Zzzz Sleep Zzzz

As often happens to me when I write this blog, I decided to write this particular post based upon something I’ve been thinking about more frequently over the past few days. Yesterday (Sunday), I worked at 13 hour shift at work. Not on purpose. I was scheduled for 11 hours due to a meeting, and then I had a customer stay a few hours past close as I tried to help her out. The result? My perpetual exhaustion. So, this morning, as I woke up feeling almost as tired as I did last night, I figured now would be as good a time as any to talk about sleep and chronic pain.

IMG_0013Good morning from me and Spike.

As most chronic pain warriors will know, the worse your sleep was the night before, the worse your pain will be the next day. If you don’t get enough, or it’s just not a good sleep , pain increases. I was reading a few articles on sleep and it’s relation to pain, so this isn’t just something I’ve experienced. Not that I’m surprised since all my heath care professionals always ask me about my sleep. I’m going to break the rest of this post into two parts. First, how to get enough sleep, and second, how to get a good sleep.

sleep-garfieldImage from: http://www.nofructose.com/health-issues/sleep/

Getting enough sleep, for me at least, involves a combination of planning, and listening to my body. Working in retail, I end up with a lot of shifts, which can put a damper on my sleep. Usually I’m ready for bed anywhere between 9 and 10pm. A closing shift at work means I’m there until 9:30 and with my commute (which is a bit easier at night), home by 10. So bedtime is closer to 10:30. Doesn’t seem that bad but ends up being tough. I usually get up around 6 so I can workout and write before work. I definitely need 8 hours of sleep (sometimes more) in order to feel good the next day. Without it, more pain. What I’ve been able to do (thanks to have wonderful bosses) is work it out so that I only close once per week. It’s better for my well-being, and as a result, I’m able to perform at a higher potential while at my job. Win-win. What about social life? I usually only stay out late (past 10) if I don’t work the next day. Even if my close is the next day, I tend not to stay out later than 10, maybe 10:30. If i do make the occasional choice to, I know I’ll have to live with the consequences. There may be a bit of sacrifice here, but my friends tend to be understanding, and any dates I go on will just have to suck it up.

11de907e-1c68-44d3-9456-0eb8a7c0e00fImage from: http://www.ba-bamail.com/content.aspx?emailid=21175

Getting a good sleep tends to be a bit harder. I usually end up waking up a few times during the night for a multitude of reasons. I have to pee, I hear something, I’m physically uncomfortable (often), I’m in pain, I have anxiety (not too bad at the moment). Sleeping through the entire night is tough. I love baths, and I find a hot bath right before bed tends to help with the initial falling asleep. Usually the best way for me to stay asleep is to have some marijuana right before bed (see post on medical marijuana for more details). This probably isn’t the only way to get a good sleep, but it’s the way I’ve found works best for me. I’d be excited to hear a few other (non-medicinal) suggestions on this though. Pain is difficult to ignore, and therefore, staying asleep while you’re in pain can be a huge struggle. Pain plus night plus sleeping alone (I mean yes I have my dog and some people have partners but still) is never a good combo.

IMG_0010Bath time!

Just remember, sleep is important when dealing with chronic pain. So, make sure you are doing what you can to get the best (and longest) sleep possible. Work with your health care practitioners (especially your naturopath, if you have one) to find a solution that works for you!

References:

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/pain-and-sleep
http://www.swedish.org/services/pain-services/pain-management-guide/sleep-and-pain
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25907704

Navigating Relationships

I will begin by saying that I am, by no means, an expert on relationships. I do feel like this is a discussion to bring up for those who suffer from chronic pain and/or illness. Why? Because all relationships – platonic, romantic, familial become more difficult. Our loved ones often don’t understand, and discussing your feelings about your pain or your life may not be easy for you to do. So, how do we figure out how to have friends, partners, and keep connected with our families while we’re in pain all the time? There is no easy or correct answer to this. Trying out (and sharing) ideas (so please reply to this post if you have some) is a good way to start, until you figure out what works for you. It’s also important to note that, as mentioned in previous posts, many chronic pain/illness warriors also struggle with their mental health, making it harder to figure out these relationships. Be patient with yourself, and hopefully those in your life will understand that they need to be patient with you.

blog-attachment-in-relationships-33Image from: https://www.headspace.com/blog/2014/03/10/attachment-in-relationships/

Family

Family likes to talk. Or, at least, my family does, and I’m guessing a lot of other supportive families will want to as well. About your pain or illness. Parents, especially, want to be supportive and helpful. Talking about it with them can be difficult. No one wants to make their family members upset or sad. If you are physically needing the help of your family (or friends, or partner) it can be slightly easier to ask or talk about because it becomes more necessary. If not, than broaching those subjects can feel more emotionally painful. The good thing about family is they are the most likely to understand if you can’t come over tonight, or need some extra sleep; if you cancel plans, etc. No explanation necessary. Remember that they love you, and are trying to help. Also don’t be afraid to tell them when you need space, or don’t want to talk to them about something. Understanding for you, and for them, can be critical in staying close.

