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Blog Description:

Insights, wisdom, and practical tips for living better while living with chronic pain
Blog Added: January 23, 2016 04:40:55 PM
Audience Rating: General Audience
Blog Platform: Weebly Weebly
Blog Country: United-States   United-States
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Dealing with Pain in a Non-Medical Way

(An interview by Lene Andersen of The Seated View) Please tell us your story.In the fall of 2007, I contracted Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a collapse of the area between the collarbone and first rib. This collapse squeezes the scalene muscle, nerve ganglia, artery and veins that have to fit through this narrow space, creating severe nerve pain in the neck, arms, and hands, which affects my ability to use my hands and arms. For quite a few years, I could barely function. My life basically...

(An interview by Lene Andersen of The Seated View)
Please tell us your story.

In the fall of 2007, I contracted Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a collapse of the area between the collarbone and first rib. This collapse squeezes the scalene muscle, nerve ganglia, artery and veins that have to fit through this narrow space, creating severe nerve pain in the neck, arms, and hands, which affects my ability to use my hands and arms. For quite a few years, I could barely function. My life basically stopped. I lost the ability to participate in just about everything I enjoyed. I was a single mom and struggled even to be able to cook a meal for my son. After about 5 years of being very stoic and putting up with the situation, I decided that I couldn’t live my life that way any more. That’s when I started developing the approaches I write about in The Pain Companion.

How is your book different from other books on pain?
The Pain Companion focuses primarily on the non-medical aspects of living with pain and pain relief. It offers companionship and solace, as well as many practical methods to reduce emotional, mental, and physical stress. Very unintentionally, books that promise a pain free result can make readers feel worse about themselves when the method doesn’t deliver on its promise. This leads to feelings of failure and shame. The Pain Companion does not require readers to end their pain, but walks along the path with them, offering simple ways to make life easier, to live with more grace, and to practice compassion toward the self while moving through and beyond the experience of pain.

The opioid crisis has led to restrictions on pain treatment, usually without offering meaningful alternatives to people living with chronic pain. How can The Pain Companion help?
With the current scare about the opioid addiction crisis, many are being taken off their pain meds and left to fend for themselves in terribly difficult circumstances. While I don’t offer readers solutions from a medical standpoint and I don’t promise to make anyone pain free, what I do offer is a positive, constructive approach to living with chronic pain and relieving the incredible stress, fear, and emotional distress that comes with that. I think it’s crucial that we understand how deeply long-term pain affects every aspect of a person’s life and begin to address it not just from a physical standpoint, but from emotional, mental, and spiritual levels as well.

In your book, you recommend writing letters to your pain. Why?
I recommend writing letters to pain in order to express and release our feelings about pain – the frustrations, anger, sadness, loss, guilt, and shame that we often feel when we’re living with pain. By recognizing, acknowledging, and expressing our emotional responses to pain, we can begin to let them go and find some emotional relief. Once we’ve expressed our negative feelings about pain, we’re free to consider other responses and can begin to create a more constructive relationship with it. Instead of fighting against it and resisting it as our primary response, we can begin to work with it as a messenger and an ally in healing.

Has your pain taught you anything?
Pain is a difficult mentor to have, but living with it has taught me a great deal. In learning how to shift my relationship with pain, I’ve learned how to shift my relationship with my body, and, ultimately, with myself. This includes learning to be kinder, more compassionate, softer, slower, and less stressed. I understand now that pain can be a guide and is the voice of the part of us that is trying to heal. Rather than attempting to completely silence it, I have learned to listen. I have learned that the way we often go about our lives – establishing and meeting goals, trying to excel, trying to be perfect, trying to be in control – is not necessarily the best way to approach healing.

What’s next for you?
I intend to continue writing and speaking with the hope of helping to shift our culture’s predominantly negative perception of pain and people in pain to one that is more constructive and healing. Pain is part of the human journey. We’re all going to meet it at some point, whether it’s physical or emotional. Living in pain is certainly a difficult and challenging experience, but one that we can learn from and move through with much more grace and well-being if we respond to it, and to ourselves, with more compassion, softness, and acceptance.

