Guest Post by Mandy Mercuri from Take Hold of Pain
Six years ago I attended a 3 week intensive hospital-based pain management clinic. It changed my life! During this course, I learned that pain is just a sensation within my body. Oftentimes the real suffering came from the way I reacted to my pain. Therefore, I had a fair degree of control over my pain. This was a real revelation for me.
For the past 20 years, I believed that my pain controlled me. I would push through, ignore my pain warning signs, over do it and suffer as a result. I didn’t want to be ruled by my pain. I wanted to be normal and do the things everyone else was doing. So I would just fight against my limitations. I never realized that some of these thoughts and behaviors were actually contributing to my pain and my sense of helplessness. By mindfully controlling my reactions to pain, I had the power to reduce the severity and frequency of flare ups…So I bet you want to know more right?
1 . Acceptance. I learned to accept pain. Chronic pain is a part of who I am. Since accepting pain, I have become attuned to what my body is telling me and I act accordingly. Without the resistance towards my pain (something that is beyond my control) I have the energy to focus on my response to the pain and on improving my general wellness (something that is within my control).
I want to point out that I don’t think it is weak to accept pain. People who know me would confirm that I am hardly the type to lie down and just give in. I am actually taking the responsibility for my own actions and self managing my condition. That takes extreme strength and self-discipline. I have been told by many health professionals that there is nothing that can be done.
This is something that will be with me for life and I have let go of the relentless (and exhausting) pursuit for a miracle cure. Such things rarely exist and will not happen overnight. That being the case, I might as well manage it in the best possible way, right? So accepting pain is not weak, it is the strong and responsible choice to a lifelong problem.
2 . Pacing. I am much more aware of my own limitations. And rather than push through them, I work within my capabilities to make sure I do not over do it and cause a pain flare. This involves the key concept of pacing. Put simply, pacing is controlled activity with breaks. How do you know when to take a break? BEFORE pain occurs. This requires some investigation and observation. Once a baseline is determined (the level of activity you can manage before pain occurs) then you can mindfully work until just before that point then rest. This way you can gradually increase the length of time for each activity without causing additional pain.
There are great resources available on pacing such as You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore Well-Being—An Eight-Week Program and Manage Your Pain: Practical and Positive Ways of Adapting to Chronic Pain.
3 . Mindset. Remember I referred to the additional suffering? For me, most of this came from my thoughts and reactions to pain. So essentially I made it worse than it needed to be. I would engage in unhelpful thoughts such as “I hate this pain!” “Nothing is working”, “I am such a hopeless person” etc. I am sure you have your own common automatic thoughts that surface when pain gets extreme. Trust me, I do know that these thoughts are hard to control.
With practice and mindfulness I am now able to replace these with more helpful thoughts that reduce the suffering association with pain. “You can do this, you have done it before” “Pain is just a sensation of the body” “Breathe!” You can control your thoughts and so I challenge you, when pain is bothering you and distressing emotions appear, ask yourself “Is this way of thinking helpful?”
4 . Movement. I can control how much I move. This seemed such a ridiculous thing to discover. But my previous exercise regimen was haphazard at best. I was afraid movement would cause pain. But I was never really shown and taught safe and effective ways to move.
At the pain clinic, we started small. We used the concept of pacing outlined above to work on some simple strength techniques and walking. My starting points were very low (maybe 1-2 repetitions of some exercises) but I increased these daily and before long I was achieving good amounts of movement with ease. The key is consistency and working within your limitations. It didn’t take long before I saw the benefits!
5 . Nutrition. This has been a relatively recent thing for me…and unfortunately it is not something that was ever mentioned in my hospital based pain management course. It is rarely mentioned by doctors or in pain management books but nutrition was such a major part of my overall health and well-being. I think it’s crucial in the lifestyle approach I have followed. I have been “bio-hacking” my diet for the past 18 months. This is an excellent term coined by Cyndi O’Meara, an inspirational Australian nutritionist. It’s about figuring out what works best for you and your body in terms of the foods that are best avoided and those that do a great job towards healing and energizing! I have explored my relationship with a number of major food groups such as processed foods, refined sugar, wheat and grains, dairy and other inflammatory foods. But I have learned that what I eat is another thing I can control. My diet becomes another aspect where I can contribute to my energy and (subsequently) pain levels.
So, that’s it. These are the most important things I learned from the pain management course and this is the reason that I now so actively and passionate advocate for self managing chronic pain. There is such strength and power in taking things within your control and making the changes you can to optimize health. Take back some power and do not rely on anyone else.
I have just compiled a FREE e-book explaining some of these concepts in more depth. I welcome you to visit my new website www.takeholdofpain.com where this ebook is available for download when you opt in to my mailing list. I would love your thoughts and feedback so please feel free to drop me a line email@example.com or find me at twitter or Facebook.
About Mandy Mercuri. Mandy was born with scoliosis, an “s” shaped curvature of the spine. Corrective surgeries at the ages of 11 and 16 straightened her spine with steel rods, pins and fusion. After 20 years in the medical roundabout seeking cures and solutions and even a reason for her pain, she was near rock bottom, struggling with many of her daily activities, withdrawn from social situations, depressed and almost without hope. After attending a 3 week intensive pain management course and implementing the techniques she learned, Mandy has managed to overcome the challenges her pain presents. While not without pain, she now has an arsenal of techniques at her disposal and is closely in tune with her body to understand what activities and thoughts decrease pain messages. More recently she has introduced a healthy diet which has provided the fuel to energize her lifestyle. This total wellness approach (incorporating mindset, movement and healthy eating) allows her to live a happy healthy lifestyle despite her pain. Mandy is passionate to share her journey because it may provide others suffering with chronic pain some hope and inspiration to take action. Mandy shares her experiences and challenges to #selfmanagechronicpain at www.takeholdofpain.com and is building a supportive community on her Facebook Page Take Hold of Pain