relationship-2Image from: http://www.magic-advice.com/when-adult-struggle-with-their-relationship/

Friends

Personally, I find friends to be the most pushy (at least initially) with plans, and getting you to go out and do things (which can be a good or bad thing, depending on the day). They also tend to make it known how disappointed they are when cancelling plans. What I’ve found is that being as upfront as possible is key. Giving them some info on your illness, and how you’re feeling physically (and depending on the friend, emotionally). It might take some time, but they will eventually back off a bit and be more understanding. Again, it can be difficult to talk to friends about everything, as there can be a protective need not to make anyone sad. Just remember, if they truly are your friends, they will stick around and be there for you. Lately, I’ve made a few friends who also suffer from chronic pain/illness. It’s nice to find people who understand automatically, and it can be easier to share with them. Not that you need a bunch of friends who are in the same situation as you, but it can be nice to have one or two to confide in.

imagesImage from: http://gclipart.com/friends-clipart/

Romantic Partners

Another difficult task. There can be a difference in this navigation depending on whether you were already in pain/diagnosed before your relationship started, or after it did. In my last relationship, I was already in pain when we began dating, but didn’t get my tentative diagnosis until 6 months in. The relationship completely changed after that. It wasn’t her fault, nor mine. We both struggled with what was happening, and one key reason that things fell apart is that we didn’t share with each other how we were feeling emotionally about everything. I think this is the most important thing with romantic partners. Sharing. Let them know about your pain. That’s probably the easier part. And let them know when you’re depressed or having anxiety, or whatever is going on with you emotionally. Encourage them to do the same. Communication is key in any relationship, and so much more if you’re dealing with some sort of illness.

Heterosexual and homosexual families. Vector illustration of couImage from: https://www.123rf.com/photo_58606050_stock-vector-heterosexual-and-homosexual-families-vector-illustration-of-couple-with-baby–straight-lesbian-gay-c.html

Again, I’m not an expert on this subject. These are just a few things I’ve learned, noticed, and tried, in order to keep close with family, friends, and hopefully one day, a partner again. If you have anything to share or add to this post, please feel free to comment or send me an email at janeversuspain@gmail.com.

References

The Relationship between Mental Health, Mental Illness and Chronic Physical Conditions

18 Secrets of People Who Are in a Relationship and Chronically Ill

http://www.apa.org/monitor/jan06/chronic.aspx

Music & Art as Therapy: A Look at Different Styles of Treatment

I’m sure to some people, just the idea of music or art as therapy seems a bit cheesy or weird, especially if you’re not a particularly creative person. A few years ago, when i last lived in Vancouver, I worked at the lesson centre for a Long & McQuade music store. That location was lucky enough to have a music therapist on staff, and though she exclusively worked with kids with autism, I was able to see first hand, the positive effect music therapy has. There has been a lot of research done to show it has a similar effect on chronic pain as well. And art therapy works much in the same way. Music and art are centred around emotions, and it is beneficial for chronic pain warriors to be in touch with their feelings, and further more, it can provide distraction, causing the brain to focus on a specific task and “forget” about pain for awhile.

IMG_2265The extent of my talent in the visual arts

Very rarely will physicians and specialists recommend these alternative types of therapies to patients. Even psychotherapists probably won’t immediately suggest this type of practice. Perhaps if their patient is a particularly creative, and they are aware of that it may come up as a suggestion to try. These kinds of therapies are something I discovered on my own. Mostly because I am creative. I have played the piano for 27 years, and have always used it to calm my nerves. Though I am a terrible visual artist, it can be fun to paint sometimes. Writing is another form of art that can be beneficial because it works similarly to music and art as far as distraction. Of course, I’m also a writer, so maybe that’s just easy for me to say (and do). So what about for those people who are not “creative” or perhaps lack the skill? There are still a few options:

  1. Buy some cheap canvas and paints from the dollar store. Even if you are terrible… paint! Or draw. Or buy clay and build little creations. The point isn’t to make something beautiful. The point is to a) let your emotions take charge and express your inner feelings, and b) provide a distraction from the pain.
  2. If you already own an instrument, fantastic! Nothing is stopping you from playing it. So go do that.. now! (or after your finish reading this post). Even if you’re playing badly. Take some time to learn a new piece or chord. If you don’t have an instrument, you can rent guitars fairly inexpensively. If you are more interested, lots of places provide lesson (i.e., Long & McQuade) or you can find private teachers. If you’re less interested, blast your favorite tunes from your smartphone and sing (and dance) along at the top of your lungs. Terrible singer? Who cares?! Once again, that’s not the point.
  3. I mentioned writing as well. Journaling isn’t too difficult because you can literally write your feelings. Or if you’d like to try something more creative, write a short story, or some poetry. No one ever has to read it (unless you want them to) but you may discover a hidden talent. If not, at least you probably weren’t in pain for the hour you spent on it.
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Chopin’s Nocturne No 1., Opus 72 (in e minor) – It’s also tattooed on my left arm.

There are certified music and art therapists out there, if you are more inclined to get a bit of direction, or prefer a person to follow up with you directly. Otherwise, try some of this out on your own and see where it gets you. It can be fun, distracting, and full of self-discovery.

For more information on these topics, check out the links I found below.

https://www.painpathways.org/art-therapy/
https://painresource.com/happiness/music-and-art-therapy-can-help-with-pain-management/

Also, I believe this is my 10th post on this blog! Thanks for sticking with me! I hope there are many more posts to come for all you Chronic Pain Warriors!!

Coffee or Tea, What’s Better For Me?

I love both coffee and tea. Coffee is my “let’s get out of bed in the morning” drink, and tea is my “let’s relax before bed” drink. Both have similarities and differences, both taste good (at least in my opinion). They both have their purposes in my life, but that doesn’t mean they are created equal… does it? More than one medical professional has suggested that I switch to decaf coffee, though no one has recommended cutting back on tea (black or herbal). I wanted to do some further exploration on both, before deciding if I should give one up, or cut back on one, or leave my lifestyle the way it is. Let’s start with…

downloadImage from: http://www.amyvansant.com/tea-vs-coffee/

Coffee

Though my research of the health benefits of coffee (yay, health benefits!) I found a lot of similar evidence for certain things, and other sources adding a few others. Here are the consistencies that I was able to find:

  • Reduces the risk of Type II Diabetes
  • Reduces the risk of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Reduces the risk of liver disease
  • Reduces the risk of stroke
  • Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Reduces the risk of certain types of cancer
  • Reduces depression

There has also been recent reports that coffee drinkers live longer. I’ve seen these floating around Facebook, as well as some other sources online. Not sure if it’s true, but if it is, I guess that’s good news for me. Coffee is also a good source of antioxidants, but as with anything, moderation rules the nation, and we probably shouldn’t overindulge just to get them.

So if those are the benefits, what are the detriments? As any good journalist or documentarian knows, we need to look at both sides of the equation.

  • Increases anxiety
  • Negative effect on inflammatory bowel disease
  • Causes insomnia
  • Causes heart burn and acid reflux
  • Can be detrimental to those already suffering from Type II Diabetes and heart disease

My overall findings on coffee? I repeat my family’s motto: MODERATION RULES THE NATION!

IMG_1750.JPGMy current favorite coffee mug.

So then, what about tea?

Tea

It’s fairly common knowledge that tea has a lot of health benefits, which is only one of the reasons I love it (it also tastes good and is relaxing to drink). Here are a few of the benefits I could find:

  • Contains antioxidants
  • Reduces risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Battles cancer
  • Soothes the digestive system
  • Reduces risk of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Green tea helps Diabetics process sugars

What I noticed was that tea and coffee share a lot of similar benefits. Tea, happens to have a few different ones as well. So what about the detriments of tea? (Personally I had never heard of such a thing, but that’s what research is for!)

  • Causes anxiety
  • Causes insomnia
  • Increases risk of stomach ulcers
  • Prevents iron absorption
green-tea-alamy-largeImage from: http://www.hindmadetree.com/products/hindmade-tea

All in all, there are huge advantages, and disadvantages to drinking coffee and tea. So, what’s better for me while fighting chronic pain? I’m not sure this is a question I was able to answer. They both can cause stomach issues, and aren’t good for anxiety. But they do help against things like depression, and they boost the immune system (coffee and tea respectively). I think I’m going to stick to where I’m at. A little bit of coffee in the morning, and a little bit of tea at night!

References:

http://www.nutraingredients.com/Suppliers2/Dietician-says-antioxidant-benefits-of-coffee-misunderstood

https://www.caffeineinformer.com/7-good-reasons-to-drink-coffee

https://authoritynutrition.com/top-13-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coffee/

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270202.php

http://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-10-2013/coffee-for-health.html

http://naturimedica.com/drinking-coffee-pros-and-cons-from-a-medical-perspective/

https://www.caffeineinformer.com/harmful-effects-of-caffeine

http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/04/13-reasons-to-love-tea/

http://www.today.com/series/one-small-thing/top-10-health-benefits-drinking-tea-t81111

http://www.thedailymind.com/health-at-work/disadvantages-of-tea/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/439978-what-are-the-side-effects-of-drinking-tea/

Accepting Your Inner and Outer Beauty

I went back and forth for awhile on how to approach this post, knowing that I wanted to write it after an experience I had at the beginning of July. As usual, I find that the best way to approach any subject is to just dive right into it and go from there. It’s so easy to feel insecure when your body isn’t cooperating with you. Whether or not you are normally a confident person (I for the most part have always been) or if it’s something you’ve always struggled with, add in autoimmune disease, chronic illness, or chronic pain, and self-perception begins to change.

