Within My Control:
5 Lessons in Pain Management
Guest Post by Mandy Mercuri from Take Hold of Pain
Six years ago I attended a 3 week intensive hospital-based pain management clinic. It changed my life! During this course, I learned that pain is just a sensation within my body. Oftentimes the real suffering came from the way I reacted to my pain. Therefore, I had a fair degree of control over my pain. This was a real revelation for me.
For the past 20 years, I believed that my pain controlled me. I would push through, ignore my pain warning signs, over do it and suffer as a result. I didn’t want to be ruled by my pain. I wanted to be normal and do the things everyone else was doing. So I would just fight against my limitations. I never realized that some of these thoughts and behaviors were actually contributing to my pain and my sense of helplessness. By mindfully controlling my reactions to pain, I had the power to reduce the severity and frequency of flare ups…So I bet you want to know more right?
Here are the TOP 5 actions for pain management that I can control:
1 . Acceptance. I learned to accept pain. Chronic pain is a part of who I am. Since accepting pain, I have become attuned to what my body is telling me and I act accordingly. Without the resistance towards my pain (something that is beyond my control) I have the energy to focus on my response to the pain and on improving my general wellness (something that is within my control).
I want to point out that I don’t think it is weak to accept pain. People who know me would confirm that I am hardly the type to lie down and just give in. I am actually taking the responsibility for my own actions and self managing my condition. That takes extreme strength and self-discipline. I have been told by many health professionals that there is nothing that can be done.
This is something that will be with me for life and I have let go of the relentless (and exhausting) pursuit for a miracle cure. Such things rarely exist and will not happen overnight. That being the case, I might as well manage it in the best possible way, right? So accepting pain is not weak, it is the strong and responsible choice to a lifelong problem.Accepting pain is not weak, it is the strong and responsible choice to a lifelong problem. Click To Tweet
2 . Pacing. I am much more aware of my own limitations. And rather than push through them, I work within my capabilities to make sure I do not over do it and cause a pain flare. This involves the key concept of pacing. Put simply, pacing is controlled activity with breaks. How do you know when to take a break? BEFORE pain occurs. This requires some investigation and observation. Once a baseline is determined (the level of activity you can manage before pain occurs) then you can mindfully work until just before that point then rest. This way you can gradually increase the length of time for each activity without causing additional pain.
There are great resources available on pacing such as You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore Well-Being—An Eight-Week Program
and Manage Your Pain: Practical and Positive Ways of Adapting to Chronic Pain.
3 . Mindset. Remember I referred to the additional suffering? For me, most of this came from my thoughts and reactions to pain. So essentially I made it worse than it needed to be. I would engage in unhelpful thoughts such as “I hate this pain!” “Nothing is working”, “I am such a hopeless person” etc. I am sure you have your own common automatic thoughts that surface when pain gets extreme. Trust me, I do know that these thoughts are hard to control.
With practice and mindfulness I am now able to replace these with more helpful thoughts that reduce the suffering association with pain. “You can do this, you have done it before” “Pain is just a sensation of the body” “Breathe!” You can control your thoughts and so I challenge you, when pain is bothering you and distressing emotions appear, ask yourself “Is this way of thinking helpful?”
4 . Movement. I can control how much I move. This seemed such a ridiculous thing to discover. But my previous exercise regimen was haphazard at best. I was afraid movement would cause pain. But I was never really shown and taught safe and effective ways to move.
At the pain clinic, we started small. We used the concept of pacing outlined above to work on some simple strength techniques and walking. My starting points were very low (maybe 1-2 repetitions of some exercises) but I increased these daily and before long I was achieving good amounts of movement with ease. The key is consistency and working within your limitations. It didn’t take long before I saw the benefits!
5 . Nutrition. This has been a relatively recent thing for me…and unfortunately it is not something that was ever mentioned in my hospital-based pain management course. It is rarely mentioned by doctors or in pain management books but nutrition was such a major part of my overall health and well-being. I think it’s crucial in the lifestyle approach I have followed. I have been “bio-hacking” my diet for the past 18 months. This is an excellent term coined by Cyndi O’Meara, an inspirational Australian nutritionist. It’s about figuring out what works best for you and your body in terms of the foods that are best avoided and those that do a great job towards healing and energizing! I have explored my relationship with a number of major food groups such as processed foods, refined sugar, wheat and grains, dairy and other inflammatory foods. But I have learned that what I eat is another thing I can control. My diet becomes another aspect where I can contribute to my energy and (subsequently) pain levels.
