When people are faced with difficulty, at least most of those I’ve ever known, including myself, they wish it would simply GO AWAY, DISAPPEAR, VANISH, never to be heard from again. Nothing is desired more, I empirically believe, than when you’re experiencing gut wrenching, on-your-knees, nerve-based physical pain that has the distinct possibility of becoming part of your life until you die. In that moment, you suddenly realize that all the acute and chronic pain you’ve ever theorized about, perhaps even helped others to cure or tolerate, is REAL because it’s IN YOUR LIFE! No longer an outsider to painful distress, you have the distinct opportunity of BEING the audience and the actor, the observer and the observed, fully involved, whether you want to be or not, not only for your own good but also for those around you.
What I’ve learned from my own experience with neuropathy and back pain tells me there are a number of things you can do that are beneficial, especially if you are in a state of seemingly, unrelentful hurt. But for these ideas and techniques to be personally worthwhile, you have to try them for yourself; otherwise, you’ll never really KNOW. Here are the aids that have helped me:
a. Identify pain as something you’re experiencing. This keeps it in the third person, a position from which you can be objective and not wallow in or be swallowed by misery. After all, there are people who have effectively confronted great personal challenges in life, such as the tragic, personal loss of life or limb and survived quite well. For example, a carpenter who was in the hospital after having his leg amputated asked himself, “What can I do now that I couldn’t do before?” He married his nurse!
b. Don’t identify pain as YOUR PAIN. Doing so drags you down even farther, and you are in danger of becoming consumed by what you’re feeling. Depression follows as it seems like there’s no way out of this misery. Be aware of the pain but not part of it.
c. Be sensible, you may only be able to bring pain to a manageable level. When our physical parts wear out, become irreparably injured, or more, we may have to accept that we’re always going to experience some discomfort, if not a lot. This is the time in our life where we really need to inform ourselves, see what’s possible, and be willing to test our will and capabilities—it could just be that we might be able to work our way through a great deal of the difficulty we’re facing.
d. Listen to your doctor, and stay away from addictive pain relievers if possible. Of course, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion; moreover, if your physician doesn’t seem to be satisfactory, fire him or her and take on someone who can help you. I would also say that while you are using the services of a doctor, you should also investigate other ways to attain tolerability of the pain. The best scenario is to have a medical doctor who is fine with alternative methods for controlling the ache you feel. Stay in control of your care and never settle for a sole provider.
e. Treat pain with compassion and friendliness. A really good attitude is to approach this distress as if it were your favorite pet that is in a world of hurt. Certainly, in that case you would remain reasonably calm, desire to take away the pet’s suffering, and care for it with the utmost of friendliness. An excellent practice is what the Tibetans call “Taking and Giving”. You visualize another person experiencing what you are, let that image of him or her turn from pain into smoke, breath it into your heart, imagine it transforming into a pure light, and with your exhalation, let it completely flow back to the person you are seeing in your mind, healing him or her in the process. Repeat the steps over and over again, and you’ll be surprised by what you experience and learn. Of course, it’s wise to maintain a positive and caring attitude while doing this exercise.
f. Ask the pain what it’s doing for you. Obviously, it’s there to serve an objective that it believes is in your best interest, and trying to communicate with it gives it respect. When you ask its reason for existing in a calm and caring way, you just may be surprised at how it responds. You may hear a voice, feel something, or see some images. If it does respond, continue talking to it and negotiate, for it may simply want you to do something; for example, treat others in a friendlier fashion. If you give it what it wants, it may provide you some relief by being less insistent. Experiment.
g. Use humor and smile a lot. When we laugh a lot, it doesn’t only help us forget about the pain for a few moments, it’s also quite therapeutic, for the emotion of amusement comforts the body. Levity, moreover, overcomes and prevents depression and anger. Smiling is also therapeutic, for when we smile, there’s a comforting, chemical change in the body. Try it. Just smile, slowly, and you’ll immediately experience a change in your physicality. Almost always, it feels good.
