The best pain drug is already in your home.
Click Bait at its finest. Well in reality, this blog is actually pretty true and there's not much click bait to it. I've lived my whole life in pain from the time I was born. If you asked my parents, they hated seeing me with severe colic and seemingly constant pain. It was such a hard, powerless thing for them to experience and they tried with all their mite to change it to no avail. In childhood, I also suffered significant pain; from gastrointestinal pain, to physical sports injury pain, to emotional pain of constant people against me, to being an only child. I got content doing life just me, myself, and I.
Mind you, these experiences are universal human experiences. I am no different from you. We all go through a heavy dose of pain just by being human. No one has a pain free, perfect life that is for sure. However, how we handle the pain through our lives is what shape us and lay the foundation for the outcomes that our future holds.
I always get asked about how I handle pain or why is it that I never look like I am in pain. Even more, when I see the shocked faces at my job or at CrossFit when people find out that I have several missing organs and have undergone a transplant. That’s why I really wanted to write about PAIN. We all go through it, different degrees of course, but PAIN is something that will never stop. I classify pain into two types: physical pain and psychological pain.
“Physical” pain can be the unbearable gastroenterological bloat, stomach pain, knee pain, headaches, chest pain, etc., that you feel directly emanating from your body.
“Psychological” pain being anxiety, fear, loneliness, depression, grieving; all strong emotions that stem from life events like losing a job, a bad breakup, death of family member, etc.
I have created techniques to deal effectively with both types of pain. In this blog post, I am focusing on the physical pain. I hope, through my writing, you can gain some techniques to help you the next time physical pain is upon you. And of course, you know I will be writing about the psychological pains in another blog post, so be sure to subscribe so you will never miss an article.
As I sat down to write my history with pain and my techniques/mindset (which I uncover later), I was pressed to think about how I manifested into the mind I have.
Where did it stem from? How did it get it? I put in the 10,000 hours of practice but that still wasn’t the root of truly understanding where it came from. In an attempt to better understand myself, I want to highlight events that occurred over my childhood to give perspectives into my pain tolerance.
My Mom asked me what were my earliest memories of pain; and honestly, I truly don't remember. It seems like this was kind of an ironic “special something” or factor that I was born with. My brain wiring from a young age, no matter what came my way, is a foundation of calm. (I definitely want to go get one of those head scans and see truly what’s going on up there) However, being positive and calm has been my trademark. I truly believe a good amount of that stems from my Grandmother. In a previous blog, if you haven't already read about her, check it out here; I talked about how you need to have four people in your life, and that not only was my Grandfather my mentor, but so was my Grandmother.
My Grandmother has since passed, but she suffered from kidney disease, lung disease, and circulatory disease prior to her passing. She would go to dialysis every other day for several years before her death. I watched her never once complain, get angry, or choose not go. I knew that her dialysis days were very tough. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when she would leave and you could just tell that she was drained, but she always went, never missed a day, never missed a beat, and conquered EVERYDAY with a smile. She found joy with nearly everything she encountered. Sure, she was in pain/discomfort and often drained of the energy she once had, but she put that aside and truly had the most amazing spirit of joy and appreciation for all around her. Grandma kept her mind so active and vivid with the LIFE of living. That had such a big influence on me. I saw that Grandma just powered through no matter what came her way. I witnessed through her, you just rock it and go through it; always focusing on the good in life. Grandma also had a faith that transcended all. She never wavered on her spirituality and her love of God.
[Fun fact: Her mother (my great grandmother) was a nun. She died when my grandma was two years old.]
Her strong faith got her through so many awful times and pain, of which I got to witness daily. My Grandmother was such a light in this world. She had an aura about her that radiated and no matter what pain and obstacle was thrown her way, she would take it head on with her sassy New Jersey personality. There was so much sass but also such a profoundly loving heart. She was a person I could only dream of growing up to be like one day.
The other aspect that helped build my tolerance was being an only child. I am not going to lie; I spent a lot of time growing up alone without other kids around. I had cousins and friends, but quality time with them was limited due to scheduling and commitments. Many times, I didn't have anyone else my age around; it was just God and me to tough it out. There were lots of adults in my life and while I loved them dearly, I missed the companionship of someone my age.