So, that’s it. These are the most important things I learned from the pain management course and this is the reason that I now so actively and passionate advocate for self managing chronic pain. There is such strength and power in taking things within your control and making the changes you can to optimize health. Take back some power and do not rely on anyone else.If you are looking for that one person who will change your life, look in the mirror! Click To Tweet
I would love your thoughts and feedback so please feel free to drop me a line email@example.com or find me at twitter or Facebook.
About Mandy Mercuri. Mandy was born with scoliosis, an “s” shaped curvature of the spine. Corrective surgeries at the ages of 11 and 16 straightened her spine with steel rods, pins and fusion. After 20 years in the medical roundabout seeking cures and solutions and even a reason for her pain, she was near rock bottom, struggling with many of her daily activities, withdrawn from social situations, depressed and almost without hope. After attending a 3 week intensive pain management course and implementing the techniques she learned, Mandy has managed to overcome the challenges her pain presents. While not without pain, she now has an arsenal of techniques at her disposal and is closely in tune with her body to understand what activities and thoughts decrease pain messages. More recently she has introduced a healthy diet which has provided the fuel to energize her lifestyle. This total wellness approach (incorporating mindset, movement and healthy eating) allows her to live a happy healthy lifestyle despite her pain. Mandy is passionate to share her journey because it may provide others suffering with chronic pain some hope and inspiration to take action. Mandy shares her experiences and challenges to #selfmanagechronicpain at www.takeholdofpain.com and is building a supportive community on her Facebook Page Take Hold of Pain
Brenda Flippen says
I have had fibro most likely all of my life, so the docs say and I agree. The chronic fatigue didn’t set on until around 1994. I did not know about support groups, or online help. Until 3 or 4 yrs ago I went it alone. Yes I felt desperate and alone. Even tho my husband tried to be sympathetic I could see he didn’t really get it. I was able to manage pain flares and daily pain fair, but CFS knocked me flat ! I was stuck. I was paralysed. Emotionally that is. So much time spent in bed & on the couch and doing nothing. I had no answers and no on to talk about this wit. Thank you to all of the people who go to the effort to help us on this wonderful place called the “INTERNET. I still have days,,weeks that I can’t do things but I am not alone now and that helps the pain And the fatigue. Knowing someone understand is better than “pills. To a point, lol.
Thank you Julie for all your help and research ! Thanks for caring and the time you invest on this ! That’s all I wanted to say,,,Thank You Julie and everyone else who cares..Brenda in Florence AL”
Thank you Brenda! I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your story and it means a lot to hear that I’m helping others.
Thanks for sharing this, Julie! How much better our world would be if more people realized that everything is intertwined and interconnected!
Great article. Thank you! Simple explanations of key concepts that really do make a difference. I have had fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue for 18 months. I would support everything you say. One of the greatest challenges for me has been trying to find information like this……..my local CFS service dismisses nutrition as having any impact or relevance (my personal experience of moving to a super clean diet proves it is relevant) and whilst they talk about ‘pacing’ ie ‘do less than you think you can’, ‘aim for 60%’, as no two days are the same, no two experiences are the same (due to other factors such as lack of sleep, hormones, cumulative effect of other activities, diet, emotions, context of the said activity) often we only know we have exceeded 60% because we have done too much and symptoms/fatigue are worse. It’s a bit late then! Resting between activities, even if I don’t think I need to rest and ensuring my day includes lots of good habits that I have learnt help eg I colour, meditate, follow paleo diet, use appropriate targeted supplements, bathe with Epsom salts, stretch regularly, walk a little when I can, do a little yoga when possible and have changed my mindset and have learnt a new slower pace of life – these have all helped me massively.
I asked my local CFS service about how I could avoid becoming weaker thru lack of activity, as I hope in time to rebuild some strength and fitness…….I want to live as well as i can with these illnesses and certainly not get any worse especially if there are things I can do to help myself. They had nothing to suggest, no repeated regular small exercises as you mention, just ‘keep trying things, failing, you’ll know that’s too much, in time you will manage more’………!!! And these are supposed to be experts advising and helping us?!
So THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom. I have only coped and recovered as much as I have done by being able to find posts such as yours from those who share helpful knowledge and experiences.
It’s really sad how the medical community just dismisses basic things like nutrition, and feeds us more and more pills.
I’m glad you found your way here, it’s nice to meet you, and I hope we’ll have more opportunities to interact.