Tag Archives: Coping With Anxiety/Depression

Thoughts From The Abyss

Dear Audy,

My, how quickly a month can pass in blogging silence. I have not been feeling like myself lately, I have not been feeling much like anybody at all. Life seems to be spinning by around me and I feel disconnected in a way that I’m unaccustomed to. I just don’t have much to say to anybody, about anything, at all.

I feel like a vintage set of Dominos in the mocking hands of fate. My speckled panels are worn beyond recognition. Life plays games with me. Lines me up, knocks me down, lines me up, knocks me down…until the fragile wood gives in to the clacking and smacking of repeated assaults and I break apart on the floor.

The first few weeks of the backslide weren’t too bad. I was able to fend of feeling sad about temporary setbacks. Those happen to everybody, not just people with CRPS. I was going to be back on my handling-things-horse in no time…

Until something else happened. And then something else happened. And then those things caused other things to happen. And does it even matter what the things are anymore? Does the specificity of the fist ever make a difference to the sting on the face?

There has been a lot of pain. There has been a lot of incapacitation. There has been a lot of loneliness and less than enough energy to do anything about that. There have been tears. But mostly? Mostly, there has been numbness.

I feel empty in the strangest way.

I have these dreams of overcoming the chronic pain that I live with. I dream about managing my pain down to a minimum, maintaining mobility long enough to keep control of a clean diet, getting off all medication, creating a life for myself that is bigger and wider than simply surviving. I dream about living a life outside of this house that imprisons me, this suburb where I am marooned.

I dream of independence.

But it feels…. so unlikely.

And I hate to admit it.

So I haven’t been saying anything at all.

I haven’t been engaging with the angst ridden thoughts. I haven’t been writing about the same circle of severe health problems that have plagued me since 2006. I haven’t been engaging with the messages, the enquiries, the social media feeds that bring me a tidal wave of stories about personal triumphs and tragedies.

My silence is not through lack of appreciation of anybody, it’s because there is so little inside me right now that I just don’t have anything to give. The most confusing part is that this feeling of burnout, this concrete security door that slams down behind my eyes whenever I try to formulate a response to anything… I’ve never felt it this strongly before.

It’s strange to feel such emptiness, such nothing, so strongly.

I have this thought that plays through my mind whenever things get really tough. Whenever the pain flares beyond all recognition of what I thought was possible, whenever another injury takes me down, or another ability is limited. When life seems so incredibly painful and pointless that it feels impossible that anything good could happen ever again, I think: “Is this the moment when I give up?”

The words run through my mind like a voiceover on a sappy film. Is this the moment? Is this the moment that will take me down, is it the beginning of the end?

As depressing as that sounds, this thought is actually a positive coping mechanism. Because the answer is always no. I refuse to give up. I won’t let that moment exist. Instead, I search for the happy things to hold onto, the reasons to go forward, the dreams that I could achieve, the tiny steps that I can take in the moment.

Lately, I search and I see nothing but haze. I see a vague potential for growth, but then I get knocked down for another week, or a month, and those dreams fizzle out, smothered by the reality of chronic illness.

I’m not spending all of my time feeling depressed, not at all. There is a difference between blank and miserable. I kind of thought that it was depression at first, but then I remembered that there were things that had actually happened. There were events that knocked me down, physical symptoms beyond my control.

Having a human response to upsetting circumstances isn’t a mental illness and it helps me to remember that.

This emptiness…it just means that I have some things to figure out, that’s all. I’ve had a lot of trouble trying to decide how to explain this to you, Audy, because just by describing my current challenges, I feel like I’m giving the emptiness more power than it deserves. Not to mention that I hate to depress you. I really hate that the very nature of my existence is often saddening to others and so sometimes I clam up until I can find the sparkly lining.

I’m spending most of my days seeking escape in stories. I haven’t figured out how to fill this abyss yet, I haven’t figured out how to function around it and, whilst I believe that overcoming is a possibility, I have no idea how I am going to get past this new phase of my crippledom.

Next week, I will be a bridesmaid at the wedding of my oldest friend in the world. It’s quite a challenge for somebody who struggles to shower on a lot of days, however some moments are more important than struggles; some friends are more important. Who knows? Maybe part of this emptiness is just a kind of energy conservation so that I can enjoy the wedding.

I’ll write when I can, Audy. Writing is usually a good sign. Earlier in the emptiness, I tried to write to you on several occasions and what tumbled out was such useless ramble that I couldn’t bring myself to burden your eyes with it. Sometimes, the thoughts just need to settle.

And maybe I’m getting somewhere now.

But, please don’t be offended if you don’t hear from me personally. I honestly don’t know when the strength for one-on-one interactions, with people outside a very small circle of close friends, will return. It’ll come back I’m sure. In the meantime, I’ll blog when I can and hopefully you won’t hate me for snubbing you.

Love & Emptiness Explaining,

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  • Reclaiming The Morning From Pain

    Dear Audy,

    I wake up earlier than I’d like and wondering why my body won’t just sleep like it needs to. As consciousness takes hold, pain fills my arms, seeping through them like poison in the bloodstream. Minutes pass and the poison begins to fill my legs, pouring down and pooling at the bottom. I wriggle a little as the soreness settles into its constant burn, I smile at the morning light filtering into the room and I think…

    Everything is OK.

    Living with chronic pain is a little bit like waking up every day with a hangover. Pain and emotions are most powerful before reason starts functioning. Even after years of dealing with CRPS, some mornings I still find my brain accepting the pain as an alarm and panicking in the moments before my mind switches on.

    Holy Hell, I’m on fire! Oh, shit! Shit! Shit! Everything hurts, am I dying? … … … Oh, yeah, that’s right, I have CRPS. Carry on, morning.

    Lately, I have been extremely focused on improving my strength. I was so weak, for so long last year that my fragility was severely impacting on my ability to manage my chronic pain. For a while there, I lost hope that I could take control of my life, in spite of CRPS.

    Hopelessness is a black jungle that I wish never to return to again. The only method that I know of that can change a thought/emotion cycle is to actually change thoughts and things. The only way that I know of to actually change thoughts and things is through mindfulness, realising that a mind can always be opened further, and sheer determination.

    In order to keep improving my activity levels, which follows through to improving my strength, I need to take more control, first thing every morning. This is a part of dealing with CRPS that I haven’t been particularly great at in the past, at my worst I’ve spent entire days (weeks, months…) just waiting to feel better.

    Thankfully, I’m human and as such, I can learn to do things that I haven’t been able to do before. I can learn to get on with something, anything, rather than letting a bad wake up ruin my day.

    Smiling because at the beach, but also because waking up that morning was rough and I was awfully proud to have gotten out anyway.

    Smiling because at the beach, but also because waking up that morning was rough and I was awfully proud to have gotten out anyway.

    It’s been quite some time now since I realised that my beliefs, thoughts and skills are all changeable and that epiphany was one of the most powerful things that I’ve ever experienced.

    I don’t accept that I have to be rigid in anything that goes on in my head. I don’t accept that living with chronic pain means that I have to be depressed. Neither my physical skills, nor psychological habits are fixed and the path to understanding how to change something usually begins behind an option that a less openminded, past version of myself might have considered unfathomable.

    I don’t accept so many things that I’ve grown up thinking were permanently ingrained parts of me, that I occasionally feel like I really don’t know myself at all anymore.

    To reclaim my mornings from pain and confusion, I have been approaching how I think about CRPS differently. It’s not a weird monster that has invaded me and might flip out at any second. It feels like that sometimes, but that’s not what CRPS is. CRPS is just my nervous system misinterpreting stuff. It just means that I’ll feel physical pain and have some strange bodily reactions to pretty regular things. That’s all.

    When trying to take back power over something that is overwhelming, it helps to throw in a “just”.

    It’s just CRPS.

    Waking up has been easier lately, even on those days that ache more than the others. Those aches are just CRPS. Those aches will feel different after some morning stretches. Those aches will change.

