As I try to get braver about sharing this blog with the people in my everyday life (it’s been relatively secret up until now), I want to be sure I’m clear about the fact that there are absolutely still days when I’m in pain.
The purpose of my blog is not to tell you I’ve got it all figured out, or that there’s a truly easy solution. I know that pain, on some level, is always going to be a part of my life.
The reason I write is to share with you what I’ve learned– and what I’m still learning.
One of the most important lessons for me has been that pain isn’t a sign that you’re crazy. It’s actually your body’s way of trying to protect you. Unfortunately it’s not a perfect system, and when pain gets out of control, its effects can be devastating– whether you’re experiencing pain from central sensitization or another cause, such as an illness, injury, or disease.
This is why I am such a vocal advocate for pain neurophysiology education (PNE). This type of chronic pain treatment taught me to see my pain not as an enemy, but as one of my body’s protective mechanisms. It was almost like an overprotective friend.
This shift in perspective made all the difference for me in going forward– I learned that, just as my pain has an “up” dial, it also has a “down” dial that I had some control over.
However, I have other things in my pain toolkit, as well.
One of the things I really swear by (which I’m sure most of you know by now!) is aquatic exercise. Being in the water lets me get my heart rate up like nothing else, without having to worry about the risk of injury.
I have certain stretches that make up part of my daily routine.
I’ve learned to trust my love of music, finding that taking the time to listen to music I love actually helps drive away my pain.
I’ve learned that if I stay hydrated, that makes a big difference in my pain, as well.
I’ve learned that actually, many of the joints in my body are hypermobile, not just my sacroiliac joints. And this is another reason why so many parts of my body hurt. So I have to be careful with my joints– my knees, my elbows, fingers, and wrists, in particular. I have to keep my muscles strong and pay attention to the way I do things as I go about my day.
I’ve learned to tell when certain muscles in my body are becoming tight, and whether it’s an issue I can probably fix with stretching, or if I need to go back to my one and only trusted massage therapist.
It took me a long time to find someone who was able to use the techniques that were right for my body, and didn’t put too much stress on my hypermobile joints. Now that I’ve found her, I appreciate her so much (thank you Lynn!).
And I have, at times, taken pain medication (Tylenol and Advil never could cut it for me). I have written briefly about the time I took tramadol for back pain. Contrary to so many of the articles you’ll read, it a) genuinely helped me, and b) I stopped it when I needed to. I did not become addicted.
So my blog is about learning all that you can do to control your pain. It’s also about learning to live with the knowledge that, despite your best efforts, you won’t always be able to control it.
You must develop your personal chronic pain “tool kit,” but you should also be prepared for the possibility that the pain may return, at times. Because it can. Despite what you know, when it comes back, it can wash over you like a wave, making it hard to remember what’s even in your toolkit.
But at those times, if you’ve already assembled your toolkit, if you’ve already taken the time to figure out what goes in it, you can remember it again; you can come back. You won’t be lost; you won’t slide back to zero. You’ve dealt with this once, and you can deal with it again.
I read the most amazing article recently by author and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown. It’s about staying true to yourself and charting your own way as an individual.
My favorite sentence, however, just happens to perfectly sums up what I’m trying to say about my experience with chronic pain:
“I’m an experienced mapmaker, but I can be as much of a lost and stumbling traveler as anyone else.”
So the reason I write here is to share my map with you. I think that, at this point, I’m a pretty experienced mapmaker as well. But it doesn’t mean I never get lost.
But I have my pain toolkit. I’ve assembled it and I know it will always be there. Sometimes, when I’m doing well, I begin to forget the memory of the pain. But, if and when it returns, I know I can always circle back to the things I learned.
So I’m not trying to tell you that my life is perfect now– far from it.
I just think some of the things I’ve learned might help you, too.