IMG_1898Just because ducks are cute.

Inner beauty 101. My hip hurts, my knee hurts, my stomach is upset, I have anxiety, my brain is foggy… and so on, and so on, and so on. There can be a never-ending list of reasons that make someone dealing with chronic pain depressed, anxious, grumpy, and just, in general feeling down about themselves. As hard as it is to remember that those things are not you, it is extremely important to remember just that. You are the person dealing with those symptoms, they don’t define you. Think about the positive traits that make you, you. Are you kind? Fun? Smart? Ambitious? Giving? Whatever these traits are, make a list, keep them nearby. They are what make you beautiful, even when you’re not feeling that way. Everyone has bad days, and no one should ever make you feel guilty for having one, but the bad days don’t make up you. Let them go, and start again the next day. Hopefully it’s better.

IMG_1945My friend found this for me when I was having a bad day. I don’t think there could have been anything more aptly named.

Outer beauty 101. Depending on your overall symptoms, this can also be difficult. If it’s just chronic pain, it’s tough enough. If you’re dealing with other symptoms such as weight loss or gain, alopecia, rashes, etc., it can be harder to remember that you are physically beautiful. To your partner, your family, and hopefully to yourself. Normally I’m fairly confident in my looks. I’ve been told enough times that I’m pretty to be aware that it’s true, and I’m happy when I look in the mirror. I definitely struggled with body image when I was much younger, but I found myself to be a strong enough person to grow out of that stage on my own. The past few months, I found that because of physical pain, I haven’t been as confident as I once was. My sex drive is significantly lower (which is fine because I’m single) but also frustrating because that’s not me. During Pride this year, my friend and I walked by a booth and had an opportunity to spin a wheel. The prize was a gift card toward a nude photoshoot. I won $400 which covered the cost of the shoot and one free photo. It was definitely the confidence booster I needed. The photos were so good that I bought two more and got another free one because I let the photographer keep one for his portfolio. Now, by no means am I suggesting that everyone run out and have a nude photo session. However, if you are looking for a confidence boost, there are other ways to go about it. Go on a date, have a regular photoshoot, buy a new outfit. And just try to accept the fact that the definitions of beauty are broad. Even if your body has changed, it is still beautiful.

IMG_1851Photo shoot by Guy Raymond. https://www.nu2.ca/welcome.html

In the words of Christina Aguilera, “We are beautiful, in every single way. The world won’t bring us down.” Don’t let chronic pain drain you of you.

Some other perspectives on chronic pain and beauty:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/148624-how-having-a-chronic-illness-can-affect-your-relationship-with-beauty

http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/life-with-chronic-pain/beauty-is-hope-in-a-life-of-chronic-pain/

Medical Marijuana – Is it For You?

 

Marijuana has been a controversial topic for a long time. As children and teens we are taught drugs are bad, and marijuana is a drug. The gateway drug… duh… duh… duh… Albeit a natural. When you’re young that’s never mentioned. Just bad But when can it be good? The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, promised to legalize marijuana. Though originally I believe it was supposed to be this year, it looks like July, 2018 will be the closest time. In the meantime, the Toronto police seem to waste their resources on busting dispensaries. Yes, marijuana is still illegal, but isn’t there something more productive they could do? That rant aside, what are the benefits of medical marijuana, how do you know if you should take it, and how do you go about obtaining it if you should? These are the questions I’ve been trying to answer myself for quite some time.

medicinal-marijuanaImage from: https://askgramps.org/churchs-stance-medical-marijuana/

Over a year ago, my then partner was a huge advocate for me taking marijuana medicinally to help with my pain. Since we didn’t actually have a medical marijuana prescription, what she really meant was let’s buy some pot and see if it works. Her mother, also a big advocate, encouraged us to try it out. To my surprise, and their happiness, when we did buy some, we found it worked. Especially for sleeping. I had less pain at night and was therefore able to get a better sleep (and so did my partner because of it). Since I’m not a huge fan of smoking in general (I hate that burning feeling when taking a hit), my girlfriend found a recipe online for pot brownies, so we did that for awhile. I liked them much better because they gave me the same pain relief without having to smoke. The only problem was her baking wasn’t always exact so I was never sure how big a piece to take.

tmg-slideshow_lImage from: https://www.thrillist.com/recipe/nation/best-pot-brownie-recipe-thrillist-recipes

Then we found dispensaries. Whey we didn’t just go there in the first place is beyond me. I filled out a form and checked off all my ailments from a list – lupus, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, anxiety. No problem. The options were limitless and included chocolate bars (and a friend of my partner’s gave me jolly ranchers at one point). Same positive effects on my body, and now without having to guess how much to take.