Sarah Anne Shockley is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain. It’s a wonderful book with lots of great tips that can help you deal with pain in a compassionate and gentle way. Thank you very much to Sarah for taking the time to do this interview and for writing this great book. I highly recommend it.

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What To Do When You're Blaming Yourself for Being in Pain

This article is an excerpt from The Pain Companion and appeared as a guest post in Wear, Tear and Care Blog When we’re in pain and it is relentless, sooner or later we are going to get angry at someone or something.We ask, Why me? How did this happen? Who or what is to blame for my misery? We look for the root so we can understand what happened. We think that if we can understand how it all came about, we can somehow undo it.The trouble with this mindset is that the only way to...

This article is an excerpt from The Pain Companion and appeared as a guest post in Wear, Tear and Care Blog
When we’re in pain and it is relentless, sooner or later we are going to get angry at someone or something.

We ask, Why me? How did this happen? Who or what is to blame for my misery? We look for the root so we can understand what happened. We think that if we can understand how it all came about, we can somehow undo it.

The trouble with this mindset is that the only way to answer these questions is to find something to blame: the job, the boss, the stresses of life, the other driver, the doctors who didn’t see it coming, air pollution, fatty foods, genetics, a traumatic childhood, our spouse, or anything else we can think of. We imagine that there is one thing, one starting point, one cause. If we can find it, we can heal.

Sometimes it is useful to pinpoint the onset of pain, such as when knowing exactly how an injury or illness happened can contribute to returning to wellness. But once that is found, it is no longer helpful to continually go over the history of an injury or ailment, the mistakes, or who was responsible for what.

You might also build up resentment against yourself for not being able to get out of the fix you are in. I It wears on you and can create a negative sense of self over time. And you will undoubtedly also feel angry at the pain at times because it is so insistent and so faceless, a force that can’t be bribed, cajoled, or bargained or reasoned with.

Anger is understandable, and it can be very healthy, but keeping it around because you need someone or something to blame, including yourself, only serves to keep pain in place. Here are some antidotes to anger and blame.


Allow Your Anger, Then Use it For Fuel

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling angry about what happened and what you are currently suffering. In fact, for people stuck in depression and sadness, anger can be a very liberating force.
  • Anger has a lot of energy in it. Rather than sitting still and feeling powerless, anger wants to move and change things, so it can be a very helpful emotion when harnessed for good. It can move people out of the doldrums and into positive action.
  • However, once you have gotten in touch with anger, you don’t want to stay in it. It’s not helpful to continuously feel angry and blaming, even if there is something specific to fault. It simply isn’t conducive to healing.
  • Anger that doesn’t move turns to bitterness. Use its energy to fuel your determination to recover, rather than let it eat away at you. Let it go and you are free to move on.

Leave the Past Where It Is

  • If it is important to you, spend the time you need to make a clear assessment of how your illness or injury came to be, then leave it alone. If the cause is uncertain or a complete mystery, then make the choice to leave it as a mystery for the time being.
  • Your energy and attention need to be on healing, not on who did or didn’t do something, or what exact circumstances were at fault. With the only exception being the times you may need to be involved in legal activities or a medical review, or if the cure lies in finding the exact cause, leave the past in the past.
  • The energy of blame is always looking backward, and you need to marshal your resources in the present so you can heal and have a better future.

