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Blogs of Writer, Artist, Photographer, & Caregiver Joanne D. Kiggins

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Joanne has published more than 2,500 articles and was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments and excellence in journalism and to the community. Her co-authored book, “Unforgettable Journey,” won fifth place in the Grand Beginnings romance contest. An excerpt from her WIP, “Unearthed,” placed her fifth in the Absolute Write Idol contest. Most recently, her essay, “Perseverance,” is published in the Stories of Strength anthology in which 100% of the profits are donated to disaster relief charities. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, AbsoluteWrite.com, and Moondance.org. She has a monthly freelance writing column at Absolutewrite.com. Currently, she is the sole caregiver for her 85-year-old mother.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Commanding the brain to ignore pain: Not always easy or safe.

I’m not surprised to see the HealthDay News and MedlinePlus contain articles about pain studies revealing that ‘mind over matter’ can work when dealing with pain. I’ve been using this system of pain tolerance for years. I think I was surprised that money was wasted on another senseless study on what seems to be a natural defense mechanism for those of us who deal with pain each day.

What bothers me most about this type of report is that those who suffer from the chronic pain of Fibromyalgia are often looked at as if the disease is all in their heads. Studies of this nature, stating that a ‘placebo effect’ is ‘purely psychological,” can intensify the ‘it’s all in your head’ attitude.

While I have used a ‘mind over matter’ approach to my pain from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis I certainly do not agree that the pain is any less. It is simply pushed out of my mind or covered up with other thoughts or activities in order to tolerate it. I will agree, on the other hand, that if one learns to control one’s mind, thoughts and feelings, the thought of pain can be lessened by continuing a daily practice of obtaining and gathering good energies around you and alleviating stress, rather than allow the thoughts of the pain and added stress to take over.

That is not to say that everyone who deals with daily pain has the ability to block it out, either. Having practiced this for more than a decade there are days when the pain is so intense, even I cannot get my brain wrapped around it long enough to block, ignore, or tolerate the intensity. When I am able to control my brain over pain, it is still not a painless or ‘less pain’ endeavor.

I’ll use a simple example of thought transference when it comes to pain. If one were to cut oneself, he may not realize the cut until he sees the blood; hence the cut begins to sting. Yet if the blood weren’t noticed there would still be some degree of pain later. Another example, maybe a bit more exaggerated, if one hits a thumb with a hammer, there is tremendous pain in the thumb and if a toe is hit within minutes, the toe then becomes the object of the pain. Yet both the thumb and the toe will certainly experience pain once the initial blow has been made.

Thinking or training your brain to modulate pain is practical, but there are cases where it also can be dangerous. I have experienced this first hand. For several months I had a pinching pain below my abdominal region. I tolerated it ‘thinking’ it was just one more ache experienced from one of my ailments. Wrong! Had it not been for a blood test, taken for a scheduled surgery, a grapefruit-size tumor in my ovary may not have been discovered in time.

Those who deal with pain each day become all too familiar with how their body and mind react to each level. Even those who are capable of wrapping their minds around the pain factor in order to tolerate it, I stress a word of caution that you don’t ignore what may be a sign of something fatal. If it doesn’t ‘feel’ the same, it may not be, so don’t let anyone tell you that ‘it’s all in your head.’

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Blogger Jill said...

Reading your comments about pain management and the sometimes concommitant effect that real pain is dismissed as nonexistent (an effect that's provoked by the assertion of mind over matter) reminds me of an article I read last spring about the rare condition in which people are born unable to feel any pain whatsoever.

I was just discussing that condition with my son, who's going through emotional pain as he tries to adjust to middle school. And I urged him to remember that for all the pain we more passionate individuals might feel, could he really imagine a life in which he never felt a thing?

Management is the key concept, I think.

9/16/2005 12:29 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Jill, I agree management is one of the keys. Tolerance is another. I think the more we have tolerated the easier it is to manage as well.

9/16/2005 5:45 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Absolutely. I had to watch him have two teeth extracted last week. I'm the one who needed the meds! He did just fine.

9/17/2005 8:26 AM