Welcome to my Stories page!

Here you will find stories and my reflections on life, its joys and challenges, relationships, travel, the world out there, the world within, my trauma recovery and healing, creativity, etc, etc, etc. I welcome your comments!

Seven Strategies for Living with Chronic Pain

I am no stranger to chronic pain, primarily related to my spine and head. Low back pain started seemingly out of the blue 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 lasted three years.

I am not kidding.

Yes, three years. Yes 24/7. On a scale of 1-10, it ranged between 4 and 7 on a regular day, 8-10 on a bad day. Burning. Pounding. Like the back of my head was exploding and at the same time someone was trying to pull the facial bones off the front of my head.

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. After treatment with epidural steroid injections - three courses of three injections over the period of three years - I finally stepped away from twenty years of 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.

Life went on. Pain came and went. I lived with degenerative disc disease, what I jokingly referred to as SFD (shit for discs), and managed, with daily stretching and strengthening exercises, to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Which included three adventure treks: one each in the Sahara and Jordanian Deserts and the Himalayan Hill Mountains in the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal.

In early May 2017, to celebrate the completion of my elderly father’s twice a day post cataract eye drops administration (or as I called it, being the Pop Drop Girl), I decided to treat myself to an ice cream cone nearby. Stepping up on to the ordering area, I slipped on damp pavement. Becoming briefly and completely airborne, I landed flat on my back. In semi shock, I gratefully received a free extra-large ice cream cone for my troubles.

It was delicious.

No surprise, the back and headache troubles resurfaced with a vengeance.

Holistic crack-less chiropractic support, X-Rays, MRIs, a neurosurgeon consult, ten weeks of physical therapy, referral to a local center for pain medicine and multiple procedures later, gratitude for partial relief of head pain and a solid plan to alleviate lower back pain reigned.

Along the way were sprinkled day and weeks that my bed and my exquisite down pillows offered the only relief from the pounding jarring pain in my head and/or the bone deep anguish in my lower back.

What a blessing to sit up, even more so to move around and undertake simple household and outdoor activities. Family and friends came again and again to help with the regular chores beyond my capacity.

Ever seeking the path to optimum health, and knowing that optimum is a relative term, I focused on and now offer these seven strategies to promote the best wellness possible in the presence of chronic pain.

Ill, Still, Chill, Fill, Will, Pill and Drill.

 

ILL: Accept with love and compassion that you are ill with dis-ease,

·      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 and try not to overdo it.

 

STILL: Be still and allow yourself time to rest.

·      Remember, you are not being lazy. Chronic pain consumes huge amounts of energy. It also produces stress, a key culprit in many illnesses.

·      Take a realistic look at your commitments, and adjust them accordingly to free up time for self-care.

·      Learn to pre-emptively say NO.

·      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.

·      If warmth feels better, it’s ok to use that.

·      You can grab a frozen bag of peas, make your own cold pack, or select from numerous products available online for both hot and cold therapy. Elastogel pads are my favorite, especially because they can be frozen for cold and heated in the microwave for hot. I use one specially made for head/neck and another long one for spine.

·      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. Stop reading, watching or listening to it. It's an energy drainer. My attitude is that if it's important enough, I'll see something 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.

·      Play Reiki healing recordings. Healing energy is healing energy no matter where it comes from, and this is my  favorite.

·      Consider EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) tapping as a powerfully self-loving adjunctive treatment modality. Brad Yates is the master of online tapping videos and you can find one on tapping for pain here 

·      Turn on funny and inspiring YouTube videos. My current favorite is the two young choir boys signing a meow song with deadpan faces. I laugh out loud every time.

·      You can find my all-time favorite uplifting YouTube videos here. Just scroll down to the bottom.

 

WILL: Use your power of intention, your will power, in the direction of health.

·      You may have to live with chronic pain the rest of your life. Remember, joy lives here too.

·      It’s also possible that your chronic pain is rooted in emotional pain and scars that can be healed. For example, when I was meeting with a therapist in 2008, I mentioned I had lived with back pain most of my adult life. Her immediate question, “How were you unsupported in your life?” was quickly followed by my response of “It would be easier to answer that by naming the few times I felt supported.”

·      Be willing to consider professional help. Body/energy, traditional therapy, and/or Somatic Experiencing may change your life for the better. It did mine. You can learn more about resources I’ve found helpful in the last link above.

