Reading Paintracking: Your Personal Guide to Living Well with Pain by Deborah Barrett. A very human, compassionate and comprehensive book by a lay sufferer who has tried and researched many avenues – and then had the book read by medical experts for accuracy. I would certainly recommend it as a staple book for anyone with pain. It has a wealth of detail and is both very comprehensive and very humanly written.
Many of the points she made backed up my own experience. It got me thinking: what are the most helpful tips and tricks I have learnt? What has actually worked for me? Some I have read about, some I have muddled through and worked out for myself.
Posture, movement and facial expression are some of my strongest cards in the pain game:
- Stand and move as if pain-free – and always walk with arms free and swinging. I got this advice from Freedom from Pain by Dr. Norman J. Marcus and adopted it into my life – I wrote about it in an earlier post. Moving as if pain-free sends positive signals back to your brain. Deborah Barrett makes a couple of good suggestions:
- Sit up straight and centred. Shrug your shoulders to reduce upper body tension, then breathe deeply and slowly to relax. It is also enormously relaxing to yawn several times.
- Smile, which many people advise and which changes your whole physiology. Just try feeling depressed when you are smiling! But she suggests a half smile, not a huge forced grin. Just relax your face, particularly your jaw, and just smile slightly. Your eyes will follow suit into a genuine smile. I always used to ask my students to have a warm fuzzy thought on hand to make them smile. It could be cuddling your grandchild, a kitten purring on your knee, as mine is at this moment, draped across my lap limp with purring. Or the memory of an absurdity – or a prat fall. Just keep it on hand mto work for you.
Self-talk and mindfulness are other great tools:
- Check what I am ruminating on, the background running commentary to my life. Catch the downward spiral and consciously change it. What’s the narrative I am telling myself? The musical theme to my life? What will be my story at the end? Can I make it purposeful and good? Can I live my life, even though restricted, like the epitaph I would like to have?
- Try and keep upbeat. Barrett makes the point that “a growing body of research demonstrates that positive thinking significantly affects people’s physiological experience, including their experience of pain.” And we know that – it’s why we say, “Cheer up!” And why when we are engaged and enthusiastic, we feel much less pain.
- STOP – from the book The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD by Lidia Zylowska MD. See blog entry. Put simply: Stop in your tracks; take a deep breath; observe your environment; and in my version, connect with your Source. It really works to centre you and has helped me a lot. As has mindful breathing – slow, deep belly breathing, which switches on the calming parasympathetic nervous system. (See also abdominal,breathing.)
I also owe her a debt for mentioning local anaesthetic patches in her overview of drugs. I found they can be bought OTC and do help topically. I had asked my pain doctor if such a thing exists to be told he had never heard of any. So I highly recommend her book as an information mainstay.