Memory of Pain

“Ageing is at its core nothing else than not being afraid of one´s own past.” Stefan Zweig

Featured Image -- 315As we get older we tend to look back with nostalgia remembering how well we looked, felt and what we were capable of. At certain age, possibly, we face some limitations. They might be imposed either by life or ourselves or by a heavy baggage of unresolved issues we carry on our shoulders. Acceptance of status quo is a good start, however for moving forward some action is necessary. Making peace with unchangeable (past events, injuries, losses) and taking responsibility for our own healing are crucial steps to be taken on journey towards more serene life.

A simple injury of a body tissue of a generally healthy person heals quite quickly. The accompanying pain goes away and we forget about the accident pretty soon. With a chronic pain it is a different story. Not only because it implies that a tissue or a particular part of human body has been damaged permanently. It also means that the sensation of pain has been present for a period long enough to be “remembered”. The pain sensation is sort of latent or dormant. Depending on the particular condition it can be awaken either by weather change, certain type of movements, emotional state, stress or anxiety. Sometimes one leads to another. For example you might feel moderate pain due to bad weather in the morning. Later that day you can have unpleasant talk with your colleague  and the pain increases on intensity. You start to panic that from this point you will be in such a bad pain for weeks or months. Your thoughts turn towards prospect of terrible future. The best recipe to go through the hell of a pain.

According to Gate control theory (Ronald Melzack and Patrick David Wall) non-painful input closes the “gates” to painful input, which prevents pain sensation from traveling to the central nervous system. Therefore, stimulation by non-noxious input (touch, temperature, pressure) is able to suppress pain (in Wikipedia). The theory also proposes that the pain signal transmission can be influenced by emotions and thoughts. That is why treatment of chronic pain is complex and unfortunately not all practitioners suggest additional sources for alleviation of pain. A lot of them such as mindfulness, psychotherapy, sophrology, hypnosis, neurofeedback are not only effective but also without any side effects. In fact the goal of the treatment is not to repair the injury, to heal the damaged tissue as in most cases it is irreversible. The aim is to change the memory of what happened or is happening and to modify the remembered unpleasant sensation the pain is.

Emotional pain is a result of a psychological injury from our childhood or more recent past. It can be triggered in certain situations, by particular persons, by certain behaviour, by particular words or comments etc. Emotional pain is felt in the same areas of brain as physiological pain. It is real, it hurts. Symptoms often include back pain, stomach ache, heart ache or palpitations and panic attacks. I have always believed that we cannot repeat the past. That it is impossible because naturally we learn from our previous errors. It took me long to realize that though we do learn quite quickly from some mistakes, we still unconsciously repeat that part of our past we have not yet made peace with. It can be linked to one specific painful event or more events or experiences.  Emotional pain similarly to chronic pain is a memory thing. Therefore in most cases the treatment with antidepressants and/or anxiolytics is not enough. As with chronic pain it is a complex issue. The injury is there, it was done and cannot be undone (maybe not even forgiven.) The important thing is not to get stuck in our own story, in our own interpretation of unlucky fate or circumstances. Sometimes the willingness to change our narrative fails and we need a professional help. For instance psychotherapy cannot change what happened in our past but it can change significantly how we look at it. It can help us to review and reshape certain situations or actions of people and let go of the toxicity of their acts or behaviours.

We know that future will be different from the present. If we manage to reshape our past we gain the power to shape our future. It will no longer be the result of mere coincidences and haphazard encounters. It will be our own creation based on choices we make without fear of failure, abandonment, of not being enough, of not being loved etc. We will start building on respect of ourselves and people around us. We shall continue with forgiveness towards ourselves and our loved ones. There would be no place for sorrow of what could have been IF. Nor for the guilt or shame of what could have been done differently. We would forget about the false promises from self-help books that we would be fine and happy. On the contrary we will have no doubts that we will get better. We will probably stumble and fall. We will face set backs and disappointment. Though, in between, life will offer us a lot of precious moments spent on our own or with friends, a partner, kids or strangers that nobody can take from us. For the faith that these moments will occur more often or that they will be experienced more intensely our life is worth living.

Treatment of whatever pain is cumbersome, tedious, not fun and takes a lot of energy. It is everything but not a straightforward and short process. The good news is that any type of treatment we choose equips us with tools that empower us. Once equipped with confidence in life and ourselves we can enjoy fully the present moment and not fear the past nor the future.

“We can do always more than we believe we can.” Joseph Kessel


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