Learning my ABCDE’s

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In addition to Explain Pain, my trainer recommended that I read a book called Learned Optimism, How to Change your Mind and Your Life, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. You can find it here. https://amzn.to/2ZEzvTz This was my first introduction to positive psychology, a fairly new science. By definition, positive psychology is “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”, or “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural and global dimensions of life”. Another big step in my healing and growing was about to happen with the help of this book.

The biggest take away for me was learning to dispute my own beliefs and become skilled at generating alternatives. This was really important to understand given that I was afraid to do half the things that would help me get stronger and heal, for fear of hurting myself. Explain Pain says the fear of pain can be enough to prevent change, so I HAD to learn how to overcome my fears. I also had to learn how to decatastrophize. My beliefs and thoughts were stopping me from doing A LOT of basic things. As I was getting focusing on my diet, physical therapy and exercise, I cut out every doctor from my life at that time with the exception of those at the Spine Institute. I just COULD NOT handle another piece of bad news. So, if I didn’t go to the doctor, no bad news. This was my thinking. I didn’t even go to the dentist for the fear of the dental chair would hurt my neck. Also, I had a general fear of doctors because honestly, their negligence in giving me a drug combination that injured me was still on the forefront of my mind. So much fear. It was paralyzing. So, I had my fears in movements and activities AND I had a fear of learning anymore about my health for the sake of not going off the deep end completely. I didn’t get a check up, a dental cleaning, a pap smear or flu shot for four years. Yes, four years. That’s a long time.

What helped me start to make the change was a strategy I found in Learned Optimism called the ABCDE model. Standing for Adversity (what happened), Belief (how you interpret the adversity), Consequences (feelings and what you did), Disputation (argue and dispute your beliefs) and Energization (outcome or effects from redirecting your thoughts).

Here is my first attempt at using the ABCDE Model to dispute my fears. I started with what was most pressing at the moment. Remember when I said when I started my sculpt class with no weights? Well, in addition to that, I also decided for myself that dead lifts weren’t good for me and my back, as the first time I did them I had pain. This pain eventually faded, but it was enough to scare me. My first ABCDE attempt would be about this conclusion I made up for myself. It looked like this:

A (Adversity) Do a dead lift in class with weight.

B (Belief) I will hurt my back.

C (Consequence) I feel afraid and frustrated.

D (Disputation) My trainer is very skilled and would not put me in danger.

E (Energization) I tried it, had some pain, then it faded.

For the record, I do dead lifts with kettle bells on a regular basis now with NO pain. Two things happened. I got over my fear and my body got used to a new movement. It takes time. A long time. I had to be patient. I felt a little pain with dead lifts for a while, but guess what? That doesn’t happen anymore!

Here’s another attempt I did shortly after.

A (Adversity) I am afraid to get a flu shot.

B (Belief) I think something will go wrong and I will have a reaction or my body won’t take it well.

C (Consequence) I am scared and procrastinating.

D (Disputation) I have had flu shots in the past and been fine. Everyone in my family has had shots this year and they are all fine.

E (Energization) My son and I got our flu shots together. This way I had someone with me and had to be the “grown up” and not freak out. Having him there kept me calm even though he had no idea he was doing that for me. I didn’t have any kind of reaction.

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In my notebook, next to where I wrote this, there is a little side note that says “I did it! 10/20/18.” Small steps. It was clear that I needed to use this model and learn how to find the evidence against my beliefs and show the flaws. According to the author, the facts will be on my side most of the time. I don’t know exactly when I became so pessimistic in my thinking. Maybe just all the turmoil of what I had gone through left me that way. Seligman explains “pessimistic thinking consists of latching onto the most dire possible belief, not because the evidence supports it, but precisely because it is so dire.” This was key for me. Over the next few years I continued to use this strategy to catch up on my health. I finally went to the dentist, I got my pap smear, and lastly I went to my Internist. The one I dreaded the most and had the most fear to see. Turns out I had a clean bill of health at all of these appointments! Ok, I had one cavity.. Four years without a cleaning will do that to you.

Do you struggle with negative thinking? Try the following:

In your daily life over the next week, tune into any adversity that comes along. Listen to your thoughts. When you hear negative thoughts, dispute them! And record them in ABCDE Model.

I’d love to hear how this worked in your life. Comment and leave questions below! Thanks for being here!


Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway (Explain Pain Part 2)

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:

  1. Work out the threats
  2. Take control
  3. Have goals
  4. 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

Pain

Not knowing

Certain movements

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:

Be brave

Have understanding

Confront my fears

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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.

