Mindfulness for Pain?

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. 

Out of a fear of the unknown,

they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

The above quote couldn’t be any more true based on my experiences with pain and suffering. Our bodies have this amazing ability to tell us something is wrong, before our minds do. There have been studies recently proving this to be true. I have personally witnessed this as a truth in my life, however, it took me some time and quite a lot of suffering before realizing this. A lot had happened in my life that took an emotional toll on me. My nervous system didn’t know how to handle everything so my mind had to switch to auto pilot. I managed to get by day to day, suffering in pain, yet I wasn’t even aware of it. I didn’t become aware of my pain until it was too unimaginable to bear. I writhed in pain. I had tried every trick in the book to treat my pain, seen every Doctor, had them run every test imaginable. Nothing worked. It wasn’t until recently when I saw an allergist for lung pain, (that is after I saw a pulmonologist who told me my lungs were perfect). It’s just a running joke with myself now…there is nothing wrong with me. My body was trying to warn me. Things needed to change.

I’m bringing this up tonight because I was reminded, yet again, how much my pain relates to my stress levels. I was taking a final at school (actually the 2nd one of the day…two more to go…woooh!)  and I had a mint in my mouth. I noticed about half way through the exam, that I was chewing on this mint, so I stopped. After about 15 minutes or so, I started to notice that my face was killing me. It hurt so bad I was nauseous. Somehow during the exam, my mind had switched back to auto pilot, which appears to be my coping mechanism for stress, and I just chomped on this breath mint for 30 or 40 minutes. Fortunately I was able to catch on to it in time and I don’t expect it to go into a full-blown migraine. When I left the exam I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. “Grin and bear it” used to be my motto…but that’s not me anymore. I’m re-learning how to deal with everything now, particularly stress. Acceptance is the answer here. Accept every situation just as it is, as how it is supposed to be. As I walked back to my car, I took the time to appreciate everything around me. I am probably the only person walking around campus with a big smile on my face who is only half way done with their finals. I got home, kissed my family, and just breathed a sigh of relief. Life is good.

Lessons Learned from Trauma

flower

“This is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.”

-Catherine Woodiwiss

I read an interesting article today, “A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma” by Catherine Woodiwiss. What is trauma, and who defines it? Who is to say what is traumatic to one person, is not traumatic to the next? Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience,” or “emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis.” I didn’t realize until recently that a trauma doesn’t have to be one single event and that it doesn’t even have to appear to be severe. I downplayed the trauma in my life. I spent 5 years in a relationship that was less than ideal. Red flags were thrown at me immediately and I ignored each and every one of them. This person had complete control over me from the very moment he laid his eyes on me. He never physically harmed me so I never realized what he was doing was actually abuse. It took years for this to come to fruition, but once I learned this, I was able to start healing. The death of my sister 3 years ago was another extremely traumatic event in my life.

I have spent the past 3 years in grief and I am finally starting to heal from this. It is a journey, and a long process, and like the above quote says “this is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.” I wake up every morning and have to coach myself through the day. I fall off track almost daily, it is just a matter of how and when I pick myself back up. Imagine the feeling of fear Alice felt from Alice in Wonderland as she fell down the rabbit hole. Some days I feel like I’m drowning, or that the whole world around me is going to collapse. That is a bit of what trauma feels like to me today.

The article mentions how in order to survive trauma you need a crisis team that includes a “firefighter” and a “builder”. I have people in my life who are both. My boyfriend can be a little bit of both, he can see the panic in my eyes and hear it in my voice before I even realize I’m falling into the hole again. If need be, he can drop everything and be there by my side to pull me out of the hole. Sometimes, however, he doesn’t pull me out, but he pushes and motivates me to climb my way out on my own. My therapist is another “builder” as she is teaching me ways to heal myself. And I have surrounded myself with friends and family who are supportive in my efforts to grow and to heal.

Read the article here: https://sojo.net/articles/new-normal-ten-things-ive-learned-about-trauma

Caution: Overexerted Mom

“Love yourself first. Nurture yourself first. The rest will fall into place.” -B.P.

Today I should be wearing a sign that says “Caution: Overexerted Mom”. I am one tired mama! This semester of school is coming to an end, which means more work, and more stress as I prepare for finals. Work has been staying extremely busy, and the doctor’s visits still seem never-ending. Today, my daughter had oral surgery to get a tooth removed. She is 5, and was put under anesthesia this morning, and we had to travel an hour each way for. The appointment in itself was extremely exhausting watching my daughter being medicated, and her reaction to it was not easy to handle as she woke up extremely irritated trying to yank out the IV. The old me would have handled this situation a lot worse. I am part of a facebook community called “Choosing Love” and Sherianna Boyle, author of the book “Choosing Love” made a post today about the use of the words “I Can’t”. She advised us to take these words out of our “internal system”…to no longer use these words since they can “zap [our] abilities and strengths.” The old me would have sat in the office saying to myself “I can’t handle this, this is too much for me,” but today I got through it, I told myself we’d get through it, and we got through it together.

