Choosing Life – Elaine’s Journey Out of Sciatic Pain

“I felt like the question still hung there:
‘But do you want to live? Do you want to just exist laying on the couch watching TV or do you want to really live again?’
And I had to decide, I was going to do whatever it took to live.”

Elaine joined the Life After Pain Community in November 2018 because of sciatic pain. It wasn’t her first pain program to be involved in, and she had actually worked with two other alternative programs before this one.

She’d had the pain for  three years, and up until April 2017 it was manageable. Then, from one day to the next, it went from manageable to completely overwhelming.

She couldn’t walk anymore. An epidural shot had left her unable to sit. Elaine was literally bedridden for a year. She couldn’t stay on her feet or sit for more than a couple minutes at a time – the pain was too great.

“They pretty much gave up on me, so I knew if I was going to make any progress, I had to find other answers.”

Over the year Elaine spent bedridden, her pain went from being sciatic to systemic. She developed postural tachycardia syndrome – a condition where standing up disturbs your blood pressure.

She had trouble with nerve pain in her legs, hands, and sometimes odd shooting pains in her face. By the time she was ready to  get up and start to move around again, she was facing a whole different beast from when her pain began.

One piece at a time, over the next five months, Elaine put together a puzzle that’s now working for her.  

Choosing a Path Back to Health

With treating chronic pain, there’s always choices involved. Do you take one treatment path, or another?

While it’s impossible to be absolutely sure what would have happened, below are Elaine’s thoughts on what might have happened if she hadn’t taken action, taken our Program, and made the choice to take her health into her own hands.

“I believe if this whole alternative path were not presented to me, I’d either be still be bedbound or worse. Honestly, I think a huge piece of all this is mindset, where you have to make the decision that you’re going to act and you’re going to do something.

Because I remember a time… I’m a deeply religious, spiritual person, and I felt like God asked me if I wanted to live. I had first had to make the choice that I could not take my own life because that was tempting. When you’re bedridden in pain 24/7 you don’t see any way out.

I was at Johns Hopkins, which is one of the best medical facilities in this country,  with a team of neurologists surrounding my bed and they could not figure out why I was in so much pain.

So when they don’t have answers for you, you think there are no answers, you think you’re stuck. And I was looking at that being the rest of my life and it took me a long time, a matter of a couple months to decide I couldn’t do that to my family. I couldn’t end my own life.

And then it wasn’t enough to say that, but then I felt like the questions still hung there:

But do you want to live? Do you want to just exist laying on the couch watching TV or do you want to really live again?

And I had to decide, I was going to do whatever it took to live.”

Elaine’s path took a turn for the better when her husband insisted on giving her an iPad. He knew she was bored out of her mind and she couldn’t sit up to use her laptop.

A New Window on the World

This iPad ended up becoming Elaine’s window on the world. She started doing her own research online and that’s what led her to solutions like the Life After Pain.

Elaine Stroup’s primary care physician now calls her ‘Doctor Stroup’ because she’s become so well informed. It makes sense though. According to Elaine: “You have to consider yourself the most empowering person in your own life in terms of taking control because nobody else is going to do it for you. You have to decide you’re going to do it.”

Elaine believes this was her most pivotal decision.

“I realised no one is going to come rescue me. It’s not going to happen. Even if they want to. Even my husband who was desperate to couldn’t rescue me. I had to figure it out. I had to rescue myself with God’s help.”

Before having chronic pain, Elaine had never experienced depression or anxiety. After her pain ramped up, she was afraid to be alone at home for the first six months.

Over time though, as she learned to master these emotions, Elaine learned about the power of gratitude, the power of forgiveness, the power of  living in the moment, mindfulness.

Nowadays, the work she’s put in is showing results.

“I had a run for about a week there where I was near about pain free. I believe this kind of healing runs like that. Windows open and then they shut and then they open again. And then the windows of freedom get longer and start to run together and life just gets better.”

Getting Unstuck with Life After Pain

When Elaine came across the Life After Pain, she had made progress already with calming down her autonomic nervous system and the fight or flight reflex.

But then in the fall of 2018, she just got stuck. She couldn’t make any more progress and felt like she was backsliding.

So she contacted Life After Pain because she wanted some other tools in her tool belt. She started working with some of the visualization techniques in the NeuroMind library. She worked more with the breathing and getting confidence practicing what she’d already learned.

Elaine also worked with a pain psychology center in Beverly Hills, California. But a lot of what she learned there led her back to implementing breathing at the right times and the right places. So partly through visualization, partly through the breathing and the greater understanding how her system works, Elaine became unstuck and began to make real headway in her journey out of pain.

The Power of Reframing

Another important step was understanding that she was not broken. When she first got sciatic pain, doctors told Elaine she had a pretty typical lumbar spine MRI for a 55 year old woman . There was some wear and tear. But at the time, they labeled it ‘degenerative disc disease’ leading her to believe her back was irreparably damaged.

So part of her recovery was reframing how she viewed her back:

“Being able to step out of it and recognize that you’re normal eliminates a lot of the stress and fear surrounding the pain, which therefore lessens the pain.

“Before, that cycle of stress and pain became the perfect storm that brought me down. Now I feel like I’ve started to cycle upwards. I’m not out of the woods yet. I’m still working through some stuff, but I know how to work with it and I don’t let it hold me back.”

Before all this started, Elaine was a fitness trainer. She was very physically active and physically fit. She’s now beginning to get back to that, and has started training clients again.

“I’m working out in the gym. Again, it’s not what I used to do with the super heavy weights. I may never go back to that again because I have learned a lot in this season. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not identified by how much weight I can lift.”

