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We had the mother of all snowstorms this weekend, with 29″ dumped on every surface. It’s beautiful, and it also presents many practical challenges. (These include power outages, being housebound, snow-weighted trees, and making a space for the terrier to go outside and use the bathroom.)

Saturday night I was keeping my friend company while she started clearing off one of our cars. The power was out all around the neighborhood. The storm clouds had passed. The sky was a deep purple, reflecting the light of the snow and city lights in the distance. All of our street lights were out, giving a much better view of constellations punctuated by the occasional whispy cirrus clouds. Partway through shoveling, the power came back on. Some of the constellations disappeared, but my disappointment was tempered by the promise of having heat for the night.

That was the wonder of the snowstorm.

We also probably lost at least two trees, which succumbed to the weight of the snow and ended up almost touching the ground. I spent a good bit of the day of the storm wading through the ever-accumulating snow (it ended up reaching almost to my hips) and shaking trees off to prevent further tree death. My friends did a lot of the work, but just “walking” through the snow proved difficult.

Then came my body’s reaction to the experience.

I won’t bore you with an entire catalog of the pain. Suffice it to say that every joint in my legs was sore and burning. Other parts of my body would periodically pipe up, as though saying, “Me too! Pay attention to me too! I hurt too!”

I knew what would help: very light exercise (stretching or walking), meditation, medication, a hot shower, taking it easy by staying out of the snow…

Knowing is easier than doing. It was as though the pain had taken over my brain, and all I could focus on was how much I hurt. Add to it the increasing dismay at being housebound AND in pain, and I was not a happy camper.

I recruited my friends to help me out. Sometimes I just need encouragement to take steps in the right direction. I unhesitatingly took my pain medication, and got to verbally express some of the pain I was feeling. My friend helped me pick out some nice shampoo, and I took full advantage of my shower chair and hot water. I just let it wash over me.

Then I took my big step. I decided I would get situated for a meditation. I got out my mp3 player (which has several guided meditations on it). I decided I would see how meditation went – I wouldn’t force myself to do it for a certain period of time. I just let my meditation be what it was – a way to get in touch with what was going on in my body.

It was painful, at first. But because I have some experience with doing mindfulness meditation while I’m in pain, it was not unexpected.

There was this remarkable feeling of openness that happened during my meditation. I realized how much of my body actually feels pretty good.

This next part may sound crazy, but bear with me. (Having a familiarity with the Buddhist idea of equanimity might help.) I realized that when I found a part of my body that was not in pain, I thought, “Oh good, it feels great!” When I found a part of my body that was in pain, I thought, “Drat, that hurts. Maybe if I focus on it, it’ll stop hurting.”

Then I tried something different – letting go of the idea that pain is good or bad. However terrible the experience of pain is, it is a million times worse if I dedicate my conscious mind to thinking about how terrible it is. I also have a tendency to dedicating my conscious mind to how I want to feel good all the time when I’m enjoying myself. If I do that, I’m not actually enjoying myself anymore – I’m just dwelling in the desire to feel good more often.

So I just let go. I allowed myself to be in pain without judgement. The pain was still there. It still hurt. But it wasn’t in control of my consciousness anymore.

Now I can just be.

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I had my first “topic request” for a post. (Please pass on more requests in the comments section, or as an @ request on the Twitter feed.) A friend asked me to write more about my reaction to pain mentioned in the previous post. She described my reaction of “Oh, I’m in pain…it will pass” as being potentially very alien to people.

I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration and methodology from mindfulness meditation, so a lot of what I’m about to say is my interpretation of wise things I’ve been told. I learned a lot of this from Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) meditations I’ve attended. One of the people who leads discussion after the meditation is Jonathan Foust. He actually has a 30 minute (or so) podcast about “Working with Pain” on his website. If you’ve got the time, it’s a wonderful talk. There’s also a guided meditation mp3 on the same page.

I could talk about a lot of pain theory and techniques, but instead I think I’ll describe one of my first IMCW meditation experiences. This was the experience that made me really “get” mindfulness meditation, and totally convinced me how wonderful it is. It was also a – pardon the pun – insightful experience. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

My Etsy Store

A fibro-friendly item from my Etsy store

I've been working on making fibro-friendly jewelry. I'd love it if you checked them out by clicking the image above, or going to www.etsy.com/people/RogueCrafter

About Me

This blog is intended as a place for me to reflect on my own healing journey, in the hopes that others may also gain insight from my experiences. I've "borrowed" a line from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken:

'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.'

I think the most important thing for me now is that I feel empowered to be a force for positive change in my life. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.

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