Please welcome Abigail Steidley, owner of The Healthy Life, LLC Life Coaching Services and blogger of The Vagina Dialoguesas guest blogger for another week!
When you’re in pain, it can be difficult to think about anything else. Pain becomes the boss, dictating what activities you choose, how much you enjoy or don’t enjoy life, and how you feel mentally each moment of the day. It’s no wonder that chronic pain sufferers tend to end up depressed, unhappy, or hopeless, because pain overshadows every moment of their lives.
Most pain sufferers focus their thoughts on what it would be like to live without pain. I remember this clearly from my own battle with chronic pain. I spent much of every day thinking about how happy I would be without pain. I dreamed of living normally, of just doing activities without even having to consider pain. I imagined myself living a fulfilling, joy-filled life, all because pain was not present. Now, I have that life. I live it every single day day after day of no pain. Do I relish the joy of living without pain? Do I think often about how wonderful it is to live without pain? Truthfully, no. Every so often, I feel immense gratitude for the life I have now, but other than that, I think very little of physical pain or how it used to feel in my body. I am too focused in the present, living my current life, to remember the pain.
Ask any mother to remember the physical pain of childbirth, and she’ll pause, think, and tell you she’s forgotten what it felt like. It’s difficult to remember the physical sensation of pain once it has left your body, for which we can all be thankful. However, if you take a minute to really consider pain from this perspective, it can be extremely enlightening. Though pain is felt in the body, it actually exists in the mind. Without the mind to tell me I am in pain, I would experience pain as only another sensation – like a breeze against my skin or the tickle of sweat between my shoulder blades.
When I was dealing with vulvodynia and IC, I felt a rotation of symptoms including burning, sharp pain, dull aching internal pain, and itching. My doctors would often request that I rate my pain on a scale of one to ten, and after a while, I automatically rated my pain throughout the day. My attention was completely focused on my pain all the time. After months of this, I began to notice that when I was distracted and not paying any attention to my symptoms, I couldn’t rate them. I couldn’t put my finger on a number from one to ten because I wasn’t paying attention.
Which begs the question: If I didn’t notice the pain because I was distracted, was I feeling any pain? The answer was no. When my attention truly left my pain, when I allowed myself to let go of the rating system and not check in with my pain, it simply didn’t exist. Why not? Because pain is actually experienced in the mind. It is a complex, fascinating, and absolutely freeing concept.
I wasn’t able to completely let go of all my pain. Often, it would intrude into my distracted state and bring me back to a pain-focused state. Simply realizing that my focus made the pain stronger, however, was a very helpful idea. I let down my vigilant guard whenever I felt safe and let myself focus on other aspects of my life. I let myself stop wishing for a happy future and brought my attention to happiness available to me in the current moment. I let myself experience distraction from pain as often as I could. The less I focused on the pain, the less I felt pain. The less I felt pain, the happier I felt. It was the opposite of the other cycle, in which the more I focused on pain, the worse I felt, both mentally and physically.
Playing this mind-game with pain helps open your experience up to include more happiness, more joy, and more pain-free moments. There is no need to look to the future for hope find the good feelings now and bring the future into the present, one moment at a time. Recognize that pain is simply a sensation. It does not have to become the boss and take over your life. You are still in charge.