    It’s easier to notice and appreciate change without necessarily attaching it to better or worse on the pain scale. I know that nothing is permanent and that if I begin my day, I’ll feel different to how I do at that initial moment of waking.

    I don’t expect to feel better, I just expect to feel different and I’m starting to respond to difference as a positive and happy making experience. I’m creating this response by repeatedly forcing recognition of my thoughts and then thinking other thoughts instead.

    It actually is that simple.

    Everything that makes a thought seem inescapable is just smoke and mirrors. Keeping this idea with me helps me to keep searching for the trick, to keep uncovering the layers until I understand the illusion, no matter how devastating the emotions that I’m feeling seem to be in the moment.

    Being mindful of what’s going on in my head has helped me to keep pushing my physical limits. I’m spending most of my time exercising, cleaning, running errands and cooking, followed by the pain managing stretching, Feldenkrais and soaking. It’s not glamourous at all, but it’s far more lively an existence than feeling sad and being scared to move off the couch.

    I’m starting to feel like myself again, even if that self is in flux, because why must a self be a static thing anyway? I prefer myself malleable, it makes life far more interesting.

    Do you find mornings hard to handle, Audy? What helps you to get out of bed and give it your best?

    Love & Grins,

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  • Thalassotherapy: It’s A Beach Thing

    Dear Audy,

    I’m kind of addicted to swimming in the sea. This addiction started back in December, when the days got warm enough for hitting the beach, and has continued because I’m experiencing a lot of health benefits for my efforts. Not all that surprisingly, humans have been playing with the health benefits of the ocean for centuries and have even named the practise “Thalassotherapy”.

    Living in Australia can be pretty alright.

    Living in Australia can be pretty alright.

    Thalassotherapy is the practise of using sea water and shore climate to treat health ailments. Finally, I understand why the grandmother in Roald Dahl’s The Witches was prescribed an ocean holiday to assist her health…this is actually a thing. A thing that has been going on for a long time and has even been marketed into overpriced spa treatments for rich people.

    I always thought that going to the beach improved my mood because it was just a fun thing to do, but it turns out that there might be more to it than that. I mean, watching an episode of Portlandia is also a fun thing to do, but I’m yet to notice it actively lowering my pain levels.

    Poking around the internet, I have learnt that there are a couple of science-type explanations for why going to the beach could be helping me to feel better. Personally, reading about this sort of stuff is just gravy, if something makes me feel better it makes me feel better. I’ve been at this chronic pain game long enough to know that the scientific method can’t explain or prove everything….yet.

    So far, this is what internet reported science has had to say about why going to the beach is helpful:

  • Sunshine! Vitamin D is integral to a healthily functioning human body. Here in Australia, fearing the sun has become common practise. The benefits of sunlight without sunburn seem to have been thrown out in the skin cancer panic. I wear sunscreen and I don’t go to the beach to tan my skin, however I definitely notice the positive difference to my mood and overall feeling of well being for having gotten some sun.
  • Seawater has lots of good stuff in it! That salty flavour includes magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium and iodide – stuff that is soaked in through the skin and can be good for reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
  • Negative ions! Ok, maybe I don’t fully understand what a negative ion is, but what I do understand is that when I inhale a few deep breaths of fresh sea air, I feel all sorts of better. Apparently, ions are molecules in the air that have gained or lost an electrical charge. Moving water creates a bunch of negative ions that can have a mood lightening effect on those who breathe them in. You can read more about negative ions here, or hit the journals if you’d like more reputable information than me telling you I feel better.
  • Exercise! The human body is designed to move, plain and simple. Moving makes it function better and being in the ocean allows me to move in non-harmful ways that benefit my overall fitness level.
  • Relaxation! I really enjoy the beach. I just…really like it. Combining something that I really enjoy with managing my chronic pain feels like winning a jackpot. It’s much easier to muster up therapy motivation for an enjoyable activity than it is to motivate myself into exercise that is beneficial but terribly boring.
  • Lasting relief! That feeling of reduced pain and increased energy levels stays with me for long after I am out of the water. This is especially good to know on days that are going to be extremely hot or humid because an early morning dip can save me from a day of harsh weather flares. Slowly increasing my fitness levels also means that all other activities become that little bit easier.

  • Living with CRPS in all of my limbs makes exercising tricky. If my legs are flaring, I can’t handle anything that involves standing on them and that rules out most cardio. If my hands are flaring, I still experience increases in the pain from walking on my legs and I am also more likely to flare up in the lower regions if I’m already being pained by the upper regions.

    Building any sort of muscular strength is a delicate balancing act, but is also a necessary part of managing chronic pain. A weak body hurts more and is more easily injured. This is why when one thing goes wrong in a CRPS effected body, it can very easily lead to another problem and another problem because of the difficulty in regaining strength after any sort of setback. When it happens, it’s kind of like getting stuck in a loop of weakness.

    In the past, I’ve had some patchy success with undertaking hydrotherapy in an indoor pool. I found it easier to move without increasing pain whilst in the water and also enjoyed a lot of relief from the pain of gravity by using floatation devices. With regular visits, I was able to build up some core strength that helped to make other forms of exercise, like walking, more viable.

    Unfortunately, my body really struggles to cope with a pool environment. Such places are ridiculously humid and the water and air reek with chemicals. Both of those factors are conducive to increasing my pain and tend to undo a lot of the progress that I make in the water, before I even get back to the car.

    Several weeks ago, when I made that first beach trip of the Summer, something spectacular happened. Wading into the water provided instant relief for my burning limbs.

    I felt better, straight away. I can’t think of any words that could possibly explain how amazing such an experience was after six years of CRPS. It was a little bit like those few moments during my 10 day ketamine infusion when I felt painlessness and vowed to never give up my fight, only without the preceding days of hallucinogenic torture or the disastrous consequences.

    Once in the water, I was able to move around fairly freely and get into some of the exercises that I used to do in the hydrotherapy pool. Floating is a breeze in salt water and I was able to relax on my back and let the weightlessness and gentle swaying of the waves melt away my tension. The water was cool enough to bring about goosebumps, but not create a hindering chill.

    I felt free. I can’t remember another moment during my life with CRPS during which I can honestly say that I felt free.

    Chronic pain turns a person’s body into a sort of prison cell. Any activities are only undertaken by following the rules of the warden (CRPS). Permanent physical limitations can stifle freedom like no other oppression that I have even known (I’m a white Australian, so you know, pretty lucky in that regard).

    Feeling free is like feeling young again, feeling healthy. The best part is that this feeling stays with me throughout the rest of the day. The coolness of the water seems to penetrate my body and sit deeply enough that I actually continue to experience feeling better long after I have dried off.

    Naturally, I have been returning to the beach as often as I can handle. I’m careful not to push my energy levels too far, I try not to stay out too long and I mostly tread water and float around, but just doing that has been enough to kickstart some healing.

    It takes about 5-6 songs to drive to the beach from my house, so not all that far, but far enough to force me to pace out my visits and that’s probably a good thing. Without a distance buffer, I’d be in the water every day, which would either be awesome or just cause me to overexert myself. I’m only going to know which case is true after you buy me a beach house, or send me to a resort for a few weeks. So, you know, you should probably get on that as soon as possible. And thanks!

    Do you like going to the beach, Audy?

    Love & Bobbing Around,

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  • Shut Up, Mind! It’s Just NYE

    Dear Audy,

    A whole new year! It always sounds so good in theory. Parties are had, resolutions and memories are made. Celebrate the good and forget the bad, best achieved by drinking far too much alcohol and performing one’s greatest dance moves.

    “NOT by lighting fireworks” - Shakey-Scared Lucy

    “NOT by lighting fireworks” – Shakey-Scared Lucy

    I tend to struggle a bit on New Year’s Eve, since developing CRPS. It was one of my favourite holidays as a younger, healthier person. I’ve had some fabulous adventures on past NYE’s, some bigger than others. The best kinds of NYE celebrations are those that involve great friends, good humour, maybe a bonfire and no need to find a way home until at least the next day.

