Well, THAT was interesting :)

Just let it go…

So, last night I went to bed in intense pain, almost unable to breathe.  I couldn’t move, without searing pain shooting through my muscles, so I got in bed early and tried this new “somatic” approach I found by accident while looking for an image to use for one of my posts. The image said “Fine tuning the nervous system will have your body respond in a different and more positive manner”, and it struck a chord with me.

I checked out the site, and I discovered this different way of moving and relaxing and releasing which was unlike anything else I’ve found. It’s not about pushing and pulling and making the body do things it “doesn’t want” to do. It’s about retraining the body to do what it “wants” to do, but has forgotten how, over all the years of use and misuse.

It’s about making a movement gently and slowly, then un-making that same movement much, much more sloooowwwwllllyyyyy… and then relaxing, so the brain can release the chemicals the body needs to release. Pretty amazing, actually. It sounds good, but logically (based on my past experience), it doesn’t seem likely.

Still, I tried it. What else could I do? Just lie there in excruciating pain, struggling for breath?

Well, whatever it is that makes this approach work, it worked wonders for me, last night. I really did feel amazing — the pain was actually gone. And I could breathe. I could really breathe — deeply and slowly without struggling.

Pretty phenomenal, actually. And when I really paid attention, I could tell that I was using extra muscles to move different parts of my body. When I arched my back, for instance, I could feel my legs pushing — which is totally unnecessary. But I guess because my back has hurt for so long, I just got used to pushing with my legs.

So, I stopped that and backed off on the effort, and it actually became easier for me to move.

And it’s good. A vast improvement. I did sleep wrong on my arm and I woke up with pins and needles and swollen hand, but that happens. I got up and worked it out, and now it’s gone. So, that’s good too.

The idea of being able to move without excruciating pain is, to put it lightly, very exciting to me. It’s like getting a whole new lease on life. Just being able to breathe last night and relax… pretty phenomenal. I’ve never been very good at relaxing — always too tense, always too wound up. Until several years ago, I couldn’t see the point in relaxing — probably because I didn’t yet know how to do it in a way that really released the tension and pain. Whenever I relaxed, the pain would become overwhelming. So, my solution was to just keep going, just keep pressure on, and not give myself enough time to stop and check on how I was feeling.

That works… to some extent. But the real change comes from actually knowing how to relax and breathe and also release the tension. It’s all come together relatively slowly for me, after years and years of pain. I guess I’d gotten to a point where I figured it was permanent. But now it seems that it might not be… And that’s pretty exciting.

What could I do with more energy? More flexibility? More movement? I know it would definitely take the pressure off… and also simplify my life. When I’m in pain and I’m stressed, I do things like adding way too much crap to my plate that I think “must” be done. It doesn’t have to be done. I just think it does, because my brain is looking for more stimulation to keep its attention off my discomfort. I’ve been doing it for years, so it’s habitual.

Because I hadn’t found a better way.

Here’s hoping this new way continues to work. I have a feeling it just might.

Onward.

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Trying to stop me? Yeah, good luck with that :)

It seemed fine in the store…

So, a week and a half ago, I bought a new bed. I’d been sleeping in my old bed — the first real bed I actually bought, back during my first marriage. That old bed was very sturdy and it worked just fine… except for the lumps and valleys here and there. Where it wasn’t buckling and uneven, it gave me really good, comfortable support, so (like many other things in my life), I “worked around” the peaks and valleys, and found a combination that let me sleep.

My sleep was okay, I guess. I was just so used to the unevenness, that I trained myself to arrange my body for the most comfortable position(s). And since my spouse and I sleep in separate rooms (we have for over 5 years, and it was the best thing we’d done for each other in a long time), I could stretch out pretty much any way I chose.

Except that I couldn’t. Because the bed was so uneven.

Anyway, a week and a half ago, I bit the bullet and went out and bought a new bed. I got it at a reputable furniture place, where they had a whole “sleep science” section, complete with a computer that measured where your weight was distributed and then recommended a certain type of mattress for you. I knew what brand I wanted — Sealy Posturepedic — and I knew I did NOT want a pillow-top, because I feel like I’m being smothered, and I can’t move in them.

The salesperson who helped me was very keen on making sure I got the right mattress. I told them I can’t do a pillow-top, and I tried out a couple of options before I settled on a very firm one that had a foam top. I had my reservations about the foam, and I said so, but the salesperson reassured me that it was designed to support my back and keep it straight the whole night long. They said the way we sleep is all wrong, and our backs aren’t supported, so we develop back problems. Logically, it made sense to me. And the computer graphic made a very convincing point.

