This is Part 3 in a case study of chronic pain recovery. It’s the story of Simon, an orthodontist living in Australia and how he developed the ability to turn down chronic pain. If you haven’t already read them – here’s links to Part 1 and Part 2.
My perfectionist personality has helped me get out of the pain as quickly as I have. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a medical background to do this. In fact, in some ways, it’s a hindrance.
I’ve realised that to get out of pain, you don’t need to know 99% of everything. You just need to know enough to get going. I’ve done a pain course from a University, but it didn’t help all that much. What I really needed was the practicality of Jonathan’s course.
I’ve found breathing very important. I realised I was holding my breath when I drive. I was stress breathing with my chest. Jonathan suggested I put dots around my place to remind me to breathe, and that’s worked well.
I used to breathe well when I meditated, but now I’m able to do this throughout my day. As I feel stress rising up and my pain increasing, I would breathe through it, and the pain would reduce.
I also started moving differently – no longer like an old man, some evenings I could hardly walk. That’s reduced my pain again, and helped cut out Reactive Pain patterns tied to specific movements like getting up out of a chair or going up stairs or turning over in bed. “Walk tall” that’s my cue.
For me, Jonathan’s book has been phenomenal. If you read it cover to cover, understand it, and then tell me your pain hasn’t reduced? Well, then you’re not doing the work. And by that I mean the MindBody practice (I like to write it this way to remind myself of the binding together of two indivisible elements that medicine has spent 100 years trying to separate, only to now realise that they are intimately intertwined).
The last two chapters of the Jonathan and Naomi’s book were profound. The last one said “Stop looking around for more information – start doing the work!”
I was already doing the work, but this stopped me from continuing to study around the topic of pain and got me just focusing on my practice and practising my skills.
When I think about the future now, it looks really bright. I’m going to continue doing whatever it takes, be that 2 hours a day of MindBody practice or just half an hour. (My practice continually evolves, more recently I’ve been using the Observer to look for my self saboteur.) Whatever it takes I’m willing to do it!
Just find one thing that rings true, one “in” that allows you to see your pain puzzle more clearly, one technique that works and do that to the best of your ability. Find one thing that will start dissecting down your pain, breaking it down into bits that are more manageable.
“When you’re confronted with a tsunami of pain, you need to take drastic action.”
I needed to make time for myself so I could take charge of the situation. And if you’re in pain you need to do this for yourself also. It’s your life you’re reclaiming, and if you have a life altering, life-arresting pain, you’ve got to do the work.
I remember in the Club I wrote a post asking “Who’s out there doing the work?” And someone wrote back saying they were afraid to post that they were making progress, because that might ‘jinx’ it or arrest the progress.
That’s a valid point, but it’s a mental process that’s doing that. It’s your belief that if you tell someone you’re getting better, you won’t.
There is an up and down in pain for most people. And sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. But if the whole balance over all is up – you’re getting better! And you can tell your pain “I’ve got you now – and I’m going to sort you out.”
I can’t believe I’ve wasted five years being in pain – but it’s like I’ve being asleep. I can’t remember many of the events that went on, my children growing up, holidays and life events, really from the time my pain was out of control, my day was taken over by pain. I was Pain. Recently I got out many photo albums and tried to remember what was happening when the photos were taken. But it’s like I’ve been in a dream or more accurately a nightmare.
Although my pain is improving, even I was amazed at how much I could do while on a Skiing holiday in Canada. When you’re on holiday, you’re more carefree and relaxed. If you’re in pain, you need to look at your environment as well.
I’ve made a list of stressors that may turn my pain up, and the things that tend to calm my pain system down. One by one, I’m going to work through the stressors and desensitise myself to them. For instance, I plan to go to my old workplace, see the guy I used to work with, and then come away with no pain.
You need to find your ‘in.’ You need to know how to take the fire out of your pain.
Sleep is essential. Once I got my sleep hygiene sorted, I stopped waking up in pain, and this made a huge difference.
