Living With Pain

We’re getting older. I know, I know… I don’t like it either. I’m pretty sure my brain stopped aging at age 24. My body however, It’s CLEAR we’re getting older. What I was capable of when my kids were young (15 years ago) has ZERO relation to what I am capable of now (age 49).

We all experience pain from time to time. Back pain, headaches, muscle pain, injury or illness comes up in everyone’s life from time to time. Dealing with pain, whether due to illness or injury has a huge impact. It has an impact on what we can physically do, what we are mentally capable of and the way we see ourselves. It can be jolting, frustrating and heart-breaking.

Pain is distracting at the minimum, and can be debilitating at it’s worse.

Pain is such a personal experience. Some people live with pain all the time, and to look at them you would never know. They seem to function normally and they don’t mention that they are in any discomfort.

We all have a different experience of pain, and a different story about our relationship with it. Maybe you’re a person who says “buck up and move on!” in the face of pain and discomfort. Maybe you’re someone who defaults to a “rest and recovery” approach and caring for yourself when you experience pain.

Pain is abnormal, not the natural way of being for humans. If I experience pain, I relate to it like there’s something that has happened that needs attention. What attention it gets depends on the pain. For instance, I have experienced some back pain over the past 2 days. My experience with lower back pain is that it often has emotional roots for me. I haven’t injured my back that I know of, I am active, don’t sit too long and I live my life with an awareness of back care and mechanics. So when I get back pain like I have now, I often look at my recent life experience to see if there are clues.

There are plenty. I have a mother who lives in another state who is recovering from a fall, my family and I are in the process of moving, my spring is booked with travel and workshops and I have 2 very active teenage kids. Boom, right there. I notice I’m on the edge of overwhelm. Now that I know that, I can do something about it. Take a morning off. Plan a date night with my wife. Put a walk in my calendar like it’s a meeting (can’t be missed, super-important!).

What if I don’t? What if I “muscle through” it? Well, then the results are predictable: overwhelm, visits to the chiropractor and pulling the plug on my productivity and mindset. A small amount of attention and adjustment NOW can change everything. If I shift to address the pain now, I can continue to work, fill the gaps I’ve identified and correct the course. It doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” game with pain.

When you are in pain, it is a constant companion, pulling for your attention. Ignoring pain is like hoping the hungry toddler who’s pulling on your pant leg will just go away. If ignored, likely the situation will get worse.

The there are four steps to managing pain: Awareness, Advocacy, Adjustment and Compassion.

Awareness. When you are in pain, it’s super important to identify the what, where and why. Just like a reporter. What happened that I now have pain? Where is the pain? Why am I having it? Addressing it may be as simple as stretching or as complicated as a visit to your doctor.

Advocacy. We must be our own advocate for getting to the bottom of pain. Pain is not normal. Most people do not live with pain. We must take a stand to address it. Not cover it up. Painkillers *MASK* pain, they do not resolve pain. Getting to the root of the “why” will make sure it gets resolved and doesn’t happen again.

Adjustment. We have to adjust our routines to allow for the pain. Maybe we can’t work for 8 hours (or 6 or 4), or sit for long. Maybe we need naps, or quiet time. We get to allow ourselves the space to care for ourselves when we are in pain. Cutting back on 10% or 30% of our activities for a few days may be a lot better than being bed-ridden for a week if we don’t.

Compassion. This is the tricky one. Allowing ourselves to take it easy. Allowing ourselves not to go at the 100% we‘re normally capable of. Allowing ourselves NOT to do the things for others that we want to or usually do can be really hard. Especially if you are a full time parent. But we can teach our kids about the importance of self care, teach them they are capable of doing some of the (age appropriate) tasks you usually do. When you practice self-compassion with pain you are investing in asking for support, teaching your kids about balance, compassion and teamwork.

Go forth and have a GREAT week!

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