga itself means to harness, to rein in the senses. Basically actively taking steps to control your emotions and stress you will improve your mood, it will help greatly with pain, and has a positive impact on recovery. You are worth the effort, and you deserve to live well. So how do you start?
The positive man will pass.
The positive man will pass. The positive man will pass. The positive man will…
Anyway, your mindset matters. In all of your treatments and most importantly in your everyday life. Have a positive outlook on everything- your pain, your mood, even painful procedures. This can mean the difference between a great recovery and a mediocre or even a poor one. Trust me it is difficult, to be positive all the time, but this is something you can “fake it ’til you make it”. I remind myself constantly that I have no choice in what I have wrong with me, but I DO have a choice in whether I am going to be happy or not. You decide to or decide not to be happy, it is all up to you. You are completely in control of this and no one can do it for you.
Again I struggle to make that choice some days, there are many mornings when I wake up in horrible pain, and I know I have to push on through a long, long day. I could just give in to being grumpy, it would be so easy to, and a ton of excuses to back it up. But if I am the people I interact with will be grumpier, the day will get worse, and I will spread my grumpy malaise faster than an influenza virus. I stop looking for the things that make me happy and you can easily fall into the trap of wallowing in your pain. Some migraines make me so short I will cause more stress on myself just due to the pain I am in. The grump takes hold, the pain takes over and then when friends reach out to you…
If I consciously make the choice to not do that, and to be happy instead, I usually have a super day and my pain decreases, and better controlled by whatever method I am using. Plus I just feel better overall, you really do start to feel happy pretty fast even if you are just faking it at first, and the grump just melts away.
Just the simple act of smiling releases endorphins and we all know how great those free pain chemicals are. Plus if you are smiling people automatically smile back at you, they really can’t help it sorta like yawning. Try it! Go to a grocery store and just wander around with a smile, you don’t even have to make eye contact, and count the people that turn their frown upside down because they looked at you. You will be surprised, and you will feel kind of good about it. Like you’re a smile ninja.
Take pleasure in the small things, delighting in the small things uplifts the mood and reminds us that not everything is horrible. Look for that silver lining, if you think you have it badly, remind yourself that things could be worse. You remember the old “eat your green beans there are starving children in China” routine your parents tried? Well, remember it always, it is very true, not everyone has it as good as you do. If you have one form of something, there is bound to be someone much worse off. Don’t let yourself be negative, eliminate it!
Don’t Stress it!
If you are thinking positively, it is much harder to be stressed out. Stress, as we all know, is one of the worst psychosomatic “illnesses” one can have, but it is also the most common. Stress literally kills. But stress is not something that you have to have, you can take the bull by the horns and kick it out of your days.
There are lots of things you can do to combat stress, the big three ways to combat it are:
- Exercise – get up and MOVE. Do it! Even if you can not move far or very much, movement is vital. The saying “move it or lose it” is so, so true. If you stop moving you lose flexibility and muscle mass, so do your physical therapy, get exercise, park at the back of the parking lot and hoof it, just move as much as you can. Regular exercise is key to a healthy body and mind, and is something that everyone needs to make time for. No excuses about you are too busy!
- Sleep – it is so important to get enough sleep, your body heals when you sleep. With the lives we live these days, it is difficult to get your 8 hours, and even more when you are in pain. Set up a bed time routine, this helps the body realize “hey, I should shut down” at the right time. Keep glowing screens and phones out of the bedroom as much as possible, try to not use one at least 2 hours before bed time. Make your sleeping area as dark as possible, wear an eye-mask or get light blocking curtains if you need to. You can diffuse calming smells, things like lavender work great, and so do “sleepy” teas. Remember keep the bed area for sleeping only, and if you have trouble try some of the sleep aids I list.
- Environmental/Action – assess your surroundings, and daily activities. Where can you make improvements to reduce stress? Can you take a break and do some exercise at set times? If you sit all day, can you exercise at your desk? Do you get up and stretch at least once an hour? Are you taking mental breaks through out the day to think about something that is other than work? Can you diffuse/burn relaxing smells? Even if you are in a highly restrictive workplace you can sit and be still for 5 minutes and meditate, pray alone or with people, do focused relaxation exercises, or deep breathing.
Reducing your stress, at work and at home, forcing yourself to make active changes to improve your mood will help make life over all easier, and less stress a habit. And that is a habit I am sure we all need.
There isn’t a lot a sufferer of chronic pain can control, and your mood is sometimes the easiest, and sometimes the hardest to do. But it is worth it, most chronic pain syndromes have very high suicide rates, and low return to work rates, I think choosing to be happy and not becoming one of those statistics is not only worth it but so important. The main reason is it makes the sufferer’s life that much easier, but also their loved ones who suffer in different ways. When you, and the people around you are happy, everything else will follow too.
If you are interested on more information on phantom limbs and the brain check out this video with V.S. Ramachandran
Related article on pain and emotions effect on it:
- Pain is a construct | #pain #neuroscience (crpsuk.com)