cn: ‘Trauma’ is mentioned but nothing explicit described. I don’t think this post should be triggering for anyone. This is about my experience of having chronic pain related to stress.
I started physical therapy today.
Here’s what we’re doing, from my PT’s perspective: exercises to strengthen my some muscles so that the painful, over-used muscles can stop doing all the work. And, mobilization to release tension in certain areas that are taking on too much strain.
All that is definitely true and important, and I don’t have any in-depth knowledge of physiology.
But what I have come to understand is that, if I go into this with the right attitude, I will be working to reverse some deeply significant conditioning that has kept me trapped in the pain cycle.
Over the past year I have learned to be afraid of certain activities: sitting, walking, lying in bed. (So, basically everything.) I’m afraid that if walk too long, sit too long, lie down for too long, that my pain will be increased, because that has happened before, and it is truly horrible. A particular nerve pathway is activated in response to that anticipated threat. My left psoas muscle tightens, my hip folds forward at the SI joint like a hinge, hip and lower back muscles are strained, glutes give up. And voila, pain, in every position, waking and sleeping.
My initial injury has long since healed. But my body has learned that pain response really well. It’s like the upset stomach you get when you’re nervous, the racing heart, the hot cheeks. Except it’s a pathway specific to me, just because it happened before and my body remembers it. It does it to say, run away. You’re terrified. But it doesn’t really mean, don’t go for a walk. It means, you’re carrying trauma. You can’t keep going this way. Take care of yourself.
So there is significant recurring pain–now it’s even moving around my body–and there’s not an injury to be found.
The first two times I tried physical therapy, it only increased my stress. What is causing so much pain? Why can’t they find an injury? How will I ever get better? Why am I spending so much money for care that isn’t helping me? I got better at the exercises. My pain didn’t go away. I gave up on physical therapy.
So why am I trying physical therapy again if I don’t think I’m actually injured? I need help regaining confidence in my physical abilities. The therapist is finding that I’m having trouble activating some muscles and this puts too much strain on others. Makes sense. That is an important physical understanding of what’s uncomfortable. I need to retrain muscle groups so that they work better, and I need guidance for that. My last two experiences did not focus on using muscles appropriately.
But on a psychological level, I am adding to a list of experiences under the heading: “Look, you did that and it went fine”. With some guidance in exercising properly, I am reminding my body, look, we can do this. I am working to weaken triggers that send my body into fear mode. Less fear, less pain. Weakening the cycle.
I’m not a doctor or psychologist of any speciality. I’ve just been dealing with pain, and reading about it, and thinking about it. And I think I’ve almost figured out the ‘story’ that my chronic pain is telling.
I’m not on board with everything she has to say, but I’ve been reading the book “Chronic Pain: Your Key to Recovery” by Georgie Oldfield and I think she is definitely on to something. The brain can make pain out of a body’s ‘memory’ of an injury, or anticipation of an injury. I haven’t yet read Dr. Sarno’s work on the mind-body connection and its relation to learned pain, but I’m planning to.
The more I learn, the more I realize it’s not just my body I need to re-train, but also my mind. And that is daunting. But on a scientific level, I know it can be done. And I think I can do it. My body is reminding me that it’s better to learn new survival skills when the old set becomes self-destructive. Essentially, my pain is reminding me: you know the path you’re on does not go where you want to be.
It’s a cruel, cruel awakening. And it’s probably love, too.
This is why I haven’t been posting much recently. There’s a lot going on. Old traumas surfacing, starting to make more sense, but still hurting. My lovely narcissistic parent sent me an email so egregious an gas-lighting that a few weeks later, it almost makes me laugh. It’s there in writing. It’s so clear. Look right there. That’s an injury.
I’ll keep exercising, journaling, meditating, walking. Pushing myself to be with people instead of isolating myself. It’s already getting better. I hope the progress continues. It is very much a creative project.
I’ll keep sharing what I feel able to.
Wishing you well.
PS: This is apparently my 50th post. And I’m happy to have 66 followers, 65 of whom are people I’ve never met. That means a lot to me. Thank you. 🙂