I am no stranger to chronic pain, primarily related to my spine and especially my head.
Low back pain started in my twenties, when I replaced running with walking as my morning exercise. Low impact aerobics were better than no impact aerobics as far as I was concerned.
In my early thirties, recurrent neck and upper back muscle spasms, as well as arm weakness/ numbness/ tingling led to a neurosurgery workup. The myelogram that confirmed a herniated disc also resulted in severe complications (Dural tear and chemical meningitis), leaving me with a 24/7 headache that last three years.
Yes, three years. Yes 24/7. Unrelieved by medication. Relieved only by sleeping.
I would eventually undergo surgery, a cervical fusion, and three months later the headache was gone. Oh, sweet blessing of joy!
A couple years later, my “myelogram headache” returned, the result of another neck disc herniation. Treated with epidural steroid injections – three courses of three injections over the period of three years – I finally stepped away from my beloved Operating Room nursing. When people asked me if I missed the OR, I replied that I missed the work, but I did not miss the pain. I also liked to say that you can take the nurse out of the OR, but you can’t take the OR out of the nurse.
Life went on. Pain came and went. I lived with my degenerative disc disease, what I jokingly referred to as SFD (shit for discs) syndrome, and managed, with daily stretching and strengthening exercises, to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Which in the last twelve years has included international travel to over thirty countries and three adventure treks. Yes!
In early May, I slipped on damp pavement, became briefly airborne, then fell flat on my back. I received a free extra-large ice cream cone for my troubles. It was delicious.
And, indeed, my troubles began again. Brought to me by, among other spine problems, bulging discs and nerve root compression at multiple levels in my neck and lower back. And, worst of all, the return of my myelogram headache. My 24/7 companion. Still unrelieved by medication. Not a surgical candidate, I am currently undergoing physical therapy.
Some days, my bed and my exquisite down pillows offer the only relief from the pounding jarring pain in my head. It is a blessing to be able to sit up, even more so to move around and undertake simple household and outdoor activities.
I consider myself an expert on chronic pain.
Ever seeking the path to optimum health, and knowing that optimum is a relative term, I offer these five simple strategies to promote your best wellness possible.
Ill, Still, Chill, Fill and Will.
ILL: Accept, with love and compassion, that you are ill.
Stop resisting the pain; rather, play with the idea of leaning into it, accepting it. Accepting and loving yourself just the way you are.
Be aware of the sneaky side effect of chronic pain: difficulty concentrating. Don’t beat yourself up about this. It’s the way things are.
Place your hand(s) as close to the source of pain as possible and offer gratitude for all the times in your life that this part of your body sustained you and kept you going. Then offer compassion for the dis-ease you’re experiencing, and hope for better days.
Pace yourself. You likely have good days and bad days. Honor each of them. Be especially grateful for the good ones.
STILL: Be still and allow yourself time to rest.
Remember, you are not being lazy. Chronic pain consumes huge amounts of energy. And it also produces stress, a key culprit in many illnesses.
Take a realistic look at your commitments, and adjust them accordingly to free up more time.
Learn to say NO.
And learn to go slow, or at least as slowly as your life circumstances allow.
If necessary, arrange for someone to watch the kids for thirty minutes so you can rest in quiet. An over-the-ears noise reduction headset, soft calming music, and eye pillow offer added respite, even if only for a few minutes.
CHILL: If possible, chill the area of pain with a cold pack or gel.
If warmth feels better, use that.
You can use a frozen bag of peas or select from numerous products available online for both hot and cold therapy. Gel pads are my favorite.
Important! Be sure to limit use of hot or cold packs to twenty minutes at a time, waiting two hours before reapplying.
FILL: As much as possible, fill your time and space with that which nourishes you.
If you need help, ask for it. You are important and you deserve support.
Look around your space. What about it could you change, within reason, that would make you feel better?
Turn off the news. It’s an energy drainer. I like to say if it’s important enough I’ll hear about it on Facebook. Speaking of Facebook… if you are a regular, pay attention to what you’re paying attention to. Move on from posts that drain your emotional energy. Give yourself permission to step away, unfollow, leave.
Turn on funny and inspiring YouTube videos. Here are some of my all-time favorites:
· Laughing Babies: https://youtu.be/L49VXZwfup8
· The Nutcracker by Kodi the Cat: https://youtu.be/obtfsA0oIKk
· Dog Wants a Kitty: https://youtu.be/kI4yoXyb1_M
· Paul Potts Sings Nessun Dorma: https://youtu.be/1k08yxu57NA
· Susan Boyle, Britain’s Got Talent: https://youtu.be/RxPZh4AnWyk
· Amira Willighagen – O Mio Babbino Caro: https://youtu.be/qDqTBlKU4CE
· Piano stairs – TheFunTheory.com: https://youtu.be/2lXh2n0aPyw
WILL: Use your will power in the direction of health.
You may have to live with chronic pain the rest of your life. Yet remember, joy lives here too.
Make healthy choices about what you put in your body, trusting that your body will respond with better health. By the same token, if you’re having a really bad day and that sweet treat will soften your distress, enjoy it. My motto: moderation in all things, including moderation.
Move as much as you safely can. Take a slow walk. If that’s too much, move around the house. If that’s too much, move around on the sofa or in your bed. Contract and relax your muscles. Still too much? Then imagine walking, imagine moving, imagine contracting and relaxing your muscles
Ask your doctor for an order for Physical Therapy. Those PTs have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves to promote support and healing.
Be willing to release that which no longer serves you. Are you holding on to items or beliefs you no longer need? Clearing the space in your head and your home allows the creation of a new, healing flow.
Your pain may or may not change; your heart and spirit definitely will… for the better.