The Next Step

I can’t believe it’s been 4 months since my last post. 4 Months! Where does the time go? The moments, days, weeks, months all blend into one glob of pain filled days. Time stands still. I get tired of talking about life with chronic pain and wait for good news before writing again, yet then I miss out on telling you about the journey.

I am no longer seeing Dr. M. My pain plateaued at about a level 5, which seemed to bother him for different reasons than it bothered me. He was worried about insurance not paying if I wasn’t getting better, and one day asked me to put a 4 on my chart. I wasn’t feeling my pain was at a 4. This disturbed me. Something didn’t feel right. He encouraged me to do more acupuncture at his office, but it became clear to me that acupuncture was flaring me up more. Acupuncture has never worked for me, but I had been willing to give it another try. I told Dr. M. that it was flaring me up and he looked incredulous, like he had never heard such a thing. Then he told me that rather than continue as we have been, I should go to physical therapy. I have done months and years of pt before, but I was willing to try his recommended pt. I called them to set an appointment. They took my insurance info and said they would call to let me know if they take my insurance and if so would set an appt. then. I never heard from them. I never went back to Dr. M. either.

I had a better idea. Through my work with Erin Wayne, my massage therapist, I gained a great deal of awareness about what is causing my pain. The cause was distilled down to extremely tight muscle in my butt, hip and over and under the iliac crest on the right side. Some of this tight muscle was a problem before my surgeries. I am certain that the surgeries only added more muscle injury to my already dysfunctional muscles.

My mind went to a treatment I had tried that didn’t work for this pain but had worked for past problems. A treatment that has gone by many names, invented by a man named Thomas Griner. It seemed like the right time to try it again, but to either go to Thomas, himself, or to try a new practitioner. I located his protege, and set an appointment. After my first treatment I had 5 days of very low pain as low as a 1!! It crept back up to a 5-6 by my next appointment 10 days later after she came back from vacation. After my second treatment the results were not as dramatic. I drove through a lot of LA traffic to get to her and back, and then had to do a lot of sitting over the next few days for work. The pain was down but not a lot. The good news is that after seeing her one time, I was able to stop taking the meloxicam with no increase in pain. I see her tomorrow. Please wish me good luck. I have an unusual level of confidence that this treatment will work. I hope I am not wrong!

I highly recommend Thomas Griner’s book: What’s Really Wrong With You?

Can I Get Through The Stuck Place?

I have a core pain that has stuck around for the last 5 years. It feels like a bruise inside L/5-S/1. It is so deep. The cause of pain doesn’t show up on an x-ray, but the MRI shows several possibilities such as an annular tear and degenerative disc disease. Supposedly, an annular tear or degenerative disc pain can be alleviate by steroid injections and/or nerve blocks, but I have had those procedures on several occasions and on many disc levels and have never had relief from that, leaving my diagnosis nebulous.

I am seeing Dr. M., my new chiropractor, 3x week. We stopped the jackknife machine (which he calls the Superman) because by forcing a stretch into my lower back I got flared up again. The good news is that the flare up is down, and my pain is back to what I describe as a level 5 on the pain scale. Anything higher than a 5 and I need pain medication to cope with it. I am taking Meloxicam, an anti-inflammatory, every day since starting with Dr. M. who believes this core pain is inflammation.

We have added acupuncture once a week to my treatment of 3x week adjustments, water bed and a roller machine that mobilizes all levels of my back. I also still get my very helpful massage therapy once a week as well. This has all got my pain down to a 5. BUT, the pain still limits almost everything in my life since sitting is still extremely painful! It is like sitting just puts weight and pressure on the “bruise” inside my lower back.

I have hope that this treatment will continue to improve my pain level, but I really don’t know. This is a stuck place. I am learning to be patient with myself and actually lower my expectations of what I should be able to accomplish personally and professionally with this limitation of pain. Going easy on myself lessens the depression and allows me to take better care of myself.

 

A New Adventure In Healing

Greetings to my friends and followers! I am so sorry it has been a while since I last posted. I was really at a plateau with my recovery and with my mood and really had nothing to say, that is until last Wednesday. The Monday before, I did 10 minutes on the elliptical. It went fine and I was committed to getting in some regular exercise throughout the week. Exercise is mood boosting and health producing. I really thought I could do a little a day. Then last Wednesday, 2/17, I got on the elliptical, and immediately felt sharp, flashing pain right into my lower back and right buttock. It felt like I was being shot from the inside of my body. Needless to say, I got right off the elliptical, which stopped the pain, layed down on my tempurpedic bed (which I love), and proceeded to play Candy Crush for about an hour just to escape my utter frustration and discouragement.