Let Go of Resentments

  • I think of resentment as the quieter cousin of blame. Rather than accusing and pointing the finger, resentment seems to stem from a creeping and pervasive sense of unfairness.
  • I noticed that I sometimes felt resentful that I was injured through my employment, but my employer was able to carry on with life as usual. I resented his freedom and normalcy, while I had to live with pain and debilitation day in and day out as a result of working for him. I felt it was somehow unfair that he carried on relatively unscathed (except for some financial ramifications).
  • I resented having a doctor I had never seen before spend about thirty minutes with me and write a report that strongly influenced my disability settlement. I resented the way the workers’ compensation and disability system required me to keep re-proving my injury over and over again instead of actually supporting me to heal.
  • Keeping these feelings around wasn’t going to get me anywhere positive. I had to learn to notice them when they arose and then decide to just let them go. In the interests of your own well-being, I would recommend letting go of resentments against anyone involved who has hindered your healing or given you bad advice or seems to be unsupportive. You just don’t have the energy to waste on blame and resentment. Instead, use your energy for healing yourself.

Hold Everyone and Everything Blameless

  • As a second step to releasing resentments, decide to relieve everyone and everything of their burden of blame, including yourself, even if you feel blame is deserved.
  • This can be challenging because many of our legal and insurance systems can be very adversarial, bent on finding out who is to blame, and we speak of pain, illness, and injury as if they are enemies to be overcome. It is easy to fall into that pattern, but it really isn’t a useful strategy for healing.
  • The point isn’t whether or not you’re right and justified, which may well be the case. The point is that holding on to anger, blame, and resentment simply isn’t going to get you where you want to go.

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Sarah Anne Shockley has lived with nerve pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since 2007. She  is a regular contributor to The Mighty and the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living with and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain (New World Library  2018).



Healing Chronic Pain is an Inside Job

This article first appeared in Tiny Buddha Let’s face it, living with any kind of physical pain is a challenge. I understand that completely. In the fall of 2007, I contracted an extremely painful and debilitating condition, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a structural collapse that compresses the muscles, nerves, and arteries that run between the collarbones and first ribs.Yet, as most of us do, I believed my condition would, naturally, clear up soon and the pain would leave....

This article first appeared in Tiny Buddha
Let’s face it, living with any kind of physical pain is a challenge. I understand that completely. In the fall of 2007, I contracted an extremely painful and debilitating condition, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a structural collapse that compresses the muscles, nerves, and arteries that run between the collarbones and first ribs.

Yet, as most of us do, I believed my condition would, naturally, clear up soon and the pain would leave. That’s what happens most of the time for most of our physical ailments. We might lay low for a while, take some medications to ease the discomfort, and then we’re back into the swing of things. No problem.

Except when it doesn’t work that way.

What happens when pain becomes a fixture in our lives and no amount of medication or treatment or therapy can eradicate it? What do we do then?

Our usual response is to fight. We put on our battle armor and spend every day in an effort to overcome pain so it won’t take over any more of our lives. We search for the right therapies and the right medications, trying one approach after another, with the attitude of defeating a mortal enemy.

If nothing works, we eventually exhaust ourselves. We wake up one morning with our anti-pain armor in a heap on the floor and find we have no more reserves to fight, so we leave it there. We just don’t have the energy to go into battle anymore.

So, we swing to the other end of the spectrum, deciding that the best thing to do now is to ignore the pain we’re living with. This is just the way it is right now, we say to ourselves. These are the cards I’ve been dealt and I’m going to have to live with the situation. We put on our best face and try to function despite the pain, doing our best to ignore its insistent cries for attention.

We may even decide the doctor is right if s/he tells us that the reason we’re still in pain isn’t because our condition won’t heal, but because our brain is misfiring. Okay then, I’ll put the blame on my brain and pretend the pain doesn’t exist, we say.

But the pain stays and stays and stays.

Neither of these extremes usually works very well for chronic pain. Fighting pain is exhausting. It creates stress and tension not conducive to healing. Fighting causes us to tighten and contract in the body, also not great for healing. Acquiescing, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness over time. If pain isn’t improving, one day we might find ourselves looking up from the bottom of a dark well, filled with despair.

Are these really our only choices? Isn’t there a middle path that might offer something less fatiguing than constant battle and less hopeless than acquiescence or denial?

