Today a friend asked how my shoulder feels. I knew he was serious and was asking for a truthful answer. After a week of being prodded, pulled, stretched, kneaded and pushed beyond my comfort level, my answer came quickly — “Remarkably well, thanks”.
As he continued talking, my mind was racing. Did I really say that? Did it really feel that okay? Oddly, yes, it does. But I’m not sure that the pain has really lessened so much as I’ve finally discovered the tools for dealing with chronic pain.
As anyone with chronic pain knows, it can be debilitating, frustrating, irritating, and unfailingly constant. And when one’s pain is caused by several physical ailments, it is — at times — easy to just give in.
This is where it pays to be stubborn. I refuse to let pain rule my life; instead, I look at all the ways to ease it. Hence, my return to regular physical therapy, massage therapy, and mental therapy. The three combine with spiritual therapy not so much to ease the pain, but to allow one to accept the pain and move beyond that.
I’m just beginning to understand the reality of rotator cuff arthropathy and fibromyalgia. Both can be excruciating, and knowing the pain is not likely to go away, is frightening and depressing…yet I’m not willing to let that take over my future. So it’s one day at a time.
A good massage therapist and physical therapist know the right ways to stretch me, thus increasing ease of movement.
Equally important though, is meditation and mindfulness. Understanding the connection between the mind and body is essential in management of chronic pain. An excellent clinical therapist helps me focus on what I can do as opposed to “why can’t I do what I’ve always done?” That, of course, varies with each person. In my case, it’s a matter of learning not to push through everything — as has been my rule for 52 years. Knowing my own limitations and accepting that that doesn’t make me weak or a “quitter”, but instead makes me stronger.
Meditation and mindfulness (don’t think “cult” here) teach one to focus on breathing and relaxing. To better understand this, I’ve turned to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness” and a related series of guided meditations on CD.
Zabat-Kinn’s aim is to make “mindfulness and meditation understandable and commonsensical for regular people, all of us really, because all of us, having mind and bodies, suffer inevitably from one aspect or another of the human condition.”
As the author says, “More and more people are adopting this simple route toward greater sanity and well-being for themselves.”
If the picture you have now is of me sitting cross-legged and humming “OMMMMMMmmmm”, think again. Think relaxing on a couch or soft mat, stretched full length, breathing deeply and doing a slow scan of my entire body, beginning with the toes. Or sitting quietly and, tuning out the world around me, focusing on my breathing.
Yes, it might sound too simple to be true, but try it — especially if you’re suffering from any measure of stress, illness or injury.
And if you see me riding my recumbent bicycle, understand that a few months ago, this would not have been possible. In fact, there are days when it’s all I can do to get out of bed, but once I’m out…breathing deeply and stretching slowly — the pain seems more tolerable and I can look forward to a day of adventure.