When preparing for the hip surgery, I decided to receive any pain I experienced as an experiment. How would the strategies I’d developed with prior experiences of pain apply to this new pain? Wanting curiosity to run the show, intellectualizing it in this way (I would argue “reframing it”) allowed me an “out” for anticipating pain – one of the worst parts of pain (but not THE worst part. i think THE worst part is not knowing if it might last forever). But, for my first two weeks, I experienced little if any pain. Certainly nothing of note.
Until Friday. Friday I woke up with a neck, shoulder, arm pain that if it reached a certain point in the breath or movement was decidedly notable. By far the worst pain I’ve had in – well, over a year. My hip was still healing like a champ, but the upper body was having none of it. At first I thought maybe I slept funny (and maybe I did) but as I used the cane to walk it REALLY took off, so i now think it had more to do with the way I’ve used my upper body with the instruments (even though I was *sortof* aware, i often caught myself jarring the cane to the ground and then limping around that planted stick instead of putting significant weight on the hip). I’ve gotten the all-clear to walk without a cane (since I seem to be injuring myself with it) and in the last 36 hours have made decided progress in that, so here, at the 3 week mark, I am finally on the other side of “My Worst Day.” (and hugely lucky how many good days I had. acknowledged.)
I had prepared myself for pain in my hip, so when it showed up in my torso, i sortof forgot i had a strategy. i was just bummed. at first i was curious what had happened, and then i was mad at myself for how it happened, and i wished it away and tried to avoid it for over a day. that did not help: it just kept getting worse. then, as I went to bed Sunday evening I remembered my whole pain experiment idea and i began to relax into the pain. breathe around it, not out of fear but out of respect. i worked to hold the curiosity and glean what i could from the relaxing into it…
Monday I woke up and it was far worse. That’s when PT said to quit using the cane. But I decided to keep the curiosity experiment up and increase it to include some gentle (and i mean gentle) stretching. Just to the hint of pain without going too much deeper. this required a jazz riff in my breathing, feeling into the allowed inhale or exhale amount to keep me in a zone without spikes in pain. It was fascinating, and it got me to sleep a whole bunch of times. And, as I’ve practiced walking without the cane, I’m getting quite good at it and it’s waking up the sensation in the leg, which i can get curious about, too. It’s super fascinating because I feel the incision ask for ice, and during icing the body really directs how to place the bag… so i feel like I am developing some modicum of body communication.
Today I’ve had quite a headache. My normal mitigation techniques are not available to me, and so I laid there quite exacerbated by *that* kind of pain. It took me all day to realize I needed to apply the same approach: go toward it, quit avoiding it/wishing it away/trying to push it away. That going toward the headache was the most fascinating body communication experiment I’ve done yet. It took a decent amount of time to figure out how to relate to something i have such a long history of hating (i started getting migraines at 5 years old). But once i got in there, once curiosity trumped trying to escape, it felt like 10,000 miniature gnomes got to work untying knots throughout my face, head and neck. Each knot related to judgment, my unnecessary assessment of things and then holding on to those assessments as being in some way authoritative (you know, because I thought them). I felt like I was getting a massage, so I relaxed more. As I relaxed more, new areas of tension came online and the gnomes got to work. Of course, gnomes are a metaphor. But the strategy worked and the headache has subsided.
The experiment continues…. and I just hope i remain present enough to apply it to all forms of pain, all forms of things I’ve avoided or judged as “to be avoided.”