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Thoughts on (physical) pain

Yesterday it happened again. I was stopped in my tracks by acute lower backpain (lumbago). This is not unusual for me, it happens a few times each year. So it is not something new and I know what to do.

Everytime it happens I feel frustrated and sad. These are the first emotions that come up. Again this pain, again having to ask people to help me, again feeling handicapped. Because it often means I cannot put on my own socks, cannot get out of bed without assistance,  etc! ☹  Luckily this time it seems to be a mild case of this familiar backpain. This morning I felt a bit more supple in my movements, which is a good sign.

It got me thinking about pain and how we react to pain. It got my thinking about what I learned about pain in past years.

I have had back troubles since I was 28.  I suffered from a herniated spine when I was 28 and wasn’t able to walk for some time. Really scary! Luckily I recovered from this with rest and exercises. Since that year, I have recurring periods of acute lower backpain each year.

In the beginning years after this first experience- every time I had acute lower backpain I felt fear. Fear of going back to weeks of excruciating pain, fear of not being able to walk, fear of having to give up my job, having to live on disability benefits.

But as the years went by, I learned that it went away every time, and I would be able to resume all my activities. Experiencing that my body recovered gave me trust in the ability of my body to heal again and again. And I actually realized this morning that the fear was no longer there and has not been there for a long time already.

And I realized that more has changed over the years.

For a long time I used to fight the pain in my head.  I thought about the pain as big annoying obstacle that was getting in the way of what my head wanted to do. If only my body would cooperate nicely, I could accomplish so much more.

In my head I was fighting, practically I was trying to ignore the pain as much as possible.  As soon I was able to move a bit again, when the most acute phase was gone, I would go back to my normal way of doing things. No accommodating my body in the healing process.  As soon as I could sit for a bit again and drive my car, I was back at work.  Trying to ignore the pain while sitting at my desk at work all day long, and just going on. And then feeling worse after a day’s work, and be in more pain again. I did not do anything differently after the first acute phase. This meant that very often it took me much longer to recover and be pain free again. Trying to ignore the pain and telling it is not welcome won’t make it go away any sooner. On the contrary, it made my recovery much slower and more painful.

By doing this I was moving against the pain by trying to fight and ignore it.  The last couple of years I have learned to gently move with the pain. So literally

  • Instead of enduring the pain and hardly moving the first acute phase, allowing myself to take some powerful pain medication which allows me to gently move during the acute phase as well, which makes recovery so much faster.
  • Adjusting my day and work for as long as the pain is there- so not only in the first acute phase. This means creatively thinking what I can do, how to work while giving my body what it needs. So this means, taking stuff off my to do list, to allow for more rest and movement. Stopping every few minutes for some gentle movement, doing some gentle exercises multiple times a day or take multiple short walks around the block. Ever few minutes move around a bit as well. And no targets for what I want to have finished that day. Just being happy with whatever work I can do.

These are ways I gently move with the pain instead of moving against it.

Yesterday I thought back about something a read not so long ago. (I don’t remember where I read this unfortunately). What it said was this: we often believe that the natural state of our body is a pain free state. But what if this is not true? What if the natural state of our body is alternating between pain and pain free states (or in case of chronic pain- moving between less and more pain).  These questions made me realize that I unconsciously believed the natural state of the body is a pain free state.

I thought some more about it this morning. That when it comes to emotional pain I do not believe that our natural state is to be free of emotional pain. That would strip us of all humanity. Being human means experiencing darker and lighter emotions. But apparently, I unconsciously believed this to be different for physical pain.

I think that because of this realization I did not go down the rabbit whole of…what caused this, did I do something wrong, did I not take care of myself properly (which sometimes can be the case)

Remembering these lines that maybe being pain free is NOT the natural state of your body helped me to be more accepting of the pain. It helped me to change plans, ask for help, without a lot of frustration. ( It actually gave me the opportunity to dive into an online course, because that was something I could do lying down. A course I am thoroughly enjoying.)  Remembering these lines helped me to move away from looking for causes and moving to questions that are helpful right now.

  • What does my body need right now?
  • What adjustments in my (work)day do I need to make to accommodate for what my body needs right now?

How do you relate to physical pain? To emotional pain? Do you fight or ignore it? Have you found a way to gently move with the pain? What are your thoughts about the natural state of your body? Do you think of it as pain free, or more as fluctuating between different states?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Have beautiful day!


P.SDid I give you food for thought? Did I give you a different or new perspective? Do you want more inspiration about how to experience more joy and energy in your work and private life? Or on how you can feel balanced without sacrificing your ambitions? Sign up for my inspiration mail here. It is free. 

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