I read an article, “Is it All in My Head?”, from Psychology Today recently, and I really feel like it has a lot of good content about the role of the mind-body connection in chronic pain syndromes.

“Capping her frustration, Howard cannot be sure to this day why she became ill. But her best guess is that the self-imposed stress of her ambitious lifestyle played a role….Howard’s suspicions are confirmed by many researchers, who are coming to believe that psychological factors play a crucial role in perpetuating many physical illnesses, particularly a subset of chronic ailments that defy logic, diagnosis or a cure. It seems that the way you think about your illness can actually affect how sick you get.

These “multi-symptom illnesses”—which include chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and potentially others such as Gulf War syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and the condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity—have provoked intense controversy. Because they have no obvious biological cause, some doctors and researchers dismissed them in the past as hysteria or the “yuppie flu.”

Many patients, in response, became equally determined to prove that their disease was just as real and as biologically legitimate as heart disease or breast cancer….

However, the war between doubters and advocates has waned. The consensus is that these illnesses are truly mind-body diseases, in which biological and psychological causes and dysfunctions are inseparably intertwined. The mind seems to play a key role in kick-starting and perpetuating illness—but it’s not that sufferers are simply malingerers. Their bodies are sick, and their reaction to the illness often makes it worse.” [emphasis mine]

I definitely would have had a hard time hearing this when I was first diagnosed. I was in the “camp” trying so hard to justify my pain to people who didn’t seem to understand. Heck, I even had a “Fibromyalgia is Real” awareness bracelet.

That mindset didn’t help me get better. I just stayed trapped in what Buddhists would call dukkha, or suffering.

Allowing myself to feel pain – but not dwell in pain – is probably the single most important lesson I have learned from my experiences with fibromyalgia, if not my life.

For example, here is an “unskillful” way of thinking of pain: “Ow, I hurt. It’s that damn pain again. When will I ever feel better? I’m never going to feel better. I’m always going to hurt. I’m never going to get a job with health insurance, either, and then where will I be? Unable to afford my medications, in pain.”

Do you see how I’ve constructed a story there? A more skillful way of thinking of pain is: “Oh, I’m in pain. That hurts. It won’t last forever – and a nice hot shower will feel really good right now. I think I’ll go rest up a bit, do some stretches, and hopefully feel a bit better. Oh, and I was going to read that book – I think I’ll curl up on the couch and read it.”

There’s a really good quote from Robin Wood’s When, Why … If that I think sums up this more constructive way of thinking:

“We must look at things honestly and fearlessly, and in order to do that, we must not pre-judge them. We have to be objective, and learn to see clearly.

We must not punish ourselves for our shortcomings….If you want to ‘pay for your wrongs’ isn’t it more sensible to fix the undesirable outcome than to banish yourself endlessly and just let the outcome stand? And if there was no undesirable outcome, then what is the problem here?”

I could write more – and probably will at some point – but I hope you get the idea.

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