“I wish I could tell you that it gets better. But it doesn’t get better, YOU get better.”
Every few weeks or so I will receive an email or a comment/question on how I manage chronic pain and what my daily routine entails. I could easily just copy and paste a previous article I have written on my daily routine but writing it on a different day, in a different mood seems to un-lock things in my mind that I forgot to tell all of you or have not explained well. I apologize for being repetitive for those of you who have read my multiple posts focused on my daily regiment for managing chronic pain but if it is helpful for me to re-write my techniques, I would hope it would be helpful for all of my readers as well.
I am a thirty-four year old mother who has had chronic pain for about twenty years. Ten of those years I spent searching for a cure, taking medications, and spending every last dime my family had to cure my invisible illness. The ten years after I accepted chronic pain and learned how to manage it without medication or a cure have been the healthiest, happiest years throughout my journey with chronic pain. As Joan Rivers says: “I wish I could tell you that it gets better. But it doesn’t get better, you get better.” I find that quote very on point with my personal journey in the world of chronic pain.
So, here we go with how I found to way to get better without finding a cure to chronic pain. Keep in mind, I have a toddler who is the light of my life and many other responsibilities that can change my daily routine in a second. However, I truly try and usually succeed to keeping my routine the same each day.
STRETCHING: I try to wake up before my daughter awakes so I am able to start the day off with stretching my body: neck rolls, shoulder rolls, relaxing my body from my head to my toes:literally. With chronic pain, I have faced severe anxiety. There are some mornings that I truly have to pull the bandaid off and force myself out of bed and into the room I exercise in. I take the Nike approach and JUST DO IT. I spent so many years not getting out of bed because of pain and just laid there crying but pain is no longer my first or even second thought in the morning. However, I sometimes feel such anxiety that I just have to get out of bed and jump into life.
EXERCISE: I know what you are all thinking because I used to think the same way: how can I exercise when I am in this amount of pain? Exercise will only make my pain worse. Our minds can be total assholes (excuse my language) but they truly mess up our lives. My dad always says: “Don’t believe everything you think.” I like that. Exercise is one of my favorite tools in my management of chronic pain. I NEVER exercised in my life until I accepted chronic pain and learned how to manage it naturally. Everything takes time and with anything new, especially dealing with you body you start off slow. I started off with DVD’s from the library starring the infamous Richard Simmons. Then I realized there were tons and tons of different exercise DVDs out there and after a few weeks I began to truly enjoy exercise. I now make sure to exercise every day whether or not my crazy toddler is awake. Some days she exercises with me. I listen to my body. There are days I just do a light yoga session and then there are days I do a sixty minute kickboxing routine I find on the television or in my library of work out videos. Incorporating music into exercise is a must. Everyone likes music: and the combination of music and exercise is very helpful in managing both chronic pain and anxiety. Your body needs to move, it wants to move: it is your mind that is holding you back. What do you have to lose? Maybe a few pounds if you feel the need but that is not why I exercise.
MODERATION: I take breaks throughout my day as much as I can. When I worked in the office setting as a social worker I tried to not spend a long period of time on my computer: working with patients with ailments of all kinds did not allow me to sit much anyways but I always made sure to stretch and was cognizant (as much as possible) as to how I was sitting and breathing. During my one break pre-lunch I would do a short meditation with some of my patients, which I was fortunate enough to do. I now try as hard as possible to practice some form of meditation despite being a full time parent. I know I cannot do it all in one day. I make a list every night before I go to bed of what I need to do the next day and yes many times I will write exercise and meditation. I try to space out my days/weeks so that I am able to take the breaks my body desperately needs. Lists are very rewarding. There is something about checking off a box or drawing a line across something you accomplished.
