Posts Tagged ‘pain’

Have You Asked for What You Want and Need?

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Our interactions with others can be and often are one of the most stressful, difficult, and painful areas of our lives. That is especially true for those of us living with a chronic illness for lots of reasons. We may feel guilty because we can’t do what we think is “our fair share.” We often have additional needs that healthy people don’t. And if we have pain, resentment, or other illness-related negative emotions, they can creep into our interactions and communications and make things even more stressful, difficult, and painful than they already are.

It may feel like some relationships with important people in our lives are so painful and trying that they’ll never get any better. While that may be true, I have learned, from helping many of my clients improve their relationships and also from dealing with problematic ones in my own life, that damaged or broken relationships can be mended restored even when that doesn’t seem possible.

That is good news, especially for us, because we are often more dependent on others for both physical and emotional support than people who are healthy are. What’s even better news is the fact that sometimes all it takes to greatly improve a difficult relationship is to ask the other person for what you want and need.

Asking for what you want and need can be scary and difficult; difficult because because if you don’t do it correctly, it’s very likely that you won’t get the response you want and scary because even if you do do it correctly  they still may say no . But it’s also very possible that the result will be better than you could have imagined.

That’s what happened for a client I’ll call Sally. She contacted me to help her find better ways to live with Crohn’s disease. But it soon became very clear that one of the biggest stressors in her life was her marriage. Her husband had stopped being demonstrative and affectionate, and she told me she was dying inside.

For reasons that would take too long to explain in this post, she wasn’t able have a conversation with him and tell him how she felt. With some coaching, the approach she decided to use was to write her husband a letter telling him what she told me: that she was dying inside.

In the letter, she didn’t blame him, she didn’t plead with him, and she didn’t implicitly threaten him by telling him that she divorced her first husband because of a lack of love and affection. She just told him she was dying inside and that she needed to feel loved. And she put the letter in a place she knew he couldn’t miss it: she pinned it to his pillow.

Since Sally wrote and delivered that letter, her marriage has improved dramatically. Her health has gotten better too. And she is continuing to work on and improve both.

One more example: a friend I’ll call Robert was in a long distance relationship and was finding that telephone conversations had become boring and unsatisfying. He began to feel more and more emotionally distant from his girlfriend, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Finally, after several weeks, it occurred to him that he could forthrightly tell her he wanted deeper, more meaningful conversations – and he did! Not surprisingly, the conversations became enjoyable and satisfying and he again felt close to her.

It may seem strange that a person could overlook such an obvious solution, but all of us do. So if you’re having a difficult time with someone in your life, chances are good that you can make things a lot better by asking yourself if you’ve asked for what you want and need, and if you haven’t, doing so.

A New Golden Rule

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

My New Golden Rule will help you have a better life when you have a chronic illness. But before I tell you what it is, I want to say that if you aren’t following my frequent suggestion of giving compassion to any parts of your body that are hurting, I strongly encourage you to do that, because it works! Here are just two of many examples I know about:

1) A colleague of mine has a neighbor of who had been in a lot of pain for several weeks after her recent knee surgery. My colleague told her about my suggestion, and she began using it and experienced a remarkable and complete healing.

2) Over three recent days, my knee became more and more painful and swollen. I will never know for sure why, but the gradual onset of the pain matches what happens when the meniscus is torn. So I think I probably tore it on one of my occasional runs. It got so bad that I couldn’t sleep, and bending and straightening it was excruciating (which made walking very difficult and climbing stairs all but impossible). I went to the doctor, who prescribed a month’s worth of Advil and said I might need surgery.

I got home from the doctor’s office, took the first pill, and my knee started to heal. It continued to heal until, three days later, it had recovered completely (and I didn’t need any more pills after that first one). As I said, I don’t know what happened to my knee. But I have no doubt that all the love and compassion I gave it since the pain and swelling began were what enabled it to heal so quickly.

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I strongly encourage you to give any parts of your body that are hurting lots and lots of compassion. And I hope you will share your results in a comment.

Now here is My New Golden Rule. It’s a modification of the Golden Rule, which as you probably know is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule comes from the New Testament of the Bible, but all major religions have similar maxims because the principle they are based on is so basic and important.