I spent years swinging back and forth between the two poles, finally settling into a kind of stoic silence until one day I couldn’t stand it anymore. I just couldn’t face a life sentence of living in unremitting pain. I decided there had to be a different way to live, to find more ease and grace even in the midst of pain.

So, I decided to turn my belief about what pain is and how I was dealing with it on its head. I changed the way I perceived pain and the way I responded to it. I found ways to shift my relationship with pain into a more positive, constructive one and, after many years of having no perceptible change, began to finally experience some relief.

Here are three important ways I shifted my relationship with pain and thereby began to experience more healing in my body.


Making Friends with Pain

It helped me a great deal to understand that pain is not an enemy but a signal and a message that tells us that the body is trying to heal. Pain is a voice from within that announces that something is out of harmony and is trying to put itself right. Instead of experiencing pain as torture, I began to understand that it was a natural communication from my body. In a way, it was me talking to me. A part of me was hurting and asking for attention.

Since fighting pain only seemed to make things worse, I asked myself, what if I imagined that pain wasn’t an adversary, but had a positive purpose? What if pain wasn’t trying to put me through hell, but was simply trying to get my attention? How could I make friends with it instead of opposing it?

I began to ask pain what it needed, what it was asking for, what I could give it and do for it to help my body heal. I understood that it was asking me to slow down, both on the outside and on the inside. Pain needed me to be with it just as it was, to stop pushing against it, and to listen to it.

What I learned from pain was that, instead of offering it my anger, denial, or hate, it required a very different kind of attention. The pain, the signal from my body, was asking for a different approach to healing, a softer approach.

I understood it to be asking for the kind of compassion and understanding you would offer a small child who is hurting. I found that when I turned a more loving ear toward it in an effort to listen to it, respect it, and offer it kindness, my whole body relaxed, my breathing shifted, my stress lifted, and my pain began to decrease.

Finding Positive Ways to Express Pain

I began to journal  about living with pain, which helped me see it differently. I wrote about my emotional responses to living with pain. I wrote about the loss and the loneliness, the shame and the frustration. Then I read what I wrote out loud to pain, and to myself. We both listened. Something shifted. We both relaxed. Pain started to move.

I then went a step further and found someone I could trust to hear my pain story. I asked them to please not offer any advice, to not try and fix me, but just to listen with an open heart and mind. I told them about the sadness and the terrors, the loneliness and the shame. I told them things I had never told anyone because I was simply trying to hold it all together from one day to the next.

Having someone simply witness me in my pain without asking me to be any different, but allowing me to be in the pain I was in and really seeing it and acknowledging it was hugely healing. And pain relaxed a little more.

Allowing Pain the Time it Needs

I also discovered that pain was asking for time. Healing simply wasn’t going to be rushed. My body didn’t respond well to being hurried or pushed, and healing could not be approached as another goal to be achieved. Pain kept its own timetable.

Allowing pain to take the time it would take rather than trying to hurry it out of my body allowed for a healthier emotional and physiological response that was far more conducive to healing. My body became more relaxed around the pain and I began to release stress, tension, and contraction. I breathed more freely, moved more slowly, approached everything in a more relaxed manner, and stopped obsessing as much about my healing.

I stopped pushing against the pain and pushing against the situation and began to trust the healing process. Paradoxically, when I allowed pain all the time it needed to heal, it began to release. When I demanded that it leave immediately, it dug in its heels, but when I related to it soothingly and with patience and love, I felt relief more rapidly.

Creating More Ease and Grace

I have found over my years of living with chronic pain, that these approaches are fundamental to creating more ease and grace on a daily basis, to releasing stress and tension in the body, and to relieving long term pain. None of them are guarantees of becoming pain free overnight, but all can offer relief, hope, and positive shifts almost immediately and, as those of us who have been living with pain for a long time know, any movement toward relieving pain is cause for major celebration.

