It It is extremely therapeutic for chronic pain and chronic illness warriors to get into our bodies. Yes, this is the opposite of what we want to do (run away from being in our bodies) but there is a lot of research that shows this is far more helpful for both our physical and mental health. In this practice we can gently get into our bodies, while using the breath as an anchor. If you haven’t listened to this episode of the podcast on achieving a sense of accomplishment (with Darren Radke), check it out.
I hope you enjoy this practice, and keep making the most of it!
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If you read last week’s blog post then you know that I recently attended the World Pain Summit, put on by the Alberta Pain Society. I did this as both an allied healthcare practitioner (as a clinical counsellor) and as a person with lived experience. By the way, this event is apparently always free to people with lived experience, so keep an eye out for it next year. The summit was 3 days and had so much info, that this is going to be part 2 of a 3-part post, and focuses on the content of Day 2. Without further ado, here’s what I learned.
How Living with a Dog Can Improve Quality of Life and Well-Being in People with Persistent Pain. The first bit of interesting info was a bit of an aside – only 1% of the curricula for healthcare professionals is on pain, which means if your doctor doesn’t understand (and isn’t attending these kinds of conferences) that is likely why (definitely not an excuse – all healthcare professionals should be attending conferences/summits/etc throughout their careers). The most interesting parts of this session was the statistics on dog/pet owners (cats and other kinds of pets count):
they report lower pain
less depression and anxiety and loneliness – i.e., better mental health
improved well-being and meaning/purpose in life
Having a pet also gives you a non-judgmental listener whom you can talk to, and petting an animal releases oxytocin in our brains, which has a calming effect. Yay for pets!
Is Supported Pain Self-Management Your First Choice or Last Resort?: 5 Key Coaching Support Skills.Thiswas present by Pete Moore, a person with lived experience, who wrote a book on the subject. The 5 key skills he talked about were: (1) goal setting and action planning; (2) practicing daily activities – I know ADLs can be hard for some people but they are important to well-being; (3) problem solving; (4) keeping active, moving, including stretching and exercise; and (5) knowing what to do if you have a set-back (i.e., planning for that in advance). Much of this involves having a support team, pacing, prioritizing, being patient with yourself, learning relaxation skills, tracking your progress, and resilience.
How a Pain Doctor is Using Social Media to Spread Knowledge About Chronic Pain. This was a session more for healthcare professionals on how to start a YouTube channel (and why they should). But some interesting factors for Spoonies: the current quality of medical information on YouTube is very low, so please be careful and look for trusted sources (i.e., trained healthcare professionals in different areas).
Trauma, Illness, and Healing – Dr. Gabor Mate’s keynote. I’ve written a ton about Dr. Mate’s work in the past, and there was obviously some repeat in content about trauma, childhood abuse, insecure attachments and stress and their relationship to chronic pain and illness. A couple of things I will share:
mind body practices (like yoga) should be included in chronic pain treatment
a lot of back pain is associated with psychoemotional stress (tension, stress, trauma)
Go to a physician for what they can do (prescribe medications, perform surgery, etc.) and find other practitioners to help you with the other parts of treatment
diagnoses are descriptions, not explanations
psychological and spiritual support is important
If you’re not familiar with Dr. Mate’s work, check out When the Body Says No (I also did a post about the book awhile back).
Challenging Chronicity Thoughts: Words Matter. So this was a mental health session, if the title isn’t clear! It emphasized that psychological factors are an important component of pain experience and are the most powerful psychological predictor of adverse health and mental health outcomes associated with pain – they even affect our treatment responses to medications, injections, physical therapy, and most other treatments. Recovery is not just about talking (to a therapist), needs and activity but also about ways of thinking. Two important notes for my fellow Spoonies: (1) pain is perceived by your brain (all in your head) but it is real; and (2) the word pain takes you right to thinking about/feeling pain (check out this podcast episode I did on externalizing language and pain/illness).
Next week I’ll bring you a post on the information from the final day of the summit. I hope that you find some of this helpful when thinking about illness and well-being. Keep making the most of it everyone!
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This video has 2 main themes: first, why shopping at farmer’s markets and eating organic food is beneficial to our health, especially as Chronic Illness Warriors; and second, how to deal with choice overload so that it isn’t stress (because that causes flares) whether it be shopping, or really anything else.
Are you feeling hopeless when it comes to making lifestyle changes to improve your chronic illness? Check out this week’s podcast episode on Creative Hopelessness, to help find ways to overcome that feeling.
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This past weekend I attended the World Pain Summit ’21, which is put on by the Pain Society of Alberta, and has speakers and attendees from around the world. I attended as an Allied Healthcare Professional with Lived Experience (the options were: Physician, Physician with Lived Experience, Allied Healthcare Professional, Allied Healthcare Professional with Lived Experience, and Person with Lived Experience). By the way, this was free to attend for non-healthcare professionals with lived experience (only about 150 people with lived experience only attended out of 1600ish attendees). The summit was 3 days, had incredible expert physicians/allied healthcare professionals/researchers, giving the latest and important information on treating chronic pain and chronic pain research. I attended a lot of sessions, so I decided to make this into 3 posts so that I could relay as much as possible. Part 1 is a recap of Day 1 of the summit.
Social Media & Pain. There were 3 presenters on this one – a researcher, a physiotherapist, and a person with lived experience. Much like last week’s blog post, they went over the good and the bad of using social media, both as a person with lived experience and as a healthcare practitioner. The good includes learning, community knowledge, knowledge construction, combatting isolation, raising awareness, and validating common experiences, among others. Again, they recommend not using social media for medical treatment and to be careful when sharing personal information online. The part of this that I want you to take away is when they talked about this: “Pain is normal. If you expect to be outside of pain 100% of the time, you’re wrong.” Because that’s impossible. Pathologizing pain to the extent we do (especially online) is like pathologizing blinking. It’s not something we necessarily can (or need to) fix but rather live alongside. We need to view our normal responses to an abnormal situation (chronic pain) as just that.
Head Injuries & Migraine/Migraine Disease Management. These were 2 separate sessions, with some overlapping content so I decided to talk about them together. Post-traumatic headaches from head injuries often resemble migraines, and migraines themselves can be considered a disease because there are changes in both brain structure and function. There are some non-modifiable risk factors for migraines (female, low SES, head trauma, genetics/epigenetics, childhood abuse) and some modifiable ones (these are important): obesity, medication overuse, caffeine overuse, and depression/anxiety. There were several recommendations for treating migraines, using the acronym BRAINS. Biobehavioral therapy/biofeedback/mindfulness/CBT/physical therapy; (which includes coping sills like self-monitoring, pacing, relaxation, self-talk, connection, and treatment of trauma/mood/cognition). Risk factor modification and lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep). Adjunctive therapies (neuroceuticals, neurostimulation). Injection therapy/onabotullnumotoxin A/extracranial nerve blocks. Neuropharmacology. Support and Education. AND SLEEP HYGIENE is important (check on my podcast on that here.)
The Painful Implications of Psychological Trauma. There is, as I’ve written before, a strong correlation between trauma and chronic pain/illness. This was an important session for my as a psychotherapist. Mental health treatments for chronic pain & trauma should include healthy coping skills, CBT for pain, radical acceptance, trauma-focused therapy/exposure therapy, mindfulness, trauma processing, body awareness, somatic treatments, and behavioural activation. Two really important pieces came out of this. The first was for physicians: the most powerful thing you can say to clients is “I believe you.” I hope that they take that seriously. The second is for those of us with lived experience: pain is a psychological phenomena but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. The example given was how temperature is experienced by different people differently (for example, my mom is always hot and my dad is always cold). Our brains are involved in everything we think, feel, sense, etc. But all of that is also real.
How Our Brains Make Unconscious Judgments and What We Can Do About It/Social Innovation on Equity and Diversity Inclusion. There were 3 sessions in the afternoon. I attended two of them and watched the Q&A. This session was presented by a trans woman. The other two were by Indigenous peoples. This was the social justice, diversity, and inclusion part of the weekend. There was so much great information that I hope all healthcare practitioners learned from. The part of this particular session which is helpful for everyone are the strategies to reduce our bias (because we ALL have bias – unless you literally without a brain). Avoid blame or guilt. Focus on the impact, not the intent. Choose a positive attitude. Recognize bias in action and take action. Micro-affirmations. Active listening. Be intentional. Avoid generalities. Question the reliability of sources. Treat people as individuals, avoid assumptions. Get to know people who are different than you. Practice the Platinum Rule – do unto others as they wish to be treated. The last session had to do with patterns of change and what some healthcare organizations are doing to make these changes.
Okay, so that was a lot of information (and that was just Day 1). I will likely be doing more individual posts and/or podcast episodes about some of this information in more detail as it might be relevant to chronic pain/illness warriors. If you have any requests from anything from this post, let me know by commenting or DM-ing me on Instagram. Part 2 comes next week. Keep on making the most of it!
This is not for the faint of heart. To be honest, this is great if you’ve been building up your exercise game and if you do some hiking already. I did a video post last year on more gentle hikes, which are a fantastic alternative to going for a walk. This is kind of levelling up those gentle hikes. Yes, I do this even with chronic pain. Why? Because I love hiking, and will take the time to recover (for example, the day after I did this I did a channel float where I sat on a tube for 3 hours and floated down a channel/river). Remember to please consult with your healthcare team before starting any new exercise. Alright, take care and keep making the most of it!
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I, like many of you, spend a lot of time on social media. Though the ironic thing is that I’m not a huge fan of social media. Sure, it’s easy to mindlessly scroll, but I wouldn’t call it having fun. That being said, if you follow any of my many social media accounts, you’ll know that I often use it to (a) promote my content, and (b) share relevant health/mental health information (that is strongly evidence-based) to help fellow chronic illness warriors. But this post isn’t about me, it’s about the collective we. Because when it comes down to it, there are positives and negatives of using social media, especially when it comes to health information sharing and mental health outcomes. I took a look at the research from 2013-now (most of it more recent) to see what the thoughts were, and here’s a summary of what I found.
Let’s start with the good. A lot of the research found that patient’s, including Spoonies, are using social media for positive purposes. We use it often as a method of social interaction so that we can interact with other Spoonies. Social connection is important, and it can be helpful to talk to other people who are going through similar things as ourselves. Some studies have even shown that psychosocial health improves for people who use social media – again, likely because of the social connection we are using it for. One study mentioned that we all universally trust professional health sites (I mean, come on, who doesn’t trust the Mayo Clinic site for example) to gather information. They did note a cultural difference, in that people from holistic cultures tend to trust blogs, online support groups, and social networking sites more often. I’m not sure that this is a good or a bad thing, I think it depends on your worldview, so I’m going to leave it in the good section for now. Finally, when it comes to mental health, social media has the potential, depending on how it is used, to promote mental health. My TikTok channel is an example of me trying to help promote mental health coping skills. And while some studies (which I’ll talk about below) mentioned that social media may not be good for anxiety and depression, they also found no within-person differences, meaning there is only a correlation between social media use and these mental health outcomes, not causation (more on that in a moment).
Now, what about the bad? The biggest problem with social media is that information is not always of good quality or reliable, especially if it’s coming from non-healthcare professionals. It’s hard to determine what is good information and what isn’t. I’ve mentioned that I always look at the research before writing a blog post or suggesting something online. And when I say I do the research, I mean I read scholarly journal articles, which are written in the most dry manner, but contain important information. For this post, I read 6 articles, which no, isn’t a lot, but definitely a start. However, most people online don’t do this, and this is where caution should come in. Another issue is self-diagnosis, which I see all the time online. The problem is that users (whether it’s us as patients or people administering self-diagnosis apps, etc) are not trained medical professionals and, therefore, lack the competency to make a diagnosis. I know we all want a proper diagnosis, and that doctors don’t always listen, but they do have the training needed to diagnose. There is also very little evidence that social media actually improve any health outcomes. You could be a regular reader of this blog, and apply none of the information to your life (which I do always caution that you should consult with your own healthcare team anyway) and then see no improvements… so I understand why the research says this. Furthermore, if we are using inaccurate information (especially if it contains biases) then we could see a negative impact on our health. Finally, when we talk about anxiety and depression, as mentioned early, there have been studies that show that time spent on social media is moderately related to levels of anxiety and depression – however, because we don’t know cause and effect this could also be that more depressed and anxious people spend more time on social media, but it’s worth noting anyway. A major problem among adolescents (and let’s face it, most adults) is that though social media is a quick and easy way to access information about health/mental health, we rarely scrutinize the quality of information (as mentioned earlier). Okay, I know I said finally already but one more thing, sharing information on social media can lead to a lack of privacy (I literally see people share screenshots of their test results on Facebook groups all the time). So, just remember that when you’re sharing information – it’s now accessible to everyone.
I know it seems like I wrote a lot more about the bad then the good, but that’s not a bad thing… the bad is the cautionary part but the part we can use to our advantage. For example, if we start to scrutinize information for quality, if we try to not self-diagnose, if we apply accurate information only, and we’re careful about what we share, suddenly we don’t have really any “bad” parts of using social media for health/mental health purposes. Check out next week’s podcast episode with Amy Sinha about making connections online where we talk more about the good and the bad, as well as different types of connections we can make (available on Monday)! Keep on making the most of it!
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This mindfulness practice is a good introduction to meditations and mindfulness in general, especially if you have a hard time with some of the more formal practices. It can help you get present just by focusing on one part of your body – your hand (alternatively you could use any part of your body that you can see fully, including using a mirror to do so). Mindfulness is mentioned by Dr. Richard Harris in this podcast episode as being beneficial for chronic pain and illness. For all of my meditations, subscribe to my YouTube channel. Be mindful, and keep making the most of it!
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I attended a few sessions from the virtual Collective Trauma Summit last month. I’m always looking to further my knowledge and professional development, especially as I start to practice as a psychotherapist. There is an overlap between trauma and chronic illness, which I think can also be important for us to understand. And by us, I don’t just mean healthcare professionals, but also persons with lived experience. Why do I think it’s important? Because I’ve seen a lot of people (mostly online in support groups) wonder about the whys. Does knowing why actually help? I think that can be a difficult question to answer. For some people yes, for others no, and some fall into the “kind of” realm. Regardless, there was some information that I gathered that can be helpful to us all. So, without further ado, here it is:
Application of Polyvagal Theory for Safety and Connection with Others – Stephen Porges and Deb Dana For those of you not familiar with polyvagal theory or the vagus nerve, I don’t do a great job explaining it, but check out this YouTube link featuring Stephen Porges explaining it, and for more on the vagus nerve, check out this podcast episode with Melanie Weller. This session of the summit spoke a lot about embodiment. We can learn to coregulate each other – connection is essential for humans. Learning to both sit still to feel our bodies (without a narrative) and how to come back to our bodies is important for healing – but also a slow process and should only be done with a trained professional. Building an awareness of what’s happening in our bodies, as well as what we are thinking and feeling is important. Trauma can be passed down intergenerationally through our nervous systems. They also have a Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) that sounds super interesting and I’m going to probably learn more about. If you’re in therapy, it can be good to find out whether your therapist is “polyvagal-informed” because of the amount of research backing the theory.
How Our Nervous System and Real Connection Are the New Frontiers to Healing Trauma – Daniel J. Siegel This session also focused a lot on embodiment, which I’m a huge fan of anyway (especially for chronic illness/pain). Dr. Siegel talked about resonance between people (again, connection is important) and also the ideas of intraconnectedness (wholeness of everything) and interconnectedness (with others through our bodies). As a species we tend to be disconnected from nature (and thus why we have some many environmental issues). He talked about how integration is health – not just at an individual level but also at a collective level, and what trauma does is impair that integration. He suggested that the plane of possibility is achieved through connectedness (with each other and nature), open-awareness, and love (compassion). Self-compassion and developing awareness is something I talk about a lot both on the blog and the podcast (and I have a few meditations for both on my meditation channel), again because of the amount of research supporting them for both physical and mental health.
Returning to Ourselves After Trauma – Gabor Mate Okay, we all know by now that I’m a huge fan of Dr. Mate’s work, so of course I attended this session. He gave some interesting statistics that I’m going to share with you. (1) Women with severe PTSD have double the risk of ovarian cancer; (2) Indigenous people have 3 times the risk of rheumatoid arthritis than non-indigenous people; and (3) with Covid-19 with see that indigenous people, POC, and the elderly are most at risk because they are the most oppressed and traumatized. In other words, we’re looking at the sociological issues of disease which are often ignored. He also talked about embodiment in his session. In this case he referenced how we often are split between an intellectual awareness of things and an embodied awareness, which can be a traumatic imprint (in other words, the body remembers). Again, we should be asking ourselves “what does this feel like inside my body” instead of just “what do I know intellectually.”
So, what can we do with all of this information now that we have it. For one, if you don’t see a mental health professional to help you with your struggles with the mental health components of illness, that might be something you want to look into. Alternatively there is a lot of self-help out there (including by all of these healthcare professionals who have written many books on these subjects) and do things like build awareness, self-compassion, and embodied experiences (again, I offer these on my meditation channel but you can also find them by others various places online). Healing is possible. Healing is slow. Take care and keep making the most of it everyone!
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I love fall… mostly I love October.. and October means all things pumpkins! But I also try to eat as halthy as I can, and I’m really trying to cut back on gluten , plus I’m (mostly) dairy-free as well. The problem with a lot of muffin recipes is that they are loaded with sugar. This one isn’t and it has options to make it gluten-free and dairy-free as well! Here’s the recipe I used. And while you’re at it, check out this podcast episode with Mandy Podlesny on different dietary options for autoimmune diseases. Remember to always consult with your healthcare team before making any dietary changes!