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Unlearning Chronic Pain

Sometimes the mysteries of the universe choose to lead you down a new path. When we are young, hopeful, and healthy, we do not give a second thought as to how pain could change our life. Being a nurse, I was well aware about those moments, the ones we never expect, that physically and emotionally alter our reality. My most difficult rotation in nursing school was rehabilitation. I was there for two weeks and came home crying almost every night. Most of my patients were young men paralyzed in accidents. As my tears ran down my face I remembered their youthful faces knowing many were incapable of wiping away their own tears. They would likely face pain every day of their lives.

My parents were both healthy and lived to see old age. Pop was plagued by arthritis and an old back injury, but kept going. Mom never complained about anything hurting. She would gripe at how her crooked fingers and wrinkles annoyed her, but that was about it. They never warned me about pain sneaking up on you. I fought my own aches and pains with a curved spine from the age of twenty, but it didn’t catch up with me until middle age. Then I was hit with one of those unexpected events.

I was three weeks post operative for cervical neck surgery. You don’t know uncertainty until a doctor tells you he’s going to cut your throat open to get to the bones compressing your neck nerves. Those nerves had rendered my left arm nearly useless. I compared the pain to holding my arm over an open flame. My surgery was highly successful and I am indebted to my skilled doctor. But shortly thereafter I experienced a traumatic emotional incident. Call it PTSD or anything you want. I had no idea what it was doing to me.

One morning I woke up and I couldn’t bear weight on my right leg. The pain shot down the front of my thigh to my knee. I was certain it was because I had altered my spine with surgery. My movements had been limited during recovery. I stretched, walked, tried rest, ice, but nothing helped. I did not want to go back on pain medications. Bending over was impossibly painful and I couldn’t even pick up the dog’s dish without screaming in pain. Sleep was hit and miss.

I felt utterly useless. My writing suffered and I began to loath myself. Doctors didn’t know if the pain was coming from my hip or my back. I tried steroid injections. After seeing three orthopedic surgeons, they were convinced it was my hip and I was scheduled for hip replacement surgery. Surgery did not improve my pain or mobility. All I had to show for it was a 6-inch scar. The surgeon suggested physical therapy; the physical therapist suggested returning to the gym. Everything made the pain worse. I was told it was my mindset controlling my own limitations. It turns out that was partially right.

I anticipated my summer on the farm would make the pain better. But a three-story farmhouse with stairs did not help my situation. I started searching for more doctors. The wait list was six weeks.

A friend suggested I try metaphysical meditation. It actually helped slightly, mostly because it forced me to lay down and relax for fifteen minutes, twice a day. Then Google came to my rescue.

Via my meditation research Google connected me with an app called Curable. Curable connected me to Dr. John Stracks at Cormendi Health in Chicago. Dr. Stracks led Zoom therapy groups with people like me dealing with chronic pain. It was validating knowing there were others. I learned that the pain, although there were physical reasons, was largely emotionally driven. My brain was using the trauma to bullying me by not allowing me to move forward. Literally.

I was three weeks into Dr. Stracks’s therapy group. There had been minimal improvement as I explored this body/mind connection. One afternoon, Joe left the farm to visit his buddies down the road. The farmhouse was very quiet and I had some time to think. Sitting at the kitchen table, I gazed out at our newly mowed alfalfa field. In late summer everything was green and glowing. For some reason I will never understand, I had a driving urge to run across the field.

I knew this would jar my spine and joints. I assumed it was stupid. But what if I could? I had started feeling better and I used to love running. Could I convince myself that there was hope for recovery? I walked outside and paused at the edge of the field. And then I ran. Yeah, it was my Forrest Gump moment.

I was halfway across the field when I had to stop. My leg muscles were tired but there was no biting nerve pain! Of course my legs were tired! I hadn’t used them in eighteen months. Down the road I saw a woodchuck frozen in place, standing on his hind legs, watching the crazy human jumping up and down like Rocky Balboa. I wanted to run and tell him how excited I was, but I didn’t think that would go over well. So instead, I happily ran back home!

I still have flares, but nothing like what I previously experienced. It’s important to note this therapy isn’t for everyone. Nor do I consider myself cured. I tell you about my journey out of gratitude and joy. If I can help even one person with this story, I will be elated.

If it serves you, buy a copy of John E. Sarno’s book, Healing Back Pain. It discusses many kinds of pain and it’s a little dated, but it will share stories from others with the same problem as me.

I would also like to recommend the documentary, This Might Hurt, that offers solutions to reduce and unlearn chronic pain. The film follows three chronic pain patients who have spent years searching for answers. Desperate for relief, they enter a new medical program run by Dr. Howard Schubiner, a medical associate to Dr. John Stracks, that focuses on uncovering hidden causes of pain, and retraining their brains to switch the pain off. Please see the links below for more information.

For an opportunity to receive one of three free drawings to view the documentary, you can sign up for my newsletter until midnight, April 22nd. We will notify the winners on April 24th. For a 15% discount to view the documentary, use the code JOLEE15.

If you’ve been hurting, it’s time to feel better.

Trailer & Website link:

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