Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Forest for the Trees

While the writing has been light, I'm in the midst of one of the most phenomenal phases of my life to date. Let me assure you, it's not cuz times have eased up. In many ways, there's more concrete stress in my life right now than ever there has been. I mention this, not to dwell on it - I mean, I can barely stand to engage with it day after day, I sure as hell am not going to write about it too - but to provide context. I'm not finding answers because the path is clearer. I'm finding them because I'm looking more clearly. That's fucking empowering, gotta say, not that I wouldn't seriously consider going for a clear path if the choice were mine.

My point is - and I'm saying this to any reader who has experienced a period of chronic pain, who continues to experience it now: You can manage this and you will - as soon as you recognize that you are not at the whim of anything. You are an active participant. That doesn't mean you're to blame but it does mean you're specifically implicated in resolution. The sooner you understand this (and I mean deeply, not intellectually) - the sooner you will be able to let go of whatever underpins it.

I'm not so solipsistic as to believe you can successfully manage pain like I'm (increasingly successfully) managing it because my path is the right one - though if the info I provide in the next few posts gives you some clarity or direction, then we both win. I'm saying it because the key to diminishing pain is in understanding, communicating with and (sometimes) engaging deeply with that pain. The path of pain is mind-blowingly complex. It's unique to each of us (although we are all more neurochemically the same than different). Eventually, you will not be able to evade it, to push it down. Trust me, I know. So I have to implore you to meet it head on.

I've frequently thought that if chronic pain were chronic pleasure (and they come from the same neurochemical source), we'd all be so engaged with that sensation that the world would fall apart. I say this as a total hedonist. I'm in the delicious grip of everything beautiful, sensual, aromatic, tactile. I love the way these things make me feel, how they wash over me, how they suck me in - how they bring me to the seat of my very self.

Chances are, if you're experiencing chronic pain, you have something in common with me: you're very sensitive to your environment. The beauty of this, is that sensitivity brings us close to everything. The danger is that it threatens to overwhelm.

Here's my plan for the next few posts on this topic:
  • I think it might be useful to explain what I've discovered about pain as it exists in my body - how it's taken years to figure out and how improved recognition has changed my response to it and, more to the point, pain's effect on me. These discussions will centre on myofascial pain disorder (what I'm dealing with) which is a specific expression of a group of connective tissue or fascial disorders, including osteoarthritis, bursitis, repetitive strain injury, fibromyalgia, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, TMJ disorder, chronic fatigue disorder - amongst others. The current belief, and it's profoundly resonant for me, is that connective tissue in the body (a constant web of attachment with more nerves than any other part of you) receives nerve signals autonomically. When that signaling goes rogue, the impacts can be hideous. The new normal your body comes to know - that with pain - is continuously reinforced by large-scale muscular contraction that's stimulated by the connective tissue (on its own pain trajectory). Furthermore, that connective tissue becomes brittle, dehydrated, overly tight. Given all the nerve endings it supports, that causes additional pain that can be diffuse and debilitating. Seriously peeps - a huge part of the solution is biofeedback (which can be accessed in numerous different ways, some of which I'll discuss). This issue is complicated to endure but it's resolvable. And once you figure out what's going on, the resolution can be fairly systematic.
  • I will outline the many awesome products, techniques and methods I've utilized, that have had a measurable affect on my own pain response. Yeah, I'm not you (nor your mother nor your kid), but if others hadn't written about these things, I never would have found them - and they have definitely (in complex concert) worked well for me.
  • I'm happy to write in detail about any of those techniques or products - if there's interest to hear more. Seriously, I could write a book about these things. I don't want to drill down in ways that may be of little interest to others. So if I mention something and it seems resonant - like you want to know more - please email me or leave a comment.
Let me end this post by saying that I've spent years considering the body-mind connection in one context only - that of my physical practice of yoga. In that practice, I've allowed myself to experience the myriad benefits that the awareness of this connection affords. The minute I got off my mat, I resumed the detente: my body in one corner, my mind in the other. If you've got chronic pain, you can't afford to discount the need for alignment of these states. If broader consciousness is a conceptual challenge for you - and it's certainly not something I've discussed in polite (non-yogic) circles on a regular basis - you're going to have to suspend your disbelief. Sorry, but I can't see any way around it.

On the up-side, if you can philosophically get with the ways in which your mind can change your response to everything, including your physiology, you're in for a wild ride.