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: https://www.livinghealthychamplain.ca/en/LAHLchronicpain

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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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Trauma and Attachment

I have worked with many clients over the years who have suffered traumatic childhoods; ones in which they were thrust into survivor mode from a very young age, often experiencing abuse and/or neglect while having to take on adult roles in the family. In this article, I was impressed with the writer’s words in explaining attachment in the face of trauma.

“Attachment and C-PTSD: How Complex Trauma Gets in the Way” by Fabiana Franco and featured on GoodTherapy, Franco had this to say: “Like all human traits, the ability to form attachment bonds is not purely innate; it is learned behavior. And as with most human learning, attachment is learned by doing. From the moment they exit the womb, babies are learning attachment. This, and not only the need to materially provide for the child, is the basis of the family, a universal component of human society.”

“Survivors of complex trauma typically emerge with gaps in their ability to form attachment bonds with others. This is not to say their desire for attachment is any less—far from it. The unfulfilled desire for connection and pervasive feeling of loneliness in survivors of complex trauma is a major contributing factor to the symptoms they experience, including depression, inability to regulate emotion, and engagement in risky or self-destructive behaviors.”

Successful treatment of trauma often requires long term therapy, but the ability to attach is an innate process and one that can move towards the formation of  safe and secure relationships. A person’s trauma does not have to define them.

To read the full article (it goes into so much more detail): https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/attachment-and-c-ptsd-how-complex-trauma-gets-in-the-way-0322185

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11 Months of Covid-19

11 months into Covid-19; in many ways time has passed by quickly and yet in other ways the past seems far away. Coming into the year mark, it feels as though there is a different quality to our movement within this global pandemic.

In Ontario, we are coming out of a lockdown that was instituted on Boxing Day. When I think back to the initial emergency order back in March of 2020, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on ‘getting through this together’ – there was a feeling of unity, of gathering our strength and resources to do what was necessary, of hope. Naivety also helped – we found solace in believing  that perhaps by the summer we would be able to travel, get back to work, things would be normal once more.

Now that we are turning the corner at a year mark, we are more resigned. The tensions of this lockdown were felt by many, as the messages were less about banding together and more about the trouble ahead if we didn’t comply. The vaccines are here, but slow to roll out. Thoughts of travelling this summer have fizzled away. We can feel the weight of Covid-19.

Recognizing the heaviness is the first step in saying “Okay, how do we deal with it?” 

  • Be okay with the gray. The pandemic brings with it uncertainty and a subsequent fear of the unknown. Let that not be our focus. We won’t have black and white on this one and that is okay. “It is what it is.”
  • Focus on today. Taking it farther than focusing on the present moment (which can sometimes feel impossible in the midst of building anxiety), we can ask ourselves when we wake up “How do I want today to look? To feel? What are the things I can do today that will bring me a renewed feeling of being grounded?”
  • Gratitude. Look for your blessings and jot them down. It is one of the most effective ways to feel lighter.
  • Continue to seek connection. Renew commitment to reaching out through phone and video chats. Write letters. Suggest outdoor visits or walks.

Although it often feels as though this pandemic is in the driver’s seat, we can remind ourselves that we are still in this together. Collectively, we can work together to drive the bus to our chosen destination, albeit dealing with the unruly passenger wreaking havoc at the back of the bus 🙂

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Honouring Your Own Story; A Response to Grief

I have been working with a client who is going through her “year of firsts” after losing her grandmother. This time is one of process; one in which we go through the first year, weaving through the stages of grief and learning how to live without our loved one. It is also a time to honour our family member at each “first;” birthdays, holidays, special events so as to both recognize their missed presence and acknowledge the valued place they held in our lives.

This particular young woman is struggling with looking at pictures of her grandmother as it brings her such sadness; yet a dissonance is created, as she so desperately wants to see her grandmother’s smile. She further shared that hearing “your grandmother would not want you to feel so sad all of the time,” is both comforting (as she knows it to be true), yet uneasy as she feels as though somehow it is a catch all phrase when others don’t know how to handle her grief.

In our exploration, we went big picture; we traveled down the path of her grandmother’s story and I was privileged to hear what made this woman so remarkable to her family. When we came back around to the phrase she was struggling with, I asked her “What would your grandmother say right now to you about your own story?” And without hesitation, she stated “She’d want me to live it.” 

We bring our loved ones with us; through our challenges and our triumphs, through the graduations, weddings, births of our children, laughter, tears and treasured moments. Giving ourselves permission to live our own story pays honour and respect to theirs; a lovely gift for those we have had to say goodbye to.

