- When I was 4, I suffered a big loss. (It was 1974. No one cared about the need to ensure grief processing in children. I was in pretty bad shape, to put it mildly...) As a child, I routinely had extreme, super painful "growing pains" that would start in my legs and go to my ears (mainly on the left side). In retrospect, those pains might have been a subdued version of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (this is one current medical perspective on growing pains). In retrospect, it's also when my TMJ disorder started. It's when my OCD began. These issues persisted to puberty.
- When I was in high school, there were many expectations on me to succeed. Mainly they were my expectations, but let's leave that aside. It was in this time frame that I had my first migraine (with aura). I ignored it. It's also when I met my longest-standing friend, Hilary. She was the one who recognized my OCD and helped me to overcome it (by pointing it out and telling me it was bizarre and needless). She's a doctor now. Teenaged girls, man. You can't beat 'em.
- When I was around 20, I sustained another big loss. (It was the late 80s, people just "dealt with things" and 20-minute-worked-them-out.) I started to experience extreme (and diffuse) left-side hip and leg pain - it was one of the things that brought me to yoga. Walking was a torment, and y'all know how I must walk. This pain went on (either constantly or intermittently) until I was about 25. I tried everything to fix it (acupuncture, massage, diet etc.) When the issue started to recede, I assumed that yoga had done its job. I developed a lot of physical ability in this time and went into a period of relative stasis. Except for the intermittent headaches.
- When I was 29, I had a child. The labour was exceedingly dangerous and stressful. My body was ravaged by it. My mind was in even worse shape. While I appeared to heal very quickly, I was a mess (emotionally) for a good 5 years. My OCD went through the roof. In that 5 years, my reaction to a relentlessly attention-seeking dependent inflicted near constant pain on my torso (left upper back, neck). I was constantly picking her up, carrying her around. Moreover, I was carrying around the stress of parenting, the toll it was taking on my marriage, the generalized stresses of life as they happen. After 5 years, I started seeing my naturopath. I did some hormone panels, went on a variety of supplements to restore balance and to mitigate my anxiety response. The impact was remarkable.
- When I was 40, I broke my left foot (small fracture) and my ligaments and tendons were affected by the injury. I worked through the acute phase, with a physiotherapist and lots of therapeutic yoga. I do feel that I managed this incident as well as possible, but for a couple of years after the accident (fell down 3 stairs in just the wrong way), I still felt occasional pain in my left ankle and leg.
But let's leave all this aside.
- When I was 42, I came down with pertussis. No one knows how, just that my immunity to my childhood vaccine had waned (as it does for everyone). This, my friends, was when it all got real. Never in my life have I been so ravaged by illness. Y'all know this story. It's well-documented on this blog. I could barely breathe for 8 weeks (which radically changed my pain response). I was seriously ill for 8 months. It threw me into hormonal chaos. From months of coughing the likes of which I cannot begin to describe, I ended up with sublaxated ribs (a hideously painful kind of rib dislocation) that I didn't deal with until fairly recently (when my chronic pain finally said enough and just refused to leave). I think it's fair to say that, fundamentally, I have not yet recovered from the shock of this sickness. If I'd been 30 years older when I'd got it, I'm pretty sure I would have died. I'm still processing the impacts.
- I seem to have a predisposition to musculoskeletal body pain from early childhood. It has been systemic, chronic but also intermittent.
- I've been really adept at ignoring it - at my peril. But I also live fairly healthfully which has mitigated long-term continuity of symptoms, I suspect.
- Pain recurs in similar ways in different places - the kind of dull-to-searing / acute/diffuse pain I get in my upper back is similar to that I had in my hip and in my head. It tends to stick to the left side.
- My pain (which is felt physiologically, in many ways that modern medicine can quantify) was either catalysed or worsened by serious trauma (emotional or physical).
