Friday, 25 April 2014

How to Cope with Pain!

How Do I Cope With Long Term Face Pain?

Recently, many of my clients and people I speak to have been asking me the same question; “How do you cope with the pain?” I wish I could give you the miracle answer and tell you that everything I am about to write in this blog will solve your problems. But the reality is that, well, I don’t cope. More to the point it is not really about how do I cope? It is a matter of having to cope…We do not have a choice and life goes on.

When patients ask me; “well how do you put on such a strong face every day?” I respond again with a very unhelpful “I don’t”. A lot of my online persona and posts are upbeat, informative and what some might class as “normal” behaviour. I know this sometimes is to my own detriment because even close people and friends do not understand the half of what I contend with on a daily basis. 4 years day in and day out, hour after hour, I have been in pain and been on medication. Remember that wisdom tooth you had for a week when you were 19, remember that flu you had last week, remember that tense migraine you got after a long Monday at work? Remember how bad you felt and how debilitating and disruptive that was to your life? Remember having to cancel your plans and tell everyone, I can’t sorry, I am too ill? Imagine that every day of your life? How would you cope?

Well the reality is there are thousands of people all around the world suffering, often having to endure and cope with much more than me. I suppose this is one of my first mechanisms to put in place when I am having a bad mental moment. I try not to think of all the people who have more than me; my friends who are settled down with careers, families and beautiful homes, I remember people who are in a worst state than me, with no home, no family and no food. Some people do not even have access to pain relief or a warm bed at night. This is when I put my life into perspective. I may not have a lot in terms of what I think I “should have”, but I have so much to be thankful for every day. I have an amazing mother and younger brother and if I had the choice between trading my pain and swapping my life for somebody else’s, I would hands down decline the offer. Many people say “through pain and suffering, come the greatest lessons” and I have definitely been learning and growing through this experience.

Task 1: Grab a diary for the year and write down what you are thankful for every day

An example of my diary entry is:

Thank you for my mum and my brother. Thank you that we are safe. Thank you that it was sunny today. Thank you that the antibiotics are clearing up my sinus infections. Thank you that I had dinner. Thank you for my warm bed. Thank you for my phone and the internet. Thank you that I have people to talk to. Thank you that I have the ability to read, write, think and create. Thank you that I can walk and talk, even though it hurts.  

I am fortunate to see 2 psychologists and a psychiatrist and through their help and my own research I have begun to understand why my body decided to stop functioning properly and cause me so much pain. Your body is always your friend, even when it is attacking you with illness, pain and disease. Coupled with my lack of self-love, my workaholism and my perfectionism, my body had really had enough. The warning signs were there for years, but I just pushed through and thought that nothing ever came of relaxing (it is counterproductive). January 2010, my body took it upon itself to say “you are not listening to me, so now I will make you listen to me”. Since that day I have not been pain free for more than a few minutes. I was forced to re-evaluate my life, forced to change course and forced to recognise that all the trauma, hard work and lack of self-love was the undoing of me. I 100% believe that I still have not learnt my lesson and if I was pain free tomorrow, I would go back to the exact same destructive cycle. Hence why my body will not allow that right now, not until I fix the underlining core beliefs and negative automatic thoughts that come from this. Everybody is different, everybody has their own lessons to learn and find the solutions in many different ways. For me it started when I met my friend Peter and read a book called “Wild Love” by Gill Edwards a professional psychologist and spiritualist. It was then that I really started to open my mind and explore ways in which to help heal myself. Although, we are not as close as we once were, I will always love and cherish Peter for the absolute amazing person he is (my Anam Cara) and I am grateful that he was a light in a time when I really did not have a clue what direction I was going in.

Task 2: Clear your mind and understand what you are attracting into your life

Sit down with a pen and paper and write anything and everything that comes into your mind. Odd words, random drawings, sentences, feelings, quotes etc. You do not have to write in a straight line and many people find writing in a circular direction to be helpful, as this opens up your creative brain, as well as your logical brain. Pour it out, overlap the writing, add colour, do whatever feels free and natural. At the end of this exercise do not read what you have written and get a new fresh sheet of paper. Now write down all the things you enjoy and take pleasure in. Even if it is stuff you cannot do right now, like; have a holiday, run away to a country retreat, see your family etc. Try to not get caught up on the reasons for not being able to have the things you want and make sure you do not miss out on the smaller things  you enjoy, like; reading, watching a certain television programme, watching YouTube clips, texting your friends, Facebook, meditating, maybe even browsing the net for answers to your pain issues J etc. Now chose one item off of the list, one that you are most drawn too and do it. Say you chose to read a book, pick up a book or go onto amazon and buy the first book you are drawn to. When you are reading, pay attention to the main themes in the book, what is it about, how does this relate to your life, if you were in this character’s shoes or in the authors shoes what would you do differently?

Just being aware of what is going on around you and what you are drawing into your day can have a great impact on how you feel and how you view your world. You will be surprised to find many of the everyday things we have in our lives, are clues and markers to help guide us in a more positive and reflective direction. I noticed a lot of tv programmes, people, books and activities were not actually having a very positive effect on my health and well-being. I also noticed a lot of them had negative thoughts and feelings attached to them. Even when I meditated, I was always picking on myself saying you are not doing this right, this spiritual teacher says do it this way. I did it out of some sense of duty. I “should” be meditating every day because it is good for my health. After realising this, I no longer force myself to meditate and I only do it when I feel like I want to. I also do it my way and not the way teachers or friends tell me to.  I want to enjoy this for me and do it my way without judgements or expectations placed on me, by myself and by others.

So after experimenting with many prescription drugs and being allergic to most of them, I am currently only being prescribed Amitriptyline, Co-codamol, Ibuprofen, Sertraline and antihistamine. I am also on and off of Doxycycline antibiotics for my reoccurring sinus infections after jaw surgery. I am not one for drugs, but I realise that at this moment in my life they help to relieve some of the pain and muscular pressure I am experiencing. The amitriptyline has definitely cut down the number of tension headaches I was experiencing. My doctors are keen to start me on gabapentin (an anti-epileptic drug), but I am reluctant to start this due to my high intolerance for prescription medications.

Again everybody’s pain and condition is different, so different medications may work better than others for you. If like me you know the horrible side effects these medications can have on your body and mind, you will be looking for more natural ways to ease your symptoms. When clients ask me what I recommend they try for pain I always list the same 3 things. Lots of fruit and vegetables, massage of the upper body (upper back, shoulders, neck and back) and I always suggest trying acupuncture or cupping. Although, acupuncture has not worked for me, I am a great believer in its benefits and many healthcare institutes; such as the NHS, now offer it as part of their physiotherapy treatments
If you have tried these, then here are a few other ideas which might aid in reducing your pain. Remember that you should always seek out medical advice before undertaking any new activity and always use a professional and reputable therapist.

  • Reflexology – I tried this several times and find it very beneficial. I had minimal pain for 2-3 days after each session
  • Physiotherapy – I pay for private physiotherapy and although it does not help the pain levels, it greatly improves my mobility of my neck and shoulders
  • Graded Exercise Therapy – Those with CFS will know what this is. I am still waiting for my place on the programme. So I will have to let you know how it goes
  • Aromatherapy – I studied aromatherapy independently, so please seek out professional advice before using any of my suggestions. To help my muscles and sinuses, I light orange scented candles in the morning, boil coffee and put 10 drops each of pure tea tree oil and lavender oil into my bath. I also make my own essential oil rub that I put on the back of my neck
  • Epsom Salt, Sea Salt and Baking Soda – I put salt and baking soda in to my baths to help reduce pain, inflammation and muscle tightness. I also drink ¼ teaspoon of baking soda mixed in a glass of mineral water every day to help make my body less acidic
  • Magnesium – Many people with long term pain take high doses of magnesium supplements. I prefer to keep myself on a balanced diet and take an all in one high dose multivitamin and mineral supplement
  • Reiki / Spiritual Healing – Again this is another avenue you may wish to explore
  • Meditation – 15 minutes of daily mediation has been proven to aid in the reduction of muscle inflammation and stress levels
  • Green Tea – If you are trying to relieve the pain and swelling in your face you might want to try drinking a lot of green tea.  From my personal experience I find green tea is one of the best ways to relieve swelling and pain. Green tea has a lot of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in it, which are great at getting rid of all types of swelling and irritation. Green tea contains salicylic acids, which is one of the main ingredients in aspirin.

