Overcoming pain…or going around it

Living with pain…

I have been living with pain for so long that sometimes, when I have a flare-up, I can hardly believe its really happening…again? Most of the time I feel like I can overcome the pain obstacle in my daily life, and perhaps that is what makes these downturns feel like unpleasant surprises rather than expected inevitabilities. So maybe the surprise factor is actually a good thing, a reminder that positive thinking works?

Last week a friend with several chronic conditions suggested to me that the the desire to overcome our obstacles and view life with an optimistic attitude can be so strong that we are sometimes in danger of ignoring our early symptoms, the warning signals we have learned to recognize as part of the coping process. It makes sense, she said, because it is self-protective in some ways, to just struggle onwards while ignoring symptoms we would rather forget. On the other hand, ignoring those symptoms can be a big mistake because it might lead to further health problems (Never ignore chest pain, for example).

So ignoring the pain isn’t necessarily the answer either. It can be helpful to recognize the earliest signs of pain if there are simple and effective ways to alleviate it. For example, I might do some cardiovascular exercise or run my hands under hot water. Though we might therefore be sensitive to the pain, we must also distract ourselves from it when we need to.  After all, we still have to cope with it, and that often means we don’t give pain our full attention. This is mental acrobatics. Wow. We sound like an impressive group of people!

For more on interpreting pain signals and living with them, check out Explain Pain by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley.

…and going around it.

Ultimately I guess there is a delicate balance between the desire to overcome and the desire to hide under the blankets and never come out. Either one can go too far…

So after my last flare-up I investigated the possible triggers and found one — using the overhead storage in my new apartment. So I came up with a solution to help me go around the obstacle instead of going over the top of it. I am still going to do my overhead exercises at the gym 3x a week, but I am going to be a bit kinder to myself when I am making dinner. Someday I will raise my arms over my head without triggering the intense pain, but for now I am going to seek out a balance between reaching that goal and taking care of me.

The B&R plastics EZ Foldz Step Stool / pain management tool.