Growing up, there were kind of signs that were evidence of my high tolerance for pain. My parents attest that my pain tolerance was, well, little bit above the norm.
One of my earliest examples occurred when I was in a skiing accident at the age of 12. I dislocated my knee cap, tore my MCL, tore ankle ligaments, and broke my ankle (all on the right leg). As I sat in the snow, after my body stopped rolling, I was calm. I didn’t cry, I didn’t scream, and just did what I needed to do to get into the most comfortable position possible until I was sledding down the slope in the body toboggan with the ski patrol. My Mom was devastated when this occurred but still to this day, was shocked that I was not writhing in pain, as was the staff at the ER we went to at the base of the mountain.
Then came Thanksgiving 2004 - I slammed my finger in our front door, chopping off the first digit of my finger. When that happened, I remember right after slamming the door thinking, “Well, that doesn’t feel good.” I looked at my hand only to see blood starting to profusely come down. I, literally, just walked into the house and told my Mom, “I think I cut myself badly.” In the calmest, relaxed way, I ran water on it in the kitchen sink, and Mom came over to what had happened. Her eyes grew huge and was like, “You are so calm, that is incredible. Mel, you lost part of your finger! Let’s get right to the ER.” We went to the ER. And, once again, never a tear shed. (Oh, by the way, the finger digit that was severed was sewn on but sadly didn’t make it… there went my dream of being a hand model)
Third example of my pain tolerance came when I was figure skating and I stabbed myself in the leg with my skate blade. My right heel blade went into my left quad during one practice. I flipped and fell around a corner, accidently stuck my blade deep into my thigh in the process. When I laid on the ice, I looked down and saw an inch-wide hole my leg. I simply sat on the ice thinking, “that shouldn’t be there.” In a calm manner, I got up and skated down to my coaches along the wall. Mind you, all the while blood was running down my leg and making a gigantic trail on the ice. Once again, I was saying, “I think I cut myself badly.” I wish I was exaggerating but through this, not a tear. This injury was not scratch or even a cut, but a deep flesh wound that narrowly missed a leg artery. My primary coach thought I was goofing off because I was so calm. The other coach was literally screaming while calling my Mom who was in San Antonio. (I trained before big competitions in Austin and the Moms took turns driving the skaters and their coaches up to the rink in Austin. Mom was not the driver/chaperone that day.) I was in shock but more fascinated by how the body responds when you have a hole in your leg. ☺
Fast forward to my transplant. . .
So, I truly didn't know anything about how high my pain tolerance was until I was in the SICU after my transplant. With my transplant being one of the most complex and severe surgeries currently being done (only a liver transplant is considered more intense), you are prepped by a multidisciplinary team of doctors. A general surgeon, a Transplant Coordinator/RN, a Physician’s Assistant, a gastroenterologist, an endocrinologist, a dietician, a Physical Therapist, a Pain Management Specialist, a psychiatrist, a NASA rocket scientist (just kidding on the last one!) . . . you get the idea. This occurs all around the fact that well, your life is changing - massively changing in fact. Doctors are opening you up, removing a lot, and putting you back together. Oh, and while you had little or no natural digestion prior to the transplant, you will have absolutely zero natural digestion whatsoever afterwards. Additionally, will have to take pig enzymes with each item you consume for the rest of your life to digest your food. Further layered, you have a small chance that you will be insulin dependent or a brittle diabetic if the transplant does not work. A hospital room maybe your view for months on end. You can imagine the mental stress that puts on someone. You add all the pain and discomfort that has to occur as you heal to get you back to eating. . . so they give you a team to help coach you through whatever may come your way through the process.
