Persistent Pain: A Patient’s Perspective
This series of blogs are offered up by a patient of mine. Ellen found herself struggling with significant dystonia and disability with regards to walking and generalized activities of daily living. Although the majority of my practice centers around pelvic health and persistent pain specifically, Ellen’s journey inspired me to apply all that I know about pain to a different output of the brain, muscle spasms.
Ellen shares her journey in the first person, with a realistic look at her struggles and triumphs. I hope that her journey motivates you, if you are someone with your own physical struggles. I hope that her journey also motivates therapists and clinicians to take a whole-person perspective for every single output of the brain…. Pain, muscle spasm, muscle tightness, urgency, frequency, fatigue, etc. The brain is an amazing organ, and the brain is driven to establish homeostasis; that is ultimately the purpose of these output responses.. The question is, “what is out of balance in your life, and how can you change that?”
Carolyn Vandyken, PT
Pelvic Health Solutions
Finding Hope: Self-care and Self-Kindness
One hindrance to recovery is the negative self-talk that we all have. I think that sometimes we are much harder on ourselves than others are to us, at least I know that I am. I blame myself for not being stronger, more disciplined, more proactive, making what may be wrong choices in which modes of healthcare I should use – medication, alternative care, which alternative care, etc. Sometimes that self-talk is brutal. Sometimes the blaming also comes from health care providers and friends.
For example, one acupuncturist asked me if I believed that acupuncture could heal me. I said that I didn’t know but was willing to give it a try. She was clearly annoyed by my answer and told me a story of a man who was completely immobilized by a stroke but had a full recovery after believing in, and fully embracing acupuncture. She told me that if I didn’t have faith in the procedure, it wouldn’t work. She was a wonderful woman, skilled and well trained. She just didn’t accept my skepticism and blamed me for not fully recovering. A friend did the same thing. She told me if I only had enough faith in full recovery that I would recover, if not, I would not recover. This fed my already active self-blaming of not being disciplined enough, not trying hard enough, not choosing the right treatment soon enough, etc.
Carolyn never blamed me for my lack of recovery. As I have said in the past, I have had amazing results that have given me back so much of my mobility and health. However, I still have not fully regained my health and well being. I have mobility issues and still have spasms but I have fewer spasms and a lot more mobility than in the past. I am working diligently with my program which includes relaxation meditations, Qi Gong, aerobic exercise, mental imagining for mobility and also meditations around self-compassion and kindness.
These self-compassion meditations were part of my physiotherapy exercises that Carolyn gave me from the beginning. There were meditations that included a series of statements of affirmations, meditations that encouraged me to accept the ‘pain’ of my condition and be kind and open to incorporating it into my life. Other meditations encouraged seeing that friends and other people all over the world often experience similar struggles which helped to fuel the connection with others. Struggle and pain are part of our common humanity. Accepting it for this moment, and being kind to ourselves reduces the suffering that goes along with the pain and struggle. The meditations encourage sending out messages of kindness and acceptance to them as well as offering that to myself. As we accept what this moment brings to us and others, we can also actively engage in creating better moments for ourselves by eating well, exercising, evoking the relaxation response (meditation, yoga, qi gong, tai chi and prayer), believing that we can be well and strengthening our social connections.
More recently, Carolyn introduced me to a website that has a wonderful series of meditations and exercises that encourage self-care and self-kindness. These meditations are free and available at the website listed below. They range in length from 5 minutes to about a half an hour.
In the 5 minute meditation, Dr. Kristin Neff talks about the three components of self-compassion. The longer meditations deal with different aspects of suffering and give choices as to what would be most beneficial for you in that moment. I have used these meditations often and find them so helpful. I have learned to accept my condition in this moment, while still looking for the potential of full recovery. These meditations also help to stop those self-condemning voices that plague me and cause me to blame myself for not doing better in my recovery. Blaming does not encourage recovery; in fact, it hinders recovery. Even if you don’t suffer from this practice of self-blaming, these meditations are wonderful in helping to heal many chronic conditions.
Stop the inner critic, and be kind to yourself. You deserve it and your body and brain will thank you for it.