·      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. Believe it or not, even that has benefits.

·      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. 

 

PILL: There very well may be a place for pain pills in managing your pain.

·      If you are using over the counter and/or prescription medication, take each pill with mindfulness and intention.

·      Before taking each pill, pause to consider if you’re doing this out of habit and if you really need it.

·      If you don’t really need it, set it aside for now.

·      If you really need it, take it. Especially if you’re dealing with severe pain, which is hard to get control of if you wait too long.

·      If you know you’re going to be physically active doing things that typically increase your pain, be sure to take your pain medication about an hour beforehand.

·      If you’re using aspirin or any of the NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen) medications, make sure you take it with food. The last thing you want is an ulcer on top of your present pain. If you keep these meds by your bed, keep something healthy to eat, like protein bars or nuts there as well.

·      Make sure you do not exceed the maximum daily allowance of any medication, especially those including acetaminophen and/or paracetamol. Years ago, these alternatives to aspirin were thought to be free of side effects. More recent studies have shown that they can damage the liver if overused.

 

DRILL: Do the drill of using the resources you have at your disposal.

·      If you have physical therapy exercises you’re supposed to do daily, do them daily. If it’s too painful, follow up with your doctor and/or trainer, and ask for an alternative.

·      Create an environment in your home that supports you. To expand on the point above in the “Will” section ask for help to remove clutter if you cannot do it yourself. Looking at a mess does nothing positive for your pain and can add stress.

·      Develop a regular morning and evening routine and stick to it as much as possible. Your nervous system likes routine, and may reward you with an easing of your pain symptoms.

·      Try to get enough sleep every night.

·      Schedule your daytime physical activities to when you feel best.

·      Imagine there's a loving peace-mongering drill sergeant whispering sweetly at you to keep going, you can do this.

One final very important consideration is to keep your sense of humor alive. Laughter truly is the best medicine. It is in a spirit of humor that I share with you this pain process workflow, the idea of creating being a through back to my healthcare informatics workflow documentation days. To best enjoy and learn from it, go through it bit by bit. Follow one train of thought to its conclusion without concern for the other bits. 

 

 

 

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Forgiveness and the Five Thousand Dollar Ice Cream Cone

"No thanks" he told me. "I'm ready to go home." This surprised me, as Dad rarely passed the opportunity for ice cream, especially if it was my treat. And this occasion had cause for celebration. We had just completed his post cataract surgery follow up appointment as well as six weeks of twice-daily-eye-drops (or as I preferred to call them, Pop drops).

Delivering Dad home, I pursued the treat beckoning to me from a local popular frozen custard place.

I stepped up onto the pavement, noticing at the back of my mind that the day's rain had dampened the concrete area outside the ordering window. The large wipe-your-feet-mat had absorbed the rain, and I thought to myself "wow - this is soaked!"

My step on and off the soaked mat onto the damp concrete would change my life.

0the walk slip airborn and crash landing w captions.png

It's called a slip and fall, and indeed I did slip and fall… flat on my back, grateful for the recently accumulated extra padding on my backside. Thankfully my head did not hit the ground, though the effort to keep it from doing so would wreak havoc with my neck and shoulder muscles, tendons and ligaments. Plus that thing called the spine: it bore the brunt of the fall. I lay briefly, sensing how I felt, realizing with gratitude that I was ok enough to wave off the kind people coming to help.

I gingerly walked up to the counter, acutely aware of the absence of Caution signs. I sweetly asked the young lady behind the counter "Do you give free ice cream cones to people who slip on your pavement?" Her compassionate and spot-on answer was "of course! Are you ok?" I assured her I was, commenting that perhaps this wasn't a good day for me to be wearing my flip flops with the traction long worn off.  I received a really nice cone for my troubles, snapped a friendly photo of it for social media, and headed - very carefully - back to my car.

Little did I realize how impactful (pun definitely intended) this slip and fall would be…

4 the 5k ice cream cone.png

As in massive diffuse injury along my entire spine, neck to tailbone: five bulging discs with nerve root compression left and right at multiple levels in my neck, mid and lower back, with concomitant muscle spasms. Throw in some bone spurs and spinal canal stenosis that had developed over time and the icing on cake - an unrelenting (aka 24/7) and often severe headache, barely responsive to meds and consuming of critical thinking and concentration.