So what are the benefits of medical marijuana? There are so many, ti’s hard to say where to being. Let’s start with the obvious: it eases PAIN. For all kinds of different conditions from lupus to MS to muscle spasms to cancer to arthritis and so forth. My second favourite reason is that it can decrease anxiety. As long as the dose is low, you can become quite chill without a worry. Third favourite? At 29 I was diagnosed with glaucoma (far too young to be diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease but we can thank genetics for that). Marijuana actually lowers eye pressure. Which I find easy to believe since my eye pressure hasn’t gone up since I started using pot. What else is good about it? It can stop, or lessen the intensity,  of seizures, slow the growth of cancer, slow tremors in Parkinson’s patients, and slow the progression of Alzheimers. The list of benefits goes on and on. There are constantly studies, and there are even videos posted on YouTube. I’ll link one here for you now!

How do you know if you should take it? The advice of a healthcare practitioner is definitely helpful. I asked my rheumatologist about it and she was dismissive. She doesn’t know enough about it. To be fair, they don’t teach much about medical marijuana in med school, and most doctors aren’t taught how to prescribe it. My naturopath was the doctor who recommended it. It makes sense. Marijuana is natural, and naturopaths… well they are all about natural treatments. Her reasons for recommendation were, a) I was already using it as a painkiller, b) it is a painkiller that is not harmful to the body, and c) it’s also good for anxiety. She actually recommended that I smoke/ingest it five to seven days a week, though I’ve never done it more than four. The other way to decide if you should take it is to simply try and see if it works for you. That’s what I did, and I found that it was way better than all the pain killers I was prescribed. Most of which will probably kill my liver over time. All marijuana does is make me dopey before bed (and when I wake up in the morning but that usually wears off pretty quickly).

medical-marijuana-doctorImage from: https://www.naturopathicdiaries.com/pot-doctor-naturopaths-medical-marijuana/

How to obtain it… legally? Oh, this is the toughest question of them all. Currently, the only was is to get a prescription. And not every doctor can give one. I’ve been on the waitlist to see two different pain specialists, and two different clinic for eight months now. My rheumatologist won’t prescribe it, and my GP and naturopath aren’t allowed to. So currently I have no option but to continue to wait (probably forever) to see a pain specialist and in the meantime, use the dispensaries. Though not legal, typically no one is charged with possession when they buy the small amounts they do. The big problem with this, as I mentioned at the top of my post, is that the dispensaries are constantly being raided and temporarily shut down. Though there are more out there, it is becoming annoying to go find a new one all the time. Not to discourage anyone who’s reading this and wants to try medical marijuana. This is just the reality.

downloadImage from: http://www.thekindland.com/policy/a-10-step-guide-to-opening-a-weed-dispensary-and-1444

I’m not saying that medical marijuana is right for everyone, but if you’re already ingesting a ton of pain killers that may or may not be working, you might as well give it a try. It has far less long lasting effects on your body than whatever else you’re taking, and you just might find it work as good for you as it does for me!

 

References:

http://www.businessinsider.com/health-benefits-of-medical-marijuana-2014-4/#-might-protect-the-brain-from-concussions-and-trauma-20

https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/legalizing-strictly-regulating-cannabis-facts.html

Knowing Your Limitations Versus Letting Them Control You

June was Pride month, and as a member of the LGBTQ community, I was, of course, excited to participate in this year’s festivities. That being said, I do remember last year and the struggle it was to go out all day and all night. The big question was, am I going to let it stop me this year? If you haven’t guessed already, the answer is no. I wasn’t going to and I didn’t. That being said, like last year, though even more so this year, I was quite aware of my limitations given the physical pain and fatigue my illness causes me. But I’m a warrior. A chronic pain warrior, so off to the festivities I went.

IMG_1724Yes, I wore rainbow suspenders – June 25, 2017

Pride weekend is just an example of a time when I wanted very much to go out and have a good time with my friends, but for everyone there are many other times when you may need or want to push yourself without causing any more physical pain than normal. Want to run a marathon? Go on an adventurous vacation? Have children? The list goes on and on, depending on the person and their circumstances. So what do we do and what do we not do? That’s always the question when you’re dealing with chronic pain.

Berlin_marathonPhoto from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathon

The first step is knowing your limitations. For me, on an average night I’m in bed by 9:45 or 10:00 and asleep by 10:15. Maybe 10:30 at the latest. I also get up early, usually around 6:00 or 6:30 so I can write, meditate, and exercise before work. Regardless, I’m usually exhausted by 8pm and like to take it easy in the evening. Also, the longer I’m on my feet, the more likely I am to experience increased hip, knee, ankle pain, etc. (and that’s ignoring all the pain that lingers around when I’m not doing anything special.). I also find that the more I drink alcohol, the more anxiety I have. Something I’m quite aware of, and as a result try not to drink too often. If you’re unsure of your limitations, make a quick mental list (or physical list if you’d prefer). It’s good to know what they are, whether or not you’re about to follow them to a tee.

kid-making-listPhoto from: http://soberbastard.com/tips/a-drinking-alternative-list/

