So, I’m starting to think about how best to manage chronic pain, or at least what has helped me in these last eight years. In my confused head I’ve developed a simple three pointed model to try and illustrate this.
A - Attitude
Perhaps the first thing to say is that living with constant pain is very difficult, and I’m sure that most people, like me, have their really low times filled with negativity. That’s when the frustration, anger and depression can kick in, and dark clouds gather. So to develop acceptance is important. Like it or not, this is the way things are for us, right now. There really is no option but to try and work with the sensations that we term “pain”, although its really difficult and often a case of one step forwards, two backwards. Working with the pain, instead of simply reacting to it, means cultivating ‘space’ between the sensations and how we respond to them. After all the ‘pain’ isn’t us. It’s just a sensation. A very unpleasant, horrible sensation, but that’s it.
To put the ‘pain’ in its place I find its often good to put my mind on something else. Anything will do. I play chess against my phone, paint, play guitar, watch birds, read and mess around in the garden. These activities ‘distract’ the mind away from the pain sensations. Other people find physical exercise helpful. Again, this can be anything from gentle walking to full on strenuous sport.
The way we relate to pain is conditioned partly by our attitude to it. People talk about having a positive attitude, but perhaps a more helpful term is ‘accepting‘. If we can cultivate a more accepting attitude, one which investigates the nature of our pain, rather than rejecting it, or seeing it as the ‘enemy’ then this might aid our experience of it.
M – Medication and Meditation
None of us need to be heroes. Or suffer avoidable discomfort. The drug companies make massive fortunes on the back of our pain and suffering, but their products also help to alleviate the worst effects of our conditions so let’s benefit from their research and expertise. Personally I take regular strong specialist drugs that knock off the sharpest peaks of neuropathic pain. Some of these can only be prescribed by pain control consultants. All are heavy duty. But they help to an extent.
Alongside the medication advised and supplied by the NHS, I enjoy a drink. The alcohol numbs the senses that numb the pain – and whisky seems to work best of all! This in no way means I recommend heavy alcohol intake. I’m just reporting what personally seems to work for me. The beneficial effects of cannabis on neurological pain are well documented but its not available on prescription other than in the form of Sativex to people who suffer from MS.
The other M – meditation helps because it can help cultivate the space described above. Usually, when I experience the very sharp, almost unbearable peaks of pain that come regularly I contract, tighten and harden. It becomes a case of enduring the nastiness, until it passes away and a degree of relief arrives. Sometimes, (and this is easier when you are feeling warm, comfortable and rested) its possible to surrender to the pain and relax the muscles (for me particularly those in my arm and neck where the nerve signals are blasting negative signals out) instead of tightening them. The contractions in my arm triggered by the pain become less severe and as a consequence the experience becomes slightly less unpleasant.
The type of meditation I use is traditional mindfulness practice based on developing an awareness of breathing. You can learn more about it here. It might sound complicated, but its not at all. In fact the breath, its something we always have with us. Otherwise we’re in big trouble! I don’t perform any formal meditation but use these techniques as and when. They form an insurance policy when the road gets a little bumpy.
S – Support
Living with constant chronic pain can be an isolating lonely experience. It can leave you feeling down, unable to cope, tired, lethargic and inadequate. In these situations to have the love and support of people who really care about you becomes vital. It gives you a reason to carry on and the belief to sustain yourself through the dark lonely nights and the long rainy days. The support of people who have a similar condition can be invaluable. At the end of the day, its just that acts of human kindness and an open listening heart can make the difference. Thanks for listening.
I hope these humble thoughts might help.