    NYE brings out polarising attitudes in people. There are those that want to celebrate like it’s their last night on Earth and those that want to avoid the night altogether. I don’t fit snuggly into either box.

    I feel like a bit of a whiny tit for writing this post, but anytime one of these surprise-I-make-you-feel-sad situations comes up, I figure that plenty of you have probably felt the same way.

    Yesterday, I felt surrounded by a cloud of sadness that has been hard to shake off. It had formed before I even woke up and the remnants are still floating about, creating a humidity that sits on the fence between bearable and uncomfortable.

    I miss celebrating NYE.

    Sure, it’s just another day of the year, just another mark on man’s calendar and doesn’t really mean anything further than the passing of time, but it’s fun. It’s fun to send off the past year with a bang, fun to welcome the one ahead and fill it with projects and plans. It’s fun to look around at the slurring, happy faces of friends and just be joyful for an evening.

    I really miss that old-school fun.

    I spent last night alone, wishing that I was anywhere/anyone else. Pathetic, I know. I hadn’t planned on it going down like that. I’d been set to spend a quiet evening celebrating with my prince, but he ended up with a better offer. An offer that involved dancing and he does so love to dance. I can’t stand in the way of that, even if I could actually stand in the way of that (let’s face it, a dancing man would knock me over in a second).

    Attending dance parties is something that CRPS puts a halt to. No dancing all night for this sensitised body, it’d barely last two minutes. There’s no going out and looking for a good time with CRPS, there’s no leeway to be wandering and wondering what to do next. Drunken crowds are dangerous when being slammed into, or stepped on, can put my mobility on suspension for months.

    The last couple of years, I’ve tried to have a laid back celebration at my place. What this taught me is that there are very few people who are interested in attending a laid back celebration at my place. It’s just the way it is. I live too far from the city and decent public transport. I can’t offer views of any fireworks that aren’t being illegally lit by my neighbours. I’d go and do something more exciting too, if I could!

    I can’t party like I used to and that stings the most on the one night a year that I’d love to let loose and get a bit wild in a setting that doesn’t scream “WILL GET INJURED”.

    Plenty of people choose to stay home on NYE. Plenty of people choose not to celebrate, choose to exclude themselves while society is getting crazy and that can be a very wise decision. I try to convince myself that I’m making a similar wise decision, in light of my health problems, but the truth is that it’s not my choice to be NYE shut in.

    NYE, 1999, was a blast and I’d love to party like that again for one night a year…

    The reason that I struggle so much on this day is because I feel limited, stunted and incredibly crippled. Living with chronic pain takes away a lot of choices and a lack of options can feel incredibly disempowering. It takes some serious coping skills to overcome this body/mind oppression and mine are still under construction.

    Were I able to do what I liked, I wouldn’t choose to stay home on NYE. I’d go out and party, I’d giggle it up with friends, eat, drink and be merry. The truth is, it’s been years since I was invited to go anywhere for NYE and as the invitations that I’ve extended in recent years have fizzled, there’s a scar in the way of my issuing any more for a while.

    It would be easy to pretend that I hated parties and frivolity, but that would just be the bitterness talking.

    Even though I had to wade through some emotions that I’d rather not have been dealing with yesterday, I did a pretty good job of recognising that the thoughts instigating these feelings were just the product of an annual anxiety loop. I could see the way that my mind was throwing up negatives and unknowns instead of relishing the positives of 2012.

    I can see the way that I haven’t quite overcome this mindplay yet.

    When it all comes out in the wash, I know that there are some events from 2012 that were amazing and some that made me stronger through their challenges. I know that every year brings its dash of yin and yang and that parts of 2013 are going to be spectacular.

    I know there are worse things that I could be worrying about than not being able to party on one particular night. The reason that this night gets to me so much is that it feels indicative of my entire existence and I feel left behind, misunderstood and forgotten by life itself. I feel reminded of everything that my life isn’t because it’s too busy being a constant battle against pain.

    It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just some baggage that I haven’t quite dealt with yet. Sometimes, CRPS hides emotional challenges behind bigger challenges and it can take years to sift through it all.

    I know that I have to do my best to live with CRPS, because it’s not the sort of thing that can be cut out. It bashed me about badly in the second half of 2012, but maybe during the year ahead I will be stronger because of this.

    I know that I have wonderful friendships and that these just don’t necessarily line up with NYE. I know that the lock and the key to my getting upset about the end of year are both entangled in my mind. I’m not mad at people, I’m mad at CRPS. It’s a futile anger and I’m working on shaking it off.

    My NYE dilemma is pretty simple, really. I just want to celebrate it and I have not been able to do that and now I’m pouty. Maybe I’ll figure out something better by next year…

    I wish you all the best for the twelve months ahead, Audy, I really do. A new year is still exciting, even when I haven’t done anything to ring it in!

    Do you enjoy celebrating NYE? What’s your favourite way of doing so?

    Love & Sighs,

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  • Finding My Stride

    Dear Audy,

    Hello again! I’m sorry to have skipped out on you for a while there. I completely exhausted myself whilst churning out posts during November and needed to take some time to recover.

    I have good news. I actually feel well today! Better than I have in a really long time.

    My little ducks are finally finding their way back into line, it’s been so long since I’ve seen them that way that I hardly recognise the pattern. Some sort of organised line?! How simple and perfect. Keep at it, ducks.

    December began, the seasons swung and I decided to unplug for a little while. Having focused so intensely on writing for a month, I needed to spend some extra time looking after my body. My hips had been causing me significant grief for several months and needed some coaxing to come back into alignment.

    My mobility had slipped into a magical deep sleep and waking it meant combining all of the pain rehabilitation techniques that I’ve ever mastered. I had to scale back everything to the smallest of steps. I had to increase the attention I pay to pacing and I spent a couple of days switching between positions or activities every 10 minutes or so.

    Wander for five minutes, sit for twenty, stretch softly, wander for five…

    Hours were wiggled away on the floor as I ever so gently practised some familiar Feldenkrais routines. Neglected guided meditation tracks were played once again as I attempted to maintain my inner strength.

    It would have been so easy to just fall apart after completing my blogging challenge, with my mind frazzled and my body broken. I’m so proud that I was able to recognise this and then convince myself to take the necessary but rather boring actions that I needed to. I could see the impermanency of my situation and the ways in which I could improve it.

    Bettering my coping skills is always cause for celebration!

    It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve kept these hips and the bits of my back in their places for just over a week now. One of the biggest problems with extended CRPS flares and associated issues is losing the strength that powers my body. Before now, I hadn’t been very mobile since about August and my basic muscle strength had just dissipated while I was stuck, struggling to cope with elevated pain levels.

    I needed to try to regain some strength without inciting another flare. I needed to get exercising before the twisting skeleton pains had settled, because they were not going to do so until I got moving. It was the sort of situation where I had to work through some pain, but try not to push into excess pain.

    Achieving this balance is a little like getting across a tightrope, naked, during a hailstorm.

    I’ve been trying to regain this balance for almost half a year, but the fortnight just past has brought the first real sign of progress from my efforts in overcoming the CRPS setbacks of 2012. I’m starting to feel like myself again.

    When I wasn’t here blogging, I bought groceries, cleaned parts of my house that had been completely claimed by dust clouds and cooked a giant pot of mango chicken curry. Because mango chicken curry is the bestest.

    I also caught up with friends, walked with my puppy dogs and let my soul breathe a little. Because stress is for chumps.

    I made a very special Christmas pudding and wrote a story, but you’re going to have to wait for that one. I know, right?! You have to wait for my story about Christmas pudding, it’s probably going to kill at least one of you. Just in case, surf on over to Emmie Dark’s blog and get a taste of some other author’s stories about Christmas and puddings and foods and stuff. And then somebody please make me that pudding ice cream cake…

    I was also nominated for an award! A WEGO Health Activist Award for Best In Show!