The New Golden Rule, which if you follow it will help you have a better life when you have a chronic illness, is this: “Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you.”

The reason for the modification is this: We know we’re supposed to treat others well (and I’m sure you do your best to do that), and we always want others to treat us well, but many of us often forget to treat ourselves well.

So remember to treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. I know you will have a better and better life the more you do.

For other ideas for living well when you have a chronic illness, sign up for my free report:

Look for the good things in your life, but do this first

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

As I’ve written in several other blog posts, I follow and participate in several online support groups for people with chronic illnesses. In a group for people with Crohn’s disease, a woman – I’ll call her Kathy – recently wrote to say how upset and stressed she was because the drug her doctor had prescribed two weeks earlier hadn’t helped her symptoms – symptoms that included going to the bathroom up to 20 times a day.

A man I’ll call Gary responded. He shared with the group what had worked for him, and what hadn’t, when he had been in a similar situation. He wrote that he reminded himself that feeling down and sorry for himself always makes him feel a lot worse. So instead of doing that, he thought about all the things he loves about life, including his friends and family, and all the things that are important to him. Then he told himself that he had the inner strength to face and handle his pain and symptoms one day—and sometimes one hour—at a time, and he resolved not to let them beat him.

I think Gary gave Kathy very good advice. But I think it would have been even better if he had told her to first give herself lots of compassion and understanding. In the same way a parent – especially a mother – comforts her child when he or she is sick or in pain, Kathy can comfort herself. When I do that for myself first, I am much more able to follow Gary’s good advice and think about all the things I love about life. I have no doubt that Kathy will have the same result: if she first gives herself lots of compassion, she will find it much easier to find her inner strength and focus on the good things in her life.

My next Coaching/Support Group for People with Chronic Illnesses will start on Wednesday, June 30th. For more information, go to Coaching/Support Group Information.

How to Deal With Others When You Have a Chronic Illness

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

When someone wanted coaching sessions with me, I used to send them a questionnaire to fill out before the session. In it, I asked how they felt supported by their family and friends, and then I ask how they felt unsupported by those same people. From the large collection of answers I received over many years of coaching people with chronic illnesses, I learned what they want but don’t get from others, and I learned about the relationship challenges and difficulties people with serious chronic illnesses have. In this post, I’m going to share that knowledge with you. Then I’m going to describe some strategies and methods you can use to get support from the people in your life and have the kind of relationship you want with them.

The first thing I learned is that, more than anything else, there is one thing those of us with chronic illnesses are not getting from other people that we really want: understanding We want others to know how hard it is for us, both physically and emotionally, to live with a chronic illness. It’s not surprising to me that not getting the understanding we want is such a common problem,  because I don’t think it is possible for a person who has never had a chronic illness to truly know what living with one is like.

That said, it is almost always possible to get more understanding from others than we currently do. The best way to do that, in my experience, is to avoid complaining about not being understood and to not criticize the other person for not giving us the understanding we want. Instead, what works best is to tell him or her how important being understood is for us and how appreciative we are when they try to give us understanding. Then, to help the other person better understand our symptoms and pain, it can be very helpful to describe them by comparing them to pain the other person has experienced, such as a kidney stone, or pain they can imagine, such as having a root canal without anesthesia.

Another thing I learned from people’s answers to my questions is that many of us with chronic illnesses have family members and friends who either don’t believe we’re as sick as we say we are, think our problems are in our heads, or think we are sick by choice as a way to avoid having to do things like housework and going to social events.

There are several possible strategies and methods for dealing with that kind of situation. Which ones to use depends on who it is that doesn’t believe you, and how important he or she is to you. If the person is a distant relative or a casual friend, you may choose to just avoid interacting with them. But avoidance is not a good strategy if the person who doesn’t believe you is a good friend, a parent, or your spouse.

Before I give you a specific method to use to resolve or at least improve the problem I’ve just described, I strongly recommend that you give yourself extra compassion for the emotional pain that having someone important to you disbelieve the severity of your illness inevitably causes. If you’ve read my other posts, you know that giving yourself lots of self-compassion is something I recommend often, because I strongly believe it is very helpful for those of us with chronic illnesses.

