Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finding your zen

I believe my nurse practitioner said it best when she told me,
"Chronic pain is a real doozy."

I don't know that I ever gave chronic pain much thought. Sure, when I heard someone was in pain and that pain never really went away, my heart went out to them. Maybe I even wondered how they did it, how they managed it all. I felt sympathy for them. Sympathy is nice and all, and often all we are capable of. Being able to feel true empathy for someone is quite different and I now feel empathetic to those people that live every day managing some sort of chronic pain.

You don't realize just how much pain stresses your body physically, emotionally, mentally. It can raise blood pressure (which it did to me during my worst relapse last November) and it can cause other sorts of crazy things to happen. Nerve pain can really affect sleep, too, and as all new parents know, if anything can make you feel crazy fast, it is sleep deprivation!

In addition, nerve pain is another "real doozy" as it rarely responds to pain meds (like codeine, percocet, etc). Nerve pain just keeps right on going, no matter what you throw at it. For some people drugs like Neurontin and Lyrica can ease the pain a bit. For others you might as well be throwing water balloons at a forest fire.

Between the herniated disc, the MS and the Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (fancy word for severe dry eye, so dry it also affects your corneas), there is a lot of pain on any given day. I have tried alternative treatments as well as medicine (I prefer Lyrica, which takes the edge off the nerve pain). Biofeedback has been surprisingly helpful. I was skeptical at first and then saw myself hooked up to monitors and literally watched my blood pressure and heart rate slow down, less stressed simply because I was breathing correctly, slowly - the same type of breathing you use as a singer! What an amazing thing! It is a great tool in my arsenal of tools to deal with symptoms and pain.

I have also been doing physical therapy for my disc problem and since then am having far less pain in my left arm. What a difference it makes to not have pain 24/7 and instead have it come in waves throughout the day. It gives you a chance to catch your breath at least!

I think when you have something like pain you can't control with medication, you have to sort of approach it mind over matter. I mean, what choice do you have? You have to find your state of zen. Make peace with the pain. Because being angry at it just raises your blood pressure and makes the pain worse.

In the meantime, I am trying to find my zen, my peace with it all. Peace in living with chronic pain and with a chronic disease that causes horrible relapses with little or no warning. I try and find peace in this crazy economy where instead of once being terrified of bugs, my worst fear is now losing my health insurance. I try to be zen when my eyes are so dry and painful that all I can do is lie with them closed, listening to the television, or to books on CD. I try and find peace when Copaxone Caroline visits, ruining my usual upbeat mood, causing me to feel depressed and hopeless, only to disappear as quickly as she came, leaving me feeling normal and hopeful again. Medicines are crazy things, huh?

Take a moment and find your zen. Close your eyes during your stressful day and take 5 slow, deep breaths. As lame as it sounds it really does help! Or maybe your zen involves shutting the office door for five minutes to call your mom. Moms always have a way of making you feel at least a bit better, don't they? Whatever your zen is, wherever you find your peace, remember it so you can go back and "visit" it whenever you need to.

Personally, I like the deep breathing to manage really intense pain; I often treat Copaxone-induced depression with a movie ticket and big bag of popcorn. Escapism! And when all else fails, I go into my office upstairs (who am I kidding? it isn't an office - it is totally a "craft room") and I work on my scrapbooks, or handmade cards for people's birthdays or I watch a movie on my TV that Chris so graciously bought and installed for me. And slowly, the zen comes. And life is good again.

Even if you don’t have a chronic disease or chronic pain, you gotta take time to find your zen…especially in these times which are tough on everyone. If nothing else, just remember to breathe!

1 comment:

Karen said...

Can Courtney and I come over and help you with anything? She's very good at cooking, cleaning and laundry but don't tell DCFS that. Oh, and she's going to be a genius with all things mathematical so she can help you with your homework. Or she can come over and make you smile on a bad day, just let us know!