To get good sleep, I use noise cancelling headphones with gentle rain noise. It’s very relaxing, I can’t hear anyone else. This was a very useful way of breaking the cycle of poor sleep.
Before I figured out my sleep routine it had gotten to the stage where I was almost afraid to go to bed. I’d go to bed and then in the dark, my pain would get worse, and after an hour or two I’d give up and get up and just do something. If you think you’re going to toss and turn and not sleep, you can get to the point where you’re afraid to go to bed.
But if you know that – either way – you’ll be lying there relaxed, then this breaks that pattern. I began to treat my time in bed as breathing or meditation time. Because I wasn’t trying to get to sleep, I was just relaxing in silence with my noise-cancelling headphones playing and distancing me from my pain, it made it much easier to drift off to sleep.
It also helped to set myself up prior to going to bed. I switch off technology before dinner and for my final mediation of the day I’d go into my room, light a candle, and think about settling down. I was quietening my mind, getting into a state where the sleep state was close by and accessible.
I used to be a master of ‘boom and bust’. This is a pattern that hugely prolongs chronic pain. For example, when I was feeling good, I would try and do all the gardening. I’d battle away for 3 hours, then wonder why I was feeling so much pain that evening.
I was hooked on using my fitbit, and had a fixed idea of what was a ‘normal’ amount of daily exercise. I tried to walk or run 45 kms a week. I was recording all my activity using my fitbit, and I was always trying to do more than the week before or hang on as I entered another bust phase.
I found I had a lot of power to maintain the boom. But following the boom would be a massive bust. To get past this I found I needed to address my perfectionism. I would ask myself questions like: “Why is it I think I need to do all the gardening?”
And I’d tell myself that it was ok to have some leaves left on the lawn. The task didn’t need to be 100% complete and perfect for me to feel satisfied.
I had culled my exercise program to what I deemed was ‘acceptable’ but it really wasn’t acceptable at all – it was still way too much. So I resolved to turn everything on its head with something I called the ‘100 Day Habit Change.’
To undo the boom and bust pattern that had become part of my life, I decided to do a 100 day habit change.
I did just a fraction of my usual activity for 100 days. I chucked away my fitbit and cut back drastically on my exercise. I would go out for short walks or stay at home. I would do a few chores, and that was about it.
For my 100 day habit change, I stopped bashing myself (figuratively) with a stick. I acknowledged I’d always done my best. I wasn’t a slacker, and beating myself up about being in pain wasn’t helping.
I put a timer on my computer so that I don’t spend too long on it, because it prevents me from focusing on what is really important – my daily MindBody practice.
Before, I couldn’t see an ending to this. I couldn’t see how I would get my life back. Then Jonathan’s stuff came along – the right information at the right time. It was like being in a dark tunnel, and someone’s switched the light on. I was thinking “This is gold dust. You could be down here mining – it’s that much fun.”
Before September last year, I’d been reading loads on the subject of chronic pain and sensitisation. I had little pockets of information but I couldn’t stop my decline. Joining the course gave me many more dots and within 2 weeks of starting the course with Jonathan, I was able to connect enough of those dots to see what was going on. That was enough to tip the scale and get me some traction. (My ice axe was biting at long last !)
By working on my MindBody techniques, I’ve dramatically reduced my pain and I’ve cut back hugely on the amount of pain medication I take. I’m able to do things without pain that previously would have landed me in hospital. The other morning I went out for a walk, it was a beautiful day, and I was able to simply enjoy it, without pain, and without worrying that I’d have pain later. I am no longer just existing, I have started living again. Look it is hard work to turn your life around but these techniques do work, they are accessible to anyone of us. Empower yourself and take charge of your care.
It’s YOUR life
I will be forever grateful to Jonathan, Naomi and the Club. I have my life back again and you can too if you put in the work. I wish you all the very best. Thank you. Simon