Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Self-awareness gained through pain conditions.

Recently, I was invited to give a talk in my pelvic pain support group. The topic "time management or something?" was suggested, which I kind of figured was some version of, "That's what you do, right?" Immediately, though, that didn't feel like the right topic for a support group. I'd had another thought brewing for a while anyway, that seemed to fit perfectly: the idea that pain conditions can give people an amazing amount of self awareness.

The idea occurred to me when I discovered the "spoon theory" on The way the girl telling the story described living with Lupus, I realized how much more consciousness she uses in her day than the average person; she has to consider the effects of every minor decision, while most of us are rushing through our days taking the ease of things like showering and dressing for work for granted.

So, I started thinking about other ways that living with a pain condition could actually serve to raise your consciousness.

  1. We have the opportunity to celebrate little things in a way the average person wouldn't typically think of. For example: I just went pee and it didn't hurt! or Look! I can raise my arm up to shoulder height! or I caught my kid when he tripped and it didn't throw my back out!
  2. We get to learn to trust in ourselves. A lot of pain conditions are hard to diagnose, which can easily lead to a string of doctors telling you that it's really nothing, maybe it's psychosomatic, perhaps you should see a therapist, or "Did you ever think of [the most obvious thing ever]?" You can feel really crazy in the middle of that -- Maybe it is all in my head. But you can also learn to trust yourself that no, something isn't right here. How validating is it when, after years of doctors telling you you're crazy, it turns out you were right? Very.
  3. And through that process? We learn a lot of strength and persistence. You learn to push through the people telling you you're crazy, to find someone who will help you heal. You gain a higher awareness of how your body works, and what does and doesn't work for you, and if you find something you think will work that doesn't, you learn from it and try something new until you find what does.
  4. We learn a lot about things that we didn't even know we didn't know about. Before trying to figure out my own condition, and watching my mom try different things for her fibromyalgia, I had never heard of the low inflammation diet, the IC diet, the low oxalate diet, the low acid diet, the anti-candida diet... and that's just diets off the top of my head. I had also never heard of reusable cloth menstrual pads or menstrual cups, and (though support group discussion) never would have considered roller skating to be a trigger for bladder pain. It's been really interesting to learn all the different ways a body can work (or what can cause it to not work).
  5. Daily, we are reminded that no matter how we're feeling, there's still stuff we have to get done, and we can still get that stuff done. It's not like sitting there thinking about how bad you're feeling makes you feel any better. You know you can move your attention to where you want or need it to be. Now, what if we were to step that up a level and be more conscious with our decisions of where our attention is going? Instead of "distracting yourself," what if you were to consciously choose to collect your attention, remove it from your pain, and place it on something that brings you happiness? I have this mental image of my attention being like laser lights at a concert. They can scatter in a dozen different directions, or they can collect themselves into one solid beam. I collect my attention into one "beam" and intentionally point it in one direction. If I notice one little beam floating off onto something different, I bring it right back. 
To make a long story short (too late), we always have a choice of where we choose to put our attention, and how we choose to view the world, our bodies, and situations we have found ourselves in. How much different could life be if we were to look for the learning opportunities (hint: they are in everything) and ways to grow from where we are in life?

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