Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pain Commands Attention

A recent 'injury' threw me through a loop. Now anyone who knows me has probably heard me gripe about it one too many times already. For those of you haven't heard the story, I'll keep it brief.

I workout at a gym doing CrossFit. Maybe six weeks ago, we did some back squats. It wasn't all that heavy. I didn't feel anything unusual. The next day I was walking and a sharp stabbing pain in the back of my thigh brought me to the ground. It pulsed two or three times and was gone. I'd never felt anything like it but managed to forget it in short time.

Several weeks go by and I'm headed to the gym after work. I had to run to get there in time for the class. So I ran the 4.2 kilometers there and I was feeling pretty good. We were stretching our hips in the warm up and I felt something tight between my hip and groin. It hurt to stand up straight but the pain wasn't bad so I pushed through it. I felt fine just a few minutes later. We did some snatches and deadlifts and I was on my way.

The next day I'm sitting down eating and the sharp pain returns. I recognized the sensation immediately. The following night the pain strikes again while I'm sleeping and wakes me up. It's brief and I go back to bed. The day after that I'm standing up at the park across from my work and the pain comes again and I fall to the ground. After work I'm at the bus stop headed to the gym and it happens again. At this point I'm feeling nervous but since it wasn't sore to touch, to stretch, or to use the muscles, I felt assured it was nothing and that it would pass. I was wrong.

I came home from the gym and small jolts of pain shot through my thigh. I was plagued by strange sensations of pressure, tingling and pain. The strange sensations continued as did the spasms. Although less painful than before the spasms were longer and more frequent as time went by.

And thus I descended into complete paranoia. The pain would come sitting, standing, walking and lying down. Never knowing when it would return or what was caused it in the first place had me obsessed. For all that I have meditated, and for all the practice I have in dealing with my emotions, I wasn't prepared to deal with this sort of pain and uncertainty. I haven't had any practice...for which I'm thankful of course. The doctor at the walk-in clinic said "I don't know what that is" and gave me a prescription for Naproxen. An anti-inflammatory. Turns out it wouldn't help me heal and that it's used primarily for pain. Since I wasn't in pain all the time it was pointless. I gave it a try and it brought on a headache and extreme exhaustion. Common side effects it seems. I'd have thought it was my imagination, if it weren't for the fact I'd never read about the side effects.

Now the pain would come at night and I was losing sleep. For whatever reason, it was getting worse. I'd been using it still but not nearly as much as before. But again it didn't hurt to run or stretch or lift. Finally, I went to see an athletic therapist. He said it's myofascial pain. Apparently the fascia around one of my groin muscles has tightened and so the muscle's unable to slide properly. I've seen him four times now and he's been using a technique called myofascial release to relieve some of the tension that has built up in the fascia. I don't fully understand what caused this to happen, or what exactly causes spasms. And from what I've read, spasms aren't well understood to begin with. The pain may go away with treatment but return again in the future. Only time will tell.

Now during all this time I sought out answers in the online world. You know what causes spasms? Cancer, AIDS and MS. It couldn't be a tear of the muscle, tendon or ligaments because I have no pain when using my leg. I gave it some thought and in my paranoid state MS was a real possibility.

The most important fact, which I'd seem to overlook again and again was that it began after a workout which used those muscles. It should have been enough to realize it was some sort of injury and not a neurological disease but I was consumed by fear. Losing sleep was wearing me out and constantly scanning my body was crushing my spirit. I was no longer present. No longer able to enjoy all the moments I wasn't in pain because I was anxious. Constantly anticipating the pain and knowing it may come at any time meant every moment was defined by fear. Nothing in life seemed fulfilling so long as that pain existed and would return. I fantasized a life in which I was no longer able to run, jump, dance or lift weight. The very thought of it had me begging. I was constantly begging my body to put an end to the bullshit. As far as I can tell, there's no real reason for me to be in this state. There's nothing 'wrong' with my leg. Nothing 'damaged' so the therapist says.

There were moments in between the fear (and pain) which left me crying with appreciation. I'd never been more thankful to be without pain. At one point I'd looked down at my leg and cried as I thought of it as someone else's. It filled me with compassion. I'd never treat someone else with the frustration and impatience to which I was treating myself. Everyone who cares for me seemed that much more important. You'd think I was dying or something. I didn't realize how attached I was to a future filled with running, dancing and lifting until it seemed it might all slip away.

So it wasn't brief. Sue me. Maybe you can relate.

I haven't had a spasm today. I've gone all day and not felt worried. How easy it is in the absence of pain.

But I knew some good would come of this.

Appreciate your health (it won't last forever).

Pain commands attention but it doesn't need to consume you. You're still able to breath. To feel what is soft, cool, or warm. You can see, hear and smell. Focus on what feels good even when you're not in pain. Appreciate your senses and through them the world.

Thinking changes nothing but your mood. No amount of hope, fear or forethought alone will change what is happening in the world around you. Take any necessary action. Remain present. The energy you need to heal and to grow is with you now, if you can only be aware of the world around you.

Most thoughts have little value. Salvation lies in the present. In the absence of thought and in the fullness of being. Peace comes first with acceptance.

Take your mind where you want it to go. When you can't keep it clear, deliberately think of something pleasant. Most thoughts aren't inherently 'real' or important. The way you think is a habit. Work on forming habits which serve to benefit you.

It's your responsibility to do everything you can to be happy. First with your mind. Then in the world around you.

Treat yourself with the same compassion and patience as you'd treat someone else. When pain or frustration have you begging for release just look take a look at yourself and relax. Relax your eyes. Raise your eyebrows slightly and gaze fondly at yourself and the world. Sad, and beautiful. Relax and do not resist. Watch it carefully as if from above.

I realize it's not easy. I know it's not easy. I struggled and will likely continue to struggle. There's no other choice. If you want peace you have to do what you can with your mind.

You have less power over the physical world than you're willing to believe. You have far more power over yourself than you realize.