Is it possible to identify with your pain so intimately that it becomes a part of your identity?
What would happen if you didn’t have the pain, the discomfort or the disease? Would you still be you? Have you become so deeply interwoven into your experience that you actually would not let it go?
This is an extremely difficult, sensitive and taboo conversation, and not one I have with my clients rarely, if ever.
Partly because it’s hard to know if or when you could bring the topic up, and if by bringing it up, you might push them away, ostracise them or even offend them.
The allopathic World has a term psychosomatic. It’s offensive even saying it, yet the term stirs in me a need to look further than the body when someone is in pain. Now this is not a conversation about psychosomatic pain, rather a connection between pain and our emotional self.
psychosomatic - adjective: 1.(of a physical illness or other condition) caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress
Pain comes in many forms and our experiences create many pathways.While some experiences stir emotions, others can leave residue within our body that then manifests as physical feeling.
Have you ever heard the saying ‘to carry the weight of the World on your shoulders’, ‘it was a pain in the back’, ‘a thorn in my side’? These sayings are handed down through generations and they come from way back when. Emotions can weigh us down, they can resolve as pain points and if we don’t listen to the whispers, our body will eventually shout at us and stop us in our tracks.
Studies are being conducted to understand better the emotional relationship to pain in the brain. Scientists from Stanford University have been conducting studies in mice and are finding that when the emotional part of the brain is subdued in the amygdala, specifically the basolateral neural ensemble, the pain is not so bothersome. It sounds like an opioid prescription to me, but if we can understand better how to ease the emotional response of pain through movement, meditation and breath, maybe we can learn to live with our body harmoniously.
“While painful stimuli are detected by nerves, this information doesn’t mean anything emotionally until it reaches the brain”– Grégory Scherrer, Ph.D., assistant professor of anaesthesiology and of neurosurgery.
Opioid users tell us that the use of the drug does not necessarily change the pain, but rather dulls the emotional response to it.
So maybe we need to be learning how to create a more positive, or less obtrusive emotional response to the stimuli of pain?
I don’t know about you, but for me, my Pilates started from a history of chronic pain. I would wake up in the morning , exhausted already by the very thought of having to make it through another day.
My spare time was spent laying on my back, spending every cent on anything from massage to chiro and physio. Days turned to weeks and the weeks dragged on, waiting for the next appointment that might give me enough relief to fulfil the space between.
It wasn’t until I found Pilates that I saw any hope of recovery. It wasn’t spoken about; I didn’t know the why’s, but something was happening, and something felt right.
After a few months of individually tailored classes I was starting to wake up with less pain, a little more energy and a hint of hope that I’d never dared before.
Pilates for me has been life changing. It has eased my chronic pain, allowed me to live again and gave me the confidence to have a baby, something I had feared for many years since I did not believe my body had the strength or capability to carry the load.
No-one ever spoke to me about chronic pain, maybe it was taboo. Nobody ever had the answers, nobody ever eased my fears. I have spent my days learning how to manage pain, how to live with my own limitations, how to experience movement as a joyful one instead of a painful one and how to share my journey with others.
et al. G. Corder el al., “An amygdala neural ensemble that encodes the unpleasantness of pain,” Science (2019).