Two weeks later, on a bright sunny day, I returned for another cone. Bright yellow caution signs welcomed, hello! How curious! Aware of the back story (again, pun very much intended), I found it a bit ironic.

I had a specific purpose for this visit: a sort of re-enactment - minus the slip and fall. In keeping with the Somatic Experiencing™ (SE®) trauma healing modality I'd be treated with for the last seven years, this meant lying on the pavement for several minutes, recalling the actual fall, and allowing my body and nervous system the space and time to calm. Something I hadn't thought of on injury day. So there I lay, observing how the concrete felt under my body, listening to the sounds of traffic, smelling the summer day, watching the billowy clouds make their way across the sky. Tasting the yummy ice cream cone I had purchased. My nieces accompanying me sat nearby chatting, familiar with my SE healing routine.

 Taking slow deep breaths in, letting them out mindfully.

Taking slow deep breaths in, letting them out mindfully.

I felt my body shift, legs adjusting themselves just a bit, a sensation of tingling ascending from my tailbone through my spine up to the back of my head. Big yawns emerged, a classic sign of trapped energy being released, my nervous system settling, righting itself. An all around amazing experience. While it did not relieve my symptoms, the experience cleared additional accumulated trauma, allowing me to move forward on an even playing field, so to speak.

Fast forward four months. Claim filed with company's insurance, paperwork submitted, investigation completed, claim denied. Discussion with attorney helped me understand that slip and fall cases are very prolonged and expensive with burden of proof on the injured to demonstrate that the defendant was negligent. They wouldn't even take on such a case. I kicked myself mentally for not snapping a photo of the surroundings that fatefully awful fall-full day.

Having undertaken every feasible avenue of care (doctor appointments, x-rays, prescription anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants, cold packs, bedrest, holistic chiropractic care, bio-energetics work, MRIs, neurosurgery consult, Physical Therapy, Aquatics Therapy, bedrest, cold packs,  bedrest, cold packs, ad infinitum, I continued to suffer from debilitating pain. Laundry, dishes, paperwork piled up and the little energy I had I devoted to editing my book, keeping social media posts going, creating marketing video slideshows and painting beautiful commission art pieces until my legs, numbed, carried me back to bed.

By now I had paid about $5000.00 out-of-pocket for medical expenses. I thanked God for my personal insurance, for which I pay $700 every month. Because of it, I was spared additional tens of thousands of dollars.  

At the same time, I felt so angry! I felt so frustrated! I felt so sad!

Now calling on the resources I learned through years of trauma recovery, I allowed myself to really FEEL these emotions. To make space and time for my wounded spirit to heal... which would mean forgiveness:

  1. For the company's insurance plan not including a "no fault" clause (like most plans do) that would have paid out $5k. 
  2. For state law that placed the burden of proof that the company was negligent on me.
  3. For the employee who lied about caution signs being out. She's a lovely young woman and I believe she was just protecting her job.
  4. For the insurance company taking the employee's lie over my truth.
  5. For MYSELF, for wearing slippery flip flops on a rainy day and for not thinking to walk extra carefully on the damp pavement. 

And guess what happened? Making room and space for the anger and disappointment actually created more space for acceptance, kindness, forgiveness. The burden of resentment lifted and in its place surfaced compassion and curiosity, both rooted in love, not fear.

Five months to the date from my injury, I underwent a cervical (neck) epidural steroid injection. The procedure? You can google it if you're interested. Having had nine of these in past years, I knew what to expect: an icky quickie. The staff were kind and compassionate, especially when I explained up front that as a trauma survivor I had special needs, and how they could help by allowing me extra time to process what was happening. And not be concerned when I started yawning - really big extended yawns with cat-hiss like sounds. It was all good. 

Such self love! Such validation that I matter!

I imagined the healing medication bathing my inflamed nerve roots, helping them settle down. Now, almost 48 hours later, I'm experiencing some relief for the first time in months. Thanks to the steroid component, I'm also more energetic, which comes in handy as I prepare for a week out of town. 

I may require a second injection in four weeks, depending on the full result from this one. Then it's on to a lower back injection. Wow - it's a relief to know my plan of care and the hope it holds.

Yes, a spark of hope… perhaps it's possible after all to undertake training starting the first of the year in preparation for an Icelandic trek scheduled next July. I'd love that… either way, I've done my best. Patting myself on the back now.

What a wonderful shifting occurs moving from fear to love, making room for me. I deserve that, because I matter. 

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