Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Is your Doctor listening to you?

One of the most upsetting things I hear when speaking to other chronic pain sufferers, or just any person seeking medical attention, is that they don’t like what is being done but because it is a doctor, and therefore a position of authority, they are complying anyway. This is one of the worst things you can do, you should always question and always educate yourself on the available options. Never just take what you are given without asking the whys and hows. This holds true for any medication Western or Herbal, do not ever treat any medication of any sort as mostly harmless. If it is strong enough to work, it is strong enough to be bad in large doses. Be smart, know as much as you can about anything you do or put in you. You are much more in control of your pain management, or medical treatment of any sort, than you think!

This is something I have had to learn for myself the hard way, not all doctors are created equal. Many are just in it for the money, no real care for you, it is just the most expensive procedures so they can get a fatter pocket. This issue is rife within the Pain Management section of medical treatment. I had to go through many, many pain doctors until I found one that would listen to my requests. I did not want to be put back on opiates for another two years, and I wanted a medication that was less addictive and did not make me feel so awful. Before her, I was just handed a script, and told to just take it. And when I told them I was still in pain, I was offered even more powerful, and addictive medications. Nothing was done to find out why I was hurting. I felt they were not listening to me, and my pain wasn’t being addressed properly, and I was right. 

This goes the same for Chiropractors as well, don’t them just adjust you then ask questions. They should sit and talk to you, ask you where the issues are and then only adjust the issue areas (unless of course you both discover a new one). If they are just adjusting whatever they want willy-nilly, you can end up even more injured. 

A grievous sin of the Western medical community is just slapping a band-aid on some symptoms and considering the patient treated. Just treating symptoms and not attempting to attack the root cause of the issue is something I can hardly stand to hear. It is upsetting for me, because I have experienced it and it only leads to more suffering for the patient. If the doctor is not treating the root of your issues, you definitely need to start looking for a new one. You shouldn’t be handed pills as a solution for everything.

So just like finding a good life partner, you have to go through a lot of weeds to find a flower when hunting for a good doctor. Here is a list of things you should do to help yourself find a good doctor.

Read Reviews & Check Online

Google them! Look on Yelp, any site that has reviews and testimonials from existing patients. Look for things like “listened to me,” “receptive to input,” etc, etc. And also look at satisfaction, did they feel they were well treated and issues resolved. Did the doctor fix the root cause, were they asking for input from the patient on their treatments, or were they just band-aiding things. The NY Times wrote a great article on how to do research on doctors before visiting them and it is a great resource for online places to look up reviews, go here to check it out. 

Speak Directly to Patients

If you can, this is a great way to find out about a doctor, if you have friends or relatives with pain issues ask them who they use, and why. Look for support groups for chronic pain online and in your area, ask them who they are seeing and if they are listened to. Are their issues being treated to their satisfaction? This is a lot like reading reviews, but you get a much better idea of a doctor when speaking to people about who they see and why.

Talk to Nurses

They are the best resource ever is Nurses. Nurses always know the good from the bad doctors and will usually be happy to share that information. Hospital Nurses are easy to talk to and you can sometimes just call a Hospital and request to speak with them. You can also look online, there are sometimes Nurse lines depending on your area.

Ask Your Insurance Provider

Call your insurance and go to their sites, see who is available, if they are rated. Find out what will be covered and not with visits before you go. No one likes a surprise bill or charge. Insurance providers can be a great resource for you in finding a list of available doctors in your area.

Interview Them

Talk to them, do you like them? Do they seem nice? Are they interested in what you have to say? Your doctor should be someone you trust, someone you can say “Hey, I don’t think this is working can we try something else?” And they listen, and provide you with options. You should feel comfortable with your doctor and feel you can trust that they are giving you all the available information, and receptive to your input.

If you would like another article on how to pick a good doctor check out this article.

Do Your Homework

Like I always say, educate yourself because no one will do it for you. Make sure you know what you are taking, or having done to you. Ask your doctor questions, then look things up for yourself get as MUCH information as possible. Make sure you aren’t taking medications that will react with anything that is prescribed to you by other doctors (trust me I have had this happen, it pays to check for yourself). And remember you can voice your opinion, if you look something up and you don’t think it is a good idea – tell your doctor. They should be able to discuss this with you and provide either a better reason why, or an alternative option.

