Tag Archives: Meditation

What Mindfulness Means To Me

Dear Audy,

Today I’m going to be using the hidden NHBPM prompt that I discovered existed through Facebook eavesdropping: Mindfulness. Depression and anxiety can run rampant through patients that are dealing with chronic pain and addressing these issues is as important as confronting the physical factors.

Mindful, Meditation, Illustration

Click image for source



Mindfulness is a topic that comes up a lot when learning about pain management techniques. You’ve probably heard of it before, it often hangs out with its good friend, Meditation. It’s a topic that I’ve read a lot about, in various books and blogs and one that can be approached in different ways. You could say that mindfulness is form of meditation, or meditation is a form of mindfulness, but you’d just be applying labels where they don’t need to be and sending your thoughts into a loop that leads to nowhere.

The whole point of mindfulness is to avoid such loops and only hitch your thoughts to the wagons that matter.

This is what mindfulness means to me:

Being aware of the happenings in one’s mind, recognising when things need to be altered and then taking action towards achieving a more peaceful self.

But mostly the recognition part, it’s impossible to change thought patterns that you are not aware of.


Being mindful is a way to be in the present moment. It’s a method of focusing attention on what’s in front of us, as opposed to regretting the past and worrying about the future. As you become aware of your thoughts and the sorts of thoughts that precede unwelcome emotions, it’s fairly easy to see how much emotional turmoil is caused by thinking about situations that are in the past and unchangeable, or in the future and uncertain to ever happen at all.

So, how does that work? The more you try not to think about something, the more you actually do, right?

To simplify mindfulness, it works through distraction. Oddly, focused distraction. It works by allowing details to fill our perception, rather than relying on the brain to fill in the gaps (which is how we perceive most things). The key to being mindful is noticing.

You thought the devil on your shoulder was deceiving? He’s got nothing on the monkey in your mind.


I heard a rumour that the biggest trick The Devil ever played was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist. Fair enough, that’s a pretty good scam if you want to go around wreaking havoc, but it’s not the sneakiest attack that humans are under.

The monkey in your mind would have you believe that you don’t exist. It chatters and chatters and we believe that this voice rattling through our skulls is ourselves.


But if that were the case and we are our minds, then who on Earth is reading this and partially trying to see what their mind is up to right now?

Who thinks “I have anxiety”?

Who thinks “I have pain”?

Who thinks “I have depression”?

Who recognises that they have thoughts in the first place?

We’re complicated beings, us of the human variety.

How does one break out of this labyrinth of thorny thoughts?

By paying attention. I know, I know, your attention span has shrunk to the length of a YouTube video (and not one of those “now allowed 15min+” vids) and brain fog makes it hard for you to focus on anything. It’s alright, mindfulness doesn’t require you to continually focus on one thing as a means of distracting your mind. Just about anything in this world can be used as a basis for practising mindfulness.

Sometimes my mind gets all revved up on anxiety and starts berating me about unnecessary things.

“You shouldn’t have done this/or that/or that other thing, Caf, you’re a bad person” – Past centric thinking/Unhelpful self judgement

“You aren’t ever going to be able to do this/or that/or that other thing with CRPS, Caf, your future is bleak” – Future centric thinking/Prediction

Neither of these approaches is a thought trail that I want to go down. Also, neither of these thoughts is accurate, concrete or certain.

Both of these trails lead to the exact same place: Negative Emotion Land. Really, there are so many paths in and out of the dreadful place that nobody should be surprised to realise they are on one and hadn’t noticed. It happens to me all the time.

Sometimes, noticing is all it takes to jump tracks. For example, when I notice that I’m feeling tense about how I think something in the future will be, I realise that I’m playing fortune teller. I’m fooling myself like a gypsy fools fairgoers. It’s easy to disregard these thoughts after that, they don’t always fade immediately but thankfully seem to have some pride and eventually stop popping back up to have me ridicule them.

It’s more difficult to deal with anxiety patterns that are focused on the past. Often, I actually do believe that I shouldn’t have done that thing or that other thing, but I don’t truly believe that I am a bad person. I call the recognition of past failings and not repeating those behaviours “learning” – it’s this amazing thing where you don’t have to give up on all hope for yourself just because you’ve made a mistake or ten, or a thousand.

In terms of mindfulness, I am recognising the thought as a thought, recognising that there are two different aspects to this being an anxious thought and then recognising other ways to perceive that memory, judgment or prediction that are more helpful to my present.

Sometimes, that works for a minute and then my mind careens back toward a trail what will take it to The Palace Of Sads (capital of Negative Emotion Land). I notice that I’m on the wrong track again and repeat cycle. Anxiety is a vicious thing, it doesn’t bugger off just because you’re onto it, it screams louder. It can take some time to quiet that roaring. Mindfulness is a technique and it takes practise.

Most of us rely on language as our primary means of both communication and understanding. When we monitor our thoughts, the language that they appear to us in can be used as a tool to focus and then shift attention. Improving our emotional state can be something as simple as swapping “I’ll never be out of pain” for “I am in pain today, but nobody knows what the future holds”. One of these things is not quite like the other, one nurses fear and the other carries hope.

Language wields more power than many people know, but it isn’t the only way to be mindful.

Mindfulness can often be effective for me if I focus instead on physical sensations rather than purposely attempting to stop thinking about whatever is causing me anxiety. This is most helpful when I am dealing with problems are are in the present moment.

There are problems in the present too? But I thought that’s where mindfulness was taking us! I don’t wanna go anymore…

There are problems everywhere. Thankfully, people are problem solvers. Mindfulness gives us tools to help conquer and cope with our problems, but it isn’t going to make them go away.

The present moment issue that I have to deal most with is loads and loads of intense pain, both of the physical and the emotional variety. I can’t think my way out of a CRPS flare up, but I can use mindfulness techniques to help shush the associated emotions.

Breathing is my solid, go to distraction. How am I breathing? Where does the air go? What does it feel like? Is it cold? Is it damp? Could I be oxygenating my brain a little better by deepening these breaths? The answers don’t need to be verbalised, they are merely prompts for noticing.

Switching up my senses is another great tool. By nature, I am a visual type of person, I will never remember your name if I haven’t seen it written down or pictured the letters in my mind. This is just a predilection, it doesn’t mean that my other senses are inferior, they’re just less attuned. In a point worth noting: I have only recognised this about myself through practising mindfulness.

A visual mindfulness activity is to look at things and notice something about them. What’s in front of you? Is it round? Is it green? Is it shiny? These might sound like simple things to answer, however the very act of pondering these questions is mindful.

One can’t turn senses on and off, but it is possible to regulate how much attention we give them in any moment. If noticing visuals isn’t helping, I can switch to noticing sounds. What can I hear? What sort of noise is it? Is it high pitched? Does it have a beat?

Sounds not working for you? Try thinking about touch. What can you feel on your skin? Is it pleasant? Soft? Scratchy? Painful? Warm? Freezing? Where can you feel air moving around you?

The point of these exercises is not to decipher what any of these stimuli mean, it’s not to understand them. When being mindful, all we need to do is notice. Pain can hurt like hell, but it can also be a good, physical sensation to use as a basis for mindfulness practise once we stop judging it as bad/wrong/unwanted.

As you can see, mindfulness isn’t so much a method of ceasing negative thought patterns (as is commonly believed) it is a method of channeling focus and awareness into other things. When you do that, there simply isn’t as much space left for your brain to be running its own destructive thought attacks.

Once you start looking, you’ll be surprised at how much stuff is around you that can find a place in your present mind. Fill your brain up with details and you squeeze the chattering monkey out.

Mindfulness is kind of logical, but very open to personal interpretation. What does it mean to you, Audy?


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 & Cheers To Better Thinking,
Caf

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.

Pain, Logic & What Positive Thinking Really Is

Dear Audy,

I have felt so very lost lately. I have had a lot of adjusting to do, in most aspects of my daily life and well, that sort of adjusting takes up a lot of time and brainpower.

Symptom wise, I am not doing particularly well. My ability to function has been declining severely with the shifting of the seasons. I’ve had increased CRPS pain all over my body, with the lower regions of my limbs being the worst affected areas. My hands and feet have been putting on colourful displays with more frequency than I have seen before. The flares aren’t really receding, just fluctuating about at different amounts of high-intensity.

Here is my hand being pretty after I determinedly walked the dogs earlier. This picture is unedited:

CRPS


Centrally, my system is kind of flipping out. I’ve had an increase in general pain, specifically a burning/tingling sensation that seems to exist between my skin and my flesh. It’s everywhere, however it is notably more painful in my limbs than the rest of me. The sensation is particularly strong overnight and starts to rise immediately upon waking. Coping with it is a challenge that I must face every morning, sometimes several times a morning if it’s been a restless night.

It’s not easy you guys, it’s really not, but I’m doing it.

I don’t have a choice about the pain, but I can choose whether or not to cry and that’s a start. I can choose to keep training myself to not view physical pain is something that needs to upset me. This training, this militant monitoring of thoughts, is like exercising muscle. The more I practice the stronger I get. The stronger I get, the easier the practice. The easier I make the practice, the more I can progress towards healthier ways of thinking and perceiving.

Logic can be a great motivator, It’s the hardest thing in the world to argue with.

It’s really a good thing then I’ve been building up coping strength, because my nervous system is really ripping out the big guns this Spring… (I wish I was done describing symptoms)

Along with the aforementioned joys of CRPS, I have been having a lot of trouble with my jaw. The left side has hacked away at its joint socket so much over the last few years that my jaw doesn’t really fit into my face on that side anymore. This isn’t a big deal, until you factor in that all of the other symptom increases tend to exacerbate jaw tension and clenching, which leads to an increase in neck and shoulder pain, which leads to an increase in arm pain, which brings us back around to the first paragraph of Caf’s exciting symptoms.

