Six years ago, I attended a 3-week intensive hospital-based pain management clinic. It changed my life! During this course, I learnt that pain is just a sensation within my body. Often the real suffering came afterwards in 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 realised that some of these thoughts and behaviours were actually contributing to my pain and my own sense of helplessness. By mindfully controlling my response to pain, I had the power to reduce the severity and frequency of flare-ups.
Here are my TOP 5 actions for taking hold of chronic pain:
Accepting 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. So 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.
Pacing. I am much more aware of my own limitations. And rather than push through them, I work within my capabilities to ensure 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 observing. Once a baseline is determined (the level of activity you can manage before pain occurs) then you can mindfully work to just before that point then rest. This way you can gradually increase the length of time for each activity without causing additional pain.
Mindset. Remember I referred to the additional suffering? For me, most of this came from my thoughts and reactions to pain. So essential, 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”. These thoughts are hard to control. However, 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?”. Another big mindset shift for me has come in realising there are so many little things in life to be grateful for. Rather than focus on how pain has reduced my capacity (regretting the loss of the “old” me), I revel in the happy, fulfilled life I have, on the things I can do!
Movement. I can control how much I move. This seemed such a ridiculous thing to discover. But my previous exercise regime 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!
Healthy Eating. This has been a relatively recent thing for me. I have been exploring my relationship with a number of major food groups such as processed foods, refined sugar, wheat and grains, dairy and other inflammatory foods. What I eat is another area 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 learnt when I did my pain management course and this is the reason that I now so actively and passionate advocate for self managing chronic pain. Understanding and implementing these tips has allowed me to also live without medication for the past 6 years! There is such strength and power in taking things within your control and making the changes you can to optimise health. Take back some power and do not rely on anyone else. If you are looking for that one person who will change your life, look in the mirror!
Article courtesy of Mandy Mercuri
For more information about her story and helpful pain management tips, please visit her website at www.takeholdofpain.com