Tag Archive | brain

Pain Is it real or just in my head

As I awake each morning my body reminds me of how damaged it is because the pain never seems to go away. But the question I continue to ask myself is, Is my pain real or just in my head? I ask myself this because I have been told repeatedly that, your brain controls everything and you have the ability to control your brain. Well, when you have a physical condition that creates pain, how does that constitute that your pain is all in your head?

Over the past few years, I have been to many doctors which deal with my physical conditions of incomplete spinal cord injury, arachnoid cysts in my thoracic spine, Chiari malformation and nerve damage related to the 8 surgeries to decompress my spinal cord. Some of my doctors recognize that my pain is real, and others like to pretend that my pain is all in my head and is going to go away. Regardless I am still left with the “real” limitations that my pain creates.

Some days I can move around with less pain than others. Often, I get asked questions like, why is your pain better? Why aren’t you hurting as bad? Why are you moving better? The response of ” I don’t know” never seems acceptable.  Instead I often hear comments like- Well, you’re the only one that tell us why? Or What did you do different? When I explain that I have done nothing different, that I have taken all the same medications in the same order as I do every day it is still not acceptable. The frustration is beyond what one person should have to deal with. Why don’t others get that if I could figure it out, I would duplicate it so that every day would be better?

For now, all I can do is keep moving forward by continuing to deal with my pain by taking my prescribed medications at the same time daily, stretching and doing balance exercises to help strengthen my brain’ s communication with my legs and back. Right now, my brain still doesn’t fully realize I even have legs. For example, if I stand at the kitchen counter without looking down at my feet periodically my brain sometimes forgets I am standing, which causes me to fall. This is caused by the loss of proprioception in both legs.

The communication from my brain to my nerves is also on overdrive causing my nerves to overact. This causes the skin on my back, stomach and upper legs to feel like it is being stretched, sliced and is on fire. Even the slightest touch feels intense and painful. Putting on clothing hurts to the point of giving me the chills at times. It also causes my right leg which normally has very little feeling to feel like there are a million spiders with sharp needles on theirs legs are poking me repeatedly.  I am prescribed Gabapentin 700 mg three times a day for my neuropathic pain in conjunction with other pain medications which I take every 4 hours to “help” control the pain. None of this works well. I find that the pain medication takes about an hour to start working then only work at its full capacity for about two hours then decreases quickly. This leaves me in pain most of the day. It is often hard to get motivated to do much or to really want to be around people.

So, is my pain real or in my head? I say both.  The pain is real, but it can be exacerbated by my brain response to stressful situations and by physical changes. For example, if my body is fighting a cold my pain often increases until the illness runs its course. Stressful situations often lead to more pain. It is easy for me to start doubting myself and lose my perspective therefore, creating stress and more pain. But because I have hope that I will get better, whether it is via a new medication and/or treatment or answered prayer I will keep me moving forward. God has promised that if we have faith and ask Him to heal us that it will be done. ” And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven” James 5:15. Having hope is what helps me continue each day even though I know I will wake up in pain and end my day in pain. My prayers continue to be answered as each day I improve even if it is only a small bit. I went from being mostly in a wheelchair to walking with a walker in just a few short months after my 8th surgery.  Currently, I still walk with a walker, but I can walk some without any assistive devices. I refuse to give up as I know God will keep His promise and we all have a better story we can tell.

Learning to let go

It has been difficult to get motivated to write or do much of anything being that I have been more pain than normal. I am having a flare up that has caused by pain to remain high despite medications. My spasticity has also been high making it very difficult to walk and stand. I do my best to stay positive and not get grumpy or angry. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I work at it the guilt mixed with the pain wear me down and I do snap at those around me. Of course, this causes even more guilt. Learning to let the guilt go is hard but necessary.  We cannot take responsibly for things we cannot control. We must let go of the guilt and focus on the things we can control.

Flare ups for anyone living with chronic pain, be it from a SCI or an illness like Fibromyalgia, cause not only physical pain, but mental as well. For me it is difficult because it means not being able to take care of my family the way I normally do. It means not being able to do something I love, cook a meal for my family. Heck just getting up, showered, and dressed are major feats. But the physical limitations often lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy. It is easy to see all the negatives-I can’t make the bed, I can’t get the laundry done, I can’t pick up around the house, I can’t cook a meal, and I can’t…

All these negatives creep in over time, but it is important to change that running line in your head to a more positive one and realize that you really do have an illness. When anyone of us get a cold or the flu we take medications to help and allow ourselves to rest. So why is it that we cannot do this when we have a flare up of symptoms? Admitting that I really do have an ongoing illness continues to be difficult, but through prayer and learning to give it to God I have been able to continue to move forward. Yes, I really do struggle with admitting I have a chronic illness, but my body reminds me every day. I am learning to change the” you’re a failure because you can’t… “story into look at what you are overcoming and continuing to do.  

It takes constant reframing of my thoughts. It is so easy to see and hear the negatives. It is important to recognize and deal with what you are feeling.Hiding and pushing your feelings aside only keeps them festering and making the story you hear in your head seem far worse that it really is.  By reframing the negative thoughts and feelings we can continue to keep moving forward. For example, When those around you who believe they are being helpful constantly say things like- “Your standing with your knees locked “followed by “you’re not picking your feet up”  or ”Get your feet under you , you are leaning to far forward.” And of course, I can feel the issues because my balance is off, my legs buckle and just standing is difficult. Instead of focusing on the negative I do my best to reframe my thoughts to something more like, “Look at you, you’re standing,” or “Wow, you just walked up hill and it was easy.”

It is perfectly okay to Give yourself a pass. Again, understand and realize that you are not choosing to do something. All of us that live with chronic pain/illness must accept that our bodies don’t care if we have plans. Our bodies are going to do what ever they want. So, take the time to rest and recover so that there will be better days ahead.

Be sure to treat yourself with kindness. Reframing your negative thoughts into positive ones helps tell a better story which will impact our emotional state. Remember our brain is powerful and it impacts what our bodies physically feel. Higher stress levels means more pain and a reduction in our ability to deal with the pain.

Reminding yourself and finding the things you can do is also of value.  Pain often interrupts our plans, but instead of getting angry and down focus on the things that you have accomplished during the day. We cannot fix the past, but we can adjust and make changes to our future. Find things like painting, gardening, or other hobby to get out and meet others or to relax.

Every step I take is a miracle that God has given me, and it is so easy to lose sight of how far I have come. It is easy to let the negative thoughts and guilt in and start believing them. This affects my mood and my pain levels. Learning to reframe my thoughts, pushing all the yuck out helps reduce my pain levels, makes for a happier day to day life, and makes my mood much better. Stop feeling guilty about the things you cannot control because this only stops you from moving forward. I encourage you to let it go.