    Which made me do this…

    Huge thank you to the kind person that nominated me! The nominations are open until December 31st, click here to throw a nod of respect to your favourite health bloggers, or below if you want to nod at me. You can’t see me responding, but you’ll totally get a smile and a double thumbs up for your efforts!

    If you’ve been following on Instagram, you’ll have noticed that I conquered a personal mountain earlier today and successfully took myself to the beach. But that, dear Audy, is a story for another day…

    Love, Quacks & Yippees!

    P.S. Half way through November I lost a lot of steam and got very behind on reading blogs and replying to comments, emails and messages of the little red flag variety. I’ll get to those soon. IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME. That is all.

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  • Wrapping Up A Month Of Blogging Mania

    Dear Audy,

    Today it is December and Australia is welcoming Summer and all of its sunny days and lingering evenings. Christmas is coming, school years are wrapping up and party invitations are rolling in. Change is in the air and, with a sense of sweet accomplishment, I am bidding farewell to CRPS Awareness Month for 2012.

    Not that I’m going to stop blogging or attempting to raise awareness, I’m just going to tone it back to its regular intensity.

    This marks my 25th post for the WEGO Health challenge and 25/30 isn’t so bad. I’ve written some posts that I’m really proud of. Some of the topics had been floating about my mind for some time, just waiting for me to find the motivation to sit down and map out my thoughts in words. Other topics had me sit and think about things that I’d never much pondered over before and I enjoyed the inspiration that arose from doing so.

    Participating in NHBPM has introduced me to some amazing bloggers and all round fabulous people that I am looking forward to keeping in touch with. Finding active blogs that I can relate to and connect with can be a time consuming task and I love the way that this challenge brought them all into one, easy to find, place.

    Welcome to my google reader, all of you fabulous health bloggers.

    When I dove into this challenge at the beginning of November, I really wasn’t sure how far I’d get. It had been so long since I’d been able to stick to any sort of routine, or regular concentration schedule. I was feeling really low, really useless and wondering if I was going to be useful in any way, ever again. Depression was sinking its claws into me and I needed something to focus on to help me muster the strength to break free.

    I really needed something to work out. I needed something to go my way. By taking on a challenge that only I was responsible for, I was able to take some control over improving my own situation.

    I had to set some personal goals to help keep me on track. I had to refuse to let my pain stop me from writing. This didn’t work out every day, but on many occasions I managed to overcome temporary flaring by switching up how I was writing (typing/dictation/ touchscreen) and working hard at pain management to keep symptoms as under control as possible. It helped to pace myself, take regular breaks and practise J.K. Rowling’s advice about welcoming interruptions.

    I managed to cut further through brain fog than I knew that I could. Many of my posts began as ramble that I keep going over, looking for patterns and then linking my thoughts into paragraphs that make sense. By refusing to give up, even when I had spent hours and hardly gotten anywhere, I was able to strengthen my concentration powers in spite of the CRPS handicap.

    Making all of this writing happen has taken a toll on my ability to manage daily life. There has been less time to keep the house clean, less time for cooking, less energy for shopping, running errands or organising appointments. My inboxes are bursting with messages in need of attention and response. I knew this would be the case going in and was ready for the exhaustion.

    I was prepared to run myself a little ragged for a month in pursuit of both improving my mental health and raising awareness for a condition that effects so many people.

    An unexpected bonus of this extensive effort has been practise in being busy. When I was healthy, I always found that the busier I was, the more I got done. Not having time to spare helps to cut out a lot of the excuses that seem viable when one has plenty of time to procrastinate.

    Managing CRPS requires a lot of rest and so, whilst it’s not feasible that I keep myself super busy all the time, I will be working harder to recognise that doing the must-be-done things as quickly as possible is less stressful than letting them hang around.

    I am looking forward to taking the momentum that I’ve created during November and continuing to improve my concentration abilities. I’d like to extend my writing range and further increase my ability to manage around my CRPS symptoms.

    I don’t expect to be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want, without consequence. I simply see that I can improve my ability to function in slight ways that will accumulate over time.

    I’m taking the Feldenkrais perspective on learning. I’m applying a step-by-step attitude to learning tasks and routine, just like the Feldenkrais method does to learning movement. I’m focusing on improvement and not ultimate result.

    I’m not sure I even believe in ultimate results in this temporary world of ours.

    And now… the NHBPM recap!

    Here is a list of all my contributions, in order of statistical popularity, so the best stuff is at the top…

    The Awareness Bracelet Scam Of The 21st Century
    How To Treat A Friend Who Lives With Chronic Pain
    You Need To See A Psychiatrist
    Is Posting About Health On Facebook OK?
    Dealing With Negative Feedback In An Online Community
    Dear Body, I’m Sorry
    What Mindfulness Means To Me
    When Health Is Weird
    When Happy Memories Hurt
    Disclosure & Chronic Pain: How Much Is Too Much?
    Shh! You Don’t Talk About Suicide
    From Weakness, Grows Strength
    How To Take Time Out From Unrelenting Pain
    Why I Write About My Health
    The Loveliest Little Helpers
    What Is Feldenkrais?
    What About The People With Chronic Pain, Government?
    Extra! Extra!
    The Doctors That Teach Distrust
    When Coping Skills Collapse
    In Review: The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
    In A Pain-free Reverie
    Health Activist Award Nominations & Halfway Through My Blogging Challenge Celebrations
    This Post Is Just A Porthole

    To help celebrate the work of Health Bloggers everywhere, nominations are now open for the WEGO Health Activist Awards 2012.

    I’ve been nominating all of my favourite health blogs. If Rellacafa happens to be one of your favourites, please nominate me!

    Click here to surf over to the nomination form

    I’ve put in a lot of work this month and I am so incredibly grateful to everybody who bothered to read and then helped to share my efforts. Thank you!

    Thank you for the kind messages, the thumbs of support and the tales of relatable experiences. Thank you for the emails, the comments and the social media discussions. Thank you for the times you shared my perspective and thank you for when you disagreed with me politely and taught me about things that I hadn’t considered.

    Thank you for taking this journey with me, Audy, it wouldn’t have been the same without you.

    It’s the end of National Health Blog Post Month for 2012, but far from the end of health blogging itself. We are a growing niche of shared experiences and information. We are a community that is invaluable to many people who are coping with chronic pain and illness.

    It matters, this blogging thing. It is important and we are important. Take the plunge if you’re only just considering starting a blog of your own and keep writing, fellow health bloggers, keep sharing. The future looks so calm beyond the murky fog of misunderstanding and stigmatisation.

    You can stay in touch with me by subscribing to Rellacafa via email (sidebar, top right) or RSS, liking the Rellacafa page on Facebook, following me on Twitter, Instagram or Youtube, or even all of these options if you happen to like to stay plugged in. You are all welcome in my online world.

    Love & Triumph,
    WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM

    This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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  • The Doctors That Teach Distrust

    Dear Audy,

    Earlier this month, I published You Need To See A Psychiatrist, which details some of the most distressing appointments that I’ve had with doctors and provides some background information for today’s post.

    Sometimes, the only way to make peace with a traumatic event is to find the silver lining, the little glints of goodness that sparkle amongst the ashes.

    I definitely learnt things from the previously mentioned Pain Specialist Prick. Some of those lessons were as he intended, others were the harsh type of lesson that we learn when the universe seems to spit in our face.

    PSP was the doctor that broke me most and was able to do so because his earlier behaviour, logic and expertise, had convinced me that he was different, that he actually knew what he was talking about.

    When he turned on me, it felt like a betrayal.

    He taught me some pretty important things. Medically speaking, he knew more than the “pain specialist” that had previously kicked me out because “CRPS doesn’t spread” (I just can’t take that guy’s title seriously).

    PSP taught me how chronic pain can progress in some cases. He taught me about how CRPS can spread from limb to limb due to changes in the brain. He taught me about the connection between chronic pain, emotional disturbance and brain fog. He explained central sensitisation to me and helped me to understand what was happening in my body and my mind.

