Physical, psychological and monetary costs of pain struggle – both to the individual and a society – are astronomical. Frustration and life disruption of persistent pain are enough to drive a person to the brink of insanity!
Over the years I’ve sunk a small fortune of time and money into the efforts of becoming pain – free. I even went to Pain Care Yoga training, for God’s sake!
Now I am beginning to wonder if I had it backwards all along…
You see, ridding oneself from pain is a reactionary response: we resist and fear the experience of pain (physical or psychological), and in that resistance we tense up, tighten up, get anxious and worried. We perpetuate struggle, and create more pain in the process.
I know I have: this has become abundantly apparent once I started practicing mindfulness.
Never have I once paused to appreciate – yes, appreciate! – the role that pain plays in the body and the benefits that it delivers. Appreciating or accepting one’s discomfort wasn’t in Pain Care Yoga curriculum either…
What if, instead of reacting and resisting, I attempt to develop a sense of gratitude to pain as my body’s own protection mechanism – my very own, built – in guardian angel?
You might think me crazy, but consider this:
Very, very, very rarely, children are born and grow up with no sensation of pain.
This is called congenital analgesia; these children are completely normal in all other respects.
Lacking pain as a protection mechanism, these children have trouble learning how to avoid harmful situations.
One of them, for example, have climbed up to look out the window and knelt on a hot radiator. Failing to feel the sensation of pain – something that most of us would absolutely take for granted – she ended up with severe burns to both of her knees. One could still see the scars on her knees as an adult.
Most of these kids, lacking the protective shield of pain, die quite young.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve twisted an ankle.
Immediately upon the injury you feel a sharp pain, so right away you stop what you are doing – you just have activated your body’s built-in protection mechanism to prevent further injury. Child who lacks pain mechanism may continue on, without even noticing what just happened, putting him or herself at further risk of tissue damage.
The first initial jolt of pain is followed by a wide – spread swelling and discomfort through the entire affected leg. This, in fact, indicates the involvement of the central nervous system. Nervous system produces pain + tightness to the entire leg as an effort to splinter and immobilize the compromised ankle joint and promote healing.
We hold the foot still, we guard it, and limp in order not to put pressure on it.
We are alerted, we are scared, and we learn.
This behavior is crucial for healing: damaged area cannot complete recovery processes if it is moving and under pressure.
With congenital analgesia, this recovery phase – guarding after minor injury – doesn’t occur, so the surfaces of joints and ligaments never ever have a chance to fully recover.
Partially – healed joints become particularly vulnerable to the next injury. Many minor injuries, compounded over time, completely destroy joints, particularly those of ankles, knees, and wrists. The dead and damaged tissue becomes a breading ground for bacteria, which flourishes here, and also eats its way into the bone marrow. Many children that are born with congenital analgesia loose limbs or die from osteomyelitis, the bacterial infection of the bone that develops exactly because of their inability to feel pain.
Scary. I think that is very scary!
Learning about congenital analgesia has helped to re-frame my relationship with pain.
I am learning to be less reactive and anxious.
Pain is still scary, and my mind still goes crazy when I wake up in the middle of the night hurting.
Yet, more often than not, I am now able to lean into GRATITUDE for my body’s marvelous ability to protect itself.*
I don’t write this lightly.
I don’t expect myself or others to leap – merrily – into embracing pain.
In fact, the lack of compassion and dismissiveness with which chronic pain sufferers are sometimes treated by the medical profession makes me SO VERY MAD!
Yet, I question, continuously, current medical methods of treating persistent pain.
Not many of them work. Even fewer work effectively overtime.
So why not attempt to re-frame the internal experience of pain?
It won’t not hurt (no pun intended :). It doesn’t have a long list of side effects.
Who knows – each slight change we make can create just enough difference to eventually tip the pain scales in our favor.
At one point in time – not so long ago – humankind thought the world was flat….
* Chronic pain is often a symptom of central nervous system that is stuck in an over-protective mode and needs to be addressed from that perspective. This is what we do in Pain Care Yoga.