So, um, there’s a nice little circle for you. It’s nice to notice things.

Separate to the pain side of things, I found myself faced with increased sensitivity to everything. Everything. Temperature, light, sound, scent, pressure, chemicals, even people. My body does this thing now where it forgets to stop cooling down at night. I start to get sleepy and go to bed and then just get colder and colder and shiver uncontrollably (and painfully) unless I have an external source of warmth, like a heatpack. Good times.

I react to all of the chemicals in everything. Food, cleaning products, hygiene products…everything. I keep getting nauseous and I’m not even sure what’s causing it; my diet is pretty clean these days. I even react to myself, apparently. I deduced this from the fact that the other day, having given up on deodorising at all, I still managed to score a new and exciting armpit rash. Good times.

It’s not easy you guys, it’s really not, but I’m doing it.

I’m coping.

Most of the time.

When all I can do is keep rearranging my thoughts to find a way that I can be okay with whatever’s going on, then that’s what I do. I have been trying ever so hard to resist the urge to vent and complain. I don’t want my brain practising those thought patterns. Every single time we go over something in our minds, we strengthen the thought patterns associated with that thing. I don’t want to strengthen the patterns that perceive my challenges as negative, powerful, or beyond my control.

Everything that we think or perceive is only possible because of patterns created by our brains and nervous systems. Every single thing. Thankfully, through focus and practice, these patterns can be changed. Permanency is just an illusion when it comes to the natural state of the healthy human body.

This is what positive thinking is: strengthening the thought patterns associated with not being upset.


It’s not a magical thing that takes all of your bads and makes them goods. Positive thinking is a process of redirecting thoughts through observation and attention.

In order to cope with everything that has been on my plate lately, I have had to remain acutely aware of what’s going on in my mind and whether it’s a thought pattern that is going to help or hinder me. This practice is especially important on both ends of my physical pain management strategies. I need to be able to get past any negative thinking patterns in order to get motivated to move through the pain and I also need to be able to keep my mind as peaceful as possible if I have exhausted all of my management strategies to no obvious benefit.

Most of the time, stuff helps, but sometimes the sky has other plans for me.

The actual sky, not the metaphorical kind. A lot of the challenges that I’ve been dealing with are the result of my body not coping with changes in weather.

I need my mind to cope even though my body can’t. Positive thinking is as simple as that, really. I’ve read a lot of lamentations from people living with chronic pain who are tired of being told to think positively because doing so will not take away their physical pain. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t, but that’s really not what it’s about.

Positive thinking is about coping, not cure. If I have to be in pain, then I’d rather be in pain and at peace than in pain and depressed.


Logic can be a great motivator, It’s the hardest thing in the world to argue with.

Love & Pressing On,
Caf

 

 

The Road To Change: The Guilt Bypass

Dear Audy,

The iron ball of expectation that I wrote about in my last post was holding me back more than I even realised. I needed to describe it like that, to give it shape so that I could start moving past it. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when there seem to be an incredible amount of things that need to be done and health isn’t playing along. It’s easy to not do anything because we can’t do everything.

Easy in the present, however, doing nothing rarely creates an easy future.

I need to extend myself into that realm of difficult that lies just past comfortable on the road to change.

I have learned a lot of coping skills over the years I have spent living with chronic pain. However, I have not learned all the coping skills. Challenges still knock me about on a regular basis. Setbacks still get me down. Upset and Anger still creep into my life despite my understanding that they never really need to be there.

They never really are there, you see. They’re just perceptions, like everything else. The most wonderful human magic that I know of is the ability to completely change our mood, outlook and even limitations by changing our views about them.

The how is the difficult part.

You know how, sometimes, messages seem to arrive in just the right way, through just the right vessel, at just the right time that we need them? Almost as if they couldn’t have existed until we were ready to receive them?

When I first read The Joy Of Living by Yongey Mingur Rinpoche, I felt like that. I babbled about it a little during a YouTube video back in 2010. The style of writing, the content, the perspectives that I hadn’t considered (on just about everything) resonated in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I came away from the first reading feeling like this smiley monk was the wisest person on the planet.

Several times, I re-read the book, in parts and as a whole. There were so many things to work on, approaches to remember, sparks of wisdom to chase. That little book contained more psychologically helpful information than any textbook that I’d ever read that had a Western perspective on the mind and body.

I purchased Joyful Wisdom, the follow up book, a couple of years ago. I even read it and thought it as clever, if not quite as inspirational as The Joy Of Living. I was quite wrong. The book doesn’t lack helpful insight, I just wasn’t ready for that level of psychological development back then.

Recently, I realised that I was not coping. I was feeling upset and angry and I needed to focus on calming my mind and body before life spiralled completely out of my grasp. Some of this was being influenced by the physical and emotional challenges of taking on Scenar treatments (which is like a whole lot of new stuff going on in my body aside from just pain) and some by the limited scope of what I had learned to cope with. I’d learned to live with a lot, to not be rattled by a lot of things, but I still have perceived limits. I needed to step up my game in order to get through bigger and more rewarding challenges.

