I used to wake up and have to grit my teeth just to get through the day with this searing level of pain. So that by 5 PM, I was lugging myself around trying not to feel, desperately thinking thoughts of “home,” “bed,” or “Merlot.” For a good two years, the range of activities that I could undertake without pain narrowed until it was something between lying on the floor and listening to the radio.
There’s a mental narrowing that can occur here as well, which I think is quite similar to a creative block. The person in chronic pain starts to frantically evaluate every situation as “Will this make my pain worse, or better?” Every choice, every opportunity, gets reduced to the bottom line – more or less pain?
And if we decide to make a choice outside of consideration for pain, we usually scold ourselves later if the choice turned out to increase our discomfort.
Most of us develop subconscious coping mechanisms with pain. We tighten our shoulders to not feel our neck spasms, we start to subtly favor one leg because of knee inflammation in the other leg. In an Alexander Technique lesson, chronic pain sufferers often get a chance to see the full effects of these unconscious defenses.
Sometimes, the grasping after a “way out,” or fix can fuel the stuckness by increasing our muscular tension. Or, the grasping can further entrench the mental loop, muttering to ourselves silently all the time, “Stop slouching. Do your stretches; don’t be lazy. Etc.” If we order ourselves around enough this way, things start to feel pretty bleak – we are always letting ourselves down.
In my work, the first step is an experiment: shedding some of our preconceived responses to pain or an uncomfortable feeling. In this way, and only this way, can we find new doors and stop excoriating ourselves as to why trying the same approach over and over (whether it’s how we sit at our desk, or how we try to stop a pain cycle), doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.