I had my reservations, but lying on the bed in the store, it felt pretty much okay. At least, I thought it did, under the circumstances. And the circumstances were not ideal to be making a big decision. I was tired from not having slept enough the night before, having gotten up early and driven around and run a bunch of errands all morning. The store was huge and overwhelming, the lighting made it hard for me to see, and there were a lot of people milling around. I was on overload, and I wasn’t handling the environment all that great.

But I had to get a bed. I had gone to the store to do so, and by God, I was going to do it. The mattress felt better than others I’d tried. Anyway, even if it did feel a little “off”, the salesperson told me the bed would “break in” over the course of a couple of weeks, before it started to feel like “my bed”. I would also need to rotate it, periodically, but I couldn’t flip it, because the foam was only on one side.

I just wanted to get out of there, really. And I figured I had to trust someone. So I took the salesperson’s word for it, and I shelled out about twice as much money as I was planning to. But I figured it was money well spent  — I know I need to get better sleep, so this was an investment in that quest.

You get what you pay for, right? That was my thinking, anyway.

The mattress was delivered before the week was out, and I was really happy to have a new bed. It felt kind of strange to see my original bed hauled away so unceremoniously, because I’ve probably spent more time with it, over the course of the past 25 years, than with any other person or thing in my life. It’s also done more for me, than 90% of the people (and things) I’ve had in my life. It seemed somehow… ungrateful… to just bag it up and haul it away to end up on a trash heap somewhere. But so it goes.

Once I had my new bed in place, with its new mattress protector and clean sheets and blankets in place, I was really excited. So, as I often do when I’m happy to be headed for bed, I jumped on top — and did not bounce. My landing was buffered by the foam top, which stopped my motion and absorbed the weight of my jump.

Huh.

I wasn’t used to that. I’m used to a bounce. I like the bounce.

I lay down and tried a number of different positions — side — back — other side — stomach — and it still felt weird. Okay, I thought, I have to break this thing in. It’s going to take a few weeks before it starts to feel normal.

So, I gave it time.

And more time.

And more time.

And the only thing that seems to have happened, is I’ve pressed yet another trough into my bed — but this time the trough is padded, and I can’t roll out of it, because the foam blocks me. I literally cannot move, when I’m down in the trough that’s been pressed into the foam for five hours by my motionless body. When I wake up at 3 a.m. in pain, I can’t just roll over and find a more comfortable position, because the foam has molded to my body shape, and instead of rolling across a gentle plain, I’m climbing mountains, trying to get out.

And my torso is lower than my legs. Which means my back is torqued. And if I roll on my side, my legs are angled up, higher than my body, which screws up my hips. And my neck and shoulders… don’t even get me started. The one saving grace is that I didn’t let the salesperson “measure” me for a new pillow. Please. Who does that? The lower and flatter and firmer my pillow is, the better. I’ve tried custom fitted ones, and they do not work for me.

Holy crap. Not only have I spent a buttload of money (“buttload” has nothing to do with your ass, by the way — A butt is actually a traditional unit of volume that is used for wines and other alcoholic beverages. A butt is defined to be 2 hogsheads, which in the US is 63 gallons. There- you’ve learned something new today) — but I spent all that money on something that’s even worse than the original that I replaced.

Okay, so maybe I could return the mattress. It’s been nearly two weeks, and I’ve figured out by now that I cannot handle this soft-top mattress. Like I told the salesperson, I can’t do pillow-tops, and the soft top makes me feel terrible. Even if it’s not a pillow-top, having that foam top on the mattress keeps me from moving around and getting more comfortable. In the case that I’m in pain — which is frequently — I need to readjust my position, so I can sleep.

I got my receipt and warranty information, but when I read about the return policy, it said there was a 7-day limit on returns. And I was on Day 10. Oh. That’s not good. From what I read in the paperwork, I was stuck with this bed. Like it or not. Comfortable or not.

It’s been screwing with my sleep in a very big way. First of all, I haven’t been sleeping through the night, every single night. When I sleep through, I’m fine. But when I wake up at 3 a.m. — like today — I can’t get comfortable. I cannot just roll over and go back to sleep. I cannot just roll over, period. Because I’m sunk down into the foam, and it’s not giving to make room for me.

