Pain Breaks Us

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I hate pain. I treat people in pain in my practice. And usually I can help them. But I hate the pain. Pain–whether it’s physical or emotional–breaks us. At a low level, we can tolerate it, although it wears us down. But when the level is high–when your nervous system overrides everything with distress signals, when everything hurts, or when your mind cannot escape the loss or betrayal that seeps into every moment of every day–something snaps. We become frightened animals, fleeing something so horrible we cannot grasp it. So we run. To doctors, to medication, to alcohol or drugs, to shallow relationships that offer some kind of temporary oblivion but are unwise and hurt us in the end. When we’re too tired to run, we fight, or withdraw–or begin looking longingly at ways to end our time on earth.

Pain rips into our every vulnerability. And, horribly, we often have the fewest resources available to us when the pain is at its worst. Even the kindest doctor or practitioner can only do so much, and in the age of prescription medication abuse, a person in pain often has to overcome a wall of suspicion before getting help for their discomfort. Those of us in the healing arts alternate between keeping a sometimes nearly inhuman distance from our clients and patients and allowing their pain to envelope us and suck us into despair. I sometimes have to hide in the bathroom and cry when someone comes to me in their most broken state.

How can you cope when your pain is at its worst? I don’t have a pretty pat answer. In my own life, I long ago gave up on suicide as a way to end my own pain. And thankfully, I have very little pain now. But when it was at its worst, all I could do was endure. I turned to my faith, friends, and family–but there were dark times when none of them seemed to help. So I trudged on. I rested as much as I could, and then just kept putting one foot in front of the other, one minute after the next, and finally outlasted the pain. I won. 

For those who may never fully escape their pain due to injury, illness, or the nature of the emotional trauma they have suffered, I say be kind to yourself. Give yourself understanding. And I ask the rest of us to reach out. Not with trite phrases and over-optimistic attempts at cures. But with a soft hand and a soft word, like we would a terrified puppy or child. I ask that we all remember that pain makes it hard to think and hard to be nice, and perhaps if we can endure the sharp edges of another’s pain, perhaps we can blunt their suffering just a bit.


Three Tips to Living with Low Energy or Chronic Pain


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I have a secret. I am not an energetic person. Never have been–even as a kid, I got tired before everyone else. I was the one who was relieved when parents came to break up sleepover shenanigans so I could get some much-needed sleep. I was in a car accident years ago, and the residual pain taps my energy further while adding its own problems.

My practice focuses on the chronically ill, so I see a lot of people like me. Many of them have trouble mentally dealing with their health issues.  They feel like they’re missing out on life, or that all they can do is get the daily requirements done, then drag off for as much sleep as possible before doing it all again. They are constantly tired, and usually depressed.

I get frustrated at my energy levels, but all-in-all I handle them pretty well. I look at my life, and it is full–I go out with friends, I have a career that uses my talents, and a husband and cat who love me. I get a fair amount done most days, and stay better rested than I have been at any earlier point in my life. How do I do it? I’m glad you ask!

  • I accepted there were limitations. This idea is anathema to many. They want to fight with everything they have to get one more thing done, add one more activity, one more commitment, one more accomplishment. For those whose personality fits this lifestyle, it is great–the constant challenge energizes them, so fighting their limitations is a great coping strategy. Most of the people I see day-to-day don’t have this personality–they just wish they did. I stopped wishing for it a long time ago, and made a few policies: I rarely commit to extra responsibilities because I know I can’t be reliable at them.  If I get so little sleep that I cry when it’s time to get up, I cancel my day. I avoid places, other than my office, where sick people are likely to congregate–no trips to the drugstore during flu season, and no unnecessary gatherings with a gaggle of small children. Being sick takes a lot out of me, and since setting up this policy I have a lot less illness than I used to.
  • I eat well. As much as I used to like soft drinks and french fries, I almost never eat them now. I don’t digest either of them well, and the “hangover” of eating any kind of junk food gets in the way of the things I want to do. My husband and I invest a lot of our income on healthy food that tastes great. We both enjoy food, and both know how important it is to give our bodies good things. It was a lesson we have only really committed to in the past five years or so, but now that we have we get reap great dividends–a clear mind, better moods, and a gradual improvement in health all-around. My pain levels are usually very low, and my energy improves the better I eat.
  • I try to have only positive things in my life. Lest you think I live my life focused on what I can’t do and cannot eat, let me tell you my philosophy: I am a valuable commodity, I have a lot to give, and like any precious thing or entity, I must receive excellent care to be at my best. So I put as many good things into my life as I can. The lesson of positivity is relatively new for me–I used to feel that saying my life was going well was a form of bragging. Now I see it as a way to improve the world around me by not adding to the complaints that burden society. I try to look at my life with a positive perspective (“change your story, change your life“). I seek out positive people to read and emulate, like Michael Hyatt, Marc and Angel Chernoff, Chris Guillebeau, and others. Putting upbeat, can-do, honest words into my mind each day helps fight discouragement and gives me the raw materials to create my own positive creations. Taking care of my mind also gives me a safe place to deal with hard things. When I’m tired, cultivating a positive outlook means I don’t bow to discouragement as often, and dark days when I see only the negative are easier to turn around.