Depending on whom it is who doesn’t believe you, the history of your relationship with that person, and other factors, there are several possible methods you can use to improve or resolve the situation. One that often works well is the following: Instead of trying to convince the other person that what you’ve told them about your illness and its symptoms is true, accept the fact that they don’t believe you and let them know that you’ve done that. Then politely ask them if they would be willing to imagine what it would feel like to have a chronic illness, tell someone important to them about it, and not be believed. If they do, and chances are good that they will, you will at least have gotten some understanding from them that you didn’t have before, and it’s likely that they will start to let in and acknowledge the reality of your illness and its symptoms.

The next thing I learned from my respondents’ answers was actually a confirmation of something I already knew from my own experience as a person with a serious chronic illness: people often ignore or tune you out when you tell them about your ongoing struggles. Some respondents said their friends did more than ignore them; they abandoned them. When people in your life do any of those things, I again recommend (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) that you give yourself lots of compassion. I frequently ask my clients to tape reminders to do that to their bathroom mirrors or suggest that they wear rubber bands around their wrists to help them remember to give themselves extra compassion.

In addition to ensuring that you’re getting extra doses of compassion, there are some other things you can do when people tune you out. One is to make it a point to temporarily set aside your illness symptoms and problems when you meet your friends, and ask them, in a way that shows them you really mean it, how they are doing, what their concerns are and what successes they’ve had. When you consistently do that, you will usually find that they will show you the same concern and give you the same support in return.

Another thing you can do when friends tune you out or when they abandon you is to find and make friends with people who have the same illness you do. You can do that face to face in support groups, by phone in telephone support groups, and via computer in online support groups. Most major cities have support groups for the more common chronic illnesses. If there isn’t one for your illness and if you’re willing to do so, there’s a good chance you can start one by first connecting with other interested people through the websites meetup.com and craigslist.org. The advantage of the telephone and online support groups is that you can participate without leaving your home, so you don’t need to be concerned about mobility issues and other challenges that might make it difficult to attend an in person meeting. The website yahoogroups is a good starting place for looking for an online support group, as there are groups for almost any illness you can think of.

I titled this post “How to Deal With Others When You Have a Chronic Illness,” but it’s also about how you can get your need for understanding and support from others met. I hope the suggestions I’ve shared with you help you do that.

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I help people with chronic illnesses (I have Crohn’s disease myself) meet their many challenges and then find and follow a path to happiness and fulfillment.

Get my free report, Has Living with a Chronic Illness Worn You Down? Learn How to Outsmart Your Illness and Have a Much Better Life.

An Opportunity to Walk My Talk

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

I know I’ve been very fortunate, because I’ve had relatively good health for most of the time since I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. As I describe in the page about this blog, my symptoms kept getting worse and worse during the first three years after my 1996 diagnosis, but in 1999 I found the combination of standard and alternative treatments that put my Crohn’s into remission and gave me my life back. Since then I’ve had a few fairly mild flares, but I’ve been drug and pain free for almost four years.

Because I’ve been so fortunate health-wise, it’s been a long time since I have needed to practice the suggestions I write about. Now I know those suggestions are good ones, because many people have told me how helpful they’ve been. But last week I found out firsthand that there is a big difference between recommending them to a client or describing them in posts, and being in major pain from a flare-up and struggling to do my best to use them.

The flare happened10 days ago and it turned my world upside down. After almost four years in remission, I had the mindset that for all intents and purposes I had beaten Crohn’s. But for some reason, some foods that hadn’t bothered me before (broccoli and almond cheese), triggered inflammation and spasms in the lower right side of my abdomen. While I can’t prove it, I’m convinced that the fragile emotional state I was in at the time was a major factor. But whatever the cause, all of a sudden I faced the same uncertain future that is all too common for people with chronic illnesses: would the pain lessen or would it get worse (it was a seven on a scale of one to ten, which was more than enough to keep me from getting much sleep that night)?

