Painful Truth

Keep reading that suppressed emotions underlie chronic pain, according to one doctor, narcissistic rage! Looking at most of the people at pain clinics, defeated and gray, and hearing of their difficulties getting through the day when they shuffle on walkers, have lost their jobs, etc., I can't easily see where narcissism comes in.

But having read of pain clinics' success with meditation to uncover buried emotions, I will give it a try. Today, my tape asks me to remember my first experience of pain and how it made me feel emotionally. The first pain I can recall is when at age 2, riding pillion on my mother's bicycle, my foot got caught in the wheel. But all I can remember now is seeing sun streaming down through the leaves of an apple tree in the garden of a nearby house where I was taken. And I still love dappled sunlight. (Masochistic?)

I had my appendix out at 7, which probably hurt, but I only remember my disappointment that the “theatre” didn't have Peter Pan. Tonsils at 11, main memory of falling in love with Mr. Darcy, as I watched Pride and Prejudice during convalescence.

I struck gold with a verruca removal at 12. The local anaesthetic hurt like hell while it wore off, but emotions? I gave that one my all, but could only remember dumbly waiting for it to stop. Upstairs in bed, no audience, what else to do?

So far, more interested in beauty and romance, and tending to hunker down and sit out pain till it was over and I could resume a very active childhood.

Moving on, yes, a bad one there, which could have laid a foundation for a lasting attitude to pain. At 25, I was in a local Welsh hospital having 2/3 of my cystic ovaries removed in the hope I could get pregnant. My husband (a Navy pilot) had just been sent to sea to replace one of our friends who had been killed.

The pain was excruciating, and I lay all night with the idiotic song title “Cinderella, Rockerfella” running on a never ending tape through my head. I also heard, over the ward radio, news of another pilot lost on the same carrier.

Reaction: dumb endurance. It actually didn't occur to me to ask for more drugs. (Significant?) Certainly, I had been brought up not to make a fuss – “there are lots of people worse off than you, Jane”. And there were – Japanese POWs who had worked on the Burma railways, my uncle waiting on the beach at Dunkirk, my husband's father and aunt killed. In the streets, burned faces, missing legs. Mangled ovaries barely rated a mention.

I do think, though, that there was a thread running through of lack of hope, lack of entitlement to a good future. I was just waiting for tragedy to hit. We had friends killed each year flying, friends widowed, my husband's family had been tragically unlucky in almost every member. What claim had I on Fate? And everything came back, as always, to my brother's severe autism – the lack of speech and recognition that denied him life as we know it. He was a bright responsive child till at aged fifteen months, he shut down. So always with me is the knowledge that life is unsure, arbitrary and sometimes cruel.

So I can't find anger, but can find dumb endurance. I also find a girding of the loins to face pain, to keep going, to drive myself not to complain which is probably unhelpful. But it isn't easy to flit like a butterfly when my head is thick and my eyes bulge with pain.

There have also been huge gifts from pain, which I hardly like to mention – will it seem as if I want it? I am seeing psychological traps at every turn – even if not narcissistic anger. Now I think of it, is it narcissistic to write this blog?

On the one hand, why should I think anyone is interested? Puffed up? On the other, when I meet someone living in my world, it is enormously comforting – and less lonely. Will my blog resonate with and help someone else? Always contradictions: I need to talk to someone in the same boat, but I do NOT want pain to be my world or my identity. I want to grow from my pain, but not to need pain to grow!

So where do the meditations leave me? Although I have been somewhat flip, I actually do think they were helpful. They showed me the structure of my underlying belief system. And, when I recognize these beliefs, I can see that I don't need to soldier on gallantly, that my stiff upper lip should not be a hair shirt. I don't owe fate because I was spared my brother's. Life is not the nemesis I feared as a child, but has been full of gifts, even if it was hard for me to accept them graciously.

And the gifts of pain have been so great that it is churlish not to mention them: deep peace of heart, a closeness to God, knowing and trying to live in the Beloved.

I could feel myself relaxing and letting go of long held beliefs, but my physical pain is still there. Perhaps, though, I can live WITH pain not IN pain. I firmly make a picture of a whole self, with pain on the side like salad dressing, not dunked in pain like a sodden tea bag.

More info:

Chronic pain is determined by emotions, scientists believe. Telegraph UK.

The Six Week Pain Solution by Alan Konell. Combines hypnotherapy with NLP – the one I found most effective.

Mindfulness: an Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. I didn't find it helped with pain. The mindfulness was good, but I have done meditation and mindfulness before.

The Mindfulness Solution to Pain: Step by Step Techniques for Chronic Pain Management by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix with Lucie Costin-Hall. Dr. Gardner-Nix started the first chronic pain clinic in Ontario. She has an excellent reputation, but I didn't take the course because it wasn't offered in my area and also I physically couldn't sit through the sessions. I have read the book, which had many case stories of patients whose pain was cured or improved by working through their emotions.

The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain by John Sarno, MD. Controversial and concentrating on inner rage. He seems to apply his theory of tension myositis syndrome (TMS) across a wide range including back pain, digestive problems, even reflux. Link to Medscape article. I wasn't comfortable with it, but it led me to try The Six Week Pain Solution as an alternative, described above. I looked very hard for rage, but it didn't sit right with me. I have done a lot of mind-body work over the years and rage has never come up.

Conclusion: it is probably worth trying a mindfulness program at least to try to clear out any underlying beliefs on pain that may be making things worse. We wouldn't be human if we didn't have some limiting beliefs somewhere, but it seems punishing to assume our pain is the result of our unresolved problems. It doesn't make sense to me that some people's pain gets better and others' hangs around because of personal problems. I also can't make that theory jibe with the fact that my back flairs with particular movements and no physio or chiro has been able to exercise it out – they tell me because of severe adhesions that prevent my muscles working properly however hard I try.

I do think that any psychological support we can give ourselves is valuable, for example, my image of pain on the side. Others, like me, may have had some underground feeling that we may deserve pain.






About UntraveledRoads

Fascinated by life, looking for answers to chronic pain and finding unexpected gifts. Interested in people, ideas, healing and humour. I am very happily married with three children and a kitten. As English born immigrants to Canada, we have family spread overseas, a daughter in South Africa and one in England. We also run a charity in South Africa to educate black, rural South African Women. Our first girl from a rural township has just graduated as an accountant from Johannesburg University and got a good job in a bank.
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