Monday, December 8, 2014

It's All About Me

Let me tell you how I got here. (Note: It doesn't really matter if this is actually how I got here, but that it's my belief.)
  • 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.
You'll note I'm not dwelling on the scope of the pain I experienced. Let me assure you, that hip pain was crushing and it filled me with a fear I've rarely encountered. My childhood growing pains were a near-constant distraction. No wonder I was sullen.  OCD, well, let's just say peeps, if you've ever experienced it, it's hell. But I'm a high-functioner. That's what I do. In these times, I got straight As (except for math), advanced in my career, taught myself how to knit and sew, maintained a relationship, raised a kid, built a life. I did not relate to any of the painful times as chronic, simply as bizarre, somewhat structurally motivated and due to bad luck.

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.
Let me pull out some salient points*:
  • 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. 
You may be thinking: Kristin, why the fuck would you go there?? The answer: I had no choice.

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.


  1. I can relate to your pain and feelings. BTW have you tried seeing a psycholohist? It may not help with the physical pain but you've also been through a lot emotionally and it may help you in this area.

  2. Hi Roni: Great question. I've done my share of talk therapy. :-) While I think it can be very useful, it hasn't helped me to release the latent physical stress caused by my experiences. The long ago, stressful moments in my life aren't top of mind - and they don't inhibit my happy function in the world. Intellectually, I'm over them. But their impacts are still in my body. So that's the focus now.

  3. Thanks to sharing with us! I'm still astounded at the pertussis! Darn those NOT vaccinating their children! I'm with you -- I think pain is something that can really climb on top of you if ignored. I think you are doing an amazing job with your yoga. I'm trying to set up a home pilates studio -- I found it is fantastic (pilates with machines for past two years) and I can't say enough about it. I'm also now a fan of aerial yoga!

    1. That illness was hideous. Thank you for your positive feedback, Pam. I think a home studio is a great idea! It's so excellent to have the means to do your preferred style of fitness in the comfort of your own home. And aerial yoga is not my thing! I'm totally afraid of heights!

  4. I think you're on to something here - great wholistic self-diagnosis! And it makes me want to think about my own life in relation to my chronic aches and pains, especially the right side of my neck.

    That said, I like the Robin McKenzie books on pain. One of them is: "7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life". (My friend, an occupational therapist, swears by them.)

    Thank you for your honest sharing.

    1. Hey - the internet and library (and medical professionals who refer you to other professionals and techniques) are there to help you learn - not just to freak you out :-)

      Thanks for that title - I'll go check it out. And thanks for reading.

  5. Interesting. We are exactly the same age and I too had pertussis last year - waning immunity since childhood. Kicker was that I was in last trimester of pregnancy with my third child. It has absolutely and totally wrecked my entire body, I am still not well in all sorts of ways, compounded by the sleep deprivation, for also like you, I NEED my 9 hours a night or I feel truly insane. Quite unhinged. And picking up needy small people all day long who otherwise wail like they have been abandoned in Hansel and Gretel's forest when i am right next to them but otherwise gainfully occupied, like cooking their food, or what not. So, my profound sympathies to you. Pertussis is serious stuff.

    1. Wow, Anon. Thank you for your email. It's very rare I hear of others who have gone through this (and at the same age and stage, no less). I so appreciate your perspective. Let me say that you are superhuman to have gone through that in pregnancy - seriously. I cannot imagine. I can't believe it didn't throw you into labour?! You are very witty for a woman who doesn't sleep - with 3 young kids.

      Have you gone to a chiropractor (not that this is my fave kind of body work, but sometimes it's just the thing that's indicated)? I've heard that lots of people, after coughing illnesses, sublaxate some ribs (what happened to me, it had happened to me even before the pertussis, on one other occasion). The first thing I had to do was to start working on the scar tissue that's formed around my scapula.

      I have to say that you have profound sympathies in return. Email if you'd like to chat about potential resources to address body pain. xo

    2. Indeed, I gave birth 4 weeks early, precipate labour, v fast, literally one cough too many and she shot out at home. I don't know who was more surprised, me or DD. Her expression was so indignant, her eyebrows still furrow in grumpy annoyance at me even now, wonder if she'll ever forgive me for summarily evicting her.
      I can't complain about the pain because I am doing nothing proactive to solve it - I should be eating better, yoga, etc. no money, no time. I cry for 5 mins ever morning and wish I was dead then I pull myself together and am chipper for the rest of the day. High functioning here too! there is no other way to be when one has 3 small people depending on one. Best wishes to you in your on going quest for ever more effective pain management .

  6. What a birth story!

    Listen honey - I know how you feel. When my kid was young (I only had 1!) and I was BEYOND postpartum depressed and anxious, one day I started to cry because I realized I couldn't even kill myself now that I had a kid! (I truly felt that I had no ownership of any part of my existence. Note: I'm not suicidal by a long shot - I was just beside myself at that point.)

    I promise you, parenting gets easier. Don't misunderstand: It's still a ridiculous exercise that I don't really get, but you do start to sleep again. You do get time to think your own thoughts (lots of time). You don't have that terrible worry of keeping a dependant alive.

    Cry as much as you must, but really - there are also resources that are cheap or free. Online yoga videos, e-books from library, great blogs. I can see you are a capable person in a shitty situation and this sort of person always prevails! Just think of fiction :-)

    I will suggest this: Look into the MELT method - the book would be at the library. Yeah, there's a prop to do the "exercises" but you could find other props (things you already own) to assist you. You've got to get around the pain loop or it's going to get worse. This method, for it's cheese-ball presentation, is actually sound (on the basis of lots of reading I've been doing) when it comes to relieving and correcting chronic pain. And each session is purposefully quick so as to get around your body's autonomic pain response. (It's not fitness, it's body work.)

    Let me know how it goes. xo

  7. Wow, this is great, thanks for sharing your evolving understanding. Like yourself, I've experienced some events that seem to have set up residence in my connective tissue, without my permission...The body/mind is an amazing thing, I just wish mine worked to my advantage instead of my disadvantage more often!

    I'm really looking forward to learning more about what you've tried (and what's worked and what hasn't).

    1. Scooter - thanks for your comment! I totally agree with your perspective so let's see if we can't put our heads together (without migraines!) to find solutions :-)