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The Boundaries We Seek

Sometimes our breakups end well, amicably. Sometimes when we decide that we can no longer have a person in our lives and we put boundaries into place, they are respected. Sometimes this is not the case, and the person with whom we have asked for some space persistently pursues, sometimes to the point of manipulation, abuse, and attempts to coerce.

When we have an ex or a fallen out loved one who begins to relentlessly text, you can almost guarantee a mixed bag of messages – apology texts to the point of begging, angry texts that are meant to punish, manipulative texts that infer that suicide might be a possibility. Sometimes you hear nothing for weeks, only to wake up to a barrage of texts in the morning. Phone calls out of nowhere.

It is through our boundary setting and consistent response that we can begin to feel as though we have some control in what is intrusive:

  • Decide that you won’t play the game; that you won’t get pulled in. Our own emotions often get in the way of our rational decision to end the relationship; allow the facts of the relationship to be present when our naturally driven, ‘hopeful’ thoughts come into play.
  • Remain consistent with your message. If you have to have contact because of shared children or you attend the same family events, be cautious of the emotional nature of your communication. Switch to text or email only if the phone calls tend to go sideways; only answer the factual parts of the message.
  • If you no longer need to have this person in your life, consider blocking their avenues to contact you. So often, I hear from clients that they “feel bad” doing this. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be necessary if the person was respecting the space you have asked for.
  • If they threaten suicide, call 911 and report it. It is not our place to try and guess if the person is serious about the attempt or trying to manipulate. By calling 911, it moves it out of your hands.
  • If the behaviours towards you increase and you begin to worry about your safety, report it to the police.

It is important to recognize that the patterns that make up relationships are still present even after the relationship has ended. If your ex or family member disagrees with the separation they may be consciously and subconsciously working hard to maintain the dynamic. Recognizing that is what allows us to consistently maintain our own boundaries; to build our seawalls when the storms are surging.

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Resource for Cyber Stalking

We live in a technological world and as a result, there are many advantages to our daily lives that have been improved by technology. Unfortunately, it also creates the space for cyberbullying and cyberstalking.

The Cyberbullying Research Center defines cyberstalking as: “Cyberstalking involves the use of technology (most often, the Internet!) to make someone else afraid or concerned about their safety. Generally speaking, this conduct is threatening or otherwise fear-inducing, involves an invasion of a person’s relative right to privacy, and manifests in repeated actions over time. Most of the time, those who cyberstalk use social media, Internet databases, search engines, and other online resources to intimidate, follow, and cause anxiety or terror to others.”

Cyberstalking usually involves someone you know; an ex-partner or fallen-out friend. Comparitech, a company dedicated to in-depth tech research, notes that cyberstalking constitutes as criminal harassment and lists examples which “include sending harassing messages, gathering information about the victim (including using spyware), engaging in “cyber-smearing” (attempts to destroy the victim’s reputation), tracking a victim using GPS technology, and sending malware to the victim’s computer, among others.”

In order to protect ourselves and our family members from such events, we can begin by tightening the reins to our privacy and security. If you would like to read an in-depth article highlighting how to do this, follow this link: https://www.comparitech.com/blog/vpn-privacy/cyber-stalking/

Tomorrow’s post will provide tips on how to create boundaries with an ex-partner.

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Parenting Through the Tough Times

In an article entitled “The Most Valuable Thing a Parent Can Do For Their Kids” by Glennon Doyle Melton and featured on Oprah.com, Melton talks about the challenge we face as parents when hardship strikes. Speaking candidly about how separating from her husband led her to feelings of failure as a parent, she came to realize some valuable insight about how to best guide our children through difficult times:

“What if it has never been our job—or our right—to protect our children from every incoming bump and bruise? What if, instead, our obligation is to point them directly toward life’s inevitable trials and tribulations and say, ‘Honey, that challenge was made for you. It might hurt, but it will also nurture wisdom, courage, and character. I can see what you’re going through, and it’s big. But I can also see your strength, and that’s even bigger. This won’t be easy, but we can do hard things.” 

If we have done our best to help protect our children by shouldering as much as we can when it comes to the tough stuff, then it is also okay to give ourselves permission to see that struggle can also bring to the experience some valuable lessons, not only for ourselves but for our children as well.

To read the full article: http://www.oprah.com/inspiration/glennon-doyle-melton-parenting-children-of-divorce

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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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