Overcome Fear of Pain

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

March 22nd, 2008 • Mind-Body MedicinePrint Print

My day today started off totally and completely shitty — beginning at 6:00 a.m., when I awoke from a sense of profound distress:

Various body parts were hurting, which reminded me of the medical negligence that caused injury to those body parts, which reminded me of the lack of accountability medical professionals took for injuring those body parts, which reminded me of the resulting psychological distress and financial duress I’ve been suffering in the process of healing those body parts…And on and on and on.

I used to always wake up that way, until I named it “spinning” and developed techniques for staying positive and focused on everything I have done and can do. Sometimes, however, I’m still hit by a profound wave of loss and grief — leaving me feeling miserable about what my body, and therefore my life, have become.

In this case, the distress was brought on by my back going totally out on Thursday night — during the celebration of Purim. That in itself was not a huge problem. The party actually ended up being one of my favorite Purim celebrations ever:

My friends and family all gathered their chairs around my bed, as I lay immobilized like a beached whale on top of a heating pad turned on at full blast, my pink fuzzy Disneyland ears the only things peeking out from under the covers.

One of my friends read the Book of Esther, while I made running commentary on each and every character who appeared in the story and fired off my space gun at the sound of Haman’s (zap zap) name. Oh yeah, and at the mention of every sexist jerk in the story.

Anyhoo, that was all fine and dandy, but the next day I began feeling distress about the whole back-going-out thing. See, after the initial injury in 1997, my back didn’t go out until I was electrocuted by an MRI almost two years ago.

For the moment, let’s put aside the fact that there was a cover-up at the imaging center where it happened. The upshot is that I was left with a whole new set of physical — and therefore financial, emotional, etc. — problems.

Fortunately, after six months, my back stopped going out every day or two, and over the past few months, it hasn’t gone out at all (though it has been in varying levels of pain). But the experience of Thursday night reminded me that at this moment in time, I’m in a position where I can’t totally trust my body.

I hate that.

It made Friday suck. I was afraid to move more than was absolutely necessary, because I did not want my back to go out again. So I spent much of the bright, sunshiny day in a hot, scaldingy bath. I also spent the duration of the day navigating through a post-party mess in my apartment, because I could not take the risk of my back going out from putting things away.

The experience of my back going out also hurled me into a spiral of what-if fear this morning. What if I went for a hike or bike ride or swim or whatever and got stuck away from home, with my back totally out? I could see the miserable resulting scenario playing out very clearly in my mind’s eye.

Fear has actually been a constant companion and a major impediment in my life, since experiencing a litany of injuries, beginning in 1997. Trauma can mess with one’s ability to trust, and in effect, with one’s willingness to risk. Being reminded that I have a body that can completely freeze up with no forewarning left me freshly afraid.

The fear, in turn, left me wanting to stay inside all day.

Fortunately, on what seemed to be another note, I called someone in my spiritual program for eating issues, to discuss my recent challenges with food. The conversation ended up inspiring me with an exercise solution:

After being “abstinent” from compulsive eating for nearly half a year, I totally lost it six weeks ago. Following that, I kept trying and trying to get “back on the wagon,” but ended up reinforcing a try-and-fail pattern. So yesterday, I decided that I would simply commit to going to program meetings, without even bothering to try to get my eating in check.

“That’s great,” the woman on the other end of the phone told me. “We have this desire to go back to where we were months or years ago, but all we can do is be where we are right now.” Without knowing it, she was preaching to me a fundamental principle of Dancing with Pain®.

The conversation thus motivated me to figure out a way to take a calculated exercise risk, replete with a backup plan:

Out of all the outdoor activities I could do, cycling would have the least impact on my back. So I would bike as slowly as necessary, I decided; I would take breaks; I would make sure not to overdo the ride length; and I would carry my cell phone, in case I needed to call a taxi cab to get me home.

Lo and behold, at my little snail’s pace, I biked 15 miles — which is more than I have biked in nine months (since both my wrists were injured). As I promised myself I would, I took several breaks, which enabled me to sit on a bench and watch the sunshine dance on the body of water near the bike path.

That in turn gave me the opportunity to meditate. Then when I got home, I did my physical therapy routine, which I recently got out of the habit of doing.

So not only did I overcome fear of pain, but I once again discovered that an acceptance of where I am right now, coupled with a shift in attitude and a willingness to think about something in a different way, can transport me to a vastly different physical reality and mental state, even within the same day.

How cool is that?

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