I did my best to follow my own advice, especially in giving myself lots of hugs and compassion. I would give myself a B+, maybe even an A- 🙂 I’m glad to say that my flare is almost completely behind me. But it was a great opportunity for me to use my own suggestions, and more than that it was a firsthand reminder of how truly difficult living with a chronic illness is for many people. I had a lot of compassion for you and them before; today I have even more.

What small New Year’s Resolution Can You Make To Improve Your Life?

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Those of us who have chronic illnesses usually want to change our lives in major ways. We want our pain to go away, we want to be able to eat a normal diet, and we want the fatigue to go away so that we have all the energy we used to have. In short, we want all of our symptoms to go away so can have the quality of life we had before we became ill.

Most people with chronic illnesses spend a lot of time thinking about all those changes we want, which is completely understandable since so many of us have symptoms that are very painful and difficult to live with.

But in doing that, we can-and often do-overlook the many small things we can do to improve the quality of our lives. And some of those small things can result in big improvements.

One experiment I’ve read about that was carried out many years ago made me realize the difference small things can make. Researchers Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin divided the residents of a nursing home into two groups, and introduced very small changes  into the lives of those in the experimental group. They were given the option of seeing a weekly movie and a choice of two nights on which to see it. They were given the choice about whether to see visitors in their rooms, the lounge, or outside, and they were given the responsibility of taking care of a houseplant. Only one change was introduced into the lives of those in the control group: they too were given houseplants, but they were told that nursing home staff people would take care of them.

The difference in the quality of life between the experimental group and the control group was dramatic. Those in the former were much happier, and their mortality rate for the 18 months following the experiment was half that of the other group.

The results of that experiment don’t mean you should stop wanting your illness to go into remission, but they do demonstrate that small changes can lead to big improvements.

Since the new year is only a few days away, I will leave you with this question: what small New Year’s Resolution do you want to make – and keep?

How You Are Isn’t As Important As How You Feel

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

If you are reading my blog, chances are you have a chronic illness. And if I asked you how you are, you would likely tell me that you’re sick, that you’re having a flare, that you’re in pain, or something like that. Because I’m a life coach for people with chronic illnesses, I have asked many people that question and have gotten many answers similar to the ones I just mentioned.

But when I ask people with chronic illnesses how they feel, I get answers that aren’t at all the same or similar. Some people say they feel bad, depressed, upset, or sad, while others say that they feel good, positive, grateful, optimistic, and things like that. I find myself wondering why some people with chronic illnesses feel good while others don’t, and wondering even more about what those who feel those negative emotions can do to feel more of the positive ones.

Before I continue, I want to say that I don’t consider it to be a sign of weakness for a person to feel bad or sad when he or she has a chronic illness. Since having a chronic illness very often means 1) living with pain and fatigue, 2) not being able to things that we enjoy and used to be able to do, and 3) not being able to explain to others what living with our illness is like so they understand it, it’s completely understandable that a person with a chronic illness would feel depressed, upset, etc.

But even though feeling negative emotions is understandable, I have no doubt that most of us who live with a chronic illness would choose to FEEL better if we could. And the truth is that we can. There are many things we can do – so many that I could write a book. Actually, I am writing a book, and I’ll let you know when it’s available so you can get it if you want to.

In the meantime, here are a couple of ways you can FEEL better even though you have a chronic illness and aren’t well:

The first is to recognize that feelings, including negative ones, are transitory. They come and they can go, but only if we let them. One thing you can do is to imagine that you’re a house, and that feelings come in with the wind through an open window. If the window on the other side of the house is closed, the feelings will stay, but if you visualize yourself opening that other window, the feelings will pass through and leave.

The second way is not for everyone, but many of you will find it very helpful. That is to schedule a time each day for negative feelings – for example, from 2:00 until 2:15 every afternoon. If you notice yourself having negative feelings before that time, just set them aside until then. And any negative feelings after 2:15 are to be set aside until the following afternoon.

While these ideas won’t directly improve your health, they can be a great help in lifting your feelings. I will share more ideas in a later post. If you would like some suggestions for your own challenges, you can sign up for one of the limited number of no cost introductory “How to Have a Better Life” coaching sessions I offer.