Sh*t.

And then, on top of it, I start beating myself up, because I let that damn’ salesperson talk me into buying that bed, against my own better judgment. And I get upset because I spent so much money, and I don’t have the money to replace it. And I didn’t check the warranty soon enough, and I trusted a salesperson (of all people). Which all just keeps me awake. Even if I could get comfortable on the bed — which I can’t — my spinning head would keep me up.

Anyway, this morning after spinning my wheels for several hours, it occurred to me that maybe I could flip the mattress and put the foam side down. If it’s a hybrid mattress with springs on the inside and foam on the top, then maybe I could flip it over and sleep on the coil side.

So, at 5 a.m., that’s what I did. Pulled the blankets and sheets and mattress cover off it, and flipped it over on the box spring. And lo and behold, it seems to work. I might just have mattress I can sleep on. It’s firm like I need it, and it’s level. It also has a little bounce, and I can roll around on it and get comfortable like I need to. I’m not out all that money with no viable options, and I don’t have to send a nastygram to the salesperson to see if they’ll take it back… or list my mattress on Craigslist… or see if anyone I know wants it. I can keep what I bought. And if the surface gets a little too hard for me, I can find a pad to put down that won’t suck me into a trough that contorts me all out of whack.

This is good. I figured it out. I don’t have to suffer, I don’t have to make the best of it. I don’t have to go ballistic. I don’t have to beat myself up and come up with Plan B. I have options, and with a little creative thinking and flexibility, I’ll figure something out. I usually do.

And with that, it’s time to get on with my day.

Onward.

 

Bring the pain

It’s hard to describe it to people who don’t know it. It’s all but impossible to illustrate for skeptics. It’s not that pleasant to explain to loved ones. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there — the pain.

I have grown so accustomed to it that it’s all but imperceptible, if I don’t pay attention to it. The dull ache behind my eyes. The complaints of my hands, when I spread my fingers  “too wide” in a stretch.  The catch in my shoulder when I shrug. The stab in my back when I turn. The pull in my hip when I stand up. All my body, it seems some days, is like one of those old rubber bands that comes wrapped around broccoli. You remove the rubber band and leave it on the kitchen counter, wash and steam the broccoli and eat it, and you forget about the rubber band till months later, when you’re cleaning the kitchen (finally) and you find it wedged behind the blender. It’s stiff, brittle, crackly when you pull it. And if you pull it too hard, it snaps and nips at your fingers, all the little dusty bits of it falling into the cracks you just cleaned in the counter.

For a while, I tracked my headaches. Behind my eyes. Above my ears. In the back of my head. At the base of my skull. Traveling up the back of my skull and down to my eyes, like the  insignia on a San Diego Chargers helmet. Throb. Ache. “Lightning strikes” of sharp, shooting pain — I’m having one now.

But after three months, I realized it was an exercise in futility. My doctor didn’t want to see my log. Nobody wanted to see my log. It did me no good — just reminded me I had a headache. All the time. And there was no changing it. So, I quit.

And then I tracked my other aches and pains. The stiffness of my joints, the spasms in my lower back, the tight ache in my hands that kept at an almost imperceptible level… unless I spread my fingers or actually used my hands for something other than typing. Stiff knuckles. Achey tendons. Sore phalanges. Ouch.

I tried to “track” the pain, to see where it was coming from and where it was going to… until I realized that it came from everywhere and nowhere… and it wasn’t going anywhere. I could eat Advil by the handful (which I don’t do anymore, knowing what it can do to your pancreas). All it did was take the edge off. At midnight, when lying awake in shrieking pain, every nerve ending feeling like it’s been dipped in acid, that’s not a small thing. But it’s not a permanent thing. And my internal organs cannot withstand a ceaseless parade of Advil caplets through my digestive system.

I quit tracking that pain. It just made things worse. Again, nobody wanted to hear about or see my log. It didn’t seem to be real to them. As though I was lying to them. Trying to get attention. Malingering. Bullsh*t.

One piece of my pain I cannot dwell too much on, is the all-over pain my clothes cause me. I literally cannot think about it, because when I do, it’s too overwhelming. It’s not everywhere, exactly – mostly on my arms, from my wrists up to my shoulders, especially at my wrists and my upper arms… and the tops of my thighs. Oh, also, my upper back, across my shoulderblades. Depending on how tired I am, or how anxious I feel, the pain can range from a feeling of lots of pins being pressed into my skin, to the sensation of the top layer of my skin being peeled off.  Not good.

