Hello! Let’s carry on with The Pain Experiment. Today, co-leader Janice Dietert takes the helm, sharing her own story with pain, including recent pain. May her honesty touch you and her words unlock something important in your own journey. Enjoy!
PAIN AS MESSENGER
I have to admit that I’ve struggled to write this article. The title came to me immediately weeks ago, but as I’ve read what the other Consciouseers have written, the concept has made me squirm. Everyone else has offered phenomenal suggestions for dealing with pain that are about as effortless as they come. And who can forget Rodney’s “One pain, two pains, red pain, blue pain…?” I wanted to write something like that, but the Universe isn’t going to let me.
Instead, I’m going to suggest you sit your pain down in a hard wooden chair, turn on a bright light to shine in its eyes, and ask it what it knows, like they did in old spy movies. Because I can guarantee you, pain can talk and if you listen, you will learn things about yourself you didn’t know.
I wrote about Dr. Sarno here and his idea that pain is really repressed rage and just knowing that can get rid of the pain. I’ll admit, as I read his book, I had a reduction in the level of some new found pain I’d been experiencing. But it didn’t completely go away. So, Dr. Sarno has one idea, and it has worked for him and his patients. Sometimes, that’s not the answer, though.
I recall a story one of my favorite authors, Martha Beck, shared about her life. She was married with children and a professor at Harvard university. At the same time, she suffered (literally) from progressively worsening fibromyalgia. At its worst, she couldn’t walk without pain, spent as much of her days in bed as she could, and her hands had become so crippled with pain, they had curled into claws.
Her road to recovery was not easy. In fact it took all of the inner strength and courage she could muster because her pain had a message:
- NOTE #1: She was in the wrong religion and needed to leave the Mormon church. This alone caused the elders to come by intimidating her and she received death threats.
- NOTE #2: She was in the wrong career. Being a professor was not feeding her soul. It was sucking her dry. She really came alive helping people live more successful fulfilling lives.
- NOTE #3: She was definitely in the wrong marriage, as in married to a man. She would come to discover she was a lesbian and find the partner of her dreams…but only once she divorced the father of her children.
So, in order to become painfree with normal hands and a painfree gait, Martha simultaneously (or close to it) had to quit her job, leave her marriage, and strike out on her own with three small children in tow, one of whom has Down’s syndrome. Sometimes, the end of pain comes with a huge life challenge requiring real grit.
Personally, I’m a 3 year old in a woman’s body. I have NEVER stopped asking questions about everything, but particularly about what pains me. And this year, pain has been an interesting companion with some intriguing and, at times important, tales to tell.
For starters, I blew out my right knee while hiking through the fields and woods behind our house searching for my cat when she went wandering for a week. An X-ray of the swollen knee showed I had mild arthritis. Once the swelling went down, the knee has mostly been fine. But I started to notice the same sensations in the other knee.
A while later my semi-annual bloodwork to check hormone levels showed my estrogen levels had plummeted by nearly half from what they were last year. My inquisitive 3 year old raised her head. “That’s weird. I wonder if low estrogen levels have anything to do with arthritis?” A bit of searching on Auntie Google, and sure enough there’s a direct correlation. Estrogen is anti-inflammatory so when it drops inflammation may hit the joints. Perhaps the pain in my knees was an early warning. I heeded the message, talked with my doctor and dose adjustments were made.
While waiting for the pain to disappear, I increased my exercise load. If 4 miles a night on my recumbent bike was good, surely 5 or 6 were better. And if one yoga class per week was good and helped strengthen my feet and ankles, surely a second strength building class would be better. After all, the Sports Medicine doctor had said that with arthritis, if I wanted to move, I needed to keep moving.
Apparently, my body had other ideas. At first it was just a twinge in my left hip and tightness down the outside of my left leg. But as I continued pushing to move, real problems crept in. The Saturday before Thanksgiving in the US, I went grocery shopping. But I was in so much pain when I got home, I could barely stand to put food away. Thanksgiving Day was no better as I stood at the counter crying while trying to cook dinner. What was this pain trying to say?
I took the next week off exercise to rest my body, which helped but I knew something wasn’t totally right. Finally, I broke down and went to Urgent Care only to learn I had bursitis in the hip and IT band spasms and arthritis in the hip. What was the painful red flag for? Well, silly. You forgot to actually listen to your body, pay attention to the lesser ouches until you just plainly overdid (sorry Dr. Sarno, I do believe it is possible). When I wouldn’t listen to the whispers, my body decided to yell.
However, my inner 3 year old took the helm again a couple of days ago. My estrogen levels should be more normal now. The Ibuprofen took down the majority of the inflammation. Rodney did some deep Reiki on me that took the pain from a level 10 down to a 2, and my favorite massage therapist got the IT band to calm down.
“But why did you develop multi-joint arthritis? Why now? And why did it flare up so bad? Is there something underlying all of this I’ve missed? What else have I done differently lately?” My 3 year old’s favorite game is 20 questions; can you tell?
I thought back to when the aches began and realized it was the same time I started Weight Watchers and began eating their frozen meals for convenience and to learn more appropriate portion sizes. Their meals are mostly pasta based, and I’ve avoided wheat and gluten for years…until I didn’t. Suddenly, I was eating it daily.
So, back to Auntie Google. “Is there a connection between gluten and arthritis?” Yup. Causative if you have celiac disease, but even in the average person it increases inflammation. To top it off, I’ve had an unresolving rash for the same period of time, and that’s a classic for gluten. So, thanks to the pain for alerting me and my inquisitive inner 3 year old, the pieces suddenly fell into place.
The bottom line here is that I had failed to listen to and honor my body. I think frequently that’s the case with some pains. Your body actually communicates fairly clearly, but if you don’t listen to the whispers, it will get exasperated enough to shout.
Am I out of pain now? Actually, 95% of the time, I am. But I’ve also addressed the two medical issues my body alerted me to.
Just to make myself clear, I know a basketful of modalities to apply and am blessed to have a husband who has learned a few as well. I’ve worked with both Ken and Wendy and have received some miraculous healings. And yet, some days my body just holds out for that sit-down chat I’ve been dismissing. And when I listen and question, I learn vital things that had otherwise been missed.
So, if you have times when, in spite of every fun, intriguing, useful modality you’ve applied, the pain keeps knocking on your door, then get out your cap, pipe and magnifying glass, sit that pain messenger down and let your inner 3 year old play 20 questions. Then listen and follow through.
Thanks so much, Janice, for letting your personal experiences open up a new line of inquiry for Pain Experimenters. See you all back here next Tuesday for our second-to-last post!
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