Now onto the the constant reminder that my life is “a series of unfortunate events”… As soon as we got back from the appointment, I rushed off to my Debate class where I had to participate in a Presidential  Debate. I was well prepared, or so I had thought, since I had done plenty of research on the topics I was going to be speaking on. I even had typed up notes, and rehearsed it a few times last week. My confidence was beaming as I stood in front of the class awaiting my question. My turn came and I had to answer the question: “If elected President, how do you plan to combat ISIS?” Man was I excited, for this was the question I had best prepared for! I looked down at my notes, and nothing made sense, it was as if I was reading a foreign language. I thought to myself “quick! do something…say…anything!” So that is exactly what I did, I grabbed a few key words, and I said them…only them. Nothing I said made sense. What did I do? I said to myself “I can’t do this,” and I looked at my Professor and I passed.

An extreme sense of urgency came over me, I became baffled and confused, my fight-or-flight mode had turned back on.This is exactly what I was told not to do. These 2 simple words, “I can’t,” brought my energy so low. My self-esteem, and confidence levels dropped, I doubted myself, I was internally beating myself up. I dwelled on this for an hour or two and tried my hardest to make light of the situation. I felt physically and mentally drained.

This made me realize that no matter what, no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to be perfect and that imperfection is exactly what makes myself “whole.” I am who I am, exactly who I am, and I don’t need to try to be anything other than that. Beating myself up over this situation is not going to erase it. I can, however, learn from it and grow from it. What did I learn from my experience today? That overexerting myself will get me nowhere. If I am unable to do something, I need to learn how to say “no…not today.” What I should have done is taken the day off from class, as I already have all A’s in this class, I shouldn’t have been concerned. Another lesson added to the book. Love yourself first. Nurture yourself first. The rest will fall into place.

Finding My Way To Mindfulness

“Say it straight, simple and with a smile.”

As I previously promised, you are going to hear more about my pain. I won’t be whining, or complaining, or trying to make you feel bad for me. What you’ll read today, is what I chose to do about my pain. For 3 years now, I have had scattered unexplained pain such as neck pain, migraines, face pain, burning legs and arms, sore muscles everywhere. When I say pain, I don’t mean dull, achy pain…I mean sharp, jagged, electrical jolts of pain. There are days when it feels as if someone has jabbed a metal rod through the back of my head and it is shooting out through my eyeball…

No doctor has been able to explain my pain, some don’t even believe that I am in pain. I have had to fight and advocate for myself to get the answers needed. I have seen every specialist imaginable, have had multiple MRI’s, CT scans, X-rays, blood tests, etc. I have paid doctor’s large amounts of money to get to the bottom of what is causing my pain. Due to the extreme amount of pain I was in during the first year, I became unable to do many things. I quit my job and was clawing my way through my first year of College. I felt like Mufasa from the Lion King as he was clinging for his life hanging on a cliff. There were days I didn’t want to live, and days I thought I was certainly dying. Maybe it was a tumor, maybe it was lyme disease, maybe it was an unknown disease. I saw specialists who diagnosed me with things like Fibromyalgia, and Occipital Neuralgia, and Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ). One specialist discovered an array of vitamin and mineral deficiencies and I have since kept up with taking daily vitamins. The doctor’s finally started believing I was in pain, but a cause (nor cure) was not to be found. I have since seen at least 10 different doctors and every single one of them have all said it must just be stress. “That’s impossible,” I thought to myself…there was no way stress could possibly cause this much pain. I followed up with doctor after doctor after doctor, each one eventually telling me there was nothing they can do for me.

I started looking to different alternatives. I saw a massage therapist who specialized in treating TMJ, who referred me to a physical therapist who turned out to be an angel in disguise. I had seen physical therapists before, and none of them seemed to believe I was in the pain I said I was in, as there were no injuries and no explanations. But this woman was different, she sat down and listened to my story, she truly believed I was in the pain I said I was in. She wasn’t sure what was causing this, but she assured me we were going to work together and we were going to fix it, she assured me I wasn’t as broken as I thought I was. I spent weeks with her in agony, but slowly things started getting better. We talked about life, she told me her story as I told her mine. I had good days and I had bad days. On my good days, she’d push me to push myself further. On my bad days, she’d let me go in a dark room to cry. She peaked my interest in yoga’s healing abilities and in mindfulness meditation.