- The pain has been very amorphous - so much so that yoga was the only thing that ever had any impact on it. Till quite recently, I assumed this was because it built muscular strength, balance, flexibility and structural realignment. And I'm sure this is true. I now realize, it also mitigated the constant feeling of excessive pressure, like shrink-wrapping (which is likely damaged connective tissue). On a weird note: The pain tended to abate at just the moment I couldn't stand it any longer, reinforcing my perspective that my issue wasn't systemic. It never occurred to me (though I was aware, dimly, of the role of connective tissue) that the pain might have been coming from something other than a muscle or a joint. In retrospect, I find this very odd given that my parents are acupuncturists and cranio-sacral therapists. I've been feeling more and more (since the pertussis specifically) like I'm 100 years old. No joke - I have pains consistent with hobbled old people and, on one level, it's freaking me the fuck out. Another weird note: If I push through, I look pretty strong and flexible while being physically active (active yoga, for example). Two hours later, I'm a mess of pain. If I move in (extremely minimal) ways to specifically stretch fascia, pain is dramatically improved and my overall flexibility increases.
- Until I started to manipulate connective tissue with yin yoga (and a zillion other mechanisms I'll discuss in another post) the horrifying pain was largely contained in my left, upper back, neck, jaw and head. As is so often the case, when you tangle with Pandora, you get what you came for. By exploring the pain (again, via many techniques), it's become much less extreme in those areas - but much more evident in MANY areas.
The writing was on the wall. You've seen my increasing references to chronic pain over the past 2 years. Each time the pain came, it was more insistent and less pliable. I continued to ignore it with Advil and active yoga and walking through it and swallowing it down. I thought I was doing the work because I exercise actively (lots o' walking, daily), work on body alignment and strength (yoga, many times a week), eat reasonably healthfully (but deliciously - I am myself, after all), take targeted vitamins and supplements, sleep 9 hrs a night (I have to or I can't function), tackling issues with natural practitioners. Also, I'm not 100. I'm fucking young(ish).
At the same time, my predisposition (my nature, if you will) is SO fast-moving that I've leveraged the modern age to become half-robot, it would seem: I haven't read a paper book in years (I read on my computer). Fiction, which sustained me till I was 35, has become a dim memory. For a would-be novelist, that's a hardcore turn of events. I can read 500 plus blog posts a day - and retain a reasonable amount of the information for later consumption. My job is ridiculously fast-paced. I spend upwards of 12 hours a day on a computer. It's a wonder I can think straight at this point.
The last 2 years, specifically the last 5 months, have kicked it into me that I need to return to a more analog existence. This hyper-digital thing is not sustainable. I've got to detach from the hive, to some extent, because the deluge of information is an assault at this point. Nervous system excitability is not something to take lightly. Medical people freak out about that shit and then they tell you it's not fixable. (It's often fixable.)
If you're dealing with some kind of chronic pain, no doubt you've had time to reflect on the triggers in you many dark nights of the soul. May I suggest that you consider whether, when you listen to your quietest voice, the pain is linked intimately to some sort of sub-clinical sensitivity. I'm not calling your cojones into question - or the scientific explanation for your current plight. If you're dealing with chronic pain, trust me, I know you are epically strong. Maybe you're experiencing this pain, in some measure, because you're so strong - because you're masterful at deflection.
Next up, I'll tell you about how I've turned an emerging awareness of my own issue, into a scavenger hunt for books and tools about managing, diffusing and eradicating neuro-sensitivity and its associated pain.
But till then, today's questions: If you have been diagnosed with a connective tissue issue, I'd love to know how you're managing things. Have you got it under control? What are your best techniques? Does it impact your ability to enjoy your daily life (in that you don't do certain things you used to do)? Does it come and go? How do you identify with pain? Please do leave a comment - I wanna know your story!
* Get your ass revaccinated for pertussis, if you're over 35 and you've not had a booster since childhood. Chances are you're no longer immune, which is code for being a walking target. Trust me, you don't want to go through it.