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Chasing the pain

March 10, 2011

I haven’t written anything on here for quite a while and I was asking myself “Why?”.

Possible answers?

1. I think that much of what I might say is unoriginal

2. Much of what I could say is personal to me and thus pretty trivial in the grand scheme

3. Similarly, because it is personal it can rapidly degenerate into navel-gazing and self pity.

Of course, navel-gazing (in the sense of meditation) was one thing I was going to write about – mindfulness meditation. But any thoughts on that, if they are to be meaningful, are slow in coming – because meditation, in any form, can take a long time to produce any fruit.

But one thing about which I have come to an insight  might be worth sharing.

Mindfulness meditation, in its formal practice, asks you to “note any thoughts that cross your mind, give them a nod and say ‘OK, that’s interesting, I’ll come back to you’ and then move back kindly and gently to following the breath (or whatever the subject of your meditation is)”

That’s a hard thing to do! Once a fascinating thought or, possibly, what appears to be a brilliant insight (and turns out to be rubbish) enters your mind, off you go!

“The brain is made for thinking. Don’t be surprised, or think you have failed because this happens, time and again. Be kind to yourself, just say thanks, gently, and go back to  the breath”

I struggled (and struggle) with this.  Then I found an mp3 entitled “labelling your thoughts”.  The speaker suggests that it might help to categorise the intruders. “Call them “Distraction” or “Anxiety” or “Fantasy” – find your own names – and, when a thought comes into your mind name it. You may find that only a  few categories suffice and can give you a handle by which to catch yourself – before you’re back on the thought train””. I tried that; surprising how many got labelled “fantasy”, but that is probably too much self-disclosure!

So I poodled on, putting aside a regular time to meditate. As I think I said, I started this whole meditation lark because it is the subject of a number of courses on Pain Management. I have to say that it works but it’s a bugger to remember to use it when you are completely obsessed with the pain itself.  Finding a “meta-viewpoint” is nigh impossible as you squirm around trying to find a bodily position which will disarm the “tormenting devil”.

The guy who wrote the book which started me on this road, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has recorded a guided mindfulness meditation called “the body scan” which is a useful introduction if one is using meditation to reduce stress or pain.  After a 20 minute session, as you are coming back to earth, he says a few closing things about keeping up the practice and, ” hopefully”…. “seeing it spill over into your life outside this formal practice, as the ‘doing mode‘ gives way to the ‘being  mode‘”.  “Well” I thought, “If I can’t get the pain management right, there’s sweet Fanny Adams’ chance of my seeing this!”.  But maybe I was wrong.

I woke up, as isn’t unusual, at 3.30 that morning; a dull pain in my right thigh slowly escalating into a muscle spasm that would have me  rolling around, desperate to find some way to head it off at the pass. I ended up curled in a ball where the bedhead meets the side wall.  Slowly, I untangled my legs and arms, feeling tentatively towards a stance which would be comfortable.  The pain was too much to let me go back to sleep, but not enough to overcome the tiredness.  So I lay there, thinking.  Bloody fool!  “This is not the time to deal constructively with a problem – and problems is surely where you’se heading”.

And I was right.  I thought about how I had tackled my daughter’s partner about his angry outburst; how he had reacted by throwing something he had in his hand onto the table and storming out and whether I had done something wrongly and how I might retrieve things for her. Round and round I went.  Anger at his behaviour> self-blame for handling it wrongly> rehearsal of tomorrow’s conversation> self- contempt at not telling him how p…..d off I was with what he’d done> anger at myself for compromising> anger at his behaviour ……..  By the end of this maelstrom, I was almost shaking with emotion.

I tried breathing regularly, I tried concentrating on different parts of my body and relaxing them but, still, another and yet another angle jumped into my mind … and off I went on a train of narrative thought.  I desperatelyneeded to detach enough to look at the process.  I became aware that what was kicking it all off was not the issue itself; I was continually coming back and poking the emotion and stirring it up again. I think I was trying to relive it all in the hope that a different solution or view would present itself, miraculously. But it won’t, will it? Once the emotion engages, off you go in circles, doing it, over and over again.

And that’s when I found the label.  “Chasing the pain”. That’s what I was doing, picking at the scabs of the situation, rehearsing all the possibilities. And I do it, time after time.  I have spent a great deal of my life  going round these circles of “What did I do?” ;”Was it my fault?”; “I know what I’ll say next time I see her/him”,  continually plotting strategies for potential conflicts and problems – trying always to foresee problems  – in preference to a balanced survey of things – wasting time, wasting my life. Oh, yeah, one of those strategies might pan out, but it’s more than likely that either the situation will be one I hadn’t foreseen or, if only I had confidence, I would have thought of it anyway at the time.