It was around this time that I met a woman, a psychologist, yoga instructor, and a transformational therapist. Her focus is on mindfulness, and the body’s ability to heal itself. I was drawn to her immediately, another angel in disguise. I have been working with her for well over a year now and she has helped me uncover deep fears within myself energy blockages within, things I was born with, pre-programmed to feel and to act. We are now working rather intensely together to sort of “re-route” my body’s pre-programmed mindset. I have worked with her in group sessions such as: “The Four Gifts of Anxiety”; “Choosing Love”; and soon to be a mantra workshop. I also do private therapy sessions with her where we get down to core causes, and uplifting energy. I have learned so much about myself since working with her, as well as the ability to heal my body.

I’m finally starting to believe all of these doctor’s who said it was “just stress.” Here’s the thing folks, stress can kill you. My body’s way of dealing with stress was to put everything into fast-forward…to stay busy all the time, and just go, go, go. Whenever anything would try to interfere, my mind would say to me “you have no time for this, keep going, keep moving forward…Survive! Survive! Survive!” Due to what I now know is PTSD, I was in a fight-or-flight mode, a dangerous place to be. It allowed my pain levels to soar, while also giving me the ability to get by day to day.

So what am I doing to change things? Every day I have to focus on two main things: uplifting my energy, and being present in the moment. Uplifting my energy has been the easier of the two tasks, it is as simple as exercising, or doing some light yoga. Being present in the moment is where I was stumped. My mind was set on auto-pilot, and I didn’t know how to switch to manual. My therapist has taught me ways to do that, and it is simpler than I ever imagined. It is as simple as waking up in the morning and taking 5 minutes to stretch and breathe (another thing I have difficulty with), stopping and literally smelling the roses (or the trees, the wind, the grass), listening to the birds chirping, admiring the beauty of everything around me. I forgot how to do all of that, my inner-child was lost, so lost. Some people might not understand how a person can be so unaware of their surroundings, but until you’ve been there, it is quite hard to understand. I was there, and I didn’t even understand.

Here’s how my day has gone so far…I made the decision to dedicate at least half of the day to nuture myself. I got my daughter off to school, boyfriend left for work, laundry in the dryer, and now it is me time. I like to take detox baths with epsom salts and baking soda, it helps to pull some of the toxins out of your body. I turned on some heart chakra meditations, and plugged in the diffuser with medicinal grade thyme and lavender essential oils, and I just relaxed. Afterwards, I did some light yoga stretching to get all of my nerves alert and active. Now, I am writing this blog, and drinking a Sweet Tangerine, Positive Energy tea. I have found almost instantly, that writing is my choice of therapy. Some people enjoy drawing, or creating music…I enjoy writing.  As for the rest of the day, I might take a walk, or maybe stay in and read a book. Whatever I do, I will be present in the moment and enjoy all the beauty there is around me.

*For any information on any of the therapists or doctor’s mentioned above, please email me at bpackard416@gmail.com … or if you know me personally, just ask 🙂

Finding Brittany

My life has been a series of unfortunate events, and up until recently, I have been quite lost. Scratch that, I’m still lost and every day I am finding myself. I am a full time student at Cape Cod Community College, earning a Business Major with the intention to transfer to UMass Dartmouth next year. I have a work study job here in the library, and I work part time in a restaurant as well. I am fully involved on my campus with planning events and leadership roles in Phi Theta Kappa. I have been raising my 5 year old daughter on my own up until recently. I started dating my boyfriend a couple of years ago (we’re not really sure when…) and we moved in together this past February. He has taken on the role as my daughters primary male figure and he is doing an amazing job. There are days when I’m not sure how I am going to get through, and others around me aren’t quite sure how I do it either. But I make it. Every single day, I get through. Each day leading to the next. I can’t help but wonder what is in store for me, but who really knows?

As I sit here and ponder how to start my first blog, I can’t help but think about the delicious chicken pot pie I will be ordering tonight from Centerville Pie Co. My mind drifts off to the smell of the pie bakeshop, as I’m quickly brought back to the reality of the clicking of the keyboards by the other students here in the computer lab at Cape Cod Community College. My hunger brings me back to why I started this blog…pain. The past 3 years of my life, I have been suffering from chronic, unexplained, scattered pain. Actually, as far back as I can think, my life has been about pain, all types of pain: emotional; psychological; physical; hidden; unknown; invisible; and sometimes I even think I’m imagining it. I’m certain you will hear more stories of my pain as I progress through my blogging but today, let’s talk about my allergic reaction to allergy medicine and my search for a homeopathic remedy.

Due to my chronic nerve pain which seems to be caused by chronic inflammation (cause still unknown, hypothesis: stress), my neurologist put me on a medication for nerve pain, and it’s working! Now here in New England, allergy season is upon us! I never had bad seasonal allergies up until a year ago and I started taking claritin daily. The claritin, however, didn’t work this year, so I perused my options and switched myself to Zyrtec D. Harmless, I thought, as it is an over-the-counter medication! After a week or so, I started getting angry, then anxious, then sad, and all-around extremely emotional (which my boyfriend has put up with rather well)…but after a few