I began writing this post last week, at a time when I was feeling particularly low, before I remembered that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy had helped me cope with similar emotions in the past. Sometimes, a lesson needs to be revisited, revised and re-realised. It’s alright to be human and forget things, or remember them a little bit differently to how they were. It’s alright to try something again at a different time and hope for a different result.
I’ve felt so very lost lately, has anybody seen my mind?
I am so tired of being imprisoned by the weather. It locks me in my body, it locks my body in my home. Sometimes the pain can be lowered by sitting under the air conditioning, sometimes nothing will help at all. There have been too many painkillers this past month, too many foggy brained mornings.
I miss going for walks. I miss the trees, the freedom, the gleeful fear of passing a daddy kangaroo who’s basking close to the path. I miss the little jogs, my pounding legs, my heaving breaths. I miss the inspiration in the fresh air. I miss enjoying the movement more than I loathe the pain. I miss the ache of building strength, of feeling my muscles working to work better.
I miss progression.
A period of increased and incapacitating CRPS symptoms can feel like I’ve never had any improvement at all. There’s trauma here, in this experience. It’s a physical memory of more terrifying times. There was a time before I could cope at all with my chronic pain. There was so much loss, so much hopelessness, so much agony. It all comes rushing back when I become too sore to carry out my daily plans. The big picture disappears and all I have is trying to cope in a here and now that feels as permanent as it is temporary.
Temporary is a hard thing to remember when the down time stretches on for weeks, then months.
It feels like I’ll never go for walks again, never cook again, never finish another blog post. It feels like I’ll never have dreams again, let alone achieve them.
It’s distorted thinking and I know it. I’ve learnt this before.
I take a break from writing this at this point. I wander down to a bookshelf in the front room. I pick up a ten-year-old teacher that I haven’t visited in years. My first self help book. Not the first that I ever encountered, not the first that I ever read, but the first that made a difference. Choose to be Happy by Wayne Froggatt.
I remember buying this book. I was so sore, so confused, so desperate. I purchased it in the bookstore that was next to the clinic where I saw the general practitioner that originally diagnosed me with RSD (because that’s what CRPS was called at the time). I didn’t know anything about Wayne Froggatt, or have any understanding about how my thoughts and beliefs shape my experiences, but I’d encountered a little bit of cognitive behaviour therapy in pain management texts and I felt like there was something there, like there was more to learn that I was yet to understand.
I settle into the comfort of the couch and begin to read. I see highlighted passages that I don’t remember highlighting, my eyes dart quickly to see what was important to me on the first go around with this book. The words there make sense, they’ve been sitting on their pages being rational and wise whilst I’ve been distracted by life and confused by the blurry memories where these lessons used to live.
I quietly thumb through the first 50 pages or so, remembering as I learn, learning as I remember. I consider going to hunt through drawers for a highlighter, there are more words that speak to me this time around. They’re easier to stomach without the apprehension that initially accompanied the harsh lesson that I am responsible for how I feel about things that happen to me.
It’s a responsibility that can empower me or crush me with guilt, depending on how clear of a perspective I am able to find. On page 25, I find an explanation for this:
– Wayne Froggatt, Choose to be Happy
I slap my forehead as I think “of course”. Somewhere along the line, I slipped into blaming myself when I wasn’t able to police my thoughts well enough to prevent negative emotions.
I kept thinking “I know that I don’t need to feel like this but I’m failing at stopping it from happening”. I then felt like a loser thanks to a core belief that any failure reflects badly on me as a person. I overgeneralised these thoughts, filtered out the rest of my being and concluded that I was, in fact, useless. I used this fact to predict the future – I will always be useless, nothing will ever get better.
Honestly, it’s no wonder that I’ve been feeling like crap. Flares can leave me so much time to think and I didn’t even realise that I was using those thoughts to make the experience worse for myself.
– Wayne Froggatt, Choose to be Happy
I continue reading and encounter a list of common irrational beliefs that underlie most unhelpful emotions and behaviours. As a go through them, I refer back to what I wrote at the beginning of this blog post and it’s like I’ve been writing examples for how these beliefs might express themselves. The starkest of these being “I shouldn’t have to feel discomfort and pain. I can’t stand them and must avoid them at all costs”.
The words I wrote are filled with angst, defeat and total failure at recognising the good parts of my life. I was viewing my pain and incapacitation as too much to be acceptable and so instead of accepting them, I was allowing myself to be victimised by circumstance.
Froggatt calls this way of thinking “can’t-stand-it-itis” and I’d been looking at my whole world through this distorted lens. Can’t-stand-it-itis is placing limits on how much we can cope with before we lose our shit, how much pain we can deal with, how much discomfort is acceptable before breaking point. Can’t-stand-it-itis is the more insidious cousin of I’m-a-victim-itis.
A more helpful way for me to view setbacks and unfortunate circumstances is to recognise that the situation is not ideal or comfortable, but I am capable of coping with discomfort. I can feel sore without catastrophising, I can feel sick without overgeneralising, I can acknowledge that some things are not going my way without concluding that everything is awful.
It’s only been a few days since I started re-reading Choose to be Happy, but I’m already feeling clearer. I’m still experiencing high levels of pain, however I’m recognising that flares are temporary and thinking clearly is helping me to manage my symptoms more effectively.
There’s a lot of temptation to search for new approaches when coping techniques seem to stop working and it’s easy to assume that something different needs to be done. When it feels like everything is crappy, it’s easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of stress or pain management techniques that aren’t working, to give up and label the technique “useless”. It’s worth considering that perhaps time has muddied the water, perhaps confusion or misunderstanding have tainted the things that we thought we knew.
Learning something doesn’t mean that it can never be forgotten. Forgetting something doesn’t mean that it never had value in the first place. Sometimes, the best parts of a lesson are hidden between the words on the page and the understanding that the reader takes away, just waiting to be discovered upon the reader’s return.
Love & Revision,