I went back to following the breath. Every time that situation tried to catch my attention, I said “chasing the pain”, “chasing the pain”. And eventually it became “Chasing the pain”, followed by some logical interruption “deal with it tomorrow”, ” you won’t forget it, deal with it tomorrow” and so on. I found I could stop “Chasing the pain” and just lean a little towards it and try to see it calmly; if it began to rise up,  back I went to the breathing and voicing the label I had given this mode of thinking. I fell asleep.

And the problem? He came round and apologised profusely, explaining that he was stressed over, what was it? ISO Standard 9001? OSHAAS 18001? Or whatever.  Enough to stress me out! I forgave him and calmly said what I had to say and we were over it.

Now, all I have to do is remember to do it next time I wake at 3.30 in the morning, there will surely be many more next times. Maybe I’ll remember to write  about it!

Dog Dependence Disorder

January 11, 2011

I follow the blog of a man who has been in the post therapy stage of prostate cancer, as he charts his way through this hiatus in his life. Having missed some entries of late, because I have missed a lot of my life recently for various reasons, I backtracked, and found an entry I had missed. It is about the role of his dog in his recent life. I’d like you to read it at:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/life-lessons-from-the-family-dog/?scp=5&sq=%22prostate+cancer%22+dog&st=nyt

Naturally it spoke to my condition. My beloved border collie, Buska, up and died on me recently after a short illness and the effect on me was, and is, a blow to my self-image as someone who was psychologically and practically independent when it came to dealing with life.
I have a very good grasp of the medicinal aspects of my disability; I design my own exercise programme (much to the delight of my physiotherapist, as it allows he and I to discuss  professional cycle races during appointments, instead of all that exercise tosh) and I have my own recorded meditation tapes to help me deal with the consequent “lows” that go with chronic pain and physical limitations. From a past incarnation, I know a lot about drugs and often influence the strategy of my keyworker in the pain clinic.

In other words, although I was not “progressing”, in terms of any sort of recovery, I was holding my own against the usually inevitable gradual worsening of the pain and the psychological implications.
But, suddenly, it’s all gone pear-shaped. I look back on a day and realise that I have not kept to my walking programme. I go upstairs to do my exercises and, as many are done on my back, I find myself taking a nap to make up for the broken sleep of last night. The medication I take late evening lies on my stomach and gives me mild nausea, in response to which I either take an anti-emetic (with its own side effects) or I don’t get to doze off until the early hours.
Of course, I should have realised. What I am missing is the appearance of the head on my right leg with those soulful brown eyes looking at me and reminding me that collie’s are creatures of very fixed habits. I used to walk whatever the weather, no choice. I wasn’t allowed to take a nap because I would have my face washed as a test of whether I really meant it. And the list goes on; I no longer have anybody to tell “Well, fellah, I can’t sit here all day, I’d better go and ……” which statement had necessarily to be followed by some action, or I would have to listen to plaintive whistles and groans.
I am surprised (although I loved him dearly) how much the gap in my life is not just emotional, it’s practical; it was the planned nature of my routine, planned not by me, but by my canine boss.

So much for my ability to manage my life independently. Remind me to ring Social Services in the morning, would you?

Census 2011

January 6, 2011

This is just a “note” rather than a blog entry (I’ll come to that later.)
I decided some time ago that I was so unorthodox in my theology (In fact I checked and found I suffer from at least 32 recognised heresies) that it was deceitful to call myself a christian any more. I wavered about whether to just disappear into the murky fogs inhabited by atheists and agnostics and other varieties of “non-religious” or whether to adopt some sort of formal label, I didn’t want to be classified as a New Age fluffy either as it has been hard work thinking through what I could and couldn’t accept, as well as what I had, through careful consideration, decided I would not step back from.
But today I was reminded that we have a 2011 census with a question regarding “faith”. Among those is one for Pagan. And one can put “Pagan – and I feel I can now say that I am one of them “Pagan dashes”. If what this means interests you well have a look at the website http://www.pagandash.org

Vivienne

November 15, 2010

Just thought I’d post that Viv Tough-as-old-boots, the writer and Blogmeisterin, was in hospital, apparently with dramatic pain, and I was thinking of her. I thought she had been quiet, which is a great act of self-sacrifice on her part. Hope all is sorted soon Viv.

In the Dock – Betrayed by Me

November 10, 2010

I recently wrote as a comment on another blog

http://controlyourdestiny.wordpress.com/category/journey-of-life/

“I am sensitive to others’ comments, particularly critical ones – and especially those I think I either didn’t deserve or that had been written/spoken in haste when the speaker was just plain wrong and so angry that trying to continue the conversation and unravel it all was not worth the personal hassle. But lately – and at my age, very late – I am starting to realise that it is Me who is so judgemental of me. I tried an on-line “self-compassion” quiz and came out way on the wing. Maybe I don’t like some comments because they somehow feed into what Me is already saying to me?”

