A “pain”ful lesson for which I am grateful
I have lived with pain almost my entire life. Prior to the age of 30, when I developed chronic pain from a condition called dystonia, I experienced pain primarily from sports injuries. Even at the early age of 6, I found it difficult to walk due to injured heels from playing soccer, for which I had to undergo treatments. In subsequent years, I broke each of my ankles twice, I had tendonitis in both knees, a torn rotator cuff, tennis elbow, head trauma several times, I blew out my hip which ended my dream to be an NFL field goal kicker, plus other minor breaks and sprains too many to count. Ironically, although I was an excellent athlete, my senior class voted me “class klutz” because I was always on crutches and/or wrapped in bandages. These injuries hurt a great deal, but they were minuscule compared to the pain when I developed dystonia in 2001.
It was difficult for me to find treatments that helped, so for the first 5 or 6 years I was beyond miserable looking for answers. I was in so much pain that I essentially lived on my floor (literally rolling around trying to find a position that didn’t cause screaming pain) because sitting or standing for more than a few minutes was unbearable. Thankfully, since then, I have learned a ton of different things to help manage my dystonia symptoms, which has helped better manage my pain (I will share what I do in an upcoming blog. It is too much to list here because I do so much). I still have dystonia and I still have pain; just not to the degree that it once was for a long time. Until the other day…
I was racing around trying to get a lot done, and I moved in a strange way where all of a sudden my body was frozen in screaming pain. The pain was in a different part of my body than where I have dystonia, but the shocking pain was similar. I had thrown my hip and lower back out to where I was barely able to sit or stand, let alone walk. No position was comfortable. The pain kept hitting me like a nail gun.
At first I was very distraught because it stopped me in my tracks and I had things I needed to do. A stressful, worried reaction is also typical in these situations. After assessing the damage, I came to terms with what happened and spent the next 48 hours laying on the floor on ice and heat, as well as using topical pain lotions, a TENS unit, the Oska Pulse (PEMF therapy), and a magnetic back/waist wrap. I also used massage machines and trigger point tools, and I saw my chiropractor for a low back/hip treatment. I also increased my intake of anti-inflammatory supplements like ginger and turmeric. Dealing with dystonia is hard enough, let alone anything additional, so I didn’t give myself a choice other than do nothing but take care of myself.
After doing everything I could think of to try and alleviate the pain, I am happy to say that within 4 days, the pain was at least 80% gone and I was able to move around again like I was prior to the incident. I know this is totally different from long-term, chronic pain like I have with dystonia and other people have with different ailments. I just wanted to share this particular incident as an introduction so I can describe how pain has completely changed who I am and my outlook on life.
During this short period of time I was injured, I was reminded once again how much I take my health for granted, even health that is already compromised by a serious neurological movement disorder (dystonia), which has been an even greater teacher for me, long-term, about really appreciating life and not taking even the seemingly most mundane thing for granted. I was even grateful this injury happened.
Yup, I know it sounds crazy, but a big part of me was happy I hurt myself. I had been feeling so good that I was overdoing it. My body finally said, “no more!” and I was forced to rest, which I should have been wise enough to do on my own, especially someone like me who always emphasizes self-care and life balance. Well, I sure got my fill of self-care the past few days! Slowing down helped me realize that all the running around I was doing was pointless anyway. It is just so hard to have compromised health for so many years and not take advantage of those rare moments of feeling well. I know many of you can relate to this very difficult balance.
When severe pain strikes, whether it lasts hours, days or years, it is an amazing teacher in so many ways. Pain forces us to slow down and look within, and perhaps to a higher power to put our faith to the test. It teaches us to not take anything for granted and appreciate absolutely everything, whether it be a pretty flower we see or something more profound such as the love of a family member or friend; or the roof over our head, food on the table, the cars we drive, and the ridiculously expensive phones most of us carry in our pockets where the world is at our fingertips in mere seconds. I could list a million things that we all take for granted too often. It is during times of great pain and suffering, whether it be physical or emotional, that helps put life into better perspective and see what is most important.
Pain teaches to not take what we have NOW for granted, because it makes us aware of just how much we took things for granted before. It makes us more mindful of the good that remains in life, which most of probably neglected too much previously. As you will see in the poem at the end, “how would you know to experience the true pleasures of life if you’ve never experienced the pain?”
Many of us grieve the loss of our former selves when we have limiting pain and other health conditions, and realize just how much we may have taken that former person/life for granted… which I hope teaches the us of today to appreciate everything from this day forward. Now that I am back to my regular chronic pain self, every time I feel a twinge of additional pain in my hip and low back or somewhere else, as opposed to getting angry, I say “thank you.” I literally say it out loud. I also say “thank you” when I feel well, of course.
This is because every time I feel additional pain it reminds me how good my life really is with so many blessings, despite having dystonia, a very challenging neurological movement disorder. In order to have a joyful life, I have to maintain this attitude of gratitude for all that I can do in life, versus focusing on all of the things that are difficult or that I can no longer do. I also have to be grateful for the pain and falls in life. They alert me to what I have so I cherish them more. Gratitude for everything is the only necessary ingredient in the recipe for joy.This is a poem that a friend of mine wrote that sums up how pain can be such a great teacher. She asked that it be anonymous.
When Life Begins
How would you know to experience the true pleasures of life if you’ve never experienced the pain?
Sorrow and suffering of any kind, in time, reveals an exquisite beauty a secret that is meant to be found.
Life is worth living.
When you learn to embrace the pain and accept what is….
THAT is when life will begin.
Just when you think you can’t take it anymore – When you are ready to give up….don’t.
That is when the change is about to arrive.
If you feel your life has fallen apart then rebuild from the ground up.
That is the beauty in being broken.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021). He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.