Most days, I cannot stand to have anything touching my wrists, and I spend my days with my sleeves pushed up around my elbows. I also cannot take the sensation of a watch on my wrist, or rings on my fingers. I know folks who favor heavy signet rings and other jewelry. I don’t know how they do it. I have a hard time just handling wearing clothes — in the summertime, I wear as few as possible. Not to attract attention or get a good even tan. But to be comfortable.

Some days — today is one of those days — I am extremely tired, and everything hurts. Everything. My clothes, any movement, or just sitting. Any kind of contact is unpleasant. Some days — today is one of those days — even the air on my skin hurts it. It feels like I have a first degree burn all over my body, which is healing    veeeerrrrryyyy    ssssssllllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyyyy.

It sucks. And I chafe and cringe and try to figure out what to do about it.

Tonight, what I’m going to do, is go to bed early. I’m taking a long, hot shower and jumping into bed.

Yes… a long hot shower…. and bed.

Sounds good.

Good night, everyone. Good night.

I haven’t got time for the pain

I haven’t got need for the pain, either.

I confirmed something very important, this past week – if I do not exercise vigorously, first thing in the morning before I do anything else, I pay for it in pain.

For those who know what it is like to battle chronic pain on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis, over the course of months, even years, you know what I mean, when I say, I will do anything in my power to keep this pain from taking over my life.

For those who are lucky enough to not have that experience, you can say instead, I will do anything in my power to keep [insert something you detest and despise] from taking over my life.

I happen to be one of the former types, plagued all my born days (at least, as far back as I can remember) with pain. Painful touch. Painful movement. Painful just about everything. The only times I have been pain-free have been in the extremes of human experience — when I am either so deeply engrossed in what I am doing that my focus blocks out any sensation at all… when I am pushing myself beyond my limits to see how far I can go… when I am so deeply relaxed and entranced that nothing of human experience can penetrate the divine aura that surrounds me.

In those extreme places, I am free of pain, I am more than myself, I am a piece of a very, very, very large puzzle that dwarfs discomfort with its vastness.

But one cannot always live in the extremes. I’m neither a cloistered monastic, nor a sheltered academic, nor a professional athlete, nor a maverick rock climber. I am a regular person with a regular life, and that life just happens to be fraught — at times — with almost constant pain.

Ask me if I have a headache on any given day, and my answer will not be “yes” or “no”, but “what kind of headache?” and “where precisely do you mean?” It’s a given, that my  head will hurt. And my body, too. It’s just a question of degrees.

At its worst, the pain is debilitating. 20 years ago, I had to stop working and drop out of life for about 5 years to get myself back on my feet. Over the decades since then, the pain has fluctuated, its impact on my life varying. The variation has been due, in no small part, to my mental determination to not let it stop me. In many cases, I refused to even acknowledge it, even though objectively I knew it was there. I went for years telling myself  I was pain-free, while at night I would be forced to stretch and press points up and down my legs and take plenty of Advil to get myself past the searing ache in my legs, hips, and back.

Denial is a funny thing — so useful, so essential, at times, and so easily used, even when facts to the contrary are obvious and intrusive.

Over the past several years, however, as I’ve become more and more cognizant of my TBI-related issues, pain has made itself known to me, and I have ceased to deny it. It’s a double-edged sword, that. Even if I don’t deny it and am determined to do something about it, my plans don’t always work, and I cannot always accomplish the level of pain control I would like.

In those moments when my honesty is far more than my ability to deal effectively with my discomfort, I curse my newfound determination to be upfront and frank about every little thing that is amiss with me. I have so many other issues to think about — do I need to add unstoppable, unmanageable, uncontrollable pain to the mix? Wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense, to acknowledge and focus on issues I can actually fix?

But now that the lid is off Pandora’s box, there’s no sticking it back on. I have to address this pain situation, I have to do something about it. I cannot just sit around and boo-hoo. Nor can I run away from it and keep telling myself it’s not an issue. It is an issue. A very sticky, troubling, problematic one that holds me back, perhaps more than any other issue I have. It’s not just physical, it’s emotional and psychological, too. And it demands acknowledgement and work, to address it.