MEDITATION: The word meditation scared me more than the word exercise when I first began managing pain naturally. I refused to do it for a long time. Each time I attempted to do a meditation, my mind went directly to where my pain was and I felt that “meditating” made it worse. I was trying to not think of pain and distract myself but sitting still for ten minutes seemed to bring my attention more to pain than anything else. I finally gave in and realized that I am the type of person who needs to go through a guided meditation. Again, there are more CD’s on Amazon.com than you could ever imagine on every kind of meditation. I know you can find five, ten or maybe even twenty minutes in your day to put in a CD or download something to your IPOD that allows you to just relax. My favorite meditations are guided meditations that take me to the moon or the beach or on a walk through the woods. I need to be listening to someone speak as I relax/meditate or my mind will wander. With meditation comes breathing. Stop for one second and notice how you are breathing. Look down: are you breathing with your chest or your belly. It is okay, most of us adults breath with our chests. However, we were born to breath with our bellies. Have you ever noticed how a baby or young person breathes? Their stomachs go in and out in a peaceful motion. As we get older, the way we breath changes which is more toxic to our bodies than we realize. Stress, anxiety, and being busy non stop has literally caused an entire nation to breathe the wrong way. We receive about eighty percent more Oxygen when we breathe with our bellies. I still forget to focus on my breathing except when I am doing a meditation. Do not start stressing (as I tend to do) about how you are breathing: totally defeats the purpose. If you decide you want to try to do a meditation focus on your breathing and use your belly to breathe instead of your chest.
DISTRACTIONS: We must train our brains to not think about pain. I spent a decade thinking about one thing twenty four hours a day, seven days a week: PAIN. It took a LONG time to re-program my mind to think about other things. Once I accepted I had chronic pain and learned how to live with it I began distracting myself with things I enjoyed so that I would not think about pain. This took a good year or so truly see the effects of distracting my brain each time it fought hard to think about pain. I always had a book with me and found hobbies I did not ever think I would enjoy and without having any expectations, suddenly I noticed I was not thinking as much about pain as I was about every day things. Many things in which people without chronic pain take for granted. I will never forget walking around the lake with my dad on one of my breaks from college and realizing thirty minutes into the walk that I had not thought about pain. I was so happy. Again it is a journey and there were many times I got myself very upset because I could not find a way to not think about pain. This is natural, normal and at some point it is okay if you give into your pain. You are literally changing your brain patterns: this is not an easy task. Once again, our minds are stubborn as anything and want to fight your heart and soul with everything it has. Be persistent and consistent.
SLEEP: Are you tired? Um…is there sugar in syrup? Then YES. If you have ever seen the movie Elf with Will Farrell that quote should make you smile, a little at least. Of course you are tired, you are fighting a battle with pain non-stop. You have side affects from medications you may be on, you have insomnia because at night your pain seems to be at it’s worse and every few minutes you look at your clock to see just how many hours you still have to maybe get some sleep. HELL. First of all, I get it. I still have trouble sleeping at times, mostly because I worry too much but some nights it is because of pain. I want you to take any clocks you have in your bedroom down. If you need an alarm clock or use your phone as your alarm put it under your bed so you stop torturing yourself looking at the clock as it ticks on and on and your anxiety of getting no sleep goes up and up. There is a huge correlation between sleep and pain. There is this magic little thing I know about that can honestly change your exhaustion: do you trust me? No, it’s not a pill: sorry, I wish there was a cure to chronic pain and insomnia trust me! So what is this magical thing I found to help me get some rest: YOGA NIDRA. Don’t be fooled, just because the word yoga is in the title does not mean you will be standing up or doing poses such as downward facing dog. Yoga nidra is the meditative heart of yoga. It is a meditation that puts you in a sleep like trance. I would not believe this works if I was reading this ten years ago either, bear with me. Thirty minutes of yoga nidra is the equivalent to about five hours of real sleep. All you have to do is go on youtube.com or buy a CD on amazon.com with those two words in the title: yoga nidra and give it a try. You lay down however you want to. I like to sleep in the fetal position so that is how I practice yoga nidra but the point is to make yourself as comfortable as possible. You press play, shut your eyes and see what happens. It took me about three times of trying yoga nidra before it ‘worked.’ I wish I had known about yoga nidra years ago. On the nights I have a difficult time sleeping and do not get much rest I try very hard to practice yoga nidra the next day. Following the session I feel like I have slept for hours and only thirty minutes have gone by.
I do not want to overwhelm any new readers to how I manage pain without a cure or medications so I will stop here for today. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment here.