Unraveling the Connection Between Emotions & Pain

One of Elaine’s key insights that’s lead her to unravel her chronic pain, was working out the connections between negative emotions and physical pain.

“One of the things I’ve learned is to get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. It’s okay. You know, I’m not broken. I’m just uncomfortable. It’s just a sensation. I can move through this. I’m going to live, the world’s not ending.”

Little by little, things have improved, and Elaine now has days at a time where she’s pain free, and periods of time where she can feel things shift. This reinforces she has control over her pain system and can start living life the way she wants to.

“I’m learning to listen to my body, to respect my body. But I’m also learning to see the messages that are pain signals aren’t always telling the right story.

“I have to be able to  push back sometimes. It’s been a very much a learning process between when do I push back and when do I have sympathy for my body.”

“It’s a subtle kind of balance between extending your comfort boundaries and not overdoing it and completely booming and busting. “

Healing Past Traumas

Another key insight Elaine had into the connection between pain and emotion happened a week ago. She had been through a very troubled childhood. Elaine’s family wasn’t unkind or abusive. However her mother was manic depressive, and her sister became manic depressive in her teens.

So during all her formative years, including when I was very young and need a secure, nurturing environment she did not have that because her mother was ill and her sister developed it later..

Last week, Elaine had to deal with her sister’s problems again. She was involved with calling the police to check on her.

She kept her emotions about the situation at arm’s length because they were very triggering, bringing up things she’d gone through as a kid.

“There was a lot of fear and anxiety wrapped around this situation. I managed to just ignore these feelings for a couple days. And then a couple days later I woke up and I had the worst knee pain in my entire life. It was this brand new pain and I thought: where is this coming from?”

“I knew where it was coming from emotions because my body was trying to tell me there’s something wrong. There’s something wrong here that you’re not dealing with.”

By this stage, Elaine knew enough about her pain system and enough about herself to not accept the fact there was anything wrong with her knee because she went to bed with a knee that was fine and woke up and could barely walk. That make no sense.

So she challenged it that day had said, “No, I’m going to do what I need to do anyway. I’m going to walk. I’m not even going to try and spend time lying down.”

After that she was able to sit down and really tend to herself and the emotions involved with her sister and do what she calls a lot of soul care for the next couple of days.

And her knee hasn’t bothered her since.

Techniques to Deal with Negative Emotions

“I have learned a lot as to how to deal with emotions. I now know emotions themselves are not to be feared. This is especially relevant for those of us who have repressed emotions are afraid of them.

“I’ve learned to just sit with the emotions and feel them. Even in the face of them I’m now able to calm my system and breathe into the stress or anxiety. And because it’s a mind body connection I look for the spot in my body where I feel that emotion.

“If it’s anxiety, do I feel it in my chest? Do I feel it in my stomach? Do I feel it my head? Is it making my neck sore? Usually I feel like a heaviness in my stomach and I just breathe into it. And there’s nothing magical about that, about that, except it does have that bottom up approach to calm my autonomic nervous system.

“When I do this I’m teaching my brain that these emotions are not things to be feared. I can feel them. I am brave enough, I’m strong enough, they cannot hurt me. So I’m not running from my emotions anymore.”

Now we have more knowledge of neuroscience, it’s been shown that in some situations pain and negative emotions can light up the same areas of the brain.

Science is showing how emotions and your pain centers in your brain are incredibly connected, but it still takes a lot of confidence in yourself and your abilities and insight to really question pain messages. To say “hang on, wait a moment, what is really going on here?”

“To me there’s a connection there, but you really have to buy into the science of that instead of it being this woo woo thing. I now have read enough now to know that there is a distinct connection and I’ve proved it from my own experimentation.”

Key Mindset Shifts to Overcome Chronic Pain

For Elaine, the number one thing that’s changed is her mind.

“My thinking is not all wrapped up in how I feel. That’s the biggest freedom I feel right now. I’m starting to work at the gym again.

“Even if they didn’t apply to overcoming pain the techniques I’ve learned are great life tools. I would not have wished that season on myself for anybody else, but I’m grateful for the things that it’s taught me. I have a very different perspective on life now.

“As I said last week, I had a gym session where I was able to touch my toes again. For some people, that’s no big deal. For me it was huge, absolutely huge. And it was after a 30 minute class. So my baseline has gotten much, much better.

“I think the most powerful thing for me was, again, I had to choose life. I had to choose to live the best life I could, and stopped identifying myself by the pain I was feeling. I don’t consider myself a chronic pain sufferer. That would not be the first thing I put on my resume. I’m a lot of other things besides that.

“For me, I think that was the biggest shift. It took a long time for all the pieces to fall into place for me to start getting anywhere. But I had to change my mind on it. I think all of your thinking leads the way to all of this and it’s really powerful.

“There’s a point where you set your eyes on the horizon and you start heading there and you quit looking at yourself.”

Changing Your Focus – One Day at at Time

One thing Elaine really felt impressed to do when she was still barely getting up was just go stand on her front porch and look out as far as she could see. She felt she needed to get  her focus out as far as she could see, so she could quit looking down, and quit looking inward.

“You absolutely have to change your focus. And so I started to little by little, and I would take my five minutes, and I would stand on the front porch and then look out as far as I could see. And it sounds like such a simple thing, but it was a movement in the right direction.”

“You can’t get anywhere if you’re not looking to focus and go there. So the first thing you have to do is look where you’re moving. Turn your head. And to me that kind of is symbolic of changing the way you’re thinking. It’s the way we’re wired, we’re supposed to change our focus first, then start to move that direction.”

To find out more about how we help people overcome chronic pain, click the button below: