Wednesday, 28 January 2015

How do you view your pain?

The way we view our pain can affect how we cope in our daily life. If we see pain as an enemy, we feel we have to constantly fight it and quickly forget that there are other ways of seeing our condition and our pain.
Alaskan TN patient, Jordan Riggs, writes about how she sees her pain and how this helps her cope.

The label "Medical Warrior"...and why it isn't appropriate for all patients with chronic illness

Imagine, for a moment, living in a household that is constantly simmering with strife. Interactions between yourself and the other occupant is adversarial at worst, and resentful at best. It's not a simple personality conflict that pervades the relationship: it's a chosen rivalry.  Every morning you wake up determined to be bigger, badder, and more determined than the enemy who, in the adjacent room, is also waking up.  The experience of constantly trying to dominate- and feeling like an utter failure when you're occasionally dominated in return- is mentally and emotionally exhausting.  The compulsion to exert control over your housemate was originally a coping mechanism for how their volatile behaviour negatively impacted your life.  However, that desire for control has since grown into a beast of bitterness and sensation of powerlessness.  Rather than listen or intuit what your antagonist requires for the two of you to live in harmony, you instead embrace- even promote- constant conflict.  You consciously perceive yourself as a willing aggressor, despite feeling drained from the constant sense of combat.

Now, take a moment to replace  the above scenario's "household" with "body".  That belligerent housemate- the one that constantly causes trouble when you're most vulnerable- is Trigeminal Neuralgia.  You're a patient who has adopted the label of "Medical Warrior".  As such, harmony with TN is not an option: it must be ignored, loathed, "put in its place".

But if you're always fighting your own body- physically, mentally, emotionally- is there ever really a winner?  Is putting life with a disruptive disease in the context of "Fight, fight, fight!" always the most beneficial option?  Unless you or the doctors create a potentially fatal situation, TN itself cannot kill you.  Continuing with the earlier theme of personifying this disease, TN is an incredibly annoying, but ultimately impotent buffoon who can drive you mad and cause untold amounts of grief- but it isn't a menacing assassin holding a gun to your head like a deadly disease can (and does).  Evaluating our journey with this disease through the lens of a self-proclaimed "warrior" can, if not kept in check, cause the distinction between emotional perception and actual reality to become blurred.  Ironically, by regularly maintaining a perspective of ourselves as a warrior, we also give more symbolic power to our disease: suddenly the TN goes from being a simple malfunction in our brain to a foe of epic proportions, one that we fool ourselves into thinking can somehow be defeated by aiming hostility at it.  A blood vessel won't spontaneously stop compressing a trigeminal nerve because a TN patient wakes up every morning with a battle cry of "I am a medical warrior!".  The often-overwhelming pain won't suddenly stop affecting every aspect of our lives because we try to be superior to, and dominant over, the disease.

Rather than pour precious energy into cultivating the mindset as a warrior, what if we instead sought to cooperate with TN?  What if all of that strength and courage it takes to maintain a combative attitude instead went into nurturing an accommodating relationship with the disease?  How much more fulfilling would our life be if we embraced a more balanced approach, choosing when to unleash our inner warrior when it serves us best (gearing up for an MVD, first consultation with a new neurologist, etc.), and extending graciousness and acceptance to our disease when everyday life is routine?  

For some, being a warrior is the only option.  For others, however, relating to their disease exclusively as a warrior can become more draining than the disease itself.  There are other ways to emotionally approach and psychologically manage chronic medical conditions like TN than to constantly be in conflict with it.  It can be challenging to push the tough, self-denying, "black-and-white" thinking of a warrior aside to be honest with oneself.  It can be even more difficult, initially, to make changes that self-honesty has indicated would be a healthy departure from what we- and others- expect of ourselves.  Any chosen path comes with its own inherent benefits and drawbacks, but only a patient can determine which path is right for them.