Decisions, Existentalism, Awareness, and Needs: How they relate to chronic pain

This morning I listened to two episodes of a podcast called “Earn Your Happy with Lori Harder.” I mentioned this podcast a few years ago as one I really liked, however I haven’t listened to podcasts much in the past year. With all this extra time on my hands (though I’m keeping fairly busy!) I figured now would be a great time to pick them back up.

IMG_6542Earn Your Happy Podcast

The first episode I listened two as about Making Decisions, in which Lori had a guest on (Christina Lecuyer) and they discussed (a) how we make decisions all the time, (b) decisions we make effect what happens in our lives, and (c) being indecisive is making the decision not to decide. Interestingly, yesterday I read the book Existentialism is Humanism, which was a lecture given by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1945. For those who don’t know, part of existential philosophy is that we all make choices, and that making a choice not to choose is still making a choice. We have free will and create our own meanings for our lives. Sound familiar? Though neither host or cohost of the podcast mentioned existential theory (I’m not sure if they are familiar with it or Sartre’s lecture) what they were saying exactly lined up with it. And though there are many things out of our control – such as having an illness (physical or mental) and chronic pain – there are many things we can still choose to do. I choose to go to the gym because it makes my body strong and lowers my pain. I choose to go to physio/chiro/etc (well not right now because self-isolation…) because it eases my pain. I choose not to have people in my life who don’t communicate properly. Choices to do or not to do are all choices and can directly effect my health and mental health. Just some food for thought.

IMG_6539My favourite quotes from Existentialism is Humanism.

The second episode I listened to was with Lori and her husband Chris, as they discussed 7 levels of awareness. Level one (at the bottom of the pyramid) is animal instincts – essentially satisfying our basic needs – this is where we are as babies and children. Level two is Mass – following the crowd/conformity – most of the population falls into this category because it’s the easiest to live in. Level 3 is Aspiration – realizing there is more out there, but not yet ready to do anything about it – I was in this position three years ago when I knew I wanted to make some changes in career so I could help other people, but I wasn’t sure what those were yet. Level 4 is Individual – expressing your uniqueness and starting to make the changes you want – for me this constituted going back to school to up my GPA so I could eventually get into a Masters program for counselling psychology. Level 5 is Discipline – following the plan you’ve made during level 4 – doing my masters, keeping up with this blog, and starting to write my book (I’ve written the intro and chapter 1 so far!) with a continued commitment to these things. Level 6 is Experience – learning through trial and error what works and what doesn’t and how to be the best you there is – this is the level I think I am at (and I’m not trying to give myself props or anything). I’m challenge myself physically, mentally and emotionally and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but regardless, I feel I learn and appreciate the learning from each and every experience. The highest level is Level 7, mastery – responding versus reacting – basically you can delay your immediate reactions and respond in an appropriate way while still acknowledging how you feel.

IMG_6541Earn Your Happy podcast.

This whole levels of awareness really just seems like an extension of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is something every psychology student learns about. Level 1 is physiological needs (survival), and level 2 is safety – these are our basic needs. Level 3 is belongingness and love (friendships and relationships), and level 4 is esteem (really self-esteem) – these are our psychological needs. At the top is self-actualization (achieving our full potential) – self-fulfillment needs. Like the levels of awareness, Maslow states that you cannot move up the hierarchy until the each level of needs are met. Physiological -> Safety -> Love -> Self-esteem -> Self-actualization. I like this idea because I think it’s true. For people with chronic physical or mental illnesses, a lot of time is spent on physiological and safety needs because pain requires attention to be paid for those. Even with my pain I constantly strive for self-actualization because I don’t want my pain to dictate my life.

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Since we all have this time for self reflection, it’s just some food for thought.

IMG_6540What I dream about during self-isolation.

If you want to check out the podcasts I’m referring to is “Earn Your Happy” with Lori Harder. Episode 531: Decide it’s your turn – with Christina Lecuyer; and Episode 525: The 7 levels of awareness: He said, She said.


Self-Isolation Part 5: Healthy Mind

Like many of you, I’ve struggled over the past month or so with self-isolation and social distancing. Abrupt changes like this are difficult, and I know that extroverts in particular are having a hard time. That being said, even some of my friends who are introverts are finding it difficult to just not see or be near other people as often as before. While we know this whole unprecedented situation is all temporary (I try not to speculate what the world is going to be like going forward), that doesn’t mean that today isn’t hard.

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One of the things I like to do is live in the present moment. Just today, maybe tomorrow, but not much past that. Do I know when I’ll be back at work? No. I know a lot of people are worried about income and feeding their families but I’ve found by focusing on today, worries can be less intense and my spirits can be kept higher. Typically, worrying about the future can cause the onset of some anxiety, and worrying about the past can make depression appear. I’m not saying that living in the present won’t cause these things to happen, but for me it can help keep perspective. If you have trouble with present moment awareness, I suggest looking into mindfulness practices. If you want specific tips, website or apps to check out, send me a message and I’ll get back to you with my faves.

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In the meantime, I think something that can really help, which we all have access to is self-care. I want to stress that there is a big difference between taking care of yourself – eating, getting dressed, bathing, etc. – and self-care. Self-care is about doing something to make yourself feel good, either psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, or physically. I practice a lot of self-care. I exercise, I meditate, I do yoga, I read for pleasure, and the list goes on. It can be little simple things that make you smile or feel relaxed. And it’s important. Especially for your psychological and emotional health.  With that, I’ve decided to take on a 30 Day Self-Care Challenge. Each day for the next month, I’ll be doing a specific or extra thing for self-care. Yes, some of these things are normal, or may occur more often than what I’ve set out, but on each specific day I have a specific self-care task to do. I gotta say that I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be updating daily on the janeversuspain Instagram account (so if you’re not already following it, now’s a good time).

self-care-challengeBefore anyone freaks out, I do often go days without alcohol 🙂

I challenge everyone to take it up as well. You can customize this challenge to fit your needs and interests. If you need any help with that please reach out.

I also want to post some mental health resources available to everyone in Canada:

The government of Canada set up this website:
If you’re a youth in crisis text: WELLNESS, HOME, or CONNECT to 686868
If you’re an adult in crisis text: WELLNESS to 741741

Self-Isolation Part 4: Healthy Body

This week’s post is dedicated to keeping your body healthy (next week we’ll focus on the mind). It’s definitely more of a struggle for many people. Whether that’s because the gym is closed, you’re sitting more, you’re eating less healthy, your chronic pain is worse, or your mental health struggles are causing physiological reactions, it’s okay to struggle. Right now my focus, because I have chronic pain, is to make sure I’m doing what I can to reduce it and keep myself as healthy as possible.

IMG_6334Spike thinks a healthy body is very important. He takes his insulin and eye drops every day.

Medications… take them! Don’t forget to follow your prescriptions, refill them as you need. I know a lot of lupus warriors, especially in the states, are having trouble getting their hydroxychroloquine prescriptions filled because of what the president claims about it working for covid-19 (the initial study did not have the same results when replicated). If you aren’t able to fill your prescriptions, make sure you are consulting with you doctor so that there is a plan for you to stay as pain free as possible.

IMG_6343Primary medication shelf. All filled up and trying to stay on top of them daily!

Exercise… I know I mentioned this before, but self-isolation walks are really important! Pick paths that are most physically challenging (I like hills), and routes with less people. Cross the street if you need to. In Toronto we have the problem of our sidewalks not accommodating 6 feet and people having to walk on the road… to be honest considering there is way less traffic and I pay attention, it’s okay for the most part. I also read an article a friend posted about how social distancing is further apart if you are running or cycling, make sure you look into this if these are your preferred activities. Indoor exercise is also a good idea. I have several workout routines for all my core muscle groups. It helps me feel strong, the same way going to the gym has helped me over the past year.

IMG_6342Today’s exercise routine. Got it from an awesome app called 30 Day Fitness.

Yoga… technically kind of falls under exercise, but I’m giving its own category, and here’s why: it helps the mind and body at the same time. My preferred yoga is yin, which some people find more difficult because you hold the positions for longer. What I like about it is that it is very meditative while allowing for amazing stretches. I craft out 20 minutes every other day (my challenge for the remained of self-isolation) so that I can feel calm, and limber.

I’ve really been enjoying these particular yoga videos. But honestly there are so many great ones on YouTube.

Food… okay to be honest I really miss going to restaurants. My friend messaged me the other day and said that when restaurants are back open we need to go for sushi. I replied with all you can eat sushi. In the meantime, I do find it helpful to support local restaurants (I don’t bother ordering from chains, I want my local gems to survive) by ordering in once a week. Otherwise, I’ve found this is a great time to try out new healthy recipes (yes, that does mean the occasional trip to the grocery store. I wear a mask when I go), as well as old favourites. Does that mean you shouldn’t bake a cake or pie? No, it just means you might want to freeze half of it for later (unless you’re feeding a whole family, then do what you gotta do).

60868310459__EC9E351D-1A25-4F18-AC77-7B567F0FC63ETeriyaki ribs and vegetables diner from last night.

Keeping your body healthy will ultimately help you feel more stable, and release endorphins that will help you deal with the stress and sadness that comes with this pandemic. Until next week, stay healthy!

Self-Isolation Series Part 3: The Grocery Experience

Let me start off by saying that Grocery Workers are definitely some of the heroes during this whole pandemic. We need food so grocery stores have to remain open, and rely on their staff to come in. Witnessing what they have to put up with during this situation shows how resilient and important they are. (Yes, I’m talking about customers being ruder and more impatient than normal).

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The grocery buying experience has become something more than a chore. In trying to social distance, it can be difficult in a grocery store, which yes even if they are limiting the amount of people in a time, may mean standing in a line outside the store. Though I find most people are trying to keep 6 feet apart in line, I did have a woman tell me last week that I could move up. I ignored her, because why get into it. Additionally, many grocery stores have had employees diagnosed with Covid-19, meaning there is an increased risk of catching it while you’re shopping anyway. The advantages to having a car during this pandemic is that you can do a massive grocery shop and not have to go back for more food for quite awhile. Those of us who live in a city, and normally rely on walking or transit (i.e., we don’t have cars!) struggle to bring a large amount of groceries home. Meaning we can only buy as much as we can carry, and then we need to go back.

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You’re probably thinking, why not just order your groceries in then? Well, let me tell you that I’ve tried. It’s not that easy when you live in a large metro center like Toronto. Some grocery stores require you to check daily to see if there are delivery time slots available – there never are. Other stores (and grocery delivery services) will let you select delivery time slots up to 21 days in advance – there are no slots available for the next 21 days. So if I want groceries, I need to physically go to the store. I also recently read a news article about how people with disabilities and the elderly, who normally rely on grocery delivery and now cannot get their groceries delivered. Morally, I struggle with having groceries delivered because of this, which is why I didn’t even start looking at delivery until a few days ago when I gave in to external pressure. Alas, I suppose that is not a concern at this point since I won’t be having them delivered regardless.

IMG_6304Doesn’t seem to matter what company I try or what time of day it is, this is always what it says.

This whole situation has put everyone out of their element. Realistically, I do have enough food to last me another week or two, but I want fresh fruit and veggies, and I want to be able to buy a few things that I can use to cook healthy, delicious meals. I know that we are all in this together. Until next week, take care my friends.

Self-Isolation Part 2: Relationships

Self-isolation is hard. Especially when trying to connect with other people. Whether you live alone or with a partner or with your family (all of which there are pros and cons to) it can be difficult to keep emotions and mental health in check. Common problems I’ve heard from others recently are fighting with partners, and trying to balance family time and alone time.  From my own perspective as I live alone, I find that trying to connect to people via text, phone call, or video chat (my preference) can be difficult but is much needed. I thought I’d explore some ways to make it all work today.

IMG_6227My self-isolation buddy.

So, as I mentioned I do not live with a partner. However, I have in the past and though it is a bit harder to have an escape now, I think there are still ways, especially if you and your partner are having more squabbles than normal. Personally, I would try spending some time in different rooms if possible. If you’re both working from home, maybe one person is in the bedroom and the other is in the living room. If you need a mental break, go for a walk (while we still can!) or spending some time doing solitary activities like reading, exercising, or video games. Yes the other person is still there, but there is nothing to say you have to interact 24/7. A lot of this same reasoning could even be applied to balancing family time and alone time.

IMG_6182My eerie self-isolation city hike.

From a single person perspective I find it’s easy to have miscommunication with friends especially if it’s over text or instant messaging. Trying to set up video calls with a different friend every day (and with my parents almost every day) is a lifesaver. No, it’s not the same as being in person but it’s something. Plus there’s a lot of cool apps and ways to even have parties – like HouseParty, Netflix Watch Parties, Zoom/Skype/Facetime all have group chat options. My friend hosted a Buffy watch party on Saturday that was super fun.

7DEDB2C4-9D54-418F-B8B6-41FCE82C3AF2Super fun way to hang out while self-isolating!

Let’s face it. All of our anxieties are higher than normal. No one is feeling super great about this situation, and we all say and do things we don’t mean from time to time. That’s okay. We’re human. What we need in times like this is to have empathy for each other.