Mindfulness and How Pain Changed Me

By Krystina

Pain has affected my daily life for over ten years now, and I would be lying if I said it hadn’t changed me.

Pain is only the beginning of the constant struggle of a person living with chronic pain. The struggle evolves into a much more unsettling mind game – the game of Doubt.

The first is the Doubt that you can even do a thing, because it will hurt, or you may suffer serious repercussions after. Then there’s doubt cast on the first doubt–Doubt as to whether you’re being too cautious, too silly, everyone else is doing this thing, they are being encouraging, why not just give it a go? You’re probably just talking yourself out of it. Then there’s the Doubt of whether they even understand in the first place. Whether their seemingly helpful encouragement is actually just blind ignorance. Maybe they’re fed up with dealing with your excuses? Then the doubt of whether you can really do the thing pops back in to say “hi.”

I spent a very long time playing the game of Doubt, I still do, every day.

Before I had chronic pain, I was quite a loud mouth. The outgoing, zany type who would sing full volume in corridors. I would dance my butt off until the next morning and then go perform a show the following day. I would be the mother hen, the one my friends and their friends would come to for sound emotional advice. I would meet friends of friends who would introduce me as the “she’ll sort your problems out” girl.

I wasn’t full of self-confidence, but I knew who I was. I was the “laugh” who would wind up telling jokes at a party. I loved to sing, dance, and make people laugh.

Sometimes I think it’s lucky that I was this person. Had I been someone else, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with all of the things that life has thrown at me.

After chronic pain hit, I spent the first few years doubting I was even ill. How could this happen? It simply can’t! I expect many, if not all people in chronic pain still think this way, I know I do from time to time.

After the first few years, in pretty much full denial, (which, by the way is one of the worst things you can do – because you will push yourself too hard) I spent the following years playing the game of Doubt, which I am still playing today.

That’s why mindfulness is so important to those living in chronic pain. Even if not consciously practicing it, those in chronic pain have to adapt a degree of mindfulness in their emotional diet.

A good example of this is a little blog post I wrote a few years back. I had been working as a professional vocalist, working full time in another job, and studying music. It was difficult. I was trying lots of different medications, playing the game of Doubt, and completely denying anything was wrong. I couldn’t continue this way, but I find myself wound up like this from time to time, exhausted, and pretty fed up.

I was at a point where a thing that defined me – music – was making me ill.

Every note, trill, and vibration caused me pain, with anxiety and turmoil to follow. I slowly, and begrudgingly, stopped my relationship with music: writing, singing, listening and loving. I did so until I no longer felt a requirement, or a need to perform it. This, however empty I felt, was a necessary evil in order to focus my mind and body on healing itself. It has taken almost all of my strength to find myself amongst feelings of pain and utter despair, both physically, and in turn psychologically.

Through this deprivation, I found joy in the little things. I concentrated on the small aspects of life that often get neglected when one is consumed by their passion, whatever that may be. The Sun seemed brighter, people seemed louder, and laughter seemed happier. It made me understand what I was missing. Don’t get me wrong, I still had this awful burning pit in my gut that tugged away, telling me I was neglecting something all important, but I told it to hush for now.

It may seem funny, but this is also what I told my silly broken nerves.

“Hush nerves,” I would say, “you’re not working today, but I am, so what are you going to do about it?” and do you know what my silly broken nerves would say? Nothing.  Absolutely nothing. Not one single argument was had, because nerves can’t talk.

That is when I realised, I am not getting any better, in fact I may be getting worse, but my perception, my coping skills, are my own.

Nothing can alter the way in which I deal with my own pain apart from me. Once I realised this, I felt so free.

Now, I’m not talking about a sudden, over night sort of epiphany. I’m talking about those small stepping stones that lead to larger decisions about our outlook on life. It’s odd, and perhaps unnerving, that our own self involvement prevents us from becoming dithering, bumbling, and lost individuals.

If you do feel dithery, bumbling, and lost, quite frankly, you are not.

Because you are already thinking about it.

I guess what we’re talking about here, is simply (or not so simply) mindfulness. It is the most important concept I have learnt so far in my life.

Mindfulness is an incredibly simple, and yet mystifyingly complex concept.

The term is thrown around by self help “gurus” whilst you listen to your podcast on your way to work. You hear about it on TV shows, along with the latest low Gi diet plans.  Whilst performing a sun salutation at your local yoga class, and read about the benefits of being mindful in the nearest glossy magazine, but until you experience actually being mindful, it is a hazy, and confusing idea that seems like just that; a nice idea.

I’m no expert, but what I am is a skeptical, dry humoured human being that believes in solid facts and science, and the science of mindfulness is:

Worrying and thinking about things that are either;

  • Not happening yet,
  • Out of your control, or
  • In the past

are all completely illogical exercises.

There are no physiological benefits to thinking, and thinking, and thinking.

The things that affect you physically, are happening right now

The things that affect you mentally, are things you are thinking about right now.

After I realised this, I simply felt quite stupid.

Of course, keeping up this logical way of thinking is indeed hard to perform, it takes time and practice, which is why the concept is branded just that.

It’s very hard to concentrate when you are in pain, much less to keep up this “mindful” way of thinking. However, when it comes to pain, chronic sufferers must remember that peek of light at the end of the tunnel. That the pain will lift, even if just for a short while, and when that little gap in the dark clouds emerges we should learn to revel in it’s crystalline pleasure.

I still read this entry from time to time, and surprise myself when it helps me. When I’m down the rabbit hole, and have forgotten the world around me, I find it hard to get back to being mindful, and thinking of the little victories.

I guess that’s how you would say my pain has changed me. Sure, it’s made me more cautious, anxious, and at times downright miserable, but however little and often, the small victories, the tiny realisations that you’re keeping going, the astonishment when you realise you pulled through, those are the little side-notes to being mindful. The notes in the margins of your main text – You, making little changes each day in your approach. Accepting that some things are out of our control, some things change, and sometimes we can’t do the things we want to.

So, what do you want to do? What little things give you joy right now?

The more little things you find joy in, the less time you’ll have to play the game of Doubt. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

 

 

 

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