September is pain awareness month
Pain awareness month.
You may have seen posts on social media.
Great, but we need pain awareness every day.
Most people don’t know that pain is the number one global health burden.
Many other conditions are regularly highlighted in the press and in conversation. Yet the cause of the suffering is often pain, or it is a major contributor.
Mental health is an example. There are countless posts, organisations, schemes, therapies to help people who are suffering, which is important.
Yet many are suffering chronic pain as part of their experience, which is ‘treated’ with medication. This is like trying to bake a cake with just an egg.
Overcoming any chronic condition requires far more than pills.
And the term mental health is misleading as there is no physical-mental separation in reality. There is just one experience of what it is like in that moment. The whole person.
Life is a matter of a series of ever-changing experiences.
But I have a physical body, you say.
Yes you have a body. But it appears to you as an experience together with thoughts, feelings, and many other perceptions.
There is no separation of body and mind.
Same for the pain experience.
It is embodied (you feel it in your body), embedded within a situation (certain conditions are such that pain is the experience) and environment, and there are thoughts and feelings that are part of the experience. This all comes together.
A huge number of conditions feature pain: eg/ headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune conditions, anxiety, depression, arthritis, sleep disorders, metabolic disorders, addiction, rheumatological conditions, neurological conditions, diabetes, heart disease, long covid, endometriosis, menopause just to name a few.
This is the first insight.
I often talk of insights because they are the catalysts.
You have an insight and the world changes for you.
A new understanding.
Or perhaps you wake up to be closer to the truth of things.
This is the purpose of meditation.
To see things as they are, to be with whatever is happening, because it is happening.
There is nothing you can do to change what is happening, but there is everything you can do to respond with skill.
During this pain awareness month you can choose to take these insights, and notice what happens.
What you are feeling right now, it will pass.
Each moment is different.
It comes, it goes.
Such is the nature of life.
This gives great hope.
We also have to learn to let go in order to ease our own suffering, which we can.
You feel pain in your body, but it is not being generated where you feel it.
All experiences are being generated top-down by our body systems.
They make best guesses to explain the sensory information right now, weighed against past experiences. Whichever seems to be more reliable ‘wins out’ and that is what you perceive.
We all have unique systems shaped by genes and experiences through life. So we have unique experiences. You and I could watch the same film, but we will experience it differently.
Chronic pain is complex because life and being human is complex. And dynamic.
But through this complexity comes many an opportunity to get better.
Overcoming pain is akin to learning.
Like learning a musical instrument.
Or a route of mastery.
Ups and downs.
A dimly lit path.
Mistakes made along the way, which are opportunities to learn.
Plateaus when you keep practicing.
You commit to the path because your picture of success matters.
You get out what you put in. Even when you don’t feel like it and when things don’t see to go your way.
Commitment and consistency.
Plus know-how (we do a lot of that, giving you the know-how).
This is what brings results.
Pain is not a process, it is not in your brain and it is not well related to tissue state.
Pain is a lived experience in that moment.
It can only happen now.
Pain yesterday has gone.
Pain tomorrow or in the next moment does not exist, but the thought of it makes it more likely. This is something to address skilfully.
Bonus insight #1
Pain can and does change.
Examine your own experience and you’ll see this to be true.
But the story can be different.
The story can and often must be updated.
Together we look at ways you can sustainably change your pain and get better.
It is an up and down journey, but one you can take with support, guidance and encouragement.
Bonus insight #2
Make sure when you seek help, you work with a true chronic pain specialist.
What is a true chronic pain specialist?
Pain awareness month creates the opportunity to share important messages.
Words are healing.
As you read, you are hearing them, which is changing the way you think about your pain. Or at least jostling the beliefs that can be stuck.
Stuckness with beliefs about pain is as much a part of the pain experience as the felt one. It’s just hidden deep in the biology and no less important. Shaping this is key to moving forwards.
I hope this is helpful and gives you encouragement.
For more or to book an appointment, see here.
Understand & Overcome your Chronic Pain, the book — out Dec 1. Pre-orders here.