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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.

Mediation

Time to yourself

Physical Activity

Reading

Friendship

Humor

Hobbies

Spirituality

Pets

Sleeping

Nutrition

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:

Build confidence

Accept compliments

Make time for family and friends

Give and accept support

Create a meaningful budget

Volunteer

Manage Stress

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:

Problem solve

Keep calm

Remember it’s you life

Be proud of surviving

Develop insight

Use humor

Be realistic, not dramatic

Get support

Don’t look for blame

Do something

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

Gratitude journal

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!


The Book that Changed Everything

A few years ago, when I was still in the throws of recovery, my personal trainer suggested I read a book called “Explain Pain” by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley. I was at a point where I had gained strength, continued physical therapy, but continued to have significant pain that would send me off emotionally and also keep me from doing more of what I loved to do. Everyone had their theories as to what was going on, but the only person in my life that was up front and honest with me was my trainer. She basically told me I couldn’t “fix the pain I was feeling with exercise”. She was saying it was “in my head” which was true, but not (I explain this below). It was REAL alright and she knew it. She also told me I needed to start meditating or “go talk to someone”. Hmmm, she was telling me I needed a different kind of therapy.

No one had spoken to me this way before about my anxiety. She was brutally honest. It was jarring and I was a bit shocked. I sat there in tears. It felt like some sort of emotional breakthrough. I am FOREVER grateful for her for being this honest with me. For seeing that I needed to hear these things in a way that would wake me up. No one in my family would have ever talked to me this way and if they did I probably would have been so angry with them I wouldn’t have listened anyway. The fact that it came from someone on the outside means I could no longer hide that part of myself. It was obvious to her and she did the right thing by making me confront it.

Two things she suggested immediately was a book called Explain Pain and a meditation app (that I now use every day, religiously, starting the day after she suggested it. Upholder quality at work!) As soon as I began reading Explain Pain everything started to become clear. I was reading my story. I couldn’t believe it! Finally, I could see myself on the pages and I started to understand. Right from page two it became clear. “When pain persists and feels like it is ruining your life, it is difficult to see how it can be serving any useful purpose. But even when pain is chronic and nasty, it hurts because the brain has concluded, for some reason or another, that you are threatened and in danger and need protecting – the trick is finding out why the brain has come to this conclusion”.

I also learned that stress can make nerve pain worse and that damaged nerves become sensitive to the chemicals you produce when you are stressed. This made perfect sense to me. I was having unbelievable stress and worry at the time when my pain was spreading and getting worse and no one could tell me why. The authors also explained that “things that used to hurt, now hurt more. And things that didn’t hurt before, now hurt”. There I was, right there on the page. Exactly what I experienced. And for the first time, there was an explanation. I was so relieved to see my story in print. Someone gets it! Other identifying statements I read were “It started off so simply and now it has spread” and “No one seems to believe me”. I basically said those exact words. Something else that really hit home for me was that even the FEAR or ANTICIPATION of pain may be enough to prevent changes from returning to normal. Returning to normal was ALL I wanted! Clearly, I needed to figure out how to get over my fear of pain. It was time to take control and work out the threats or feel like this forever. So, I made a decision right then that I will do whatever is suggested to reverse what had happen to me.

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Now I had my goals and was motivated to get started. With the understanding that the pain was coming from my brain, not the tissue/nerve damage, I now knew what I needed to work on to get my life back to as normal as possible. In the next few weeks I’m going to break down each of the goals above into what I did.

Are you dealing with chronic pain? Do you have fears of certain movements, re-injuring or making it worse? Surgery, botched surgery? Or other fears? I want to give you a few Action Steps to apply to you own life if you feel like this speaks to your situation. And then over the next few weeks we will talk about the steps above in more detail and I will share what I did in my personal situation. For this week, you could start by:

  1. Decide to take control and work out the threats. Just deciding to do this is a HUGE step. Yay!!
  2. Have a goal. What is it that you want to do more of without pain? Walking, reading, driving, playing with your kids. You decide. But I suggest picking one to start and focusing on that.
  3. Increase activity with slow exposure.

If you would like more information about the type of training I did, you can find my trainer Carrie’s website here. https://pnxsolutions.com/

That’s it for this week!! Seems simply enough, but honestly it’s a big decision and takes strength to move forward. You can do this. After you pick your goal, come back next week and we will start on the “how to’s” and I will tell you what worked for me, what didn’t and what I’m continuing to work on now :). See you then!