Four Steps To Manage Chronic Pain
Last week we looked at mini-dosing through your wellness journey, and today I want to share some thoughts for those who are in chronic pain, as well as those who are helping them through it. If you are a cheerleader for those who are on a chronic pain journey, we have some tips and tricks for you as well; you are not left out, forgotten or unheard - we’ve got you too!
Take time to reflect.
Back in the day, when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I went to Westminster uni for a couple of semesters to see if a BSc in Complementary Health Care would work for me. I learned two things during that time; I would rather bunk class and go to the British Museum to hang out with Greek statues than go to lectures in herbalism, and I also picked up the habit of self-reflection when the Gibbs Cycle was shoved under my nose.
The Gibbs cycle is ok, but for over the past few years, I have actually been more drawn to Integrative Reflective Practice, which I came across thanks to the work of Katrina Bannigan and Alis Moores.
But both models (the latter is, after all, based on the former) ask for us to take a breath, sit down and reflect on where we are at this time based on the decisions and experiences we have made and been through. In my work at the studio, this grounding is a weekly practice on a Monday evening, when I take stock of what happened the week before and get ready for the week ahead. I have to admit where I screwed up, missed a beat and need to learn. But I also take a deep breath and say, “Well done, Babe, you did some flipping amazing things last week!”.
How does this help with chronic pain? It helps as a practice in narrative analysis, and no, that isn’t an oxymoron. In qualitative research, we see narrative analysis as a way of finding themes within a lived experience.
For example, let’s take headaches. No one comes to see me at Cornerstone Therapies to deliver an anatomical lecture about the pain they are experiencing in their heads. Instead, I usually hear scrambled timelines consisting of confuddled analogies, dreams, feelings and thoughts. “It’s like the side of my brain has a constant waterfall of ice going down into my ear.” “I have gaffer tape ripping so badly when I look down at my phone that I feel like my skull is about to drop off.” “I have this hand that comes up the back of my head, lodges in the side of my face and then grips me and won’t let go”. These are three experiences I heard just last week to describe headaches brought about by grumpy trapezius muscles. Three clients all experiencing pain in the same place in three different ways; this is narrative analysis.
The reflective practice that can help you at home is through encouraging note-taking. Become your inner Sherlock Holms by discovering and becoming an expert at finding the themes of your own pain patterns; how do they make you feel, think, move, sleep, interact with people?
You’ll also see patterns where times are better than others, and it can clear away a lot of the pain fog that people can go through. You know the moment when EVERYTHING is the juicy bottom end of the trash can, and nothing is ever right? Well, reflective practice allows you to look back and see that actually, last Tuesday was ok; you just had a mild headache in the morning that was gone by lunchtime when you had a chat with a mate.
As a cheerleader, these reflective times can be a godsend. You can get it out on paper, see where you have been, where you are now and look towards a constructive future. The feeling of being stuck in the moment is lessened, and you can also start the themes of your journey and how you can help support yourself, not just others. Do you need to reach out and ask for help and support at times? It’s not just a one show rodeo! Feelings can run rampant when you are in an acute stage of support, but looking back, you can see what happened, how you felt and what you changed when things were a bit calmer. Reflection time is an essential part of your own mental health care and may allow the clouds to clear when all around seems like groundhog day; the conversations are looping on repeat on the only subject at the front of the person’s mind that you are encouraging. It can feel like a heavy burden, and you need a safe place to put it all down and park it for just enough time so that you can then go back and evaluate it later.
Take time to think critically.
Once you have the reflective masterpiece in front of you, you need to use it! It’s no good just sitting in a corner looking like a college art project or your GCSE English homework. Your reflective journals are tools, not passive niceties. Open them up and get good at reading and looking back at them to start to see themes.
Triggers often spark pain; migraines can get triggered by coffee or chocolate as much as laptops and phones. Arthritis is not happy with aubergines, or the cold, so you may find that your theme is not eating Moussaka on a chilly night in November. Plantar Fasciitis may not be happy with welly-boots in mud, but walking around town in a pair of converse may work for you. Once you find your themes, you can plan around them, see where you need to be proactive, and make your life a little easier. Take on the responsibility of doing it.
Take time to self-evaluate.
Self-evaluation is a doozy, as honesty is the only way to go through it, and being honest with yourself can lead to a time of not feeling that brilliant. This process is where professional talking therapies may benefit you, especially if you find your reflective themes based on long-held issues that are either unclear or based on a past that needs working through. If you are in pain, often bodyworkers like myself will ask the question, “Where is this coming from?”. Sometimes it is simple as a sprained ankle after a night out with the girls. At other times the body is screaming from the pain experienced mentally, physically or spiritually from the past.
Time spent working through your pain can lead to massive revelations. Although your pathology may not go away and will be with you for life, self-reflection, critical thinking, and self-evaluation can offer you a great action plan to find ways that enable you to manage the situation more healthily. This is great as you wade through it and for the friends and family who are rooting for you.
Physical rehab isn’t about going back to a time before you were sick or injured; it’s about allowing safe passage to the rest of your fulfilled life.
For all you encouragers out there, this time for self-evaluation is for you as well! The saddest moment for me in the treatment studio at Cornerstone Therapies is seeing the burden of care that has been poorly managed. Souls ache just as much as bodies, if not more so, and broken heartstrings are a real medical thing. There’s a reason we get through boxes of kleenex during sessions; tears flow regularly. Self-evaluation can bring up the knowledge that you are angry. “I didn’t choose this life!” is often shouted in the studio, which is married along with living grief as you see a loved one start the long haul to passing. It’s usually a confusing time as a career. Still, if you don’t make time to evaluate where you have been, where you are now, and how you can make life easier by allowing others to come in and help take that weight, your body and mind are going to start throwing pain patterns up, which causes its own cycles of issues.
Take time for self-care
Self-care, on the old inter-webs, bugs the heck out of me. Bubble baths are great, I love them and advocate for them, but they only help in the moment. Self-care is also taking the bull by the horns and doing a financial spreadsheet, budget and saving plan. Getting on top of the laundry and housework can bless your daily life and take the visual clutter and chaos out of your existence (check out the FLYLady for help with this one.) Self-care is taking a regular, weekly time off caring to go to the gym and have a workout followed by a sauna or a massage can help keep your body and mind strong and offer movement-based meditation. Always say YES to that offer of coffee and cake!
Make time to go outside and see the sun can ease pain and refresh the senses. Bird-watching, reading, walking when you can; all of this can be done in mini-doses, just like your reflection time, and when it adds up, you will be amazed at where you have come through.
We will be chatting with Steve Shorney in a few weeks here on the podcast. We will be taking time to talk around the practical aspects of how you can engage with pro-active self-care, but until now, start the reflection process so that by the time that episode drops, you’ll be ready to get started!
Rome was not built in a day, and neither will a new lifestyle that supports chronic pain and support work. However, it’s not without hope as you get to lay down your own foundations and call the shots on where the bricks are placed. Find out what works for YOU; this is personal, so make it unique to you. You’ll find your tips and tricks, and we cannot wait for you to share them with us and help our community by doing so.
You are amazing, and I want to thank you for taking the time out each week to learn how to mini-dose your way through this crazy thing called life. We are learning right along with you, and it’s a delight to be doing so.