Then into my consciousness popped a memory. I recalled my resistance to team sports at school,, or even in the local darts’ team later! I was good at both physical and mental pursuits and games (although that was more likely my circle than any absolute measure) and when people asked me why I had dropped out of something in which I had begun to make a mark, I used to come back with something like “I can’t stand all the whingeing when we are losing, or the post-mortem afterwards. I know when I’ve got it wrong or made a mistake and I feel bad enough anyway, without others telling me the obvious”.
Forty years later, I look back at how I have been so supportive to others, professionally, picking colleagues and subordinates up when things had gone wrong; making huge efforts to get service users back on the road and pushing myself to walk another mile. But I agonised over my mistakes; I brushed off supportive comments or even hugs because the person was “just saying that to make me feel better”. Where does this lead? Or can I find some other clues? I am in the process of self-reflection on this, so will stop – mainly because I don’t want to waste another blog in which I flagellate myself in public for going up the wrong path! More Later, I hope.

A Walk on the Wild Side

October 26, 2010

Gosh! Wow! It’s over a month since I posted! OK, a lot of that was trying to deal with a spinal implant that ran out of bionicity (is that a neologism?). Well the batteries went flat and the charger didn’t work. But, after a week in the care of DHL, it was replaced and I am now ticking over smoothly.
What a time to overlook blogging? Government cuts lashed out at all and sundry and me quiet as a mouse! What happened to the guy who supported the miners? I now know three people who have been served their notice as a result of the cutbacks and I wonder where it will end in my little community.

When I am feeling fed up, which includes straying too near to the borders of the land of Dark Despair, I usually withdraw and I think maybe the extra pain and my following closely all the news about the economics in blogs and newspapers led me to my other strategy. This used to be one of getting out my equipment for some high risk pastime and pushing myself to the limit and over. Basically frightening myself out of depression by overdosing on adrenalin!

Nowadays the most I can do is go for a walk, haltingly, with the dog. Last week I still tried the old game; walked the dog at night and managed to push it too far and ended up in a situation which could have been very tricky if it hadn’t been for the dog. But that’s another story for another time.

The other thing that happened was, having got myself (and, through the dog, having been got) together, I reached the edge of the wood and stopped. The adrenalin was still running and I sat down to fuss the dog and enjoy the buzz. I had only ventured in because it was nearly a full moon and here, close to the edge the moon was piercing through the sparser branches overhead. And a thought came to me as I admired the large silvery halo round the moon, that I had been spending a lot of the time I had been seated, peering fruitlessly into the undergrowth. For what, I am unsure, small mammals? The Horned God? The ghost of the guy or gal buried in the nearby barrow?

But that’s what I and so many folk do when they are depressed isn’t it? The world of fiction and pop psychology have never really acknowledged their debt to Freud. So many of us, and I confess to being up there with the leaders, have signed up to the myth that if we poke around long enough in the unconscious, we will turn up the philosophers’ stone which will remarkably cure us of our overbearing neuroses. I am becoming less and less convinced, both about the vaunted possibilities of catharsis, and of the usefulness of poking round in the trash bin and reliving nasty and depressing incidents and atmospheres. The change in my mood as I looked from the rustling undergrowth to the moon was so marked that it crept up on me unawares like one of those times when one tingles from head to toe. And it was the moon that prompted the suggestion that I should just stop reading all this crap, smoke and mirrors and wait till it all becomes clearer and some sort of consensus of the current situation emerges.
In spite of having injured myself in the adrenaline-hunting adventure beyond my capabilities, my step was jauntier on the way back.

Bad Blogging

September 29, 2010

I knew this would happen! I got to a point at which I’d written some things and posted others and then I had to get all technical with links and so on. With a Pregabalin memory, I forgot what I had been advised by others. Thus blogging became a chore instead of a pleasure – and I had been bombarded, for a number of reasons, with lots of other topics to think about, so the priorities went away from here. I did manage to do the “about” thing, in response to a smiley from somebody who clearly couldn’t write and I chose to make it an “about me” rather than about the blog, for I still do not know what shape it will take.
It seems to me that, in order to write a blog, one needs to have an issue or a direction in life, so that at the least, one knows a little of what one is talking about and has enough grist in the mill to feed a hungry blog monster.
Apologies? No, I doubt anyone has missed my presence, and I haven’t denied anybody a nugget of knowledge which might have made a difference in their lives. I just have to have some self discipline. “I’ll be back” as some intellectual giant once said.