    I’d be grateful if he hadn’t turned out to be such a bitter soul; his intelligence warped by his arrogance. I try to be grateful. If nothing else, he left me with an excellent meditative anchor on which to practise forgiveness.

    The last thing that PSP taught me was not to have faith in medical professionals.

    It’s been a double-edged, sword of a lesson.

    Or, perhaps a dual blade sword.

    On the front of the blade, in learning to cope with his awful behaviour, I have gotten stronger. I took the pieces of my shattered mind and I built a stronger foundation. I have been able to take more responsibility for my own care and more responsibility for learning ways to improve my quality of life. I’ve learnt to have more faith in myself when it comes to accepting, or overcoming, limits.

    I think betterer a lot now. Sometimes.

    On the back of the blade, I’ve learnt to not trust that anybody knows what they’re doing. No matter how many credentials they’ve earned. Especially not doctors.

    I finally found a decent pain specialist, who I now haven’t seen in over a year because during my last appointment, he didn’t have my records and kept trying to prescribe me Lyrica again. It was frustrating. He just didn’t even seem to recognise me and I left with a recommendation for taking a natural supplement as a painkiller, which did absolutely nothing.

    He wasn’t even mean to me, but I’ve felt like I’d be wasting my time going back. One lacklustre appointment and I can’t find the motivation to return.

    Maybe this wasn’t a lesson, maybe it’s a fear. Isn’t fear always a lesson of sorts?

    My previous experiences have left me raw. These days, it takes longer to build up skin that’s thick enough to deal with any sort of attempt to seek further help in managing my pain.

    It takes a lot of time, skill and practise to overcome a fearful lesson. It’s not that I blame anybody for the wrongdoings committed against me in my past, except for the perpetrators themselves, it’s that I struggle to trust those in similar professional positions.

    Not blaming is different to trusting. I’m not sure that I truly trust any doctors, despite having a lovely GP. Liking is different to trusting too.

    Healthy skepticism is a wonderful thing, however I don’t like feeling cynical. I might not be able to remanufacture trust out of thin air, but I can keep trying to recognise when a lack of it is interfering with my recovery. I can keep trying to approach each new situation, or medical professional, with an open attitude, rather than with anxious cynicism.

    A lot of the time now, I feel a bit lost in trying to improve my management of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I plod along and I do the rehabilitation things that I have learnt will help and I keep hoping that I’ll push through to a better level of functioning.

    Maybe that’s all I can do, maybe it just feels slow sometimes.

    The past has burnt my trusting gland like CRPS burns my nerves, but this a burn that can be soothed. I’ll just have to keep working at it, because I might happen to need further help one day and I’d rather not be dealing with extra stress seeping in from my past.

    Do you trust your doctors?

    Thanks so much to everybody that has been supporting me in the NHBPM challenge! If you like what I am doing, please share these posts with the people that you share things with or click that little thumbs up. It’s CRPS Awareness Month, which is why I’m choosing to disclose a little more about my health on a daily basis. The more awareness that we can raise, the easier it will get for people who are navigating the choppy waters of chronic pain.

    Love & Letting Go,

    WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM

    This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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  • When Coping Skills Collapse…

    Dear Audy,

    I fell a little bit behind in my NHBPM challenge, frankly, I fell a little bit behind in general. It’s kind of perfect that one of the topics that I’ve missed was to write about change; change is the exact reason that I had to take a break from blogging for a couple of days.

    In learning to cope with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, I have to try to embrace change. Being inflexible is not a viable, long term option for me. I can’t rely on my body to stay in one state from moment to moment, let alone day to day. Embracing change isn’t easy. I’m not sure that’s where I’m at yet, I might still just be learning to tolerate it…

    I’ve been having some trouble with my back for as long as I can remember, however that trouble decided to upgrade to TROUBLE in recent weeks and I’ve struggled to manage the fallout.

    The tiniest changes can throw a sensitised body completely off course. My back problems usually start with a bit of a twist and then spiral into wayward pain syndrome symptoms throughout my body. There isn’t always a noticeable, injury-like trigger, sometimes it just seems to happen. I suspect that in these instances, there was a trigger, it was just so very slight that I didn’t feel it happening at the time.

    How silly of me to unpack a dishwasher! How dare I bend down to pet the dogs! What was I thinking attempting to stand up from that chair?!

    I see an osteopath regularly to help me keep my spine in line, however, sometimes shifting my skeleton back into a functioning place is just as painful as shifting it out of one. It can take a few days for my body to adjust to the adjustment. This past week has just been one of those occasions in which I take longer to recover than normal.

    Extended recovery times are just par for the course with chronic pain. It takes less injury to knock our bodies out of whack and more effort to shift them back.

    Sudden change, such as this, can be hard to deal with. My pain levels skyrocketed and my mobility seemed to be mocking me from just out of reach. I’ve needed my cane to walk, which tends to exacerbate pain in my right shoulder, because being unbalanced is a change too and all of the changes have consequences.

    I thought I was almost recovered for a moment there and drove Sammy Fluffball to be transformed into HandSomemy, which is about a ten minute drive done twice.

    Maltese Shih Tzu

    Now I can’t look at him without thinking words like “adorabubble”

    My back really struggled to accept this activity, despite all of my postural efforts to ease its pain. The following day brought all of the painful punishment and I had to resort to painkillers to stop the moaning.

    Life with CRPS is not very action packed, however, losing the ability to even sit up places further limitations on activity options. Add to that the brain fog caused by enduring such high levels of pain, mixed with needing to medicate the problem, and the days can seem to stretch on forever.

    There’s a lot of staring at the walls and cuddling of the dogs. There’s some Feldenkrais, some stretching, some attempts at walking evenly, some soaking in an Epsom salted bath, and a whole lot of trying to find ways to not get upset.

    The days like this, the days that drag, are the hardest days to not think about the changes that CRPS has brought into my life. These are the days when I feel the most trapped, when I feel the most disabled. These are the days that exemplify just how crippling chronic pain can be. These are the days filled with longing so powerful that it’s hard to keep track of all the thought trails that are taking me towards sadness.

    I want stability and things to hold onto. I want a springboard foundation from which I can fling myself towards any plans that I choose to pursue. I want to feel free in a moment, to feel limitless and safe. I want to turn back the clock and just freeze time there, in a pain free paradise of youth.

    I want to change so much that you wouldn’t recognise me. Leap forward through time to that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that place where dreams come true. I want to heal from my soles to my soul and morph into my butterfly self, my realised potential.

    Escapism can be nice, but we all have to return to reality eventually, because it is always changing and there are things that need to be taken care of as they arise.

    Yesterday was the day that it was all too much. Yesterday, I could hardly think rationally, all I seemed to do was feel. It was a beautiful day, you see, the kind of day that seems like a gift from the sun-kissed Spring. The kind of day when Instagram fills with smiles, scenery and Summer dresses.

    The kind of day that sees temperatures rise and humidity become denser. The kind of day that my CRPS despises, that turns my bones to lead, melts my muscles, boils my blood and scorches the underside of my skin. The kind of day that casts a cloud over my mind, that zaps my energy before I even awaken, that weakens me from my knuckles to my knowing.

    It’s so difficult to know things when one feels attacked by the very atmosphere that miraculously sustains life. I thought we were friends, Earth.

    I lost grip and let go of coping. Perhaps I had to let go. Maybe, sometimes, it’s only possible to cope by not trying to. The ability to cry is built into us for a reason.

    I waded in a dazed confusion for several hours before sinking into the sobs. I could feel the wave coming, but there was nothing to grab onto, no way to get back to shore before it hit. I gave up trying and just let it wash over me.

    I acknowledged the deterioration in my physical and emotional states and then let go of the day, it was the only thing that I could do. I gave up striving to achieve anything other than getting those feelings out. Release was the only way past them.

    Forcing words doesn’t work. I’ve tried before and I tried yesterday, but I can’t hear my muse when my mind is in a maelstrom.