So, I went back to the wisdom of my favourite monk. I picked up Joyful Wisdom once more and settled into a hot bath. I began to read. Then I began to gape a little. Then, I sort of looked around the room like I was being watched.



Because, the first few pages described exactly what I was feeling. In terms of having learnt to cope somewhat, learnt to know my mind somewhat, learnt to moderate my emotions somewhat…but still coming up short when faced with some challenges. The book welcomed me and my insecurities. “This is where you’re at?” it said, “Well, you’ve come to the right book. I have much to tell you, young grasshopper”.

(There is little distinction in my mind between Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Mr Miyagi. It’s a wise teacher thing, not a race thing.)

At 80 pages into a re-read, I am experiencing the thrill of realisation that I felt during The Joy Of Living. I’m ready for this book now. I’m ready for these lessons. I need them.

I recognise thoughts as thoughts and feelings as the products of thoughts, however I need to go further into my beliefs, preconceptions and perspectives in order to break through to a point of control, rather than just understanding.

Parts of me are still holding me back. That’s how I ended up shackled to an iron ball and trying desperately to fly away, without wings or Astro Boy boots. That’s how I ended up too confused to even blog most of the time. I almost forgot how much this writing helps me to sort through my head for weak spots and ways to deal.

I felt guilty about putting time into a blog post, instead of whatever responsibility I felt that I should be working on. Yet, I wasn’t quite capable of those other tasks and so, a lot of the time, I ended up doing nothing but get anxious and frustrated. Who knows? If I’d written through my feelings, I might have been able to move on to other things with a clear head.

We live and we learn, we do.

I will not let guilt stop me from writing anymore. I will continue to do what I can do, when I can do it. I will continue to foster space in which I can grow and expand the scope of the things that I can do. I will not feel guilty because I feel like I should be replying to people or writing something on a bigger scale than a personal blog post.

Guilt is a hindrance. I am choosing to believe that it’s OK to focus on me and what I need to do for a while, rather than the things that I’d like to do for other people.

I promise, it doesn’t mean that I love you any less.

Love & Boundaries,
Caf

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  • Unchaining The Iron Ball of Expectation

    Dear Audy,

    Feeling unsettled is rarely pleasant. I find it quite ridiculous how much humans are prone to enjoying routine when we live in a world of constant fluctuation. It’s like this strange little secret that we must discover about existence before being able to move past this source of anxiety. Things aren’t going to stop changing. They just aren’t. I am in a particularly rocky period of change and adjustment, but I need to combat it head on rather than floundering about in a state of denial.

    I am continuing with Scenar treatments, my body is responding plenty, yet is still a bit unpredictable. The most recent sessions have been lowering my pain, which is wonderful! I won’t explain more about what these treatments involve until I have some sort of concrete idea of the results for me and can describe the experience with something other than confusion.

    The brain fog has been on more than off and I have been enduring some emotional stormy weather. It’s weird to be back in this place of turbulent feelings, when I know that I have dealt with them before. Overcoming the tricks of my mind often involves a new method for the same old material. The perspective that led me out of a similar emotional down point doesn’t necessarily apply to the stress that I am currently facing.

    Things aren’t going to stop changing. They just aren’t. There is suffering, but there are also ways past it. Ways, plural. Life isn’t simple mathematics.

    I think that the reason I am feeling upset about recent increases in unpredictability from my body are that I’m feeling stress and pressure to be doing things more than and other than what I feel like I need to do for my health. I feel like I need to be coping at the level I was coping at before I commenced Scenar treatments. Rationally, I know this isn’t true, yet I am finding that rationality hasn’t been quite enough to let go of feeling this pressure.

    One of the factors playing into this is that during a period of better health, I am much better at making plans. I can see a future, a slightly stable future and then I want to fill it up with wonderful things to do. When things change and my health dips, it’s hard to let go of these plans. They become an iron ball chained to my ankle, trailing along after me and holding me back. Wearing such a weight makes focusing on what I need to do to continue improving amongst setbacks a difficult thing to achieve.


    (source)


    Too often, I’m just sitting and staring down at the ball. Just watching it. Unable to leave it behind, unable to accomplish its demands. Frozen between desire to act, incapability and the perceived expectations of others. I perceive that others expect the things that I planned when I was well enough to plan them and worry that I am not able to sufficiently communicate that my situation is different now.

    Overwhelmed-Caf very much longs for the communication skills of Regular-Caf, but we’re just not pouring from the same pot of tea. O-Caf’s pot is deCaf (Ha), it just doesn’t turn on the energy switches quite like R-Caf’s. O-Caf forgets basic things like how to respond to messages or think outside of O-Caf’s immediate surroundings. O-Caf spends too much time feeling sorry and badly about her inadequacies and has a massive inferiority complex in regards to R-Caf.