These are just three tips for dealing with fatigue and stress. They are simple, but not always easy. Do you have any tips you use for dealing with the issues in your life?

    Hitting The Problem From All Angles–Using Multiple Modalites

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    For the past four months, I have been in pain. An old back injury got aggravated, then aggravated some more. As an acupuncturist, this situation has hurt my pride. I treat back pain all the time, and one of the reasons I got into acupuncture is because of the pain relief it gave me. I’ve tried lots of different things–acupuncture, of course, but also stretching, acupressure, massage, and chiropractic. Each one seemed to help, but after a day or two the pain returned. And I was discouraged.

    In the past two weeks, I decided to play “what would I do for a patient in the same situation?” The answer was easy–I would suggest a slew of treatments all at once–throw everything we had at the problem in hopes of subduing it.

    So that’s what I did. This week, I’ve had two acupuncture treatments, two chiropractic adjustments, and one massage. I have also had better improvement than I have in months. I believed I couldn’t spare the time to make these treatments a reality. But now I see that the time I wasted feeling bad led to reduced productivity, reduced creativity, and certainly did not help me be an example of the benefits of natural living.

    Natural remedies, while often quite effective, are also often quite gentle. They guide your body back into balance instead of dragging it, kicking and screaming, to a level of forced functioning. Building health sometimes takes many layers of effort–a little adjustment to diet, some slight changes to exercise, and maybe a few forms of treatment to address all areas that affected by a health problem. So if you’re dealing with depression, therapy or herbs or diet changes or exercise alone may not be enough to solve the problem–they may need to be used together. If allergies are your issue, you may need to avoid known allergens, build your system with health food and supplements, and deal with stress, which compromises your immune system.

    Going the natural path sometimes requires more effort than filling a prescription and popping a pill. (And, of course, there are some things in our modern age that require doing that in addition to healthy life changes.) Layering therapies is a way to get more out of your natural living strategy.

    I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but I am hopeful that slow and creaky is not my new normal. Sometimes when you have a problem, you have to attack it head-on and throw all your resources at it. Have you had a similar health experience? Tell me about it in the comments!

    Walking the Talk

    Photo by Alex Bruda

    I am a natural health practitioner. When I see new people, my advice includes instructions to eat natural, well-made food, to rest when they are tired or hurt, and to put self-care high on their list of priorities. I am surprised by the number of patients who won’t take time off when they lose an entire night’s sleep, or have an injury, or just need a break from relentless stress. When they say they have money issues or other reasons that keep them from missing work or other commitments, I wisely say “If you don’t take time for your health, it will make you take time for it later.”

    I followed my advice and took a vacation/religious retreat for two weeks. On my second day off, we were in a minor car accident. I have an old back injury, and the tiny bump we had aggravated it. Really, really aggravated it. I spent the rest of our break having difficulty sitting, more difficulty bending over, and lifting was not really an option.

    Throughout the vacation, I thought about my first day back at work. I had a busy day scheduled, immediately after two long days of driving home. I wanted to take that day off. But as anyone in business for herself knows, time off means you don’t get paid. No money had been coming into the coffers for two weeks, and a busy day cancelled meant a big negative on the income. I also had people who
    needed me. People who were counting on me to be there, and who had made their appointments weeks in advance. What to do?

    I put off making the decision until three days before I should be in the office. My back was only moderately better, and I could not see myself giving people quality work. And I was simply tired. I thought about what I would say to a patient who insisted on showing up for their job when they needed of rest and nurturing. Finally, I made the decision, and cancelled my day. No one yelled at me for cancelling his or her appointment, and I’m not bankrupt.

    I’m at work today, and my back is still not completely well, but I feel more confident in my advice to patients. When you develop the integrity to take your own advice, it becomes easier to give good advice. I truly value self-care, and hope that comes through in the example of my own life.

    What do you do to take good care of yourself?