Finally, remember your doctor and you should have a relationship, a give and take from both sides. Not just you taking what they give without question. Empower yourself, and you will receive better care overall, and all the hard work you put into finding that awesome doctor will pay off.

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Your Mindset Matters

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…

Oh Indy! *swoon*

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…

I am…Nacho!

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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


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Begin at the Beginning, Turmeric

We all have to get started somewhere, so let’s begin at the beginning of my treating my pain naturally. One of my first remedies I came across is turmeric. Turmeric is wonderful, and has been used by humanity for a long time, pretty much since written records existed. I heard some of the more senior in age ladies at my T’ai Chi Ch’uan class discussing their use of it for reduction of arthritis inflammation, and this inspired me to start looking into it myself.

So pretty! And so useful!

An extremely brief history of turmeric is that it originated in South Asia and quickly spread throughout the region and as far East as Hawaii. It has been used as medicine, dye, preservation, and for spiritual/religious needs and ceremonies. Manners of ingestion also vary as well from smoke inhalation to an application of turmeric paste. I personally have three favorite ways of ingesting it.

Food

If you like to cook I am sure you have run across Turmeric it is in a lot of yellow foods we consume most commonly plain old yellow mustard. You can sprinkle it on most foods, like meat or eggs, but I like to cook Indian and South East Asian food so it is a frequent ingredient in those recipes. The only downside to adding it to food is, everything tastes of turmeric. Which if you don’t care for the strong taste, can be off putting, and you can start to quickly tire of turmeric everything.

Tea (or Coffee)

I first came across this while watching Grow Your Own Drugs with James Wong (I love him so!). He has an amazing recipe for a Turmeric Teh Halia which inspired me to give it a go. It is a bit time consuming as a recipe, there is a listed quick-fix version but it still involves a pre-mix and heating milk. So being the on-the-go sort of lady I came up with my own “quick” recipes. If you can find it, it is best to use loose black tea, but most supermarkets these days only sell them in sachets. I like to use one sachet of a good Earl Grey, or if you are a die hard coffee drinker and can’t start your day without it, you can use coffee too! You just brew a cup of tea or coffee as you normally would, then you can add:

  • 1 tsp ground dried Ginger
  • 1 tsp ground dried Turmeric
  • 1 pinch Black Pepper
  • Honey (or other sweetener) to taste
  • Milk (or your preferred Milk substitute)
Everything you need! Normally I use "So Delicious" Coconut Milk but my store was out :(

Everything you need! Normally I use “So Delicious” Coconut Milk but my store was out 😦

You can start with a half tsp and work up to a full one if you find the turmeric too over powering. If you want to make the premix without the tea portion, just follow the linked quick-fix recipe but leave the tea out and add about 2 tsps to the cup. Up to 3 tsps can be added but more could be overkill). It is great in tea, but I really love it in a good cup of coffee in the morning.

Best way to start your day, Turmeric Coffee!

Best way to start your day, Turmeric Coffee!

I am extremely lactose intolerant and have used a few different substitutes and I find that coconut milk adds a nice flavor and most of the time sweet enough to where I don’t need to add any honey. Also, I usually have trouble with low blood sugar in the morning and generally find myself without an appetite for breakfast, but turmeric can be slight appetite stimulant and has helped me become better about eating in the morning. Overall as long as I work turmeric into my diet my inflammation is less, and I have found that if I miss a day or even a few days that the inflammation and pain levels slowly start to increase.

Capsules

When I don’t have time to make a cup of coffee before I dash somewhere or dive into work, turmeric capsules are a fantastic backup. These are almost laughably easy to make, so much so I really do wonder why most people do not do this for themselves. There is a great tutorial on how to fill them by Mountain Rose Herbs (whom I highly recommend if you do not have a local herb store, or they don’t carry what you are looking for).

I generally use size “0” capsules at home and for myself I have been taking about a gram of turmeric a day. If you want to make larger capsules or smaller (I definitely recommend smaller if you have a difficult time swallowing pills) you can, I generally make mine about as close to half a gram each so two capsules are about a gram. For more information on capsule sizing, and general capsule information) try here.

Now, I will say this for the first time and definitely not the last (you may actually get sick of me saying it) each person is different, you should start with small doses and work your way up. Always, always, always, educate yourself and make sure that you are not taking medications that will interact negatively with the turmeric. I generally trust WebMD, and will review interactions and side effects they list on their site for whatever I am looking into taking.

If you are ever unsure about anything, consult a professional! You will be glad you did!