    I cried and I cuddled and I breathed deeply as the sorrow streamed down my cheeks.

    Eventually, my inflamed emotional baggage seemed to empty and clear thoughts began to return in snippets. I engaged with some procedural hard drive rearranging; got a little something done that I’d been putting off. I practised some Feldenkrais, stretched, took a shower.

    I switched myself into chill out mode and told some of my troubles to a bowl of ice cream.

    I watched Krysten Ritter and Alicia Silverstone play vampires with hearts of gold and was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it – sometimes cornball comedy is the perfect prescription. I watched Aubrey Plaza befriend a time travel planning crazy-cake, only to become completely absorbed in a sweet story that masqueraded as a confusingly cruel joke.

    When emotions are boiling out of control, the simple movies can seem so much more preferable to the fancy-pants, popular ones. Light entertainment can be the perfect distraction when stories that run deeper carry a risk of re-igniting the crying.

    I had dinner delivered and removed the physical danger of food preparation. This turned out to be a good thing considering my movement restrictions, because during the hour or so that I was eating, my ant-free kitchen lost its status in a spectacular way.

    Little buggers were marching one by one directly from my laundry door to my kitchen bench. The nerve!

    My indignation was quickly followed by a massacre that sucked any energy I had left for feeling things, or moving, right out of me.

    I started to feel better. I started to feel like my strength would return soon.

    Today, my back is feeling a little better at times and fairly messed up at others, but I am able to manage it more effectively than yesterday. I had been in such a state that my efforts at Feldenkrais had been too enthusiastic and I ended up making myself hurt more. Thankfully, today’s session only brought the better type of result and really helped me to get moving this morning.

    I’m no longer feeling sad or guilty that I couldn’t be a perfect, every day blogger for thirty days straight. I’m giving my inner perfectionist the rudest gesture I’ve got. I’m feeling comfortable in doing my best and sometimes that means taking time out to just feel, process and rest.

    Breakdown days can be inconvenient, but they are just a part of living a life with imposed limits. Experience has taught me that holding off on facing up to such days just drags the issues into the following ones. It can be a necessary delay sometimes, when there are unavoidable things to be done, but eventually the emotions always catch up and demand to be dealt with.

    Do you have breakdown days, Audy? What helps you to come back from the emotional edge?

    Thanks so much to everybody that has been supporting me in the NHBPM challenge! If you like what I am doing, please share these posts with the people that you share things with or click that little thumbs up. It’s CRPS Awareness Month, which is why I’m choosing to disclose a little more about my health on a daily basis. The more awareness that we can raise, the easier it will get for people who are navigating the choppy waters of chronic pain.

    Love & Tissues,

    P.S. I’m terribly behind at replying to emails and comments. Thank you so much to those who have written to me, I shall get to replying just as soon as I am able. 😉 xx

    WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM

    This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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  • What Is Feldenkrais?

    Dear Audy,

    Today I’m going to be writing about an alternative therapy that actually isn’t very far removed from mainstream physiotherapy, it just has a fancier name: Feldenkrais.

    Feldenkrais is a movement therapy named after its creator, Moshe Feldenkrais. It sounds complicated and elusive to us Westerners, but that’s just because it’s a foreign word to most of us (it’s not “Feldenchrist”, but it sounds like that without the “t”).

    Did you know what Pilates was before this century? It took almost a hundred years for the genius of Joseph Pilates to go mainstream. Pilates is now accepted as a valuable form of strengthening and maintaining health, you can take classes in gyms all over the world.

    This sort of recognition, appreciation and widespread practise is the kind of future that I hope Feldenkrais is headed toward. It has helped me so much and is so simple, perhaps it’s simplicity is why it has spent so long in the shadows of other therapies. I mean, you know, aside from the fact that there’s no medication element and much of pain management research is funded by pharmaceutical companies.

    Feldenkrais gives me hope, it gives me a degree of control over the functioning of my body. Feldenkrais helps to reduce my chronic pain, it helps to improve my everyday movements so that I trigger less pain flares. Feldenkrais enlightens me, it shows me my body and nervous system in a way that I’d never seen them before – clearly.

    When I first started Feldenkrais, I needed mobility aids in order to get anywhere or do anything. I was on crutches/in a wheelchair/using a cane for years. Nowadays, I only need mobility aids if I’m particularly flared up. My regular posture is closer to ideal than it has ever been.

    I find it easier to implement activities into my life when I can grasp the reasoning behind them. Let me explain Feldenkrais to you in the way that helped me to understand…

    (I’d apologise for the length of this piece, but really, this is the information that I would have liked to have been able to google when I first heard of Feldenkrais. I ended up having to buy books, like an olden days person!)

    First, meet this guy. This is Moshe Feldenkrais:

    Moshe Feldenkrais

    Click image for source

    Moshe Feldenkrais was a physicist and engineer who suffered knee problems that inspired him to create a method of healing without surgery. He taught his body to work around the problem and in doing so, both walked freely once more and brought forth a new concept in healing that is based on the human nervous system’s ability to learn and evolve.

    “There is the learning of a skill; there is the kind of learning in which we enlarge our knowledge or understanding of what we already know. And there is the most important kind of learning which goes with physical growth. By this last I mean learning in which quantity grows and changes to a new quality, and not the mere accumulation of knowledge, useful as this may be. Often we do not see this kind of learning at all; it can go on for more or less lengthy periods of time, apparently aimlessly, and then new form of action appears as it from nowhere.”
    -Moshe Feldenkrais, quoted from The Case Of Nora

    The easiest way to understand the type of learning that Feldenkrais is talking about is like this: lift your arm up above your head, or just lift a finger, or any body part if you are unable to do the arm thing.

    OK, you can put it back down again. What sort of thinking did you need to perform this movement? Did you think, contract bicep 60%, lengthen tricep 20%, adjust angle of shoulder blade by 40 degrees, rotate radius red balloon degrees, or any other similar but less made up thoughts?

    Higher level thinking and language based logic are not how movement works. However, movement does work and it is learnt, just not in the intellectual way that you learn grammar and mathematics.

    Brains have evolved in a rather organised, build-on-what-you’ve-got, fashion. Here are a couple of images that will you give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

    Click image for source

    Click image for source

    Different species of animals have evolved to require different amounts of neuromuscular learning when they arrive here on Earth. The lower down the evolutionary chain, the less training, or apprenticeship is required. Think of herd animals; a baby cow or horse will be able to stand within moments of its birth, which is beneficial to species that needs to be follow its family or be left behind. Think of a mountain goat, born atop the jagged rocks of a cliff face…

    “Obviously all the connections, the wiring in the nervous systems of these animals must be made before they are born. In short, it is the species that has handed down the learning, the evolving, the reflex organisation, the instinct that enables them to survive in precarious conditions. However, most birds, dogs, kittens of all sorts, even tiger kittens, have to have some kind of coaching by their parents to finish the wiring in, establishing functioning patterns of their nervous systems. What makes this pattern reliable, autonomous, or automatic is an apprenticeship of a few weeks.”
    -Moshe Feldenkrais, quoted from The Elusive Obvious

    Human beings are the most effectively evolved species on the planet, if you define effective as a capability to take over the planet with our adaptable bodies and nimble minds (If you define effective as just plain lasting a long time, then we’ve got nothing on crocodiles)…

    “The human infant has the longest apprenticeship of all the species, to my knowledge. Although everything necessary to maintain life and growth is already connected in the nervous and glandular systems at birth, the specific human functions are not wired in at all. No baby was ever born who could speak, sing, whistle, crawl, walk upright, make music, count or think mathematically, tell the hour of the day or night, or know what it is to be late. Without a very long apprenticeship lasting several years none of these functions has ever been observed.”
    Moshe Feldenkrais, quoted from The Elusive Obvious

    Really think about that for a moment. We learn just about everything. Aside from instinctive bodily functions such as breathing, digesting and circulating blood, all of our behaviours are the product of learning. This is why every person is just a little bit different from the other people. Learning behaviours is the product of both capability and experience, things that are exactly the same in no two people.