I would say my ultimate test was, when I was in the hospital having my transplant. I've never took pain medication to battle chronic pancreatitis or the acute attacks. I simply didn’t believed in it. I never felt like the pain was severe enough to have it, so I never allowed myself that crutch. By default, the expectation is you're going to need some pain medication. I was given an epidural to start and then post operation was provided the highest dose of Dilaudid. It is just one of the most highly, if not, the highest level of pain medication on the market. [It only comes in liquid form, and it's extremely addictive] I had a Dilaudid drip where I could press a button every six minutes for another dosage of pain assistance. Those that know Dilaudid - being allowed to do it every six minutes - gives you an idea of how severe doctors expect the pain would be.
When I woke up out of ICU, I had over a hundred cables and cords around me. I had over, I think three or four IVs at one time plus multiple drainage ports. It's a great way to wake up from an awesome sleep. :P
As I mentioned before, you're given a psychologist and a psychiatrist because, well, your world is rocked upside down. You literally don't know if you're going to wake up completely different and how the rest of your life will result. What was unique for me, was that the hours that spent with me over the course of hospital stay was never them talking to me. It was them listening. All they wanted to hear was why I was NOT pressing the pain drip button. I think my entire stay, I pressed it six times. With it being so low, they really wanted to know why. They were baffled. The doctors and residents that would do rotations would come in and tell me I was the “marvel” case. I became their test case of understanding why wasn't pressing the pain med button. That is what led to this blog and what I had to do to deal with the pain.
If you know chronic pancreatitis, then you know the pain of that dreaded condition. It’s a one of the worst, or so I've been told. I really don't know anything else, but I have been told its right up there with childbirth. It's one of the conditions most related to drug overdose. There's been multiple celebrities and people who resort to pain medication or alcohol because they can’t handle the pain, especially when it comes to acute attacks. The best way that I can describe an attack is when you are in so much pain, you can't even think or talk. You can't even basically get words out to someone or even more, attempt to look at your phone.
(Note: that's kind of also how I know when someone is really, really writhing in pain. If you're messaging or posting on Facebook that you're in pain, there's a whole level that goes past that because if you're truly in pain, you can't do anything.)
With that said, I've built up some key steps that I follow, and guidelines in order to combat the pain. I will say that my mental work truly took the 10,000 hours of practice - with lots of trial and error. Being able to understand your body, work with your body, and build that confidence of knowing that you are stronger than anything that can be brought your way. With God and His power, together we can overcome whatever is dealt. Once I finally made that full connection, leveraging him, that's when my power intensified. It sounds like it's a super power, but for those that have that ability, you know, that that's what it is.
With God you can do anything.
I will say that it's not this strong every day. There are definite moments when I can be very weak, or not be fully connected. But having Him in your back pocket, is a game changer. My goal out of this is that you too can use God to leverage your pain and conquer it fiercely. Please use my tools and start working on that mentality of how you can channel your own power. No one should ever be beaten down by the stresses of the pains of the world, and these tools can help. That's all that I can ask for.
I want to dive into my steps and you know, maybe I can get on the phone call and really talk through these with someone, especially if you are driving through the pain. A lot of my pain wasn't acute but rather it was chronic and ongoing. I need to point out that right now as I'm writing this, I have intense pain in my side, but it's not that bad because I can still talk, think, and create. The tools below can assist specifically when that crazy bad pain attack comes on, when a strong pain comes on like I have now, or when you need to tackle that annoying less intense but more annoying pain.
Alright, the first thing to do is identify the pain.
If it's in your gut, if it's in your arm, if it’s a migraine - whatever the pain might be and wherever it may be - really identify and isolate that pain. Mentally step outside your body and locate that pain and feel that pain in that general spot more when you focus on it. Most likely what will happen is as you focus on it solidly and the pain will magnify. The key here is to ensure that you do not let it overcome you; you stay on control of that pain. Pain is all mindset.
I would say 95% of your pain where you're physically feeling it, is controlled by your mind. Two ways to illustrate this come mind. First, notice when a toddler falls down while walking. Initially the child may not cry. As they look at you and sees your facial expression dramatically change, and feel your aura of concern, that's when she may begin to cry. If you maintain that calm face, they may be like, “Okay, it wasn't that bad,” and get up onto her feet and keep going. So that's definitely one way that you can see it from even a child’s perspective. The other way is, and I know everyone probably can easily relate to this, if you suddenly cut your hand, you may bite your tongue or you drive your nails in your skin to try to “move” pain away from what is the big pain emanating from the cut in your hand. That's your mind working for you. That's just signals from your brain changing the direction of and modifying your pain.
