It’s raining today (Monday 15th Jan). Not unusual for January but how does it make you feel when you look out of the window? Do you see possibility or problem? A wet day or a chance to jump in puddles? Most kids love jumping in puddles to see what happens and because that exploration is fun. As an adult, life is much more ‘serious’. To spend time splashing about many not even occur to you.
Having fun is a fundamental part of living a healthy and fulfilling life. Carefree movements and silliness in all their shapes and forms makes us feel free and easy, together with laughter, smiles and joy emerging from such acts dotted through each day. There is time for serious stuff, but this can be addressed with more focus, clarity and resilience when we are well. We learn, we bond, and we foster wellbeing through fun. However, this can all seem to be lost when our health and sense of self is threatened, so how can we get back to living when suffering chronic pain? Do we wait to feel better? Or do we actively do something to feel better? I would strongly argue the latter, but we need a way; the ‘know-how’.
Do we wait to feel better? Or do we actively do something to feel better?
Many people suffering chronic pain and other complex health problems are merely surviving or getting by. There is no sense of living. Instead, they are struggling through each day, perhaps with the occasional pleasure. There do not appear to be many choices because of the seeming limitations imposed by the pain, and even if there is some sunlight breaking through the clouds, it is short lived through the expectation that pain will soon return.
As with many of chronic pain’s associated consequences, to understand it informs new thinking, new decisions, new behaviours and hence new experiences. When the fears and worries diminish, opportunity arises. The fears naturally ease when pain is understood. Here are a few simple examples of what is known about pain:
- pain and injury are not the same
- pain and injury (damage to tissues) are poorly related
- pain is part of the way we protect ourselves together with changes in thinking, feeling, movement and perception; all in the name of defence just in case the perceived, or predicted danger really exists (based on what we know, or ‘priors’).
- pain is much better an indicator of the person’s state — i.e. in a state of protect; this is why tiredness, anxiety and perceived loneliness increase the likelihood of being in pain as all of these are potentially threatening
- pain is embedded in our society
- pain changes — when you monitor your pain, you realise the ebbs and flows; the notion of impermanence is useful here, as life would not be possible without our ability to transform and learn. All experiences come and go.
There is much more that we know about pain, and we are learning rapidly alongside the ever-deepening understanding of consciousness.
There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
With insight into the way we think, the way our mind works and being in touch with reality by being present and aware, one can begin to craft a way forward, step by step. This is the practice of being mindful, which is a way of living life, and really being here and now. These are not just words or concepts, but a reality. The past has gone and the future never comes; there is only this moment to live. Indeed this moment may be filled with suffering as this is unavoidable in life — this is the truth. But it may also be filled with joy and pleasure — this is also the truth. Rolling with the natural ups and downs of life then, becomes a skill that we can develop together with the practice of the skills of being well so that we build wellness and resilience.
In this sense, we need to go out into the world to ‘sample’ the sensory opportunities. In doing so we ‘update’ our perceptions and experiences. This is work in progress, so we take steps to build the effect as we become more skilful, just like learning a musical instrument. This is living by living.
There are likely to be parameters to work to if you are suffering chronic pain. One of the modern tenets for managing and overcoming chronic pain is that of creating a sense of safety (pain is about perception of threat, hugely involving the person’s interpretation of the situation, consciously and subconsciously). Understanding pain forms the basis of feeling safe to move and ‘act’, which then become the next prior experience(s) or reference point(s) (consciously and subconsciously); i.e. a building effect.
Along the way we associate with the success of the little wins, rewarding oneself at each step; rewarding the fact that you took action as you may not ‘see’ much change day to day. Think about dental health. You know that you must clean your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes. Not just once, but every day if you want to maintain a healthy mouth. Consider getting fit. Going to the gym once will do little. Going 3 times a week will build health and fitness, although you may not see much change for a few months.
The start point with the principle of ‘living by living’ is to think about what you can do, even for a short time. This maybe walking, meeting friends (social interaction to counter perceived loneliness), simple movements or stretches to nourish the body tissues, reading, going to an event. Immediately you may think of the reasons why you CAN’T, but remember that these are the thoughts informing your decisions that you can change by associating with pleasure rather than ‘pain’. When you update your beliefs by truly understanding pain, you realise that you CAN do certain things, which you can build up, just like getting fit.
As you gradually fill your time with chosen and meaningful activities, the pain rents less space in your thinking and experience of life. The wheels start turning in the right direction, and you begin to associate more and more pleasure with your successes, even if you feel your pain at times. Pain is an action, a perception, a feeling, an emotion, a thought, all together as a means to make oneself safe. Whilst more complex that the (wrong) belief that pain resides in the tissues, this understanding means that we have a huge number of ways to transform the experience. Pain is embodied; we feel it in our body. But ‘I’ feel it, the person feels it, not the body part where I feel it — back pain: it is not my back that is in pain; I am in pain, feeling it in my back. Pain is ‘whole person’ and hence needs this approach.
*Action: think about something you CAN do, especially if it is fun. Picture it, visualise doing it and notice how you feel. Then try it, perhaps just a little to begin with so that you have a good experience that becomes a past experience to draw upon. We create these past experiences by living, hence getting back to living by living. Write down what you have done and how you feel that sense of success and achievement. Then build.
The Pain Coach Programme is a comprehensive approach to managing and overcoming chronic pain and easing the suffering of chronic health conditions. Contact us to book your initial conversation to learn about reaching your potential to live well. We look forward to hearing from you. t. 07518 445493
* You should always discuss new approaches with your healthcare provider.