The other week, I had a mindset shifting visit with my chiropractor, where we have been working on the chronic neck and shoulder pain that has been following me around for a while. Over the last 2 + years, I have been going to various health care practitioners (traditional and alternative) and body workers, using self-massage techniques, and more, all to try and rid myself of this constant, literally, pain in my neck and I haven’t, in my view, been getting as far as I’d like in a timely manner (patience is not my strong suit). And I have been frustrated!!!
- Frustrated that there isn’t one day where I wake up in the morning without feeling the pain
- Frustrated that I can’t turn my head without turning my whole torso when changing lanes while driving
- Frustrated that I am missing out on moving my body in ways that are challenging, yet enjoyable, for me
- Frustrated that I am not healing quick enough
- Frustrated that, ultimately, healing seems to be eluding me
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be a complainer. I realize that I am privileged to have access and financial means to be able to get help. I also realize that my pain pales in comparison to those that live with chronic disease such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, etc., where pain is a constant teeter-totter of sensation with no known cure. I don’t mean to minimize those experiences or suggest that with the “right” action plan, that pain can all but go away. On the contrary…
We all, at some point in our lives, whether it be physical, mental, emotional or otherwise, experience pain in varying degrees. Is it not intertwined with the human condition? I share this as a personal reflection of my well-being journey, as opposed to dictating a specific way (i.e.: my way) will work for you. Anyway, back to the chiropractor visit…
So I asked my chiropractor “Do you have other patients whose bodies are stubborn, taking a long time to heal?”. The tone in my question demonstrated my impatience. I was agitated and angry that pain had it’s own agenda and I didn’t seem to have a say in the how, when or whether my body would heal. I knew her answer would be yes but I wanted to feel validated that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way and that at some point I would feel better and could get on with things.
So we continued to talk about how the experience of pain and healing is so unique to each and every one of us. It can also be a challenging and lengthy process. Pain, it turns out, is so much more than just “x” issue caused by “y” pain. I can’t remember the specifics of what she said but it had an impact on me. In that moment I realized I was looking for a definitive answer when there wasn’t one – a prescription, a training plan, a project map, a course of action that would rid me of my discomfort. A-ha!!! That was my shifting moment! Maybe I needed to sit with the discomfort, listen and dialogue with my body. Maybe I needed to let go of the quest for perfect healing and meet my body as it was, with a dose of curiosity, self-acceptance and compassion.
I recently read this short book “Pain Is Really Strange” by Steven Haines, a graphic novel of sorts, related to pain. I picked up some valuable insights from that small book:
- Essentially, pain is the nervous system’s response to something not feeling safe
- Honing my interoceptive awareness (noticing my body from the inside) can have positive outcomes to the chronic pain-body relationship
- Painful thoughts/words/beliefs only heighten the pain response. Changing the language around the pain can be useful
- It’s important to be creative, unique and to try new things in the healing process
So I’ve been working through those insights in my personal healing journey and approaching it from different angles, trying new things:
- My daily meditation practice oftentimes includes a simple noticing of where my neck is positioned in relation to the rest of my spine, taking a journey and picturing what it’s structure looks and feels like from the inside. Initially, I observed brittle concrete pillars for the bones, fascia and musculature. Now I often picture my hand grabbing a warm wet cloth and gently washing away the layers of concrete, washing away the layers of tension and immobility.
- I repeat soft reminders for my neck and shoulders, letting them know “I am/we are safe”.
- When practicing yoga, I’m giving myself permission to use as many props as I need, to alter the posture or move into something else entirely, whether I’m practicing alone or in a class setting. I’m also giving myself permission to ease off of other movement practices I enjoy, such as running, and listening to my body’s need to move at a more relaxed pace. Afternoon walks to pick up the kids from school is proving therapeutic.
- I’m exploring my creative side through writing, singing or simply speaking my truth in an effort to heal on an energetic level. Because, if you’re familiar with chakra philosophies, the throat chakra = creativity and self expression.
And I’m feeling better…some days….except when I’m not… I think it’s working…some days…except when it doesn’t… This chronic pain has been quite the humbling experience! It’s lead me to the realization that there are some things you just can’t control and the solution is not always going to be quickly evident. So, there needs to be a careful balance of deep, attentive listening and a soft, kind responsiveness to the body and what it is asking for. Day-to-day it might not be perfect but I’m also learning that is ok too. Because, if this experience has given me anything, it is a better understanding of living in my body. And, up until this point, that relationship may have been what has eluded me all along.