Once I finished reading Explain Pain and saw my story on the pages, I decided I MUST do what it takes to correct this or I will never feel the way I wanted to. I needed to change my mindset and retrain my brain immediately. Four things were clear in the reading I had done. Those four things were:
- Work out the threats
- Take control
- Have goals
- Work on mindfulness and coping skills
Let’s start with working out the threats. According to the authors “Fear or anticipation of pain may be enough to prevent changes in returning to normal.” Well, at that time I most certainly had fears over many things and I was avoiding them like the plague. Here is a my list from some of the fears listed in the book that were spot on for me:
The seriousness of my situation
Making it worse
Not being able to work
Not being able to look after my parents
So, in addition to my daily pain, I was constantly thinking and worrying about all of the above. This made my brain think I was under threats all the time, which just increased the pain. It’s a truly vicious cycle. To avoid that cycle I needed to do the following:
Confront my fears
Which is what I set out to do. And still do! Most recently I tried a new exercise class. This falls under the “making it worse” category. I used to get so worked up over new movements. For example, after about one year of exercises class at my therapy center, my trainer added a sculpt class using kettle bells. I wanted to do it, but fear took over. I said “I can’t do that. My back and neck will hurt.” My trainer told me to come and just do the exercises without the kettle bells, just to get used to the movement and get over my fear. And that actually worked. Once I did pick up the weights, there were many tears. I would stand in that class, holding my kettle bell with tears of fear coming down my face. But I did it. Over and over again. Until my brain realized there was no threat, and I realized I wasn’t going to hurt myself. The trick is mental. Let me be clear, I DID feel worse initially. But as my trainer explained to me, this was because I was doing something “new” and my body had to get used to it. It took a long time, but she was right. I thank God she came into my life! No doctor or physical therapist ever explained this to me before and it was exactly what I needed to hear. The combination of reading Explain Pain, then practicing it in class was magical. It was like therapy, not for my body, but for my mind. I was truly retraining my brain. And I could see it was working. And I saw it a year or so later when I started Yoga as well, or anytime I do something new. Remembering, it’s new and it’s ok. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Next was Taking Control. For the longest time I would go from doctor, to physical therapist, to massage therapist, to my trainer and would be sent down a hundred different roads. They would contradict each other in their advice. It was incredibly confusing. At some point I had to take control of the situation and listen to my body. I grew up believing doctors knew everything. I did exactly what they told me to the letter. (Upholder behavior again) I never questioned them, ever. This is one of those not so great traits of being an Upholder. I should have asked more questions of those who were helping me. I should have made my own decisions about my care EARLIER instead of sitting around waiting for one of them to magically cure me.
Again, it was my trainer who started to have me think differently. She was not only physically strong, but mentally, and she built me up to be confident in myself and my decision making to a point I never had before. Just one practitioner saying to me “I don’t know why you are feeling that way.” Or, ” I don’t know why you aren’t getting better.” would send me off the deep end of worry. Now I don’t do that anymore. I’m in control. I realize that practitioners don’t know everything. They are making their best guess but ultimately I’M IN CHARGE of my body and health. This is so freeing!! I no longer am fearful of doctors! Because I don’t look at them like the be all end all that I used to. I listen, I think it through, THEN I act.
Moving on to Having Goals. Hey, there’s a concept!! Did you grow up having goals? I didn’t. Never, of any kind whatsoever. Not academically, not personally, not financially. I didn’t understand how life changing having goals can be. Having goals is how we move through life and get what we want. Otherwise everything just happens “to you”. That’s how I lived the first 44 years of my life. So, I made small goals to start (this will be a huge focus for me later on). For now, my first goal was to take short walks without flare ups to my back or neck. I started with 3 minutes. That’s it. Then I added a minute or two until I worked my way up. I now do regular walks of 30-40 minutes without a problem. I recently walked ALL DAY in New York City and I did have a flare up, but after two days it was gone. And to me, that is still a win.
And the fourth was Becoming Mindful and Learning Coping Skills. Two more things I never had done. My trainer asked me if I ever meditated and I said I had not but I’ve been told many times over the years that I should meditate or “do something about your anxiety”. I never did until having this conversation one on one, with someone I completely trusted and knew was in my corner, 100%. I did a quick google search and found the following article that I printed, cut and pasted into my new wellness notebook that I started when I started my privates with my personal trainer. Little did I know what this notebook would be become over the next two years.
I found “Strategies for Good Mental Health Wellness”. The following are coping skills suggested in dealing with stressful situations.
Time to yourself
It was glaringly obvious the ones I needed to work on. Friendship, Humor, Hobbies, Spirituality. All the others needed some tweaking, but those four were non existent at the time. Those were all things I had in my life before all this happen to me, but had let slide.
The second article I found was “Ten Tips for Better Mental Health” by the Canadian Mental Health Association of Richmond, BC. Here’s the ten:
Make time for family and friends
Give and accept support
Create a meaningful budget
Find strength in numbers
Identify and deal with moods
Learn to be at peace with yourself
I had SO MUCH to work on here. All but Accept Compliments and Find Strength in Numbers were areas that needed VAST improvement.
One more list I found on coping skills that was extremely helpful. Here we go:
Remember it’s you life
Be proud of surviving
Be realistic, not dramatic
Don’t look for blame
Whoa.. Some big aha’s were in this list for me. Most definitely problem solving, be realistic, not dramatic, develop insight and DO SOMETHING. Yes, this was an important list too. And a lot of these skills I would work on after reading yet another book, but I will get to that later. So, I read Explain Pain, I found out what I needed to do to fix what was happening to me and now I had a jumping off place.
When I look at my notebook from this time in my life it’s like looking at another person as I read what I wrote. But I also see how clear it is, that I am where I am today because of it. Here are my first notes and goals I gave myself.
Find volunteer opportunities
Spend more time with parents
Pay attention to spending
Rekindle friendships/make lunch dates
Read every day
Focus on problem solving
Find humor in my situation
Meditate every day
Maybe get back into gardening and cooking
Consider doing another Happiness Project?
All roads lead to Gretchen Rubin! Ha! I had done a Happiness Project probably eight or so years earlier. I thought maybe I’ll do another because this would be the time. This was the beginning. It would be my starting point of everything that would change my life in the next two years. I’m always still working on myself. As I sit here typing I still occasionally think, “is this going to hurt my neck?” Still fighting the “making it worse” threat. But the difference now is I think it, but I do it anyway and guess what? I’m fine. Maybe a little stiff but fine. In my next few posts I will talk about how I did my Happiness Project and the next book that helped me through this time of learning and healing.
If you are interested in doing your own Happiness Project you can find the book here. https://amzn.to/31Z4hIv
In addition, think about your own situation and try the following:
Read through the above coping skills and decide if there are any you would like to or need to work on.
Make a list of goals and ideas to get you there.
Then break those down into smaller steps you can do everyday to reach your goals! Thanks for being here! Please comment below!