h. Anchor situations of peace, stability, patience, kindness, and unconditional love. This is a process that comes from neurolinguistics programming (NLP), whereby you think of a past experience, go into it, feel it, see it, hear it, and then pulse yourself with your fingers about 10 times in a place on your body that is special to you. Then you go back into the memory and do the same thing again about three more times; that is, until every time you touch the spot, you instantly experience what you did in the memory. These actions create an anchor for instantaneous recall, an excellent resource you can collapse into the feeling of pain you’re experiencing. When you bring the memories of peace, stability, patience, kindness, unconditional love, perhaps even stalwart reserve, gently not forcefully, together with the pain you are having, it’s most likely that you’ll experience a lessening of this torture. I must, of course, say the technique of anchoring requires some experimentation to find out what helps, so it might be a good idea to find a therapist who is familiar with this process. You can, in just a couple of sessions, learn how to do this for yourself.
i. Use self-hypnosis. Only twice in my life have I used this technique to deal with pain. The first time was when I was bedridden for 30 days with severe back pain, and the second time was when I experienced several weeks of fairly severe discomfort with neuropathy in my upper right back and shoulder and right arm. Thank goodness I had been trained as a hypnotherapist and thus gained an appreciation and respect for self-hypnosis, for it had taught me how to deal with two difficult situations and allowed me to sleep. Excellent auto-hypnosis sessions for every imaginable problem are available for downloading from internet. Find what works and use it again and again. Remember, you are in control. Nobody is taking control of your mind, for you are only following the hypnotherapist’s suggestions. Your mind won’t cooperate with any instruction that runs counter to its beliefs.
j. Do yoga. This discipline is excellent, especially the relaxation postures, to support whatever techniques you are using to handle pain. It may be necessary in the beginning to enlist the aid of a teacher who can help you establish the routine that works best for you, although I’ve found that it’s advantageous to develop enough discipline to practice without the aid of an instructor. We also need to remember that with age and with the progression of any debilitation, it may be necessary to practice yoga anytime, anywhere, minus the assistance of a teacher. Always be sensible in recognizing what you can do and cannot do.
k. Use affirmations. These are statements you say to yourself to affirm whatever you desire in your life—in this case, to deal with pain. For example, “I treat the ache I feel as if it were a child in need. I think kindly and listen to it with a gentle ear. I place my hands of tender, unconditionally loving care on its brow. I hold it in my arms with compassion.” Experiment with different affirmations to find out what works best for you while knowing that it takes time for them to be effective.
l. Do mindfulnsss meditation. I highly recommend that you read all that is written by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He’s one of the world’s most renowned experts for dealing with pain. Two of his principal methods are yoga and mindfulness, particularly body sweeping, which I used while I was managing the down-on-my-knees, horrendous pain of intense neuropathy. Mindfulness meditation works directly with the body’s energy. However, if you’ve never practiced this method before, I suggest you find someone who is trained in it to guide you through its techniques. Such instructions will serve you for life, even while dying.
m. Find someone who can give you reiki or therapeutic touch. This technique works specifically with energy. My wife’s marvelous hands of reiki helped me to make it through the nights I was deluged with neuropathic pain. Touch is a natural response to whatever area of our body is hurting, so we can even do this for ourselves. Simply put your hand on the area of the pain, and imagine breathing through your hand into the hurt you feel. Be patient and stay with it. If you pay attention, you’ll find that pain comes and goes—it’s not constant although you really need to be attentive to sense this characteristic. It can be very gross or extremely subtle.
n. Use prayer. No matter what your particular religious affiliation happens to be, do not dismiss the power of prayer. Even if you have no spiritual beliefs, prayer works anyway, and in this case metta prayers are quite helpful. For example, “May I quickly learn the lesson of what pain is teaching me. May I find comfort through being mindful of the stress I feel. May patience, compassion, and unconditional love flow through me. May I change what I can change and have the wisdom to know what I cannot. May I remain positive.” Again, as with affirmations, experiment.
Fully involved, working with the pain you are experiencing, and being completely attentive to what is happening will probably allow you to learn some of the greatest lessons of your life. Even though the words of advice and techniques given above encourage you to take skillful action, you cannot substantially do anything REAL with the pain if you believe it is you. That was one of my greatest tendencies I had to overcome, and I believe that many others would say as much. Moreover, in each of the painful encounters with which we have to deal, it’s best to accept them and ask ourselves to take advantage of all the knowledge we can gain from them, for it might not only help us now but also others in the future. Such an attitude, in conclusion, lets us serve humanity until our last dying breath.