Do you remember that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza discovers that if he identifies his immediate behavioral instinct and acts precisely the opposite way, his life improves instantly? I’ve been pondering that one lately…

Saturday morning I woke up with an incredibly stiff neck and sore shoulders, not an uncommon experience now that I’m not so young anymore, but still somewhat limiting. As the day wore on, the stiffness turned to soreness and by 3pm, it was definable as pain. Saturday night I found myself unable to sleep because I couldn’t find a position that would alleviate the pressure and pain. Waking up on Sunday morning, I was completely unable to turn my head to the left and I had the distinct impression that one of the vertebrae in my neck was coming unstacked like a Jenga piece. The ones below were trying mightily to stabilize the tower of my spine, but there were a few times I felt as though the whole thing was going down. As the day wore on, I occasionally tried to correct my posture by tucking my chin back a little and straightening my shoulders, but invariably, my protective measures involved shrinking down into myself and letting my head turn to the right slightly because it was the only thing that brought the pain down from an eight to a four.

I began wondering about people who suffer with chronic pain and how they cope with it day after day. Every task I attempted – cooking, sitting on the couch with a book, playing a board game with the girls, sitting at my computer – triggered some discomfort until finally, I was nauseous with the effort of trying to find something to do that didn’t hurt. I tried to busy myself and distract my attention from it, I tried taking anti-inflammatories, I even tried two glasses of wine and a hot bath until I decided to stop running from it.

Going head-on into the pain and exploring it mentally, feeling it and categorizing it in each of the places it showed up wasn’t terribly effective at alleviating the pain, but it did remind me that my instinctual protective measures of curling up and letting the pain be in control were exactly the wrong ones. Even though it hurt to stretch my muscles, aligning my spine and giving my chest muscles room to expand was what I needed to do. Well, that and see my amazing chiropractor on Monday….

This is not the first time in my life that I have fought to distract myself from pain or ignore it or mask it and found that it is entirely useless. Whether it is emotional pain or physical pain, often part of the solution is examining it to discover the origins and maybe causing a little more pain in order to get back where I need to be. I decided to think about whether there is a pattern in my backward instincts and, while I haven’t completely figured it out yet, I do sense that the times when I react protectively out of fear, I am often only prolonging the discomfort. When I take the time to step outside of the emotions provoked by my pain and acknowledge my fears, I can usually identify some sort of solution, or, short of that, at least the fear goes away for the most part.
Now, that time when I yanked Eve out of the street in Rome because some psychotic local on a scooter was about to run her down? That was definitely fear and it was certainly instinct, but I’m also certain that it was absolutely the right thing to do. Either that or quickly locate a long steel bar to stick in his spokes, but, nah, on second thought, I did the right thing. I scared the bejesus out of Eve and she didn’t forgive me for a couple hours, but she was only four, so I get it.
7 replies
  1. Wanda
    Wanda says:

    Pain sucks. And sometimes, it really does help to look it in the eye and find out what it is trying to say. It is, after all, a message.

    I like the iron bar in the spokes option, but it takes a little time to get organized. You did the right thing.

  2. Deb Shucka
    Deb Shucka says:

    Pain, like anger, is a neutral messenger, and does not abide being ignored. At least not in the long run. It is amazing how exhausting pain can be, and how making it stop can quickly become all-consuming. I hope yours has eased – it sure taught you a lot in its short tenure.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Oh my dear friend, I can only imagine you in the streets of Rome. I have no doubt that you acted with total efficiency!

    Your description of pain management is absolutely amazing, especially coming from you, having such an incredible tolerance to pain.

    If not a daily discussion in our house, it almost reached that point with our daughter. Being a chronic kid she developed not only a very high tolerance to pain, but an accute perception of what is causing it and what helps her in dealing with it. The best summary I can give of it is her description of which Doctors or therapists helped her most.

    She did not like the Dr.who tried to minimize it and told her to ignore it; she did not like the Dr. who was over and over telling her how painful it must me, telling me in the end that it is not as bad as this; she did not like the Dr, who told her over and over that positive visualization will make her feel better, telling me but it hurts, it really hurts!

    She absolutely loved the OT (occupational therapist) who recognized her pain and how it is impacting her life, was compassionate, but gave her tools to live with it, distract her from it and work with it. They made together a beautiful collage with pictures she chose and told her to visualise it everytime it hurts, not to take the pain away but to bring something beautiful in her head to think of. Have to trust kids, they have accurate and instinctive perception of what they need, and expert therapists who give tools.

    This is what you do Kari, you go get the help you need (your chiropractor in that case) and work on coping with it. Trust your instincts, you know what you need.

    I just have to remind you sometimes, that you deserve all the care you need…the best care.


  4. chriswreckage
    chriswreckage says:

    Very thoughtful words. Having been someone who has battled chronic pain, I will tell you that the most educational experience I've had was learning this very lesson. There are methods to help alleviate some pain, & they are often not what seems right! It took a lot of time for me to figure that one out.

  5. Thereza Howling
    Thereza Howling says:

    Although I felt your pain, I smiled reading this, because you've reached the point where you're past that frustration that comes with pain. You know it brings a lesson, and when you think like that, the lesson just eases its way to you.
    Way to face the situation, girl!
    Be well.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *