Chronic pain: the challenge is not making it worse

In the past six months my life has changed dramatically. At one point I was in pain every single day (only the amount would vary). I was tired all the time even on a good day and I was stressed out of my brain. I was trying ever so hard to hold it all together, to create a happy and stable environment. Trying hard to overcome the things I was struggling with and finding every time that peace just seemed to be this elusive, unattainable goal. I was triggered by almost every encounter and the tension in my body and my brain was indescribable. I did get to the point where I was scared to grow older. I was thinking about how, if my quality of life was at this point now in my early 30s, how was I ever meant to survive my 40s let alone my 60s or 70s. I had thought that suicide might end up being an option (even though it wasn’t one now).

At the very least I could certainly understand how people with chronic pain conditions could consider it.After seeing a psychologist, a naturopath, chiropractor, dietician, all these different health practitioners, I have experienced major change for the better. Stress levels are lower, pain levels much lower and I have dropped about two dress sizes down to about an 8. That’s probably the smallest I’ve been since I was about 17, and maybe not even then. I am participating in yoga every week and the food that I eat is deliberate. I still eat hot chips and gluten free pizza occasionally but for the most part I am eating as a conscious attempt to nourish and sustain my health. On a ‘naughty’ day, I still don’t eat sugar. I will eat hot chips if I’m really lashing out and that’s the worst it gets because I am now in a space where I know what is triggering a lot of my body's issues and I’m not going to mess with that as I don’t particularly want to deal with any more pain than I have to! I am also making sure I get enough exercise each week and there is a minimum amount I can accept from myself as well as an ideal goal that I aim for.

I’m sitting in this space now where my stress levels are definitely lower, but the tension in my body still exists. I’m using mindfulness techniques and meditation to try to relieve some of it, and at least trying to create a conscious awareness of my posture and where I might be holding myself too tightly. The next step is an exercise physiologist to re-work my posture and my muscles and get my body into a better space.

All of this stuff has really been trial and error. I love that I have the sort of personality where I seek the answers. That I’m not satisfied with simply ‘taking a pill’ to fix things. That was the initial response from a doctor – medication. If I had have just taken pills to take the edge off my pain I would never have gotten any better. In fact if I didn’t make a conscious change to the way that I think, I would be in a worse space now than I was at my worst. I am ever so thankful that I instinctively knew that, and even more thankful I was willing to trust my instincts.

I want to help people to understand that quick fixes are not the answer. If you’re thinking about treating a chronic condition or anxiety or depression, you need a big picture to work with. You need a team of health practitioners and you need to be willing to make changes and do the hard work to undo some of the damage you’ve already done to your body. To undo bad habits takes time. To undo poor posture takes time. To undo bad stress management takes lots of time and effort. But at least then, it WILL get better. You will grow, and learn, and create a better life, a better lifestyle and a better mind and body. It can be done, but if you are only using a quick fix, the danger is it will get worse and it will get progressively harder to create that change.

A book I was reading the other day said that due to the brain’s nueroplasticity and ability to work around challenges, when you use pain medication to dull the pain receptors in the brain, the brain registers this as your ‘alarm system’ not working, so if you keep doing it, it actually makes more pain receptors. So then, you have more pain occurring even if the problems aren’t as big. In order to go around this, we need to develop ways to get the brain itself to handle the problems that are thrown at it. Meditation ... hypnosis ... healthy food ... less stress ... less crap food in the system ... and exercise is strangely a massive way to get your body out of the pain cycle. The endorphins released make your brain naturally less sensitive to pain without all the side effects of pain medications.

I’m not saying there is no space for medication. I am saying that just taking something to relieve symptoms alone is counter-productive. You will probably end up needing more and more medication and there is a big difference between less emotional pain and better mental health. There’s a big difference between less physical pain and better physical health. For sustainable, long term improvement you need to get to what is causing the issues, and develop a holistic, whole body and mind plan to create the long term changes that need to occur to have long term sustainable improvement.