If I were to let my limitations control me this past weekend, I would’ve missed out on quite a lot of fun, and probably would’ve regretted it. The lucky thing is, I was able to sleep in every day to catch up on what I would have otherwise lacked. I managed to stay out until 2am on Friday, 1:30am on Saturday, and 10pm on Sunday. I was on my feet a lot (walking around the festival) but every opportunity I had to sit (usually on a patio) I took it. I knew I needed to, and as soon as someone brought up patio time I jumped at it. And I did drink. For me, it was worth the anxiety, which I managed to deal with pretty well by Sunday (that’s a whole other story that you can ask me about in person). Depending on your situation/medication, drinking may not be something you can do at all. I don’t usually drink to excess, though I definitely had more than I needed on the weekend. I found I also had more physical pain (though I avoided hangovers). I was also very conscious of drinking lots of water. If this weekend was me versus chronic pain, I think I won. This weekend at least.

IMG_1729Artist: Jonathan Pimentel

This is not to say that sometimes we should let our limitations control us. Or rather, advise us. It’s the one offs. The things we really want that may only happen a few times a year, where we have the opportunity to challenge ourselves. We should. Why not? Unless you’re planning something that is really going to hurt you physically, or take you out of the count for awhile (and who knows? To you that may be worth it), you should go for it. The other big resistance can be (unsolicited) advice from friends and family about whether or not your should do these things. The best advice would come from your health care providers. They can possibly help you achieve these things within your limitations even. If not, they should at least be kept in the loop about it. Friends and family can only see through a certain lens, and they don’t understand what you’re experiencing physically or emotionally, so take their advice with caution. They love you, but they don’t really understand.

downloadImage from: http://www.drmendel.com/services/Family.html

Remember, doing more will help your mental health too. Isolation can lead to loneliness which can lead to depression and so forth. A ripple effect. Mental health is already so much affected by chronic pain. I personally don’t want to make it worse. Do what you can. Have fun. Know yourself. Those are the keys to unlocking your limitations.

References:

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2015001/article/14130-eng.htm

You can also follow Jane Versus Pain on Twitter @janevspain and Instagram @ janeversuspain.

Prioritizing and Affording Health Care Needs No Matter Your Budget

Let me begin by saying that this is a huge topic unto itself, and will probably need more than one post, and ultimately, more than one perspective on it. I want to talk about it, because it’s important and difficult, and can cause emotional strains as well as financial ones. No one likes to talk about money, and no one really likes to spend their hard earned cash unless necessary. This topic is large because everyone has different jobs, ability to work given their chronic pain, health benefit coverage, and support from family, friends, and partners. So how can everyone prioritize and afford what they need? A lot of it will come down to individual decisions, but making your health your top priority will only help you in the long run. At least, that’s what I’ve learned. Where I was 8 months ago when my health was not my top priority (my relationship and career goals were) to now (where my health is number one, and everything else is second) has made me realize how important it is to stay on top of everything health-related in order to live an amazing life and succeed in all other areas.

amazing-life-quotes2Image from: http://imagelovequote.blogspot.ca/2012/12/amazing-life-quotes.html

Part One: An Incomplete List of Health Care Options Available and Prioritizing Them

Rheumatologists & GPS: When you suffer from chronic pain, there are so many options for health care treatments. For most, a specialist like a Rheumatologist, as well as your GP, as the starting point. They tend to offer diagnosis (or direction toward one) and will prescribe any pharmaceuticals that will help ease pain and any other symptoms. They are important. In my opinion, only part of the team, not the whole team. The pills I’ve been prescribed personally (for lupus, fibromyalgia, and pain) help, but only to an extent. I can function, but not the way I want to.

Physiotherapy and Chiropractor: There are other health care providers that can be sought out to help with chronic pain. Working on strength, movement, and having adjustments, laser therapies, heat therapies, acupuncture, etc., are often the focus from these types of specialists. There has been a lot of research suggesting that exercise can have a great effect on chronic pain.

Male Osteopath Treating Female Patient With Shoulder ProblemImage from: http://wilsonhealth.ca/blog/333-physiotherapy-vs-chiropractic-which-do-i-need

Naturopaths: NDs tend to give suggestions in terms of switching up diet (hard to do, but helpful), exercise, acupuncture, and natural supplements that can decrease inflammation, pain, and relax muscles. They also focus on the body as a whole. What are the other causes of pain? How are you emotionally? etc. The integrative approach is refreshing, and NDs can have a way of making you feel like more than just a patient.

Pain Specialists: Another type of specialist that deals specifically with chronic pain. They can also offer alternative prescriptions for things like medical marijuana, which is a good solution for some people.

Massage Therapy: Most people think of massage as a relaxing luxury as opposed to a health care practice. It’s true, massages do relax the body, and work out tough knots caused by stress, but they can also provide some relief (albeit temporary to chronic pain in certain parts of the body.

massage-therapy-2Image from: http://www.durhamcollege.ca/programs/massage-therapy

Psychotherapy: Ah, the mind, an important player in chronic pain, even though most of us don’t want to admit it. In fact, a lot of people (chronic pain warriors or not) could benefit from some talk therapy. Often therapists will also have suggestions and new ideas for how to reduce pain from a mind perspective as well.

Life Coaches, Personal Trainers, Nutritionists, and So Forth: There are lots of other people you can include in your health care team depending on your goals and needs. As stated at the start of this section, this in a short, incomplete list of some of the most common providers, but it’s important to remember that there are others out there as well.

Every person will prioritize the above health care needs on their own. And those priorities may change over time. I prioritize based upon what is currently working the best for me. If I’m getting more out of a therapy/treatment, I’ll probably do it more often. That, of course, and then money, which leads us into…

PART TWO: Affording These Needs

If you have health benefits, especially good ones, it makes this a lot easier. I’m Canadian, so my Rheumatologist and GP are covered by our government provided health care. If you’re in other parts of the world, that may not be the case. Setting appointments to keep you in check, and refill prescriptions if necessary, are always a good idea. The nice thing is, these visits can be spread apart. At this point I only need to see my rheumatologist every six months. Even if it wasn’t covered, it makes it a lot more affordable than every three months. Find out what the longest you can reasonably set your appointments apart, and go from there.

money-world-origImage from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictures-of-money/17123251389

Again, a lot of the additional health care practices may depend partially on whether or not you have some additional coverage. Even if you do, your coverage may only get you “X” amount of appointments in a year (usually set by a dollar amount). This is the case for me. And because I didn’t pace everything out, I ran out of some coverage. This is when prioritizing can be extra important. If you only have enough coverage for 6 naturopath appointments in a year, for example, try to spread them out over every two months (even if your ND wants to see you every month). Often health care providers like to see patients more initially, and then less often once improvement is shown. There is an opportunity to spread it out at that point. If you have no benefits, letting your health care professionals know up front what you can and cannot afford will be helpful in them setting up an appointment schedule and routine for you. (This also works for additional things they might suggest. For example, my chiropractor wants me to go to the gym, but knows I can’t afford to join, so he has given me body weight exercises that I can do at home with just a yoga mat).

Psychotherapy is a specific one that I want to quickly touch on. I know a  lot of people (most dealing with issues other than chronic pain) that say they want to go to therapy but can’t afford it. The great thing about therapy is that you don’t have to see a registered psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist if you’re not covered, or don’t have much coverage. I’ve been to therapy at two different points in my life – years ago for marriage counselling, and currently for myself. The first time I went down to the local university and it (like most other universities) offered therapy for free if you see a student. The biggest challenge for this is the wait lists are often long. Currently, my wellness centre has two student therapists who charge a greatly reduced rate ($40/hour), which is very affordable, especially if you’re okay with spreading out sessions. $40 every two or three weeks just means one less meal out in that time period.

17b1ca81Image from: http://www.medhalt.com/blog/reasons-monopoly-health-insurance-us

Like I said at the beginning of this very long post (sorry about that), this is really too large a topic to do just one post on, but I like to think of this as a starting point to open up the conversation and get some perspectives. If you have questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions on this topic, please feel free to comment on the post, or email me. I’d love to hear from you.

The Power of Affirmations

One major thing I’ve noticed about being in chronic pain, especially as it started to get worse, was how quickly I lost myself. From what I’ve read, I’m not alone in this feeling, and to be honest, it probably isn’t that surprising. To go from being an able-bodied adult, who loves to be active and adventurous, to suddenly not being able to do all the things you like is difficult, to say the least. That self-love, and self-reliance all adults are supposed to have (though many, including those who are well, don’t necessarily have them) became harder and harder to have. Instead, dependence on relationship (romantic and non-romantic) and a bit of self-hatred (the thinking that I must suck, since my body does) overflows the brain. There are tons of posts I could do (and probably will at some point) on self-love, self-care, self-awareness, etc, in regards to dealing with chronic pain, but the one I want to start with is simple: how to retrain your brain back to its old way of thinking, or perhaps, for some, this is just developing a new way of thinking altogether.

tumblr_nfnznpZvGH1rpu8e5o1_250Image from: http://rebloggy.com/dinosaur%20doodle%20self-care/search/bestmatch/page/2

I get it, affirmations can seem lame, and to be totally honest, they kind of are. I could sit here all day and tell myself I’m beautiful, I’m smart, I’m kind, I can get through anything, but it’s not going to change how I feel about anything. That is, unless I start to believe it. Saying the affirmation is the first step, truly believing what you’ve said is the second, and much more difficult step. This becomes even harder, when in addition to chronic pain (or rather, a coexisting symptom of chronic pain) is anxiety and/or depression. Talking to a therapist or psychiatrist is also a good idea if you’re experiencing these types of emotions. I do, and it helps deal with the underlying issues that causes these feeling to come up, even if the issue is just, “I’m in pain all the time!” Belief that saying affirmations will help is important. My therapist also has suggested using affirmations. No one is saying that you have to say them to yourself everyday, though as I quickly found out, if you start saying them regularly, even once a day, they will become part of your mind’s daily mantra without even trying.

My affirmations:

I AM

I CAN

I WILL

IMG_0795
The extent of my painting talents.

There are so many you can use, and my suggestion is to pick ones that you relate to. I tried out a bunch, and even use an app called Pacifica, which has affirmations as part of it’s “relaxation” and mindfulness section. I came up with the above three myself, and even painted them on a dollar store canvas, and put it in my room. Every time I think the pain is too much, or I’m having anxiety, I try to remember these, and to say them to myself. I am (strong). I can (get through this). I will (live a successful and fulfilling life). Affirmations are not going to cure any pain, emotional or physical, but they can be a great part of a much larger healing plan. Just be open to a mindfulness journey on  your chronic pain path. It could be more helpful than you’d think.

imagesImage from: http://dailyburn.com/life/lifestyle/instagram-positive-affirmations/

How to Get Exercise When Everything Hurts

This is a big question for all Chronic Pain Warriors, and not one easily answered. The medical community stresses that ‘light’ exercise is good for autoimmune diseases, and chronic pain, but most members of the medical community aren’t suffering (sorry, fighting) chronic pain themselves. It’s easy to say, get some more exercise, even if I say it to myself. It’s harder to do when, often, just walking or being on my feet all day causes my joints to hurt. So how do we balance this? There has to be a way. It’s not just GPs and rheumatologists saying exercise more either; it’s physiotherapists, naturopaths, and chiropractors too.

cancer-exercise-01Image from: http://www.cancernetwork.com/articles/exercise-and-cancer

First off, do what feels comfortable and make sure it’s something you enjoy. Personally, my favourite cardio activities are walking and hiking. I have a small dog, who requires walks, and though, occasionally I’m a bad dog mom and can’t get him out for a decent walk every day, I usually try 20-30 minutes around the neighbourhood with him. That, or on my days off from work, we go for a hike together. There are some great trails near  my place that are not too long. Basically, we get to hike while staying in the city. My pace (or should I say our pace, though when we hike he’s off leash and can run ahead) depends on how I’m feeling that day. If my pain is low, I tend to move a little quicker and go for a bit longer, keeping in mind that I don’t want to wear myself out. If I’m having a bit of a tougher day as far as pain goes, I slow down, and go as far as I can, even if it’s not as far as normal. For those of you who prefer running, bicycling, or other high cardio sports, I would suggest the same approach. I also read an article recently on “mindful running” in Mindful magazine. Sometimes, I do the “mindful walking,” which is great. One of the heads of the mindful running movement apparently has an autoimmune disease and runs marathons. Just proof we can do it.

FullSizeRenderSpike and I on a hike.

The type of exercise recommended to me by every health care professional is yoga. And not just any yoga (in fact, they warn against hot yoga specifically). Lighter, more gentler yoga like yin, is typically what is suggested. It’s about slower movement, and stretching. Each pose is held for roughly two to five minutes, and are fairly easy to do. Most yoga studios offer yin yoga classes, or if you’re like me and don’t have the extra cash to spend on going to the gym or yoga studio, buy a yoga mat and YouTube some classes. I found a bunch of good ones. Yin yoga is something I just started to get into but I enjoy it because it falls into the whole “mindfulness” realm and my body feels good afterwards. The only problem with doing it at home, is that my dog thinks that it’s play time because I’m on the floor with him. If only I could teach him to do yoga with me…

YIN-YOGA-1-IEImage from: http://bhakticenter.org/yin-yoga-a-complete-relaxation-experience/

But what about strength training? We’ve covered cardio and stretching, but how can we make our muscles stronger? Especially for those of us, who in addition to joint pain, deal with frequent muscle pain. Some of the exercises my physiotherapist has given me are for strength and can be done at home on a yoga mat, two to three time per day. I just started seeing a chiropractor, who also happens to be a certified personal trainer. On my next visit his focus is going to be on giving me strength training exercises that I can do at home on my yoga mat. The best bet for finding out what kind of strength training is best for you is to see a physiotherapist or a chiropractor and get their suggestions. It will vary a bit for everyone, and they should be able to find exercises that will help you with your specific needs.

no-pain-sign-painfree-freeImage from: http://www.kellypersonaltraining.com/category/back-pain

I’m not an expert. I’m still learning and growing as I deal with my illness, and as with every post I write, if you have any suggestions, or thing you’d like to add or comment on, please leave comment on the article or send my a direct message via email.

**There are varying degrees to chronic pain. Always make sure to consult with your health care professionals before starting a new exercise regime.

References:

https://www.spineuniverse.com/wellness/exercise/7-tips-exercising-when-you-have-chronic-pain
https://yogainternational.com/article/view/restorative-yoga-for-chronic-pain