3 min read

Alex talks... How do you deal with your physical and mental pain?

Claudia here: One of the most common questions I get for Alex is about pain. How does Alex handle all the pain she must deal with? In the Alex the Fey series, we see that she often handles her pain fairly poorly.  But most of the time, pain is not something she talks about. Today, Alex talks about pain.

Alex talks

JW asked: "How do you deal with the pain from the metal in your leg and still work as a fully functional soldier?"

EW asked: " I am too serious a person and grew up in an alternating quiet/intense or scary house. Could you write about the paths to mirth, laughter and delight in one of your chapters?"

I'm sorry it's taken me such a long time to get back with you. I wanted to take the time to give you a real answer.

JW is asking about physical pain and EW is asking about emotional pain. Because we only have one brain, both situations involve the same systems. It's important for EW to learn about physical pain and for JW to learn about emotional pain.

Pain is not a joke. For people who live with chronic physical or emotional pain, pain is a way of life. Pain closes doors and destroys relationships.

We don't talk about pain. People in chronic pain don't want to be seen as whiners and those who love them are literally exhausted from the weight of the pain. If you've ever visited someone who is in pain, you can feel almost feel the pain hanging in the air.

Doctors have no idea what to do with patients in pain. Truth be told, there's very little doctors can do to help. Prescribing tubs of pain medication only leads to prescribing bigger pails of pain medication. To give you and idea, in 2011, 131 million doses of Vicodin were prescribed in the United States. That's 80% of the world's opiates and 99% of the world's supply of hydrocodone.

Prescription narcotics now kill more adults than heroin and cocaine combined. They account for 420,000 emergency room visits a year and nearly half of the more than 38,000 overdoses deaths in 2010. These medications are addictive and dangerous.

That's not to mention the 30 billion doses of NSAIDs -- asprin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and others -- that are taken in the US every year. Overuse of NSAIDs has been linked to increased gluten intolerance and other digestive disorders.

And this is only physical pain!

What about emotional pain? In the United States, one in ten people are taking some type antidepressants, many of which have zero scientific data that they relieve the conditions they are prescribed for. Doctors, desperate for a solution, would rather prescribe a patient something, than have a conversation about pain.

We have to start talking about pain.

What is pain?

This is a wonderful video which explains how chronic pain works.

I think of my nervous system as a spring. Everything that happens in a day can either make the spring get tighter or make it get looser. If my spring gets very tight, anything that happens will hurt more.

This idea gives me a sense of control over the amount of pain I feel. I also know, if things are super stressful -- I'm fighting with John and the brass has come down on me and I'm not eating and/or sleeping-- I'm going to be in more pain.

When I'm on my game, I control my pain by controlling the spring. I get up early, warm up for the day. I ice my hip with the ice packs. I stretch every hour or so at my desk. I eat my low inflammation diet.

And sometimes, I'm on a C-130 headed to who-knows-where after a night of poker and Irish Whiskey and no sleep. The only thing I've had to eat in a week is the all-processed-food-all-the-time standard rations, and I'm under mission pressure. I'm going to be in pain. That's just how it is.

So how do I handle pain? How do I enjoy my life while being in near constant pain?

1. give the drugs a rest.

2. accept that life is painful.

3. learn your own "go to" techniques when in pain - heat and gentle movement? massage? ice? a nap? learn to identify the lead up to pain.

4. Don't get too hungry, angry, lonely, tired.