    Earlier this month, I wrote about neuroplasticity and the ever changing brain. Everything that you learn is done so by your brain putting together a pattern of synaptic impulses. It’s all produced by patterns so complicated that science can’t fully comprehend them yet.

    “Complicated” is defined as consisting of many interconnecting parts or elements. In relation to learning, there are a lot of moments where the signals could take a slightly different path and create a different result. There are also a lot of crucial parts in the pattern where changes can be influenced; changes that can lead to an improvement in function.

    The techniques that Feldenkrais taught seek to improve movement through improving the underlying patterns of the nervous system. He believed that the human body is capable of adapting to any conditions in which life can exist. His method searches for the deepest, most reflexive patterns of movement and strengthens them through awareness and practise.

    Simply put, Feldenkrais figured that if there were so many different possibilities during the development of movement patterns, then they could logically be improved by re-learning those movements from scratch and discovering the movements from their smallest beginnings, kind of like a baby does.

    Chronic pain in the case of CRPS is a malfunction of the nervous system. The Feldenkrais method is designed to improve nervous system function. It’s not hard to see how this therapy could theoretically be helpful for a person managing CRPS.

    Theory is lovely, but experience is even better. I have experienced enormous improvement to my CRPS symptoms and ability to function around them since beginning Feldenkrais practise almost two years ago.

    When using Feldenkrais to manage chronic pain, it’s helpful to remember that the technique is not designed to cure (even if it effectively does sometimes) it is designed to improve. In the instance that Feldenkrais practise leads to total relief of pain or other symptoms, the body was not cured, it was simply improved enough so that you’d hardly notice the difference.

    “Posture can only be improved and not corrected. Only the concept of an ideal posture might be considered correct, but such a posture can exist only with an ideal brain and nervous system. Ideal models like this do not exist in reality. They can be approached more or less, but only approached, and there are almost as many directions of approach as radii in a circle.”
    -Moshe Feldenkrais, quoted from The Elusive Obvious

    Practising Feldenkrais and expecting to be cured in a short amount of time is unrealistic. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to change the patterns in your nervous system. Thankfully, it’s hard work that requires little physical exertion.

    The mental dedication side of things is more difficult to maintain. Feldenkrais requires time spent in a relaxed but aware state that is rather like meditation. If you have tried to use meditation as a pain management technique and not found it helpful, Feldenkrais might be a good option for you.

    In my experience, having the tiny movements to focus on makes it easier for me to shift into a meditative state than trying to clear my mind using other mindfulness techniques. I think it’s because I feel like I’m doing something useful while I’m meditating, you know, more useful than just meditation on its own.

    What does practising Feldenkrais mean?

    Feldenkrais therapy exists in two separate, but related forms.

    Group classes, or exercises practised at home using lesson recordings, are known as Awareness Through Movement classes. One-on-one sessions with a practitioner are referred to as Functional Integration.

    Awareness Through Movement is a nice a descriptive name, these exercises seek to discover exactly what they are titled after. ATM is often conducted in group classes, but can also be practised at home using recordings, or even freestyle once you have a good understanding of what you are doing. Instructions are often gentle and vague, allowing each person space to fill in their own gaps in understanding their own movements.

    Did you know that just imagining your body doing a movement sends a few signals through the nervous system pattern that would be activated in order for you to actually do that movement?

    This is why people who are learning to play music can find themselves improving even if just going over the lessons in their mind. They are practising the nervous system patterns associated with playing their instrument at a very low level, just by thinking about them.

    ATM sessions are not exercise classes. The movements are most helpful when performed in the slightest manner possible, with the most relaxation and without increasing pain, but with a heightened level of attention from your conscious mind. Sometimes, this means just imagining a movement if the execution of even its tiniest incarnation is too painful.

    When I write about practising Feldenkrais as a method of pain management, I am talking about practising Awareness Through Movement sessions at home. These are hugely variable in both length, intensity and which part of the body they are targeting. I’ve been at it for a while now, so I have a fairly good idea about what sort of ATM session will help with whatever symptoms I am experiencing on any given day.

    Functional Integration sessions are much more passive for the patient. When I think of FI sessions, it is like picturing a massage of the nervous system. My practitioner will move my body in tiny but varying ways that help it to realise that all its parts are connected to one another.

    No part of the body exists in absence of the rest of the body. We can accustom ourselves to moving things in isolation, however this is not the way that a well organised nervous system functions.

    “Things learned can be half learned, and they can even be badly learned. Hence the great variety of human postures which are obviously not all as good, one as the other.”
    -Moshe Feldenkrais, quoted from The Elusive Obvious

    Functional Integration allows the practitioner to teach the patient’s nervous system healthier patterns of movement. The practitioner is trained to observe the flow of movement and connectedness of the body and work to create improvements. When the body is well organised and connected, tension and pain can be dissolved.

    What does practising Feldenkrais feel like?

    When I feel Feldenkrais reducing my pain, it is almost like shifting into an alternate nervous system. It’s easy to slip back into the patterns that I’ve learned on top of the healthy ones, but repetition incites neuroplasticity and thus, the more I practice the healthy patterns, the stronger they get.

    The more I practise ATM sessions at home, the more value is added to my FI sessions. My nervous system is learning throughout all of this and it remembers. Underneath the malfunctions of CRPS, my body remembers that there were movement patterns and that they didn’t hurt. Feldenkrais helps me to uncover those, but I have to do my homework.

    Practising Feldenkrais involves a lot of focused attention, attention that is shifted off of my pain and problems. In this way, it gives me a meditative break without sitting still and trying to quiet my incessant mind. By focusing so intensely on what I am physically feeling, I give my brain a break from thinking too much about things in the words that I have taught it to use and the limits that such words can impose.

    “If you are told that somebody cannot do something, logically there is nothing you can do about it. Every diagnosis in words inhibits the brain from thinking for itself. If words say ‘incurable’ the situation will not be changed by saying ‘curable’. But if you use your sensory ability to look, learn, listen, and touch you may find new data which will make you see what you can do to help.”
    -Moshe Feldenkrais, quoted from The Case Of Nora

    Feldenkrais is about improvement; whether or not your condition is curable is irrelevant as to whether or not your nervous system function can be improved. Even the tiniest improvement is an improvement and that is where it must always begin. Improving the connectedness of your nervous system and your internal awareness of your body can help you to improve any activity that you can think of.

    Want to swing your golf club more effectively? Re-learn the technique from the beginning, pay physical attention to each part of the movement, practise each part of the sequence slowly and in order, and then feel as you swing more efficiently than ever before.

    Just don’t expect it to happen in a hurry. You didn’t become an adult with learned behaviours overnight, it’s unrealistic to expect your brain and nervous system to learn things faster now that you’re older. If anything, that works the other way around. It’s easier to create patterns where there are none than to attempt to change existing ones.

    Benefiting from Feldenkrais takes time, but that doesn’t mean it’s an uninteresting journey. I have been consistently surprised by my body along the way and amazed at parts of its function that I’d never paid attention to before. I have been blown away by the way my body increasingly responds more quickly to the same sessions, that’s evidence of learning that I can literally feel. I’m doing the same thing again and again, but filling in more details, realising more about the movement.

    My Feldenkrais practitioner describes my body now as a completely different to the one that I first showed up in, she can see and feel the difference too.

    The Feldenkrais method has opened up my mind to ways of learning that I’d never known of before and this has spread through every aspect of my life. I no longer see things that I can’t do, I see things that I haven’t learnt to do yet.

    I recommend Feldenkrais to anybody who wants to know their body better, to anybody who feels awkward in their movements, to anybody who wants to improve a particular skill. All of the skills start with your brain and your nervous system.

    You wouldn’t build your home on a shaky foundation, would you?

    Find out more information about Feldenkrais at The Australian Feldenkrais Guild.

    Would you try Feldenkrais if sessions and practitioners were readily accessible and affordable? Or, have you had experiences with Feldenkrais that you’d like to share?

    Thanks so much to everybody that has been supporting me in the NHBPM challenge! If you like what I am doing, please share these posts with the people that you share things with or click that little thumbs up. It’s CRPS Awareness Month, which is why I’m choosing to disclose a little more about my health on a daily basis. The more awareness that we can raise, the easier it will get for people who are navigating the choppy waters of chronic pain.

    Love & Laying Down Carefully,
    WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM

    This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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  • Shh! You Don’t Talk About Suicide

    Dear Audy,

    NHBPM is digging deep with today’s prompt, all the way down to the core of the human experience: write about life and death.

    It’s important to talk about the hard topics sometimes. In attempting to raise awareness of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the most tragic situation that befalls some people who suffer with this condition.

    Sometimes, people choose to end their lives themselves. The connection between chronic pain and suicide is a topic that is often hushed over.

    Click image for source

    People don’t like to talk about suicide with sore people, it might give them ideas.

    This taboo topic, however, is at the centre of many calls to crisis help lines and a common topic of discussion for counsellors who deal with patients in chronic pain.

    There can be a lot of shame involved with suicidal thoughts, a lot of loneliness and hopelessness. People can feel guilty for just having the thoughts, which can lead to them feeling even worse about life than they did to begin with. Shame can stop people from seeking help. Help that might literally save their lives.

    I’ve chosen to shed a light on this topic today because discussion breeds awareness and awareness creates room to tackle issues which, left untended, might fester and morph into even scarier monsters.

    It’s hard to work through psychological things that nobody ever wants to talk about.

    A couple of years ago, I wrote a post that includes some revealing quotes from Kurt Cobain, the grunge rock god and frontman for Nirvana who famously committed suicide in 1994. Kurt Cobain lived with chronic pain and no amount of fame or fortune was able to save him from tragically ending his own life. He spoke of how he felt misunderstood, of how he stopped complaining about his pain because he just didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

    “I wanted to fucken blow my head off I was so tired of it, there’s no way I’m gonna live like that. It turned me into a neurotic freak, I was psychologically fucked up, I was having a lot of mental problems cause I was having chronic pain, every day.”
    -Kurt Cobain, quoted from About A Son

    People remember the mental problems, people remember the drug abuse, but how many people remember the pain? How many even knew about it? I didn’t, not back then.

    Kurt Cobain is not the only person to have opted out of a life of pain.

    Earlier this year, Canadian teenager, Dominic Boivin, chose to take his own life when all efforts to cease his chronic pain had failed. Published just days ago, this article in The Vancouver Sun tells his tragic story.

    How many chronic pain related suicides don’t get reported? How many go unnoticed amidst the psychological ramifications of living with chronic pain? How often do we, as a society, blame depression for suicide and look no further for answers?

    Earlier this year, I met up with the Chronic Pain Australia board members for the first time. Several board members and associates have spent years answering calls from desperate people who are living with chronic pain and feeling right on the edge of sanity.

    I’d never much contemplated the extent of the chronic pain/suicide link before hearing of how regularly these calls are received, because I am not suicidal myself. I have wanted to die to escape the pain, but I have not pursued thoughts of wanting to kill myself. I’ve been so far down in the dark that I have been worried for myself at times but, somewhere inside, I have always had found the will to pull myself back.

    Not everybody living with CRPS finds this will and some go much further down, swimming so deeply in sadness that the fishes there don’t even bother to develop sight.

    Suicide is a very real risk for those living with chronic pain. It’s almost a hidden risk, because by the time one has a diagnosis of intractable pain, one has been through all the tests for other, more deadly, diseases. Everybody around the patient is relieved, they’re not going to die. They’ve dodged a bullet. It’s just pain without a cause, phew!

    Many conditions that cause chronic pain are not terminal, however many people who live with them will admit to wishing, at times, that their pain would just kill them and get it over with.

    Think of a torture scene from a terrifying movie, think of the mangled supporting players that beg for death.

    Wanting to escape chronic pain can feel like that, it can feel that utterly desperate.

    Being diagnosed with an incurable chronic pain condition is tough. All of a sudden, the life that you were planning for yourself is completely altered. The intense pain that you feel is given permanency and the limitations of a life in such extreme pain can be blinding. It can be hard to see past the pain, hard to see much of anything else at all. It can be impossible to hear that silent “yet…” that comes after “incurable”. It can be unfathomable to consider that there might be ways to heal that science can’t claim understanding of…yet.

    There’s a lot of stigma that comes with a chronic pain diagnosis. Along with experiencing constant and extreme pain, a person with CRPS also has to deal with being misunderstood both medically and socially. It can be overwhelming and difficult to overcome. An absence of hope makes the future look bleak.

    Depression can kill. It’s insidious, it’s powerful and it can be deadly. Depression is common symptom for people who live with chronic pain and the combination of the black dog and constant physical suffering can be catastrophic. It can happen slowly, or only take a moment. One really bleak moment containing the necessary means and a person can be lost forever to the turmoil that they felt imprisoned by.

    Some people see suicide as cowardice, but those people don’t realise how lucky they are. They don’t understand what it’s like to feel so much emotional pain that your soul becomes numb. They don’t understand that sometimes you can’t see the happy, anywhere. They’ve never been so traumatised by their lives that they can’t ever see the pieces fitting back together. They might think they have, but facing difficult circumstances and coping is a different thing to facing difficult circumstances and not coping.

    We’re so similar, us human people. We can relate in so many ways that it can give an illusion of knowing, of fully understanding another person. We’re all wired a little bit differently and we all see things our own way. Tragedy is not a comparable thing; overcoming a giant obstacle gives nobody grounds to make assumptions about somebody else who wouldn’t, who didn’t…who couldn’t.

    I was a fairly normal person before I developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I’d had my share of bumps and bruises and probably more broken bones the average kid. I’d been sick, sprained, cut, gravel grazed, sunburned, fire burned…I’d felt pain. None of those things compare the pain that I feel as a part of daily life with CRPS. It’s an entirely different beast. It can be hard to get one’s head around just how much this thing can hurt, especially in the instances that all symptoms are invisible to the untrained eye.

    It’s not easy to find a way to be OK with having CRPS, but it is possible. I’ve been writing a lot lately and several of my earlier NHBPM posts discuss ways that I cope with my pain and lifestyle:

    What Mindfulness Mean To Me
    Dear Body, I’m Sorry
    The Loveliest Little Helpers
    How To Take Time Out From Unrelenting Pain
    How To Treat A Friend Who Lives With Chronic Pain

    If you find yourself feeling alone and unable to cope with chronic pain and/or depression, please seek help.

    If you are in Australia, please call Lifeline on 13 11 44
    Lifeline provide 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services

    If you are in a different country on this wildly wide planet of ours, please familiarise yourself with the crisis services that are available locally – you just never know when desperation might hit and it’s good to be prepared.

    Being aware that chronic pain creates a high risk of suicide is just another part of being aware that chronic pain exists, that it is a valid problem, that there are people who need help. They might not be dying, not yet, but many of them need help to keep it that way.

    You can help with your compassion. You can help by learning and sharing knowledge, you can make it OK to break the silence of suffering in secret. You can help by being a friend to somebody in need, just be their friend, just be there for them.

    You can help financially by donating to organisations that are trying to make life easier for people in pain and are alphabetically listed to avoid prejudice:

    Donate to Beyond Blue
    Donate to Chronic Pain Australia
    Donate to Lifeline

    Thanks so much to everybody that has been supporting me in the NHBPM challenge! If you like what I am doing, please share these posts with the people that you share things with or click that little thumbs up. It’s CRPS Awareness Month, which is why I’m choosing to disclose a little more about my health on a daily basis. The more awareness that we can raise, the easier it will get for people who are navigating the choppy waters of chronic pain.

    Love & The Big Life Stuff,
    WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM

    This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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