Chronic Pain and Story telling

curious ladybirdImagine you are an ordinary guy or a girl and you are invited to write or to tell a story about yourself. You would probably talk about your childhood, parents, home town, job, your achievements, hobbies etc…There is so much to talk about. Ask the same thing a person who is currently in lot of pain (after surgery or after visiting a dentist) – they would probably not be able to talk about anything else but pain. Ask the very same question a person that suffers from chronic pain and they would probably talk about unfortunate events, useless treatments, annoying doctors, failing healthcare system, tough life in general and no light at the end of the tunnel.

We have all experienced periods when we were in pain. They came and got away. We have learned pretty soon that experiencing pain is something temporary. Pain is very useful for humans – it has a protective role – it prevents us from burning, freezing, doing dangerous moves etc. But what if it stays for us for much longer period than we expected – let’s say for months or years? For the record pain is considered to be chronic if it lasts more than three months.

I can tell you from my own experience and also from what I observed in other people suffering from chronic pain that these things will happen right after receiving official diagnosis:

  • Shock and dismay period (what the hell is happening)
  • Googling period
  • Getting totally worried about the Google results
  • Trying treatments period (traditional solutions -medication, surgery)
  • Refusal period (I will not take those drugs, I do not want that surgery)
  • Blaming period (finding someone to blame for whatever reason – doctor for being neglectful, partner for not being empathic enough, kids for being too demanding)

At this point you will be already very exhausted and absorbed by the illness, diagnosis and pain of course.

If you are a chronic pain patient you probably ask yourself: What could I personally do in order to feel better? To get out of this dark place. So here is my advice:

  • Stop Googling
  • Do not picture and repeat out loud your diagnosis name and degree of damage (You Are Not a Diagnosis)
  • Consider combination of traditional medicine and alternative therapies (relaxation, hypnosis, acupuncture, sophrology, meditation, balneotherapy etc.)
  • find time for some physical activity (if you cannot run anymore walk, if you cannot walk crawl)
  • find time for creative activity (remember what has always brought you pleasure – is it music, painting, dancing, writing?)
  • be open about your condition but do not engage in lengthy talks about what is “wrong with you”.
  • do not think about what you cannot not do but what you can (right maybe you cannot move a lot but maybe you can listen to music, maybe you cannot bite in a whole apple but you actually still can eat and apple)

There is a very simple scientific explanation why you should do so. The pain is not only a simple sensation. It is also an emotion. The pain is not necessarily in the damaged tissue or organs but in our head. While examining magnetic resonance pictures of patients in pain we can see certain centres of brain activated. The good news is that we can influence the perception of pain but also modulate our emotions around pain such as fear. The key to this change is shift of focus from the painful part of the body which with time becomes ME to positive experiences. The aim is to boost pleasurable over painful.

You can imagine for example that you are a book writer for children and your publisher gives you this assignment. You need to write a story about a man who was relatively fine but got into trouble one day, lost his power and consequently his cheerful spirit and mourned his loss and was in pain. Since it is a story for children you need to find a silver lining for this man (and for the children). What would you write about? About him lying helpless in bed, staring at the ceiling, or him lying in bed and listening to wonderful piano concert? Would you write about him sitting in a chair behind a window, observing with sadness joggers on the street or him sitting on a bench in the garden enjoying the sun, smell of flowers and chitter-chatter of kids from neighbourhood?

I think you all know what I mean. At the end of the day – and it is applicable not only to pain issues – what matters is the story we tell ourselves about our lives. The most powerful thing I have learned about pain management (and maybe life as such) and I hope to pass it forward is that we are creating our own story. Life is tough but we can always make it easier and more beautiful than it seems by changing our habitual story telling.



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