Ok so here are just some of the ideas that you could research to try and reduce pain and/ or inflammation in your body. If you would like to discover more why not have a look at my Survival Pack on the link below:

So back to the blog in hand. You are in pain every day, you are not sleeping and you are becoming really upset, angry and agitated. “Why can’t I just be back to normal?” The last thing you need is a close friend or partner making you feel guilty for not keeping a lunch date or being too tired and sick to go on a shopping trip. They do not mean any harm. They just do not understand. Chances are they have never had to deal with anything like this. Even if they live with you and see the pain and fatigue, they still cannot understand why you are so restricted. How could they? You look ok, so what is wrong with you, just stop being such a drama queen and attention seeking! Stop being so lazy! Sound familiar? No matter how great and understanding people try to be, the only person who truly understands you and your limitations, is yourself. You are the one living in this nightmare day in and day out. Why does it always feel like we are fighting to defend ourselves and our positions?

I am fortunate to have some great doctors who have been willing (after 2 years) to give me the help, support and diagnosis that I need. I have been signed up for pain management classes and CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and recently have been placed on the waiting list for GET Graded Exercise Therapy. I would recommend that anybody living with long term health issues see a psychologist and undertake CBT. It is one of the most valuable tools you will ever gain. Knowing how and why we think and behave the way we do, really does help me to cope with my limitations. Yes I will not lie, I have days when I want to give it all up and hide from the world in my pjs, curl up with my teddy and stay in my little bubble, but you know sometimes this is ok. Everything learned in CBT is about self-realisation and balance in life.

One of the fundamental things I discovered from CBT, was that one of my core beliefs is that I am unworthy and useless. Therefore, I am extra helpful and always want to help others, even when it is at the detriment to my health. My belief is, if I do not prove my worth and usefulness to others they will leave.  Knowing what I know now, I have an assertiveness plan in place, where I take time out for myself and realise that it is ok to be resting and (in my terms) “being selfish”. It is ok to look after me a little bit and to take some time out in the little bubble. If that’s what my body and mind needs right now, then I need to honour that. We don’t want to play the martyr or the victim. It is all about balance and working with what you have right now.

Task 3: The Best Friend

A well-known CBT technique is called the Employing the Best Friend. You have to imagine like you are your own best friend or you are talking to someone you care about. Essentially, yes I am asking you to talk to yourself. But don’t we do this all the time when we are reading a book or when we are sitting in the seat worrying about life? Ok you may not have a best friend, but you have to imagine how you would treat a friend if they were in your exact same shoes. What would you say to your friend? What would you advise her/him to do?

Chances are you would be sympathetic and tell her/him to rest up, take it easy, treat yourself to a nice bath and a cup of tea. You would congratulate and reward her/him on achieving the shopping, the hospital trip, looking after the kids, cooking a dinner (or whatever task it is). You would probably say “if I was in your shoes, I don’t know how I would cope, you are doing so well under the circumstances, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself”. This is what you would say being a good and caring friend wouldn’t you? So why is it when it comes to ourselves we sit there and attack ourselves….  it’s not good enough, I should be able to do more, so and so does it, why am I such a freak, I am a failure, I haven’t done anything today, I can not do this.

What would you say to a friend who was in this position? I am pretty sure you would not attack her/him and tell them they are not good enough? You would tell them to take it easy and acknowledge that they had some issues and they were doing the best they could. You would want them to look after themselves and be feeling better mentally and physically. So this is what we need to do, we need to take our own advice and listen to our bodies. We need to be our own best friend. Yes it is frustrating and draining but the more we ease into the life we have, the easier we make it for ourselves.

If you are interested in the life couching or mentoring sessions please feel free to email me At the moment I am only offering a limited number of slots as I am still operating my PA services. Visit my Facebook page and Twitter for news, blog updates and availability.

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On a final and trivial note, I finally had my hair cut :) Selfies, to accompany such an important update :)

As always, sending my love and hugs 

Steffie xx

Read about my recovery on....

You can now continue the chat and speak with other patients on my new closed Facebook group:

Looking forward to connecting with you soon!

Lots of love always,