    Basically, O-Caf can be a bit of a dick. But, I have to work with her and so we’re trying to get to know each other better. Befriend the enemy and then you don’t have an enemy. If I can blend the positive parts of my coping personas together then I will become OR-Caf and that sounds like a chick that would be getting shit done. Life wouldn’t be able to mess with OR-Caf, she’s too capable of finding new ways around her problems.

    Get upset, or what? OR-Caf, that’s what.

    Next week is National Pain Week. I had planned to have many things up and running and happening and dancing away by now, but none of that has happened. I am sad about this. I need to stop being sad about this, it’s just giving that stupid iron ball extra weight. Rather than focusing on what I haven’t been about to do, I’d like to direct you to the National Pain Week website, where you can see what other people have been able to do.

    Such as organising a Festival of Hope in Sydney at the end of next week. A festival that I will be attending. You know, in a whole other state to the one where my bed lives. I wish this wasn’t a big deal to me and I’m trying to squash its inflated ego of dealiness but going away from home is a source of anxiety for me. Past trips have included sleep difficulties to the point of total sleep absence, exhaustion, increased pain and emotional trauma. This doesn’t mean the upcoming trip will include those, it’s just hard to shake off past problems when similar situations are impending.

    I am currently putting a lot of effort into visualising myself sleeping at night and attending the things I will be attending in Sydney and seeing everything happen smoothly and within the realm of things that I can handle. Yep, I’m using The Secret. Because I’d hate to accidentally use it to manifest an awful trip away for myself through fear and dread. I mentioned that O-Caf isn’t always rational, right?

    I have a week to spend sorting through my anxiety and preparing to be OR-Caf. I’m going to kick up my pain rehab and meditation practises to attempt to get a handle on this. Please forgive my lack of message/comment replies and my absence from completing our plans to catch up or meet, or whatever it was that we were planning. I need some time and space to get on top of my pain and anxiety, that’s all. I need to rest and relax and unchain this iron ball from my ankle.

    I need to let go of plans and expectations in order to heal, deal with what is, as it is now, and then bounce back to functioning. I’m going on a quiet, internal adventure and then an external, adventure adventure. All I can promise is that I’m going to cope as best I can and this might involve some radio silence, overjoyed updates, or various Twitter rants. I don’t know yet.

    Whatever may come, I’ll write when I can.

    Love & Preparation,
    Caf

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  • Fat Pad Syndrome, It’s A Thing

    Dear Audy,

    My goodness, two weeks can pass so quickly that I’m left staring blankly into the blurry void of the past and wondering what happened.

    So, that thing that is wrong with my right foot turned out not to be plantar faciitis. Most likely this is because plantar faciitis is a fairly common problem and it would be incredibly unlike me to actually have a medical problem that people have heard of.

    My plantar fascia is fine. However, apparently one can damage fat. Yep, fat. That gluggy stuff that makes us insecure while it hangs around waiting for us to run out of food. That stuff. Ok, maybe not that stuff exactly, I’m pretty sure our bellies are safe, but the soles of our feet are susceptible to incoming fat attacks.


    (source)


    This is my favourite web page explaining the issue. Fat Pad Syndrome (hilarious) means that I’ve damaged the baffles (hilarious) in the fat in my heel. Yep, it might be slightly baffling, but fat has baffles. They’re joiny bits that hold the fat in place.

    How did I damage my fat pad?

    I suspect this is the outcome of a stone on concrete injury. I have these stupid white stones in my backyard (designing a yard? You do not need stones. Get pavers) and some stepping stone paver things. Over the time that I’ve lived here, I’ve had a few owie moments when one of the stones gets onto the pavers and then my foot comes down atop that stone.

    I don’t remember the specific incident that set off my fat pad syndrome (still hilarious) however I do recall that no so long ago I had a particularly painful episode of foot-on-stone-on-paver. Being that it’s the only explanation for how I ended up with damaged fat, I’m sticking with that.

    What are my options?

    Ultrasound man, who informed me that one can damage fat and that I had damaged mine, also mentioned that it was an option to inject the area with cortisone, however the success rate for this sort of injury is only about 50%, which is a little bit too risky for me.

    I’ve been injected with cortisone in CRPS affected areas before, it’s kind of like being injected with boiling poison.

    I chose to forgo the treatment and wait for my stupid heel to heal the slow way.

    How long will this take to get better?

    No, seriously, if you know how long, let a sister in on the secret!!

    I’ve read about healing periods ranging from 5 days to 3 months. When I obtain an injury, I usually account for the CRPS but doubling the recovery time. Potentially, I could be dealing with this stupid heel for 6 months. Hopefully, I won’t be, so I’m trying to take good care of it in the meantime.

    How does one care for one’s fat pad?

    I have some squishy gel pad orthotics that help if I need to walk around, however I’m pretty wobbly and extremely unreliable. If I’m leaving the house right now, I need to take my cane.

    I try to step on the foot as little as possible. It’s the opposite mind frame to living with CRPS, usually I am not doing damage when my nervous system tells me that I am. In this case, I am re-bruising the area, so I need to be careful.