Somehow when I play what I call my “stupid games,” my brain is still processing everything. I felt frustrated with my current treatment, especially with my chiropractor who has been late my last three sessions, leaving me either sitting in the waiting room, flaring up my back in the dreaded sitting position, or lying in the room with the electrical stimulation (which I hate) long over. Last time I was there for a total of 1 1/2 hours. Then they didn’t return my credit card (which I didn’t realize either), so after I left they called me and I had to come all the way back to get it. When I got there they complained that I took too long and that they wanted to go to lunch (even though they could have gone to lunch and left my card with anyone else working in the office, such as the other chiropractor and anyone on his staff!) By the time I was done, I had invested two hours of my day and was given attitude, to boot.

So, after my flare up on Wednesday, who was I gonna call? Not Ghost-Busters, but not my chiropractor’s office either. So, Thursday morning during a break in my office I went on Yelp and looked for a new chiropractor. There I found a Dr. M. who was just in the very building next door and had 67 great reviews! All I could think was, why didn’t I see this before? I read a bunch of his reviews (all superlatives) and looked at his website, seeing that he includes massage therapy and physical therapy in addition to adjustments and takes most insurance plans.

Feeling urgent about getting help, I walked over after work and asked for a new patient appointment. The receptionist handed me paperwork to fill out, and I gratefully filled it out. Then she said it would be a few minutes. Incredulously, I asked, “he can see me now?”

“Yes.”

The decor was gray, black and maybe some green, a little dim for my taste, but still somewhat spa-like. Young, hip looking people were coming in, and then being told to go to the waterbed. Hm. Soon I was taken into a consultation room, and a thirty something looking man came in and introduced himself as Dr. M. He was friendly, approachable and asked quick questions apparently looking for a simple understanding of what has, for the last five years, been a very confusing and complicated situation.

After the consultation, began the amusement park part of the program. He took me into this room that had 4 beds, 3 of which had young men lying down on them. The beds seemed to be vibrating. He had me sit on a solid part, and then lie down onto a heated bed, explaining that it was filled with water. He turned it on and I felt pulsing mounds of warm bed massaging me. Again, he said it was all just water. And then he walked away to attend to some other patient somewhere. I closed my eyes and tried to relax into this heated waterbed/massage machine. It wasn’t difficult. Truly, it felt amazing. Wonderful. Much better than the awful electrical stimulation that I received weekly at the previous chiropractor’s office.

Eventually and sadly, the machine turned itself off. I remained lying on it, enjoying the heat, until Dr. M. returned. Then he brought me into another room that had two machines on it. He had me lie down on one on my back again, and I noticed it was not heated and the room felt a little cold. This machine was like a wave machine, rolling first my upper back, middle back and then my lower back, and then back up to my upper back again. The lower back part was a little painful, so he turned down the intensity of the wave, which helped a bit. He left me to it. The machine perpendicular to me had a bald man on it on his stomach. The machine was moving his legs down in a jackknife position. I closed my eyes and let the machine move my back up and down until the lower back was used to the motion.

The next stop was another room for the adjustment. He did my lower back, middle back and my neck on both sides. He explained that the cracking sound is not bone on bone, or bone on disc, but is the sound of the release of gas between the vertebrae. I didn’t know that before!

The last stop on this rodeo was the jackknife machine my fellow patient was on earlier. This one scared me the most. Dr. M. asked me to lie on my stomach and hold onto a bar over my head with my arms straight. Then he asked me to hook my feet over the bottom of the bed and hold on tight with my feet and toes. The machine brought my legs down stretching my lower back right in the sore spot. This worried me because I have been flared up many times in the past by stretching, a spinal decompression machine, and also by an inversion table. This one, though, was not a static stretch, but rather moved me in an up and down motion. He put it on low intensity, and I took one for the team. The team of me, my back and I.

