Pain with inactivity is as debilitating emotionally and spiritually as it is physically. I have felt the depression and feelings of "poor me" rise up almost automatically during a period - anywhere from two to seven days - of a migraine that won't go away, especially if I have succumbed to the pain and fatigue.
But how do we balance the requirements of our pain - to rest, stay quiet and use our pain management skills in peace - with the requirements of physical, emotional and spiritual health? For me, this has been a journey of discovery, of trial and error.
During 2010, after I left my job at Miriam's House , I thought that lots and lots of rest was what I needed to encourage the migraines to subside, if not go completely away. I did need a lot of rest - that was 17 years of a very difficult, although much-loved, job - but not for the migraines. They continued as before. The change I noticed was not in the migraines themselves but in my ability to manage the pain. Better-rested (another relative phrase, as sleep interruption often accompanies pain) and able to take the time to experiment, I learned tools and skills in pain management, most of which I have shared in previous posts on this blog.
I learned that when I am rested, I have more options for physical activity and health, such as a bit of gardening and walking my dog in the park. And even though these activities often do make the pain worse, I have also learned that, for my emotional and spiritual health, it is often well to make the choice for a time of activity that may exacerbate the physical pain but is worth it in terms of the emotional benefits.
Chronic pain is isolating. So often it just seems far too taxing to make that phone call, or check - let alone answer! - the emails, or write that post. In order to hold the pain at bay, we choose not to reach out. Yet friends, family and those warming, loving connections with others are major components of emotional health. Although the temptation is to avoid these activities because they leave us even more fatigued and/or in greater pain, the fact is that developing a balanced way to include them in our lives will actually help the pain by improving our emotional health.
FINDING THE BALANCE
I think the trick is, for physical and emotional activity, to experiment and find our own balance. For me, walking the dog and doing a load of wash may be all I can do before going back to the couch or bed for a 2-hour rest. For you, getting up and going to the kitchen to sit at the table for breakfast may be the sum of your activities for the morning. One phone call will leave me light-headed and needing to lie down; you might be able to talk for hours as long as you are resting as you do it. And, goodness knows, these parameters can change day to day: yesterday's migraine that left me wrung out and weak may today feel like the same migraine, yet I am able to bake scones, put dinner in the crockpot and walk the dog without collapsing.
The key to balance is, for me, being gently understanding of the inexplicable ups and downs of life in chronic pain. The less judging I do of myself and my abilities, the more I am able to try different tactics, not to mention to forgive myself with a wry grin when something I was sure I could handle turns out to be too much.
I think there are several benefits to this gentle understanding:
* When gentle understanding ("I thought I could handle this ... it's sad that I can't, but I'd better go rest.") replaces harsh judgment ("What an idiot I am ... why did I think I could do this?"), we are bringing into our hearts and spirits a spacious allowing that expands our creativity and our ability to love.
* With greater creativity that comes from allowing and understanding our limitations, we become able to develop pain management and life skills that enhance the quality of our lives.
* This spacious allowing pervades other aspects of our emotional and spiritual lives because the truth is that what makes us impatient and unforgiving of ourselves also makes us impatient and unforgiving of others. This sort of healing begins in our own hearts toward ourselves.For me, all of these things point toward greater spiritual health. And that will be the subject of my next post.
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