    I am trying to manage the rest of my body and keep my tension levels down. This has been particularly difficult in the last couple of weeks. I’ve had a bit of a virus and some excess stressors hanging around my life. Sleep has been eluding me as I wake up in a hot flush every couple of hours – this never helps my coping abilities in general.

    Relaxing has been rather tough, but I’m starting to feel like I’m getting somewhere again. It’s kind of hard to meditate when I’m used to focusing on my breathing and I’m quite coughy with this bug so breathing isn’t all that smooth and easy right now. I’m trying to focus on other senses instead, mainly sound, but I’m still finding positive results are filtering through much more slowly than in general.

    Coughing also makes Feldenkrais a bit more of a challenge, but I am trying to keep it up by doing shorter sessions a couple of times a day.

    I hate that it can take so long for me to deal with such small setbacks in the grand scheme of things. Everybody gets sick sometimes, everybody has a silly little injury here and there. I hate that when it happens to me it can completely knock my life of kilter for weeks, if not months. I’ve gotten through worse and I’ll get through this, I’m just a little fragile at the moment. I’m feeling overwhelmed, which makes concentrating difficult.

    Managing my days has been taking up all of my time and strength. Thanks so much to everyone who has been leaving me comments and messages, I shall get back to you ASAP, just need to get myself functioning a little better.

    Love & Sprinkles,
    Caf

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  • Liberation From A Flare Helps Life Show Its Luminescence

    Dear Audy,

    Coming out of a flare, such as the one that I described in my last post, is like diving into crystal clear water and discovering one has gills. The world is new again, it’s interesting, it’s happier. When I take the time to appreciate how wonderful I am feeling in comparison to previous days, it’s like being on holiday. You know that feeling when you can just relax and doing things seems like fantastical fun rather than a chore? That’s the one I mean.


    (click image for source)


    Saturday was a total write off and Sunday wasn’t much more fun. The pain lessened overnight, however the humidity was still keeping me puffed up and stinging. Late Sunday afternoon I was able to have a long soak in the bath, which helped to relieve all my muscles from the tension they were holding as a result of dealing with so much pain.

    The body’s natural response to pain is to tense up and protect an injured area, however when dealing with chronic pain this response starts to turn into an attack. Unresolved tension causes further pain and can even cause extra injuries, such as pulled muscles and postural problems. Secondary pain is not something that anybody suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome needs and attending to these aches is of the utmost importance when managing chronic pain.

    Lately I have increased my rehabilitation activities. This has been in part due to honing my focus on healing and in part due to having freed up my schedule from too many appointments and special occasions. I have been doing longer Feldenkrais sessions, more frequently meditating and getting as much physical activity happening as I can handle without pushing myself into a flare (the big weekend flare was weather, rather than activity driven).

    The result of all of this focus is that I have been feeling like I am an athlete in training, albeit training that differs dramatically from what one would expect upon hearing the word “athlete”. My body is in a state of transformation and thus a state of constant upheaval. I am very purposefully messing with my movement patterns and reorganising my brain like this can leave my body feeling very disjointed, unfamiliar and often uncomfortable. Just like an athlete, I need to balance my physical workouts with rest, kindness to my muscles and general recuperation.

    There is a difference between the pain of discomfort and the pain of a CRPS flare and the discomfort I can handle. It certainly wasn’t comfortable as my body went from well-functioning to disabled and I can’t expect that the reverse trip should be any easier. I want to influence massive changes within myself and change isn’t a comfortable process. That’s become a concept that is ok with me, I’d rather go on any new adventure than stay settled on my cushions. The realisation that one can be comfortable being uncomfortable is as liberating as a turning key in the lock of a prison cell.

    Monday was marvellous. I slept for close to 10 hours, which is almost unthinkable for me. I assume that my body was rather exhausted after torturing itself for a couple of days. I awoke to clear, sunny skies and more importantly, fresh, non-humid air. I sat out in the sun reading for some time – a little too long from the odd-looking areas of sunburn on me. I’m not too fussed about that, it was glorious to be able to sit outside!

    The rest of the day consisted of pacing my way through the little things that get my life running again. Feldenkrais, meditation, the usual. I have been working with a new Feldenkrais audio track that gives the brain a lot of feedback about how the spine is moving and how it connects through different movements. After completing this hour long movement session, followed by a rest, I used the awareness that I had generated about my body to vacuum. Vacuuming is a dangerous task to the chronic pain battler, but I am pleased to say that mindfully paying attention to my movement as I completed it made the job both easier and more enjoyable.

    In fact, I enjoyed just about every minute of yesterday. I was just so glad to be out of the agony. This is the first time I remember being so mindful and aware after a flare. The first time I have felt such gratitude, to the universe in general, that it is over. I know it won’t be the last, but that knowledge isn’t interfering with me loving this interlude of lessened pain.

    Love & Respite,
    Caf

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  • Change Is A Positive Cliché For A Reason

    Dear Audy,

    I feel like a lovely chunk of malleable playdough that is being mushed and moulded into something new. Literally, that sounds rather horrific, however in actuality it is ever so exciting!

