My Journey with Chronic Pain: Part 5

If you missed part one, two, three or four be sure to check them out as this is a continuing story. Now on to part five!

Over the next few months I continued to learn more about pain and move more in my daily life.

At this point I had a deep and very personal understanding that pain does not equal tissue damage and tissue damage does not equal pain. Some examples of this are:

  • We have all had that bruise on our leg that we didn’t even know was there…this is clear tissue damage yet no pain.

  • We could take a back MRI of 20 people off the street and many would have some sort of changes: herniated discs, arthritis yet they have no pain.

  • Sunburn (hear me out here)…Yes when you have a sunburn the skin is damaged from the burn. But, when you take a shower it really hurts but you are not causing further damage from the shower. I hope that makes sense.

The experience of pain is very complex.

Shifting my thinking from a strictly biomedical point of view where A + B = C to a more biopsychosocial view that recognizes that the pain experience is complex and it involves the tissues of our bodies, chemical changes, our thoughts, past experiences with pain, sleep. nutrition and so much more.

By exposing my brain to movement and information, I got stronger both mentally and physically and my sensitive nervous system calmed down. Until eventually I was pain free…almost everyday!

This is now my baseline….this IS my new normal.

I no longer have to pretend that the pain was not there or that my neck was somehow separate from the rest of my body. I now feel comfortable sharing my pain experience with patients (or even here in this blog) for several reasons:

  • Educate about the science behind pain.

  • As a way in to their thoughts and beliefs around pain.

  • Find out how they are coping

  • Build trust…I now have that “been there done that” relatability

  • Open the door for people to ask questions about my pain (that often leads to their pain)

In order to get through my day-to-day life of pain it was easier to pretend it didn’t exist. To pretend that my neck was separate from the rest of me. It was easier to smile and pretend everything was fine. (Remember I couldn’t be a patient in front of patients.) When in fact I should have confronted my pain, made friends with it and try to understand it more.

Instead it became something to be feared and ignored and as a result it clung to me with every thought and movement I made. Going through my journey with pain and disability was hard and messy.

As the patient I needed to shift my mindset to believe that I was not fragile but rather I was strong and resilient.

As the physical therapist this experience completely changed my treatment paradigm. The experience allowed me to have more empathy and sympathy for my patients with pain, and definitely checked my ego at the door. I came to the realization that I was not the ultimate “fixer” and that it was not upon me to take on my patients’ recovery.  

And now here comes the big caveat to all of this: yes for the most part I am pain free….but I do still have issues and pain at times. And some of these issues I am still trying to work through so I don’t have all the answers for you but instead some more questions.

My issues now that I am relatively pain free:

  • Flare ups….they happen and it is painful and how to deal with that

  • The anxiety over IF the pain will come back and stick around for years again.

  • The guilt and shame over taking meds when I have those flare ups.

  • The concept of forgiveness of the body

  • And many more that I will explore in upcoming blog posts

 After all of my searching to find that one person who could “fix me” I came to the realization that I needed way more than one person. I needed a team of PTs, MDs, friends and family to guide and support me.

 

But in the end my pain, my neck and my life came down to one person and I finally found her…. it was me.

You feel your strength in the experience of pain.  - Jim Morrison   

If you are suffering with chronic pain and you can relate to my journey please do not hesitate to reach out to Kenny or myself. We are trained to help those living with chronic pain and are here to listen to your story and partner with you to guide you along the way.