I’ll close by saying Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Holidays everyone!

Something to do for yourself when you’re hurting

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

I’ve written many times about the benefits of being compassionate with yourself when you’re sick or not feeling well. While I haven’t written about it before, I also recommend that you do the same thing for any part or parts of your body that are hurting or not functioning the way they are supposed to.

When something hurts, like an inflamed joint or a head or stomach that aches, most people focus on it, wonder how long it will last and if it will ever get better, and worry about how they will do all their tasks and chores and get through the day with the pain they’re experiencing.

Until a few years ago, I did the same. But since then I’ve learned that both I and the part of me that hurts feel much better when I give it care and compassion. I do that by focusing my attention on my ailing body part, and then feeling compassion for it. I also gently and lovingly stroke it, or if it’s my stomach or something else I can’t stroke directly, I caress the skin that’s right above it. And if I’m hurting all over, I’ll give myself a compassionate hug.

In my experience, doing this doesn’t always make all the pain go away, but it virtually always lessens it. And besides having less pain, I also feel more peaceful afterward.

A little while ago I came across some fascinating corroboration of my results. In his book Quantum Healing, Deepak Chopra describes an experiment at Ohio University, in which rabbits were fed a very high cholesterol diet so their arteries would become blocked. The researchers were puzzled because one group of rabbits had 60 percent fewer symptoms than all the other groups. When they investigated further, they discovered that the anomaly was due to the fact that the student who was feeding those rabbits liked to fondle and pet them, so he held each rabbit lovingly for a few minutes before he gave it its food.

I hope you will give compassion and TLC to yourself whenever and wherever you hurt. And given the results of that rabbit experiment, you may want to also do so before each meal.

What To Do When It Hurts To Play With and Even Hold Your Children

Friday, July 31st, 2009

A woman in an online chronic illness support group I belong to recently wrote about her difficult situation with her two small children, who are one and three. Donna, as I’ll call her, said she has a hard time letting them jump and even sit on her, because the moment they touch her she feels shock waves of pain throughout her body. She also said she doesn’t want her illness to affect them and that she doesn’t let them see any pain on her face because she doesn’t want them to think she doesn’t love them.

My heart goes out to Donna. I know I would have had a really hard time adjusting to not being able to play with my son when he was a baby and a toddler.

I wrote to Donna and shared a few thoughts with her. I said that I thought that in spite of her not wanting her illness to affect her children, it already had and would continue to do so. Then I said that the important question was not whether her illness affected them, but whether it was in positive or negative way.

The potential negative affect of our illnesses on our children can be minimized if we let them know that we’re going to have good days and bad days, but that we love them no matter what kind of a day we’re having – and then find some way, even if it’s just a kiss on their foreheads, to show it.

I also told Donna that when children can be told and understand that not they, but an illness, is the cause of her pain, then I think that overall it’s a good thing to not hide it from them. I don’t think that’s a black or white decision when they’re really young, but as they get older, seeing a mother (or father) take care of both herself (or himself) and them teaches children that they can take care of themselves as well as others, and that it’s important to do so.

It’s important to keep letting our children know we love them, but if our illness keeps us from showing that love the way we want to, we can always find other ways.

Being Grateful for Our Body Parts and Organs That Work Just Fine

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

I’m sure you’ve been told to be grateful for what you have. It’s a good thing to do: A study by Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis showed that gratitude improves both physical and emotional health. But what are we supposed to be grateful for when we have a chronic illness?

Here’s a suggestion: No matter how sick we are, all of us have organs and body parts that work exactly the way they’re supposed to. And for most of us, there are a lot more parts that work just fine than there are parts that don’t. In spite of that, we usually focus and dwell on the parts that aren’t working.

As you know if you’ve read my other posts, I’m a strong believer in having compassion for yourself. So in this case what I recommend is that yyou give the parts of you that are not working well, and very possibly in pain, lots of compassion and love. Not only do they deserve it, but giving it to them is very healing.

Then be grateful for all the parts of you that do work, think about all the other people, pets, and things in your life that you’re also grateful for, and have the best day you possibly can.