I believe we have the ability to harness and control the pain no matter where it is.
Second step: Now that the pain is isolated, I see the pain and roll it up into a ball. I take that ball of pain and physically push it outside of my body. Now with it out, I have to maintain strength and create a shield against my body. Creating a barricade along my skin so that the pain doesn’t come back in. I hold onto the fact that the pain is outside versus inside of me. I will say though, there are times the pain is not fully out or I am still feeling residual pain. The longer I hold that shield, the slower and more diminished the pain becomes to a point where I forget the pain is there. There have been times when that pain is so strong that I can't completely remove it.
But what I can do, is control it. I mitigate it to ensure that it does not increase in severity. Now, I will say that there are times that this does not work and I can't do this successfully. I have been too weak at certain times but no matter how bad the pain gets, even if it is intolerable, I remain calm. I stay focused and assured that God is with me and will get me through it.
Putting this to the test.
I had to put this method to the test. I talked to people about it but I really didn't know if I was just making crap up or if this actually was real. I truly believe that I have the ability to push out pain because they're all my experiences. So, when I was in the ICU post-transplant, I thought: “All right, we're going to give it the test.”
As my epidural was wearing off and as more sensations came about, I remember telling myself, “All right, you're going to not put your guard up. Simply embrace all pain.” OH BOY, I'll never forget that pain. It really started in my toes and was like a wave engulfing me. I felt in it every nerve, and in the matter of two seconds, the pain was so strong and unbearable that there was no way that I could fight it. It’s funny because as I pressed the pain button, I remember laughing and the nurse comes in and she said, “What's going on? I answered, “Oh, I failed.”
I failed. I did not do well on the leveraging the pain on my own. I let my guard down try to fight it and could not do it.
From that moment going forward, I knew that I had built up that 10,000 hours. I had tested my mind. I learned, however, that it’s okay to accept pain assistance when vitally necessary. In that moment, I needed the pain drip. I used that exercise to learn even more about my capacity that day. Furthermore, it was okay to use the pain drip and embrace it for exactly what it was – a way to get me to stop suffering and get past the situation. The situation was very temporary and at that particular moment and given those particular circumstances under medical care, I could not do it all on my own. That is okay!
We all need to continue to test it but at the end of the day, I hold onto a foundational mindset that can help tackle physical and mental pains of life:
So then when S**T hits the fan and everything is wrong, there is always something positive. We just have to be open to see it. God will always be there with signs saying, “Hey, I'm here with you. We're going to get through it.” No matter how bad my life has been, crummy pain, feeling like, “God, why me?”… There’s always a sign that God has put there to say, “It's okay. I'm right here with you. We're going to get through this.”
That is my foundation. I know that he's giving me this pain because He knows I am strong enough. As I use that through my life, it only makes it easier for pain to be defeated and for me to victorious. What once were big mountains of obstacles, have now become mini little hills or speed bumps because I have created a solid foundation and remain calm.
Everything is temporary. Nothing will last forever. As mentioned previously, pain you experience can manifest in our heads. As you work towards the understanding that the pain is not going to be forever and that you have the power and the control to change the pathway forward, it will make it so much more tolerable.
With all that being said, I hope this helped give some understanding and techniques into how to handle pain. It’s important to remember that you create a strong mind through trial and error. I'm so excited to finally disclose this stuff. I have had it in my head for a while.
I know this was a long one but I hope you found some beneficial ideas or methods that you can take going forward. Be on the lookout for the next blog where I talk about the non-physical side. I have a completely separate way of handling more of the non-physical pains that come in your life. You won’t want to miss the pictures and visualization techniques that you can test out immediately.
If you try any of the techniques above, let me know how they go. I know they may not work for all but I would love to hear the stories of how you have found your own power over your pain.
As always, keep smiling,