Guarding our Learned Pain….

People often are surprised at the following:

1. I live daily with a large amount of pain that is residual from my experience of Neurological and Muso-skeletal Decompression Illness (two varieties of the bends experienced concurrently in 1993 over 5 days that caused a range of problems).  This pain will stay with me for life.

2. That along with the above, I also trek and run and walk and have a full active life with legs full of “hardware” (steel plate, staple, bolts) from my love affair with extreme sport.

They are surprised that I don’t show pain, yet pain is there every morning without fail.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel it, but I do manage it and I manage my thinking about it – without drugs.  I work at blocking pain out and as such I don’t process it like I used to.

How? I believe I can and that belief is backed up with a set of practices that work for me.  These practices are supported by both spiritual and scientific paradigms.

I meditate on letting it go and I practice a form of moving awareness mediation first taught to me in 2006 by sound and colour healer and psychologist Dian Booth (science calls what she taught me PROPRIOCEPTION follow link for a discussion).  This article sums up a set of understandings that have helped me enormously – http://www.bettermovement.org/2010/seven-things-you-should-know-about-pain-science/

Here’s the main points if you are not inclined to read the information in the link fully:

“1. Pain is a Survival Mechanism whose Purpose is to Protect the Body

Note – people born without the ability to feel pain do not live long. Pain is telling us something – listen to it!

  1. Pain is an Output of the Brain, Not an Input from the Body

How you think about it and process it drives how you experience it. A professional soccer player and a professional musician think about pain differently and thus they experience it differently.

  1. Physical Harm Does not Equal Pain. And Vice Versa.

If you are in pain, you are not necessarily hurt. And if you are hurt, you will not necessarily feel pain.

  1. The Brain Often “Thinks” the Body is in Danger Even When It Isn’t

The most dramatic example of this is phantom limb pain, when the victim feels pain in a missing body part. Amazingly, phantom arm pain can sometimes be cured by placing the remaining hand in a mirror box in a way that tricks the brain into thinking the missing arm is alive and well! This is an extraordinary demonstration of the fact that the true target for pain relief is often the brain, not the body.

  1. Pain Breeds Pain

One unfortunate aspect of pain physiology is that the longer pain goes on, the easier it becomes to feel the pain. This is a consequence of a very basic neural process called long term potentiation, which basically means that the more times the brain uses a certain neural pathway, the easier it becomes to activate that pathway again.

  1. Pain Can Be Triggered By Factors Unrelated to Physical Harm

Let’s say that every time you go to work you engage in some stressful activity such as working on a computer or lifting boxes in a way that causes back pain. After a while your brain will start to relate the work environment to the pain, to the point where you can start feeling the pain just by showing up, or maybe even just thinking about work. It is no surprise that job dissatisfaction is a huge predictor of back pain. Further, it has also been shown that emotional states such as anger, depression, and anxiety will reduce tolerance to pain.

  1. The CNS Can Change its Sensitivity Level to Pain

For whatever reason, it appears that in many individuals with chronic pain, the volume has simply been turned up too loud and left on for too long. This is called central sensitization, and it probably plays at least some role in many chronic pain states. It is another example of how chronic pain does not necessarily imply continuing or chronic harm to the body.”

I fundamentally don’t give in to allowing this physical pain or any emotional pain rule my life.  But I’m also not in denial of it.  I show emotion, I vent, I express myself and I acknowledge the pain exists.  Stoic denial has not helped me, if I had remained in denial I would have given up 22 years ago and just stayed on my couch.  Instead I have mountain biked down death road in Bolivia and trekked the Andes and the Himalayas.  Why?  Because despite my regular venting I refuse to let illness define me.

I don’t see it as a barrier to life and I use it as a way to gauge how well I am living my life.  My pain is made worse by me not living my life to the full – what I mean is that if I use my pain as an excuse for not living my life it becomes the reason for any depression I may experience.

I don’t like giving myself excuses and I don’t like giving depression a reason to rear it’s ugly head.  I would prefer to work on the feelings, face the demons and not give it the satisfaction.

I don’t think pain is the reason many of us don’t live active lives – there are way too many examples in people of those who just get on and do active things regardless of the pain.  They also do it without complaint and are happier and more fulfilled in life.

Pain does not define me.  I have built a much higher tolerance over the years of it.  But I do experience an arthritic ache daily – the intensity of which is completely my choice.  If I give into it or if I am experiencing depression, it gets worse and I have to work harder to remove it or reduce it.  When I get up I spent the first few moments of everyday reminding myself:

1.  I’m alive.

2. I’m aware.

3. I am privileged because of the above and I am grateful.

Sometimes friends comment when I have had a whinge or two.  I don’t bother reminding them that like some bends survivors there is only one time when I am pain free – at depth in the ocean (which I am not allowed to do anymore).   When I’m at altitude the pain eases and that’s why  I love trekking to altitude.  I whinge about 10% of the actual time I am in pain – so when they whinge for having a headache I feel like saying “really, how many years have you had it?”

If people who are less inclined to my views think I am judging them for choosing to sit on the couch – so be it.  I don’t care and I would much rather be relieving the pain through living in a state of constant wonder at the world – than reliving it through drugs and alcohol.  My choice and I’m happy with that.

Still don’t believe ME that anyone can manage severe pain by changing their thinking about it?

How about Dr Norman Doidge (neuroplasticity expert)? http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/feb/08/norman-doidge-brain-healing-neuroplasticity-interview

Or Dr Michael Moskowitz?  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2907188/How-brain-heal-body-Astonishing-new-research-reveals-brain-s-ability-rewire-conquer-pain-overcome-untreatable-illnesses.html

And a truck load of other studies.  So? Make a choice, choose life – not pain!

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