    I have been spending a lot more time offline than on in recent weeks, most of this year to be exact. Thankfully, this time away isn’t just due to pain flares. I have been reinforcing the behaviours that help me to keep my pain down and strengthen my body. This has been a process of challenging how I approach things both physically and mentally.


    (click image for source)


    For over four years I have felt incredibly hindered by my pain. I have spent a lot of time incapable of doing just about anything and that led to a lot of free time to web surf and connect with people via social media. Although I am missing these interactions and the joys and wonders that I find on other’s blogs, I think I have just needed some extra me space so that I can make the changes that will continue to make my life better. Thanks so much to everyone who has continued to support me, your messages mean so much and it’s hard not to feel guilty that I haven’t had the time and capacity to reply yet.

    I have been reading a lot. I am sure that I have learnt more about the human brain in the past two months than in the three semesters that I spent studying psychology at uni. Along with texts examining advances in neuroscience, I have been submersing myself in stories about people who have suffered chronic pain and yet no longer do. These stories inspire me, uplift me and help me to focus on the daily grind of rehabilitating from such a state of nervous system catastrophe.

    The most thrilling thing about all this learning is that I can now understand what is going wrong in my body and I understand the changes that I need to influence in order for the pain to become just background noise in my life – gotta get that bugger off centre stage. Chronic pain has been misunderstood and mistreated for centuries. I no longer believe the medical practitioners that assume it is a permanent condition. I’ll go into further explanation on this topic when I get a chance to sit and review some of the texts that I’ve read.

    When I returned to my Feldenkrais practitioner after a couple of months break over Summer, I was delighted to discover that my body responded extremely quickly in a one on one session. I could feel parts of me letting go of tension and the way in which my perception reorganised itself in order to achieve this.

    My first session back was the motivation that I needed to step up my practise at home. It’s difficult to stick to any sort of new routine (ever tried to lose weight?) however, being able to feel the results makes putting in the effort to pay attention to my body’s movement patterns worth it.

    I’ve been altering my mediation practise, with the help of being guided and inspired by an instructed course. The instructor has a very different approach to other meditation instructors that I have had and it’s taken some work to shift my goals and deepen my practise. It’s not something that I am completely on top of yet, however I am working at it and I can feel the relaxation benefits after each session. I am also finding ways to sit comfortably on the floor with a straight back, something that is benefiting from the Feldenkrais and meditation alike, also something that I haven’t been able to do for years.

    My house feels much fresher than it has for some time. A huge focus of mine has been to maintain the household chores and keep my diet healthy. It’s amazing how much time this can take, however I am getting it done and it is starting to feel like less of an effort.

    So, it sounds like I’ve been pretty boring, right? Happy to say, wrong! I might be putting a lot of work into my rehab every day, but it’s really important to keep the fun things in my life so that I don’t get bored. I have caught up with friends, both visitors and taking myself out again to meet people, eat food and watch movies. I cannot describe how wonderful it is to be able to go out and feel normal for a few hours. The techniques that I’ve been practising really help to keep the pain down during these outings and to lessen the recovery time.

    I am starting to feel like a new version of the old me. In contrast to a new version of the recent me, the old me had a lot more fun!

    My updates have become less frequent, but I’m still here. I have so many new ideas and concepts cluttering up my head that I need time to allow them to boil and then simmer down into thoughts that I can share with you more easily.

    Life is a little confusing and foreign right now, but I definitely feel a stronger, more determined me building up. I can’t put everything into words right now, but for once, the future is looking bright and sparkly again.

    Love & Changes,
    Caf

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  • The Little Messages That Make A Big Difference.

    Dear Audy,

    Today is one of those days when the little messages you leave for me on this world wide web are helping to keep me on track. By that, I mean on the coping track. Connecting with people helps me to not let the pain get the better of my mind and to get through the harder days without losing my focus. I haven’t the foggiest idea how people survived living with CRPS before the internet.

    Maintaining focus is not an easy task when one’s brain is abuzz with misguided pain signals. Pain brings along a lot of nasty thoughts that, if you let them have any validity, can make your situation a whole lot worse. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own head when you’re in so much pain. Becoming aware of negative thoughts and the reactions they cause is the first step to being able to control how you respond to them. “As the saying goes, “no consciousness, no choice; partial consciousness, partial choice; complete consciousness, complete choice.” In mindfulness psychotherapy this is called awakening to our reactivity.” I thoroughly recommend clicking that quote and reading the entire blog post, it is an excellent, concise description of ‘mindfulness’. Dude knows what he’s talking about, I might just have to buy his book!

    Today I drove myself to a doctor’s appointment. It turns out that I drove a little too far. I thought the forty minute trip was within my capability when I left my home, however my body decided that today it was going to get particularly upset about the vibrations of the car. I managed to get home, with the help of a little left foot driving, but once there the flaring took off within minutes. It launched with the such force that it squeezed water from my eyes and squeals from my lips. It’s taken a while to adjust, but I can handle the higher pain level now, at least long enough to do a little interneting – which brings me back to the point that I opened with…

    YOU ARE WONDERFUL PEOPLE.


