“There is nothing wrong with you, do not forget that.”
Once and a while I will receive an email from a person who wants to know exactly how I manage chronic pain and the tools I use in order to not allow pain to get in the way of my life. For some of you, I may sound repetitive but it is a good reminder to all of us. With that said, it took me at least a year to see a huge difference in the way pain impacted my life. I went from wanting to end my life to making my dreams come true despite chronic pain. Pain is always there, I just do not notice it much anymore. Here is my personal daily routine. I used to write down everything I needed to do each day for my chronic pain management so that I would not forget one thing and there is something about checking something off a list that makes one feel accomplished. There are some things I still write down each day but it has been ten years of practicing the same routine that now it is just my daily life.
I wake up around five or six in the morning, which is not for everyone: I know that. I have always been a morning person and I realize that not everyone wants to wake up before the sun rises. I usually awake anxious and if I lay in bed my thoughts take over me and suddenly I feel frozen in bed and begin to think about life stressors which leads me to think about pain. Therefore, as soon as I awake I get out of bed and do my morning stretches. I stretch my neck, shoulders, triceps, wrists, back, legs, and feet. Stretching is so important for everyone but especially those with chronic pain. I then exercise. I never exercised a day in my life before I entered the Pain Rehab Center ten plus years ago. I hated exercise but always liked the idea of it. I thought that exercise would only make my pain worse so I never dared went near it. Turns out, exercise helps my pain levels and my anxiety. Exercise is now my favorite aspect of my personal management of chronic pain. When I first started exercising, I started very slow. I went to the public library and rented DVD’s such as Richard Simmons Sweat to the Eighties. I now love running, interval training, and yoga. I listen to my body and if my body is sore I do a session of yoga. My four year old now has her own yoga mat and loves exercising with me if she is awake. It took me years and years to fall in love with exercise but now I do not want to go a day without it. People will say to me: “Why do you exercise, you look great.” I do not go into my life but I do not exercise to look good, I exercise to manage pain and feel good. After I exercise the sun is usually up and I stretch again. I then take my shower and by the time I am dressed, my four year old is definitely awake. My management of chronic pain has changed since I became a mother because I have to focus on her schedule as well as mine.
Eating healthy is very important in my management of pain. I try and eat as healthy as possible. I bought myself a juicer and a nutri bullet and make myself a juice each morning. I definitely like drinking oranges, spinach, apples and ginger more than the old vodka tonics I used to drown my pain with. I do not eat fast food and try and stay away from processed food but I still have ice cream and my favorite thing ever: cheese steaks on special occasions. I live ten minutes from Philadelphia, I cannot give up the special cheese steak. The crock pot has become one of my best friends and I try and make healthy meals in the morning because I am tired by the end of the day and know I will not want to cook.
I also love meditation, which I never thought I would say. I resisted meditation for years even after I left the Mayo Clinic. I tried to meditate but all I would think about was pain. I had to think outside the box so I went to Barnes and Noble and Amazon and bought meditation CD’s. I bought CD’s that walked me through guided imagery. I needed to listen to someone tell me what to do, not just sit in silence and be with my own thoughts. Some CD’s walked me through a meditation that brought me to the moon or the beach and eventually (took a lot of practice) I learned to truly enjoy meditating and did not look for results. If you are looking for results aka relief of pain from anything you do including meditation you will sadly fail. Many people practice meditation/yoga and have never experienced any sort of chronic pain. I go into meditation/exercise/eating well with the thoughts that all are good for me instead of thinking : “hmmmm this better help my chronic pain.”
Sleep is obviously essential. However, sleep is hard to come by when you have chronic pain. One cannot fall asleep because he or she is thinking about pain and then the lack of sleep causes their pain levels to rise the following day. It is a double edge sword. First off, do not have a clock near your bed or even in eye sight of your sleeping quarters. I do not know about you but when I am unable to sleep, I continue to look at the clock and count down the number of hours I am losing as the time slips by. I do not think it is a good idea to do anything extremely active before sleep. Reading helps me a ton and calms my worries. I am blessed to enjoy reading. However, there is something called yoga nidra that is the meditative heart of yoga and can help save you from your sleep problems. I have had so many readers tell me that yoga nidra saved their lives. Google yoga nidra and you will see that it is not yoga at all. You lie down, put a CD in your CD player or listen to an I Tunes yoga nidra soundtrack and drift off to wherever the nidra takes you. It takes a couple of times to work but once it does, you will be addicted to something ridiculously healthy. Twenty minutes of yoga nidra is about the equivalent to four or five hours of actual sleep. You will open your eyes and feel drugged in a way the first time it works for you and then ten minutes later you will feel very awake and alive.
I do not talk about pain and every time I begin to think about pain I distract myself with something even if that is an episode of the Bachelor. I cannot express the beauty of distractions!!!!! You must distract yourself with something that you enjoy over and over again. You will soon train your brain to not think about pain. Please have a talk with the people you love and explain that you no longer want to talk about pain because you are working on not thinking about your ailment. However, explain that the pain is still there and when you are in extreme pain (a word I urge you not to use when it comes to your chronic pain) tell your loved ones you are having a difficult day. Explain in advance what a difficult day is so they know what the hell you are talking about.
All of this takes time!!! You must be ready and even if you just start incorporating one or two of my strategies into your daily life, I truly think you will see a difference. I have been practicing these tools for years and it took a long time to see results (w/out) looking for them but I am a person who had brain surgery, came close to ending my life because I hated my life with chronic pain to a happy, healthy thirty four year old woman who still has chronic pain but does not allow it to interfere with her happiness.