Pain is in the Driver’s Seat

For anyone living with chronic pain, they are forever challenged by the fact that try as they might – taking medications on time, getting the right amount of sleep and exercise, eating healthy – if pain decides to take over on any given day, they get bumped out of the driver’s seat. The dissonance that gets created as a result, lies not in the fact that you are having a pain day, but rather that you had expectations for the day. If we can’t get done what we had planned, or get less done than we usually would have, we can be quite hard on ourselves; resulting in feelings of discouragement, and we open the door for the blues to set in.

We are much better served to understand that “when I am having a pain day, my tank is full.” Waking up uncomfortable and sore lets you know that your body and mind are allowed to focus on what needs to happen in order to best alleviate the pain. That might include cancelling plans, doing less than you would normally do, going about tasks at a slower pace, taking more breaks. It is acknowledging that you have woken up with a full tank, and its not going to take much to spark a tipping point. If we can give pain its space, we can begin to celebrate  the fact that “anything I get done today is a bonus.”

When we can begin to be kind to ourselves where our expectations are concerned, we begin to feel that we have some control in our pain day. We may have had to let pain take the driver’s seat, but we can darn sure still give it directions! 🙂

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The Deceiving Side of Abuse

I see many women who come to therapy because of domestic violence; and there are two things that consistently form an observable pattern among their stories:

  1. Full clarity only comes after they leave. In Canada, DV charges are now laid by the police and gone are the old days when a spouse could go into the station and drop the charges; an immediate no contact order is put into place, and both parties can be charged with breach if they contact one another.  This is brilliant – this space is often enough for a woman to be able to recognize the full effects of the abuse; it is very often after greater clarity that she will begin to ask the question “Why did I stay?”
  2. Abusers have a nice side. Sometimes it is even a child-like side. It is the side of them that can be quite charming, it is the side of them you feel sorry for, it is the side of them that does nice things for you after the abuse, it is the side of them that makes it easier to forgive them; this is the part of them that lands you into a place of hope that “this time, things will change.”

But they won’t. And for many women, that is where the clarity comes into play.  Leaving is not an easy process, lots of conflicting emotions and a combing through of the damaging effects of mixed messages, but the facts remain – abusers need to feel superior to their partners, they need to own their partners, they need to blame others for their own inadequacy.

It is not always easy to understand why someone stayed and we can be pretty quick to blame ourselves or to perhaps judge others, but we must always be mindful of the deceiving side of abuse.

If you are in an abusive relationship, please ask for help. Some resources include:

In Renfrew County:

Domestic Violence Agency website in Canada:

USA Hotline:

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Being Mindful About Grief

In an article entitled “Mindful Grief: 3 Ways to Manage Your Sorrow” by Ashley Davis Bush and featured on GoodTherapy, we read about how to be more mindful about the grief process. Bush notes that we tend to have a tendency towards avoiding painful feelings which can lead to complications when we are actively grieving. I especially enjoyed reading the three thoughts she had in trying to give grief its due course:

  1. Intention: Set your intention to welcome the feelings, to learn from them, and to be open to finding the wisdom embedded within the process.
  2. Attention: Pay attention to the natural rhythms of grief. Notice the waves that ebb and flow. See grief rising and falling, washing over you and receding.
  3. No tension: Suffering may be minimized to the degree to which you are able to drop your resistance to the feeling that ‘is’.

As you can see from these tips, we are trying not to avoid our painful feelings, but rather acknowledging their presence. It is okay to give ourselves permission to simply feel the sadness in the moment; have our tears, say our prayers, get an extra squishy hug from a loved one, smile at a memory (even through the tears), write our thoughts down in a journal. It is simply about allowing the active portion of grief to come in so as to go out; when we have given grief some space, we also experience the inherent sense of momentary relief and peace that tends to accompany it. 🙂

To read the full article:

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Removing the Emotional Load

People often come to therapy to work through a trauma; a past or present experience is plaguing them and taking up too much space in themselves. Perhaps they have spent too much time avoiding the after-effects of the negative experience, and it is now creating trouble in their relationships or with the way that they regulate their emotions.

The goal in trying to heal from traumatic experiences is to remove the emotional load. That isn’t to say that recalling the event or being triggered doesn’t bring those emotions up; the emotions that are tied to a negative experience become embedded in our survival brain in order to forewarn us as to a possible re-occurence. What healing from trauma does is allow us to live with it; integrating it into our story, allowing it to co-exist with our strength, resilience and courage.

We can work through our negative experiences by going to therapy, writing about them, thinking about them when we are walking in nature. We can decide to no longer be the secret keeper and tell our trusted loved ones about what happened to us. We can decide that the trauma is no longer going to carry so much weight. By processing the negative experience, we remove its emotional load – leaving more room for seeking joy.

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Chronic Pain; A Function Centered Life

Building on yesterday’s post about how chronic pain can affect someone’s emotional health as well, we can see how chronic pain can often lead someone to living a pain centered life. Prolonged pain can be quite stealthy, invading our system in an insidious way. Often times, we continue to live our life as we always did, ignoring the pain as we plow through our day. This becomes a pain centered way of life, forcing us to eventually face the pain when we have pushed ourselves too far.