    20100427 Thank You by hellojenuine

    (click photo for source)


    Just a ‘hello’ through Facebook/Twitter/Email/SMS can perk me up at anytime. When a flare kicks in, receiving messages from friends who understand helps me to fight off those nasty thoughts that are trying to reach out and pull me into depression. For a little while there, I lost my cool…but checking back in with reality, via real people, via my laptop, has helped me to get it back. Checking in with other people helps me to regain perspective and I get to thinking, ‘What would I tell me?”

    I am in pain, but I don’t have to stress about that fact. Just because I didn’t handle the drive particularly well today, doesn’t mean that I won’t in future. Just because I am in rather a lot of pain right now, doesn’t mean that I will be forever. In the mean time, I can co-exist with the pain, I don’t have to hate it, or resent it, or despise it, it simply is a thing that is. I don’t like it, but thinking about the fact that I don’t like it isn’t going to help it go away, therefore I will put more effort into focusing my thoughts elsewhere and tuning out the brainwave channel that is only broadcasting negativity.

    Love & Gratitude,
    Caf

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  • Memories, Meditation & Taking My Own Advice

    Dear Audy,

    It sure is hot outside. Personally, I’ve had quite enough of Summer. I spent Winter wishing for warmer weather, only to discover that I can’t tolerate heat any more than cold. It would be particularly helpful if Mother Nature would agree to keep things at a pleasant temperature and stop throwing these tantrums. Melbourne has always been a little bipolar when it comes to weather, but these recent fluctuations have been ridiculously extreme and extremely painful for many of us who suffer from chronic pain. I am constantly looking forward to the day when I will live in a home with air-conditioning once more, however until then, all I can do is grin and bear it. Ok, the grinning part is all fallacy, more like groan and bear it.

    Yesterday, my pain went through the roof. Sitting up was too painful and I was stuck in bed, twisting and turning, unable to spend too much time on any side of my body because the pressure between myself and the mattress caused pain.

    The only thing that I can do to get through this amount of ouching is breathe. I try to engage the meditative skills I have learnt and relax my muscles. I scan my body, mentally, tune into the areas that are in the most pain and try to release it. Visualisation is a nifty tool, I find my mind automatically imagines the inflamed areas as red (rather like a Nurofen commercial) and so I try to picture a cool blue flooding these areas. It doesn’t always help, but the mere act of focusing on this process is a distraction from the intense heat of the pain. The best way I have ever heard meditation described is as a shift from thinking to sensing. Focusing your mind on physical sensations, such as sounds, temperature, pressure and even pain, immediately allows it less room to play around with the thought viruses that make enduring pain more difficult.

    20100209 Blue Tawonga

    I’ve recently been playing around with visualising myself in another place, a better place. Pictures I’ve seen of The Maldives come in handy for this, but mostly I just want to go and sit by the river at a camping site I visited annually growing up. I had so much time to daydream there as a child and I like tapping back into that sense of nothing being impossible. I like remembering what it was like to feel inspired about the future and to plan all the wonderful things I would do. It can be a sad memory if I let it, however I try to channel that sense of childlike wonder and expectation into my current life and think about the things I can still achieve. Small things – my current crowning achievement is maintaining this blog. There have been times when I couldn’t blog through the really bad spells, I’m glad that I have learnt to try and focus on the positives and by sharing my methods of dealing it helps me to keep them in place.

    Attempting to meditate on your own can be difficult. A couple of years ago I took a short course run by The Melbourne Meditation Centre that I found incredibly enlightening and helpful. Not enlightening in the spiritual sense – something that many people automatically associate with meditation – but enlightening to the fact that meditation doesn’t have to have anything to do with spirituality at all, it can be entirely physical. As I learnt in the course, it only takes five deep breaths to create a physiological change in the body and begin the process of relaxation. I find audio tracks really useful as guided meditation is easier to come back to when I find myself drifting back into thinking, which I will inevitably do continually as I try to relax. It can be frustrating to have to focus so much to relax, but the physical benefits are well worth the HEFfort.

    The toughest part of getting through this flare is coping mentally. When I feel myself starting to lose the plot a little, or head down a destructive thought trail, I try to put the brakes on quickly and counter those thoughts by focusing on what I can do to make things a little better. Socialising with people who have similar problems can often be helpful because in the process of discussing their issues, we sometimes find the resolutions for our own. It’s always easier to tackle someone else’s problem, especially when their story is similar to ours. Lately, I have been thinking about this process and trying to ask myself, “What would I tell me?”. It’s not always easy to have the strength to follow my own advice, but the more I ask this question and the more honest I am with myself about how I can choose my responses to both thoughts and pain, the easier it is getting. I might not be coping in the best way possible yet, but let’s not forget that the human condition is never to reach nirvana, there’s always going to be a possibly better state of being, glinting at us from the horizon.

    Love & Coping,
    Caf

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