I’ve gained valuable insights from my journey with pain as well. I’ve learned to find a place deep within myself, a clear place at my core that is resilient and eternal, a place I can draw on for strength and comfort in any situation. I’ve learned how to be kinder to myself and to others. I’ve learned how to find new appreciation and satisfaction in simple things and to celebrate the small joys in life.

Pain, then, has become something of a spiritual mentor over time. It has, in the end, taught me how to live more deeply, more authentically, and more wisely. Living with pain has not only helped me understand what really matters most to me in life, but how much I matter to myself.

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Sarah Anne Shockley has lived with nerve pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since 2007. She  is a regular contributor to The Mighty and the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living with and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain (New World Library  2018).



When Chronic Pain is Both Prison and Guard

This post appeared on The Mighty website, July 18, 2018 Sometimes people who aren’t in pain imagine that those of us who are must have done something wrong.The exact wrong thing we did is a bit unclear, but it must certainly exist, and it is something they would never do. As if there’s a sign in the road – no Pain, go left. Pain, go right.There isn’t a sign. It’s more like the floor dropped out from under me, and there I was, drowning in a sea of...

Sometimes people who aren’t in pain imagine that those of us who are must have done something wrong.

The exact wrong thing we did is a bit unclear, but it must certainly exist, and it is something they would never do. As if there’s a sign in the road – no Pain, go left. Pain, go right.

There isn’t a sign. It’s more like the floor dropped out from under me, and there I was, drowning in a sea of pain,  with no land in sight. I looked around my tiny house and it seemed that my whole life had shrunk to that lilliputian size.

I had given up almost everything because my condition demanded it. I had contracted my life, shrunk down within it, and withdrawn out of necessity since almost every activity other than walking made it worse.

Living in the House of Pain

I sat in my house and felt the fear of disappearing forever inside my own house of pain. “I can’t let this happen,” I thought, “I cannot become this pain.” And yet, it seemed that in many ways I already had. Pain dictated everything about my life.

I was losing myself.

Pain had become the air I breathed, the ground I walked on. Pain was both the prison and the guard. If you have been in pain for any length of time, you know what I mean. Changing your attitude might make the cell a little more comfortable, but it doesn’t necessarily provide the key to the cell door. There is a secret exit code that nobody seems to know, but which cannot be bypassed.

Some people have said to me, “Oh, how great to have all that free time!” Um. No. If you have a body that works well and isn’t in pain, more time to do nothing would doubtless be a blessing. But all that “free time” in which to sit or lie or walk slowly in intense pain…not so much.

We are Not Invisible

Those of us in persistent pain sometimes keep ourselves small and silent so we won’t infect the world, thinking that if we speak it can only be with the voice of pain, and therefore it will only create more. As if we can’t re-enter the world until we are pain-free.

But we must find ways to re-include ourselves in the world somehow. Maybe only in small ways at first, and according to our physical limitations, but it is something I feel we must do. We are part of the collective, a community within a community, and it is important to give voice to our experiences. This is why I write.

Because it is important not to let the invisibility of our pain become the invisibility of ourselves.

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Sarah Anne Shockley has lived with nerve pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since 2007.

She 
is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living with and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain (New World Library  2018).



9 Ways to Relieve the Sadness of Living with Chronic Pain

A brief video for you based on a guest post I wrote for Counting My Spoons.I hope you find it helpful. All of us living with chronic pain are aware of how difficult it is physically, but it takes a huge toll on us emotionally as well. Here are 9 ways to help relieve the sadness and isolation we often feel. SUBSCRIBE ...

A brief video for you based on a guest post I wrote for Counting My Spoons.
I hope you find it helpful.

All of us living with chronic pain are aware of how difficult it is physically, but it takes a huge toll on us emotionally as well. Here are 9 ways to help relieve the sadness and isolation we often feel.

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Sarah Anne Shockley has lived with nerve pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since 2007.
She 
is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living with and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain (New World Library June, 2018).



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