by Ruth Stella MacLean

Welcome Back and Updates

Welcome to my blog on living successfully with chronic pain. It’s been awhile since I posted here, but my life has been pretty awful these past three years. My husband of 47 years died of ALS July 6th 2013, and my daughter was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and has gone through several rounds of treatment since the fall of 2013.

To say that life is unfair at the moment is a gross understatement, but as my sister Elizabeth Secord Calder was fond of saying, “This too shall pass.” But it will only pass with time, and then very slowly. Time is only antidote to grief, sorrow and emotional pain. We need time to recover from whatever event has impacted our lives, threatened our happiness, or made us reconsider who we are and what life is really all about.

As you can imagine when my husband received the dreaded diagnosis, one of my major concerns, besides the horror of his diagnosis and the devastation it was causing him, was whether or not my chronic pain could be managed around all the worry, exhaustion and of course all extra things I had to do every day to maintain my husband at home as long as possible.

At first all I could do was try to get enough rest and use all my normal pain management techniques to ward off a major pain episode, something I feared very much. Not only would it be painful for me, it would add to my husband’s worries. The last thing he needed was to be worried about me.

At night, after I’d gotten him settled in his hospital bed, I would go to what had become my room to rest. In order to relax I would close my eyes and begin ‘seeing’ my body from my toes to the top of my head. This idea of ‘seeing’ was to try and visualize and relax all the areas of my body. I focused on seeing it on what I call the screen created by the inside of my eyelids. It acted as a distraction I suppose, something to free up my mind from all the worry and allow me to fall asleep. As you can imagine I couldn’t take any type of sleep aid that might mean I wouldn’t hear my husband should he need me during the night.

Then one night after an exhausting day during which I realized that my husband’s symptoms were progressing much more rapidly than the doctors had anticipated, I felt completely lost and afraid. What would my pain mean for him and for me? I was lying in bed in pain and desperately worried about what would happen next. Then something truly unusual happened.

I was going through my closed eye routine, my worry chasing after every thought in my mind. My pain seemed to be worse than usual, but when I came to the area of pain in my right leg I stopped. Placing my hand over the area I ‘saw’ the spot in my mind’s eye. As I worked slowly on the spot, visualizing it, feeling the pain in all its intensity rather than backing away from it, letting my mind ‘go’ to the spot in a soothing, caring way, the pain began to ease. At first I thought it was all in my mind.

A few days later I experienced pain in the same area, and this time I intentionally focused my attention on my hand that rested over the spot, visualizing the spot beneath my fingers.

After that, each time I felt the pain begin, I grabbed the first opportunity to ‘go in my mind’ to where the pain was. Placing my hand on the area I ‘looked’ it over carefully, giving it shape and sometimes pressing on the area in an attempt to get closer to the pain. The difference here is that before I found this technique I would be more removed from the pain, looking outside my body for the relief, not inside.

So for the remainder of my husband’s life I worked on this technique, finding it easier each time I did it, making it possible for me to keep him at home until the final three days of his life.

Then when my daughter became ill and I moved to be near her during her treatment, I used the ‘mind’ technique to manage my pain. It worked. I was able to focus on ‘seeing’ my pain sometimes simply by sitting in a chair and closing my eyes. This manner of managing chronic pain kept me going through the worst two and a half years of my life. I’m thankful that I was able to find such an easy and doable technique for my pain.

This new-to-me pain management technique still works, not only with my chronic pain but also for any episode of acute pain from other causes.

I’m giving several workshops this fall on how to practice a different approach to chronic pain. The first one will be in held in Hammond River, Saturday October 31st at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

If you can’t be there, please email me about the basics of this technique. Simply hit the contact button on the top of the page and send me an email.

All the best,

Ruth