So how do we shift it to a more function centered life? One in which we work with our chronic pain and not against it:

  • Get informed. Working with your GP and possible specialists to discover the source of chronic pain is only the first step. Identify with symptoms by researching, join groups online that share similar diagnoses, seek both medical and alternative methods of treatment and look into online resources that can help to understand not only your specific condition but how chronic pain affects you as well.
  • Know your limits. Begin to notice just how much you can do of any activity and re-adjust. This takes some acceptance, but you will be better served by it when you begin to honour your body and just how much it can take. Shorten, tweak, or limit your activities according to your pain.
  • Stay active. Very often, chronic pain can be isolating; even a 10 minute walk around the block is better than staying in bed.
  • Keep your established social connections. Chronic pain can often lead us to say no to activities based on our pain levels; friends are more understanding than we think and keeping them in our life is an important and healthy coping strategy. It just may mean some adjustments – hiking with friends for a day might be out of the question, but how about a spa day instead?
  • Work towards acceptance. Working with our chronic pain is a proactive versus reactive position. You will feel more in the driver’s seat as a result.

A great online course is available from Living Healthy Champlain:

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Three Facts About Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is generally defined as pain that has gone beyond tissue repair, lasting longer than six months, and pain that is not responsive to usual treatment. It can be intermittent, such as migraines, or continuous, such as a back pain. Because chronic pain tends to be insidious, we don’t often realize that chronic pain and mental health disorders tend to go hand in hand.  Three useful facts:

  • Our brain is able to cope with acute pain as it is a part of our survival mechanism. When dealing with chronic pain; however, an emotional component becomes connected to the experience of pain and this leads to suffering and a greater tendency to experience negative emotions.
  • When emotions become intense and sustained over a long period of time, this can lead to mood changes. Over time, this can gradually lead to mental illness; research suggesting that 30 to 50% of people who live with chronic pain also struggle with depression or anxiety.
  • Chronic pain tends to automatically move people into working from a pain centered life. With pain always taking center stage, this can create feelings of helplessness. Moving to a function centered life becomes part of a self-management strategy to working with chronic pain.

Tomorrow’s post will look at how a function centered life can be a healthy approach when living with chronic pain.

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The Treasured Wound

We all have instances where we have felt hurt by another. There are times when we can accept and heal ourselves from those wounds, and then there are those we treasure. We think about them, talk about them, we keep them fresh by reliving the hurtful things that were said or done to us. Sometimes those wounds come from childhood; other times from feelings unresolved. It may be a person from our past, or one in our present, but we struggle to accept it; in our focus of the treasured wound, we inadvertently hurt ourselves.

We are much better served to recognize where our valuable, soulful energy is going. Perhaps, when we recognize that we are focusing too much of our time on a treasured wound, we can remind ourselves that:

“It is time for me to heal from this hurt. I can not help that it happened to me, or that it exists. But I can choose to not focus on it. I can remind myself that accepting it is not excusing it; but it is no longer my job to seek atonement from another.  I can only accept it for what it is. My goal is to feel peace, to settle my soul where this matter is concerned.”

When we choose to no longer give something our time and space, we grant peace an open door to enter. Let us heal from our treasured wounds. 🙂

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Re-framing Failure

We all have experienced failure; trying something that didn’t succeed, making mistakes, not trying hard enough. In the aftermath of realizing that we have made a mistake, or have failed ourselves or others in some way, our internal dialogue can often perpetuate the cycle of failure by reinforcing our insecurities and shameful feelings. We are much better served to view failure as a necessary part of our learned experience – reframing failure in the context of our internal dialogue as well:

  • “What did I learn from this experience? What can I do differently next time?”
  • “Failing has the ability to grow resiliency. I will not let myself be deterred from my goals.”
  • “What has this taught me about myself? How can I choose to react differently?
  • “Do I need to ask for help? What guidance do I need to reach my goals?”
  • “This is only a temporary setback. In the big picture, failures add up to success.”
  • “This is a tough feeling but that’s okay. I can be uncomfortable and still move forward.”

Probably one of the most positive outcomes that comes from the process of failing is that it has the potential to create within ourselves a healthier ego. If we choose to learn from our mistakes and reframe our failures, we move from an ego that wants to be right to an ego that is more grounded in the experience.

After all, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” – Eloise Ristad

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The Reality of Loss

Loss comes in many forms; in the grief we feel when a loved one passes away, in the sorrow of a break up, in the distress of losing a job. We feel loss when the leaves have all fallen and the trees sit bare, when times as we knew it are gone, when we struggle with a life circumstance that seems overwhelming.

The reality of loss is just that; it is acknowledging that grief is a part of life. It is accepting that in our process of grieving we have also loved.

Here are three quotes about loss that have resonated with me:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”- C.S. Lewis

“Know that I am with you, the only way that I can be. Until you’re in my arms again….remember me.” – Disney’s COCO

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What is an Acute Stress Response?

I recently sat with a client who had been a witness to a serious car accident. She had been involved in helping those injured and at the time of the accident was in full swing action mode. Three weeks later, she was still struggling with some of the after effects of that incident.

When we have an especially upsetting experience or trauma, we will often experience an acute stress reaction. Very often, that will include a re-experiencing of the event with intrusive images or flashbacks. It can also include a state of hyper-arousal in which we may feel irritable, have trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and feeling on edge. And lastly, an acute stress reaction can lead us to purposefully avoid thoughts and feelings, people or places that are linked to the event. For example, she was avoiding going along that stretch of road to get to work.

Typically, almost everyone who is exposed to a traumatic event will experience an acute stress reaction. Although the reaction may vary in its intensity, it will usually resolve within a few weeks. As we began working through some of the client’s symptoms, she was able to identify that she was sleeping better, not thinking about it as much, and was not quite so consumed with the images that were left behind.

When we are aware that we can experience such a reaction, we can also reassure ourselves that it is a typical response to a stressful event and that a normal recovery will take place. Sometimes, however, the symptoms remain and this is when we are at risk for developing post traumatic symptoms. Tomorrow’s post will look at 5 facts about PTSD.

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