So, I do. I get up in the morning — like it or not — and I exercise. I roll my aching, complaining body out of bed, pull on my sweatshirt over my pajamas, slip my feet into my slippers, grab my clipboard and pen, and I haul my ass downstairs. I fill the kettle with water, put it on the stove, and turn the knob to 3 or 4, to give myself plenty of time to work out before the water boils. Then I pull the curtains in the room where the exercise bike is, so I can work out in private, put my clipboard on the magazine holder on the exercise bike, climb on, make a note of the time I started, and I begin to pedal.

I ride for at least 20 minutes — 15, if I’m really behind in my schedule — and I work up a sweat. I hate and resent the first 10 minues of every ride. It is boring. It is monotonous. It is sheer drudgery. But it is necessary. If I don’t exercise, move lymph through my veins (the milky white substance that moves toxins out of our systems doesn’t move on its own — it requires circulation to clear out the junk we put in), and oxygenate my brain.

After the first 10 minutes, my brain has started to wake up and is complaining less about the ride. About that time, I start to think of things I’m going to do for the day, and I start to make notes. I scribble on my clipboard, trying to control my handwriting well enough to read my notes later, and I make an effort to be careful and legible. On and off, I pick up my pace and push myself, working up a sweat and an oxygen debt that gets my lungs pumping. When I’m warmed up and getting into a groove, my mind wakes up even more, and I let it wander a bit — kind of like letting a squirrelly puppy off its lead when you take it for a walk in the park. I let my thoughts ramble, let my mind race here and there, and then like walking a puppy, I eventually call it back, focus once more on my day, and make more notes about what I need to accomplish.

When I’ve reached my 20-30 minute mark, I stop pedaling, get off the bike, and go check on my hot water. I turn up the heat, if it’s not already boiling, and stretch in the kitchen while the kettle starts to rumble. When the whistle goes, I make myself a cup of strong coffee, and while it’s cooling, I stretch some more. I drink a big glass of water as I stretch, feeling the muscles and tendons and fascia giving way to my insistence. I’m warmed up, after pedaling, so I can stretch more easily. I can move a lot better than when I got out of bed, and I’m actually starting to feel pretty good about doing this exercise thing, as soon as I get up.

Once I’ve stretched, I head back to the exercise room and lift my dumbbells. I work with 5 pound weights (for now), moving slowly and deliberately. I focus intently on my form — practicing my impulse control. I make sure my body is aligned properly and my motions are smooth and not stressing my joints and ligaments and tendons. There’s no point in exercising if I’m going to just injure myself. I do a full range of upper-body exercises, presses, curls, flys, extensions, pull-ups… all the different ways I can move my arms with my 5-lb dumbbells, I work into the third part of my routine. I take my time — deliberately, for discipline and focus and impulse control are big problems for me that really get in my way — and I work up a sweat as I hold certain positions and move far more slowly than I prefer.

When all is said and done, my legs are a little wobbly and my upper body is warm with exertion. I am sweating and a little out of breath, and my body is starting to work overtime to catch up with itself again.

By the time I’m done, my coffee has cooled enough to drink it, and I can make myself a bowl of cereal and cut up an apple to eat.  I sit down with my clipboard again, make more notes, review what I need to accomplish, and I get on with my day.

The days when I skimp on the effort and take it easy, are the days when I am in the most pain at the end of the day. The days when I really push myself with my weights, moving sloooooowly through the motions and keeping myself to a strict form, are the days when I have the most energy and am feeling the most fluid. The days when I don’t stretch very much, are the days I have trouble falling asleep at night. And the days when I do stretch are the ones when I am able to just crash into bed and am down like a log all night.

Two days, this past week, I did not do my workout full justice, and I paid dearly for it, the rest of both days. I learned my lesson. I haul myself out of bed, now, and I hold myself to a disciplined workout. Anything less gets me in trouble.

I’ve got enough trouble, without the pain on top of it. And if there is any way I can cut back on whatever complications I can, I’ll do what I can to do just that.

It’s hard to start, it can be tedious to do, and it often feels like an interruption to my morning, but without it, my day is toast. And I am lost at sea… floating in a brine of burning, searing agony that surely must have informed the medieval concept of eternal hellfire and brimstone.

And yet, something so simple can push back the waves, like Moses parted the Red Sea. Something so simple, so basic, so good for me. Salvation comes in strange packages, sometimes. But it’s salvation nonetheless, so I’ll take it.

After all, I’ve got much better things to do with my life than suffer needlessly.