Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.

“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” or in English “tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are,” its an old Spanish proverb. It is one that you should take to heart though, the people you surround yourself with are important. If you surround yourself with negative people, it becomes like a negativity cancer and begins to eat at you from the inside. Surround yourself with people that are positive, and be as positive as possible and your spirits will always be lifted in the darkest hours.

This holds true for everything in life, but it is even more important if you suffer from any sort of chronic pain disorder. If you are in a low place, you need to have as much positive stuff around you as possible. This sounds like something that would be common sense, but we all know that common sense isn’t so common. So how do you do it?

Watch What You Take In – Environment

 

Make it your cardinal rule.

Make it your cardinal rule.

Watch comedians, funny movies (or TV shows), or just movies (or TV shows) that make you happy. Read uplifting, happy, or silly books (Paulo Cohelo’s Alchemist is a great place to start), comics or mangas (or manwhas and all other variants) keep it funny nothing dark. Listen to happy music, or a funny podcast, but make sure it is lighthearted fun, dark humor, while fun now and then, can be OK, but never in a low point. No shows that get you emotional or make you cry or really experience anything but a positive emotion.

You may have to start censoring things, like songs on the radio – song too too sad? Turn that dial! I have started avoiding listening to or watching the news, especially these days news can add more things to be sad than happy about to your day. It may make me a poor subject to discuss current affairs with, but when your load is heavy why add more things to carry? If you DO watch the news, watch fluff pieces, you know cat dress up shows and that sort of thing. You need to wrap yourself visually, audibly and mentally with positive things. Like a warm, fuzzy positive security blanket that will keep the monsters of depression at bay. Put up things around you that make you happy, like art, or make you recall fond memories. Creating things gives the satisfaction of accomplishment, so it doesn’t matter what you make as long as you feel all “yeah I made that!” and are proud about it in the end (this means even if it doesn’t come out right the first time, there is always another go you can have at it).

Do things that bring you pleasure, even if they are small things. Those small things become huge things when you need something happy. Eat a comfort food meal, take yourself out to a movie, for ice cream, parks, zoos, museums, belly dancing shows, whatever blows your hair back! Just make sure it brings you pleasure. On bad days, look out the window every cloud and ray of sunshine is a personal gift to you enjoy it take it in and appreciate it. I have a lot of cardinals that live near me, and there is a superstition that seeing them means you will have a lucky day, when I see one I think about that and even something small like that can bring my thoughts from doom and gloom to happier pastures. Also, exercise daily, and that means even days that hurt. Do some amount of exercise every single day, even if the exercise is a lap or two around the house. Do some yoga, do some meditating, do some Tai Chi, just do something to get the body moving, this is the best way to beat the blues.

Watch What You Take In – People

I meant it, their negative will become yours.

I meant it, their negativity will become yours.

We all know a “negative Nancy” or a “Debbie downer,” or a general moaner and complainer that always is being negative about something. People who complain and want people to generally be as miserable as they are. This sort of person is definitely not the type of person you want to expose yourself to a lot during bad times, or even good times really. People who drag your spirits down when you don’t have enough positive of you own are worse for you than your pain condition (or depression) in my humble non-medical opinion. You need people that tell you the good things, the ones that make you smile and feel good around you to bring you out of your blues.

The people that are unhappy with life, and themselves and want to pull you down into their hole instead of pulling you out, have no business in your life, frankly pain condition or not. Sometimes, as in my life, that means some of your family. I haven’t cut them all out of my life but I do have some that have no re-entry policies, and if I become upset I attempt to extract myself as gracefully as possible from the situation. Sometimes you have to do this, and it does suck. But afterwards, you always know you made a good decision it will become so much easier to be positive without them dragging you down, like a stone tied to your foot while you try to swim. The effect is sometimes instantaneous, like a massive weight being lifted all at once or others it is long and drawn out and difficult – but so worth it in the end.

Remember, you and your happiness is like one of those eggs you get in health class in American High Schools you have to take care of and fail if it gets dropped or cracked. It is fragile, and needs protecting daily and vigilantly. To not do so is to suffer at your own risk.

What if all that doesn’t work?

If you have been doing this and still are having issues, you may want to look into trying Cognitive Therapy it does a lot, and has done a lot for me and people I know in treating their issues (WebMD also has some neat info). If this still doesn’t help you may want to seek the help of a professional. If you need help finding one try searching here or here.


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How Do You Do It?

Sometimes I dread being asked this question, more than the small talk question of “how are you.” Unlike the inquiry of your state of being, that you may have to give the white lie of “I am OK” and be done with it, this question can’t be brushed off. Also I feel I don’t have a good, answer to this question. By that I mean I think – “I don’t know, I just do,” followed by a shrug, a pretty lame answer. “I just do” can even seem a rude, but in all reality, I don’t know any other way to be. People have told me I am unique, and that I am “strong.” I don’t know about all that, I personally think I am just a normal human. Anyone can do what I do, I really do think everyone is capable of living a happy and positive life even with chronic pain. So I will attempt to describe how I do what “I just do.”

Something I know for sure is I am stubborn, I have always been as stubborn as a mule. While this hasn’t always been a boon to me in all situations, I guess it could be a large motivation in my need to keep going. I have an almost blind determination to just make it through today, because tomorrow could bring something new. New information, new techniques, and new experiences. Possibly even a reduction in pain, but you don’t know unless you make it to tomorrow. I absolutely know that I have to see tomorrow, and no matter how bad I feel now tomorrow will eventually come. This fierce determination springs from somewhere deep in me, bubbling up from a source that is, to be completely honest, hidden even to me. It could be my stubbornness, but a lot of days I am not really sure why I drag myself out of bed, and force myself to go through the motions of a normal day. There are a lot of days where just the act of getting out of bed is excruciating, but I do it. Sometimes its very, very slowly, but I still do it. I have to, something in me makes me feel I must. My stubborn mind tells me that staying in bed is not an option, so get up! There is stuff to do! I am even starting to wonder if I may actually be physically unable to stop completely. To just give up and wallow in a puddle of self pity and immobility seems to be something that is beyond me. I also think, just going through the motions makes you feel better, even if your pain levels don’t improve. More often than not it usually does improve my pain levels. Just like getting up, having a shower and getting dressed can make you feel better when you are feeling sick.

Another thing that helps me not start to slip into the quitter sort of thinking, is making sure I feel like I accomplished something. That feeling of despite everything stuff still got done, makes me feel like the day wasn’t completely surrendered to The Pain. You can say to yourself, “Hey Self! Even though you couldn’t do everything you wanted to today, you still did something. Good job!” And you really do feel good about it. Even if that something seems simple like just sitting up for an hour, reading, or walking to the mailbox. Because sometimes, even though you may not want to admit it, that is all you are truly able to do. I have struggled with it, but I feel I have gotten to a point where I have accepted my new limitations. I set daily goals I can meet, and adjust them according to my pain. Like I said it can be a struggle, especially if you are a person that was very active and forced to halt. Speaking as just such a person, it is hard, but not impossible. Before my accident I was working a full time job, a commuter cyclist, and avid student of two styles of martial arts when I wasn’t cooking, sewing, reading, drawing, etc, etc, etc. Then my life came to a screeching halt. But like the saying goes, when one door closes, others open. You have to embrace the fact that a simple task such as mopping the floor, cooking dinner, or even just walking the dog, could require hours, or even days, to recover from. Tasks you did effortlessly before some have now become difficult, maybe even impossible. This wears on the psyche, and for me creates thoughts like…

“I am not who I was before…I am broken…I am useless…”

Thinking like this can really throw you into what I call a “well of despair.” That dark pit of soul crushing sadness, that sort of depression that makes everything seem not worthwhile. If one thinks only negative thoughts, it will only continue the descent into negativity, and inevitably giving up. It is a deep pit, one you have to claw and fight your way out of once you are init. Not many chronic pain sufferers escape alive once they allow themselves to fall in. One thing you always hear is suicide rates and that they are extremely high for chronic pain. Negative thinking is a slippery slope into that pit. It starts small, and seems innocent at the start, but it grows quickly. This then breeds depression, anxiety and stress. Pain is already isolating, it cancels plans, it doesn’t stop for birthdays or holidays, and it can make you want to withdraw from people and the world. Feeding it negative thoughts only increases its power, so why give pain more power than it already has?

Pain, especially chronic pain can be very hard. The worst thing when discussing it with people is, it is invisible. If you have a broken arm, people can see the cast. But being in pain doesn’t always show on the surface, or it is intentionally hidden, and this can sometimes lead to further isolation. People don’t understand that sometimes you have to cancel plans. That you can attempt to plan in advance but things are always “pending how I feel.” Friends can think you are avoiding them because you were able to do something one day, but then not at another. To top it all off, it is frustrating for you since you aren’t able to do what you want. The invisibility of pain can destroy relationships if you allow it, and sometimes even if you try not to. Pain separates you from your loved ones, your support, and makes it far easier to slip into the “well of despair.”

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Sometimes its bigger than a well, sometimes its the size of the inside of a Tardis.

Also falling into that kind of thinking is a hard fight to get out of, harder still when you are fighting your own physical pain. So the best way to combat that is to not slip and fall into that trap, or, even better, be so far from the edge that it isn’t even a worry. Positive thinking, it is so so important, find that silver lining in all situations. This has kept me from the edge so far, and it really is an easy habit to keep once you get started.

Another way I have found works to fight falling in, is to keep my mind (or hands) busy. Up wandering the house at night because you can’t sleep? Time to fold that laundry. Time to do some research. Time to work on my stretching exercises, or other exercise routines. Time to do some baking/cooking. Time to work on creating something. Time to do anything that will take your full focus, anything that takes your full focus means that you can not be also thinking about anything else that might be going on. This includes how much pain you are in. Being able to focus your mind so intently on something diverts it from the task of reminding you that something is hurting. It can give you a much needed emotional break at the worst of times, and it can feed into that feeling of accomplishment I mentioned earlier.

Everyone is different, and everyone’s perceptions shape them, but I think everyone is capable of living happily. You just have to chose to be so, no one, and no thing, will ever make you happy for you. You have to do it for yourself, and chronic pain sufferers can be happy, I am living proof! Every day is full of potential, seize it! As long as you never give up, and never surrender. Just do it and tomorrow will be right around the corner.