When this was all done, he asked me how I felt. It was very hard to answer! That was definitely the most movement my back has had in over 5 years and I think I was in shock. I did feel taller and lighter though, and kind of enjoyed the whole routine. It was something different, at least. He asked if I wanted to come back and I decided to give this treatment a try, so I said “Yes.” He recommended that I skip a day, and then come in the day after that, which I did. I felt better during the day in between, so I felt some hope.

I have now been three times, and am scheduled to return 3 times a week for the next two weeks. My results so far are inconclusive. My sore spot feels looser, which is a good thing; but the buttocks pain and leg pain which started after the sharp, shooting pain last Wednesday still remain and may be a little worse. I am confused, as usual. I told Dr. M. about the increased butt and leg pain, and his take on it was that I had been so tight for so long that the butt and leg pain went numb, and that it really has been a problem all along. I don’t know if I buy that, but I will give him and his treatment the benefit of the doubt for now. Overall, I do not feel worse, just different. At least I can look at this new treatment as a new possibility for  healing, and certainly a new adventure. I will keep you all posted.

Chronic Pain: A Gateway to Depression

My chronic pain was not with me my whole life. It began at age 49 and never left. When it arrived I was functioning well in the world. I coped with the challenges of life by engaging with life, people and the world. When once I could drown my sorrows by diving into an activity, now I can only take small samples of activity each day. After enjoying one activity, my pain is so high that I need to rest. I can not sit through a seminar or even a movie without severe pain. Thank goodness for luxury cinemas with reclining chairs. This brought the movie going experience back to my life. If only I could get a Ph. d. sitting in one of them. Or can I by going to school online???? Note to self, look into that!

But here is my point. My old coping mechanisms have been stripped from me. My ability to engage fully with the world has been taken away. This leaves me with old issues glaring at me with very little relief. I realize I have a deep sadness in me that has been here since childhood. Distractions like TV and video games help in the moment but also sink me deeper into the sedentary life I have fallen into. There are no endorphins from too much rest. I am committed to doing little bits of exercise each day in the hopes of building up to more, but the trick is to find the right amount that will move me towards health, rather than set me back to square one. Sometimes I get the balance right but sometimes I don’t. I have learned to be patient. My work engages me with the world in bitesized bits, but then the exhaustion overtakes me.

I can see now that this blog is really not just about my struggle to deal with chronic pain, but is about the connection between chronic pain and depression and my journey to reclaim my love of life.

 

Wanting To Strive For More

I am listening to an audiobook called: Get Off Your “But”, By Sean Stevenson. Sean Stevenson is a motivational speaker who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a disease that causes his bones to be so brittle that he was born with broken bones all over his body, and continued to break them throughout his childhood. He is unable to walk on his own and has used a wheelchair his whole life. I am really enjoying his book. His zest for life is contagious. He talks about connecting to others and to taking risks in life. And his physical challenges are exponentially more difficult than mine.

But…

I find it hard to be happy in spite of my chronic pain. How does he do it? Even though I socialize and have the greatest friends anyone could hope for. I have the best husband on the planet. Even though I participate in work that I love. Even though I am so grateful, I want to strive for more. I feel gravely unsatisfied.

I feel held back and so tired out by my physical limitations. I certainly have lots of “But’s,”but I don’t even know what they are keeping me from. My Buts are: But I am in pain, But it will make me feel worse, But I am tired, But I am exhausted, But I have done enough for today (and maybe I have). Yet I yearn to feel self-actualized and I don’t.

Things I have started but have not finished: My novel, my decorating, my preparation for my husband’s upcoming birthday.

Things I have done: updated my finances in preparation for taxes, work part time in my own business, cleaned the kitchen, helped a friend in need, did some exercise, wrote this blog post.

But, but, but… My days are short. My energy is limited. I think I can do more. It is my creativity that feels most stunted. I am not sure how to get that back but I am striving to do so!

I will resume my quest tomorrow.

 

 

I Love A New Beginning

Today marks the end of 2015. As I sum up the year in my mind I wonder, “How did I grow and develop this year?” This year saw me rise and fall and rise again with a new sense of self-love and commitment to living fully and with value.

Living with constant, often severe, pain over the last 5 years robbed me of a sense of my inherent value. I once felt vibrant and purposeful, I now felt only like a burden to those I loved.

In 2015 I found my way off of pain meds which had dulled my brain and my sense of aliveness. I truly hated having to take pain meds. I don’t know if I was more devastated by the back pain  or by the brain fog from the medications I took to cope with it. Just before the beginning of 2015 I discovered Kratom and transitioned to that instead of prescription pain meds. Kratom had fewer side effects and my brain worked much better. Then, in May, I found my massage therapist who got my pain down to a level so bearable that I was able to taper off Kratom.

And so, by the summer of this year, I was off the meds. Yay! But suddenly  I was face to face with my limits. There was no longer any fog or separateness from my experience. I realized I was very depressed, still hurting, and I had to make some changes. With this clear head I saw that I was spending too much time giving out my energy to others, but denying myself any pleasure or fulfillment. This pattern was making my pain worse and deepening my depression. Why was I doing this? Because chronic pain made me believe I was boring, useless, and had lost all value. All my (very limited) energy was going into proving to myself and others that I was relevant, worthy and valuable. I was constantly trying to redeem myself.  I was making less money so I had to spend much less money on myself. I asked for less and less from others because I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, and didn’t feel like I deserved anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity. So, in my home office I went with out curtains or even a chair. I suffered every evening from lying on a too hard sofa. I made career decisions that didn’t account for my own self care. It took me a few months of trying and failing to live well before I got it that I have to rekindle my sense of self-worth. And all it takes is the decision to do so.

Chronic pain may be an obstacle in life but the idea that it robs one of their worth is an all too common, but truly absurd side effect. Self-worth can’t come from measuring productivity, financial success, or from compulsively giving of one’s energy and time. I remember Oprah saying “Fill up your own cup and give from the overflow.” I had forgotten how to do that. I even wonder if I ever really knew how. I have learned over the last few months that this belief has to be unconditional. You don’t have to earn it. You just live it.

And so, as we go into a new year, I give myself permission to make this the year of “Me.” A year in which I get to prioritize myself. I plan to continue to decorate and work on beautifying our home because I want to. I plan to do more fun things out of the house. I plan to buy some new clothes so that I feel proud of how I look. I will socialize for fun, not obligation. I will replace my sofa cushions with softer foam. And, yes, I already bought myself a chair and curtains for my home office!

My New Year’s wish for all of you with chronic pain is that you count yourself first. Find things that bring you joy and do them. You haven’t lost the right to be happy. Your value is unconditional.

 

One Moment to the Next

I never know what to do with myself from one moment to the next. Of course there are the usual commitments: go to work, do the dishes, put gas in the car, tidy up, return emails, texts and phone calls, call family members, eat, sleep, repeat. But in between those.

In the good ole days, before I had chronic pain, it was easy. I could dedicate  20 minutes to an hour a day to exercise, sit at my desk and work on a project, or meet a friend for lunch. Now, even 10 minutes of a walk or elliptical may flare me up. Mixing cookie dough may flare me up. Sitting at a desk or a restaurant definitely will flare me up. Driving more than 15 minutes at a time probably will flare me up. Carrying two quarts of chicken soup from the deli to the car did flare me up. And once a flare is up it takes both the chiropractor and the massage therapist to get my pain back down (not gone, mind you, but down).

This constant sense of limitation makes me feel like every day I fail just a little. Normal life’s activities can cause me so much physical pain that I never really know how much to try to do or how careful I should be. Being too sedentary is just as bad as doing too much. Everyday I start anew and find myself discouraged, and somehow disappointed in myself.

I was talking with Erin, my massage therapist, about this. I told her that part of the problem is my ego. Erin, paused. Then she said “Ego is a Dick.”

I was very successful in my career before chronic pain, and was motivated to continue to expand my abilities. I am still motivated, but there are so many obstacles. Mainly the fact that sitting is so painful has kept me from going back to school. I take webinars and online classes from time to time, but it is not the same as being there. Networking is harder, and I am only able to work short days anyway.

“Ego is a dick.” Suddenly it all became clear to me. Ego is a bully and a dick and something that tells you you are never good enough! Having chronic pain is a huge blow to my ego. And if I believe in spiritual growth, which I sometimes do and sometimes don’t, perhaps my ego needed to be knocked down for me to learn something, or to grow. I have no idea what the lesson is. I don’t think I have learned it yet. I will certainly let you know when and if I do! For now, I just have to decide what to do next. Work on my novel? Practice learning Spanish? Watch TV? Play Candy Crush Saga? Listen to an audiobook? Read a book? Do laundry? Take a walk? I guess I should be grateful that I still have choices.