Sunday, June 3, 2012

In Defense of Pain

What?! Defend pain? Whatever for?

Because pain is an all-important indicator that something is wrong--that you should look to your body's needs, stop doing something that hurts, pay attention.  Ever since the advent of the "Excedrin headache", we have expected to be able to instantly get rid of pain.  We have developed a zero tolerance attitude.  Instead of learning from our pain, we tend to search and destroy--find a pill that will make it go away:  "I do not have time for this headache, I have to work, take care of the kids, run that marathon......"

What this attitude does is cause us to neglect the real cause of the pain, whether it be overwork, dehydration, or a brain tumor or sprained ankle.  We want the pain gone, but we do not have the patience to slow down and find the real source of the pain.  Sometimes this works fine--sometimes that trip to the doctor provides some advice and gets you a medication that works, and the pain never returns.   Your sprained ankle heals, you rehydrate and feel wonderful.  As long as you remember to follow that advice, which includes resting the ankle and hydrating regularly--actually making a long-term, but fairly easy change, you will remain fine. Other times, you end up neglecting the real source of the pain, and it just keeps coming back.  Those are the times we need to look at more closely.

So you get tension headaches every week or so, or have a pain in your side that never quite goes away, or worse, you have a chronic condition such as fibromyalgia, CRPS (RSD), migraine.  The doctor gives you a lot of medication and it dulls the pain, but you never feel quite right.

Let's start with that tension headache.   Tension, right?   What do you do in addition to taking medication?  Do you look for the source of the tension?  No, because you know it--whether it is the boss, the kids' school, your impending promotion, the mortgage, or all of those, you know what it is, and it feels unchangeable.   Not quite.  What you can change is how you perceive and handle those life stresses,   and how you deal with the repercussions in your body.   You can learn to manage stress differently AND treat your body better.   Perhaps you get a therapist to teach you Rational-Emotive Therapy and start doing massage or Feldenkrais® treatments.   Or perhaps you learn meditation and start yoga classes.  Making those two types of changes in combination, you can get many stress-based pain conditions to remit completely. 
In the case of a more serious chronic condition, the cure is similar, but less simple.  The precursors may be a lifetime of stress or a history of trauma.  Then you got hurt in a car accident, and your body just seemed to betray you.  Everything hurts, and nothing helps.  These conditions require a more detailed approach to restoring comfort--a look at your history to heal the inner pain as well as a thorough examination of how you embody and maintain the pain.  Deeply experienced stress and trauma change the body, the brain, and YOU.  But even these very deep, longstanding  changes are repairable with therapy for the mind and the body. 

Remember that your mind and body are a totality rather than two separate entities.  Thus to completely cure any pain, we need to look at our lifestyle, our habits, and our history.  Pain is a signal to stop and listen to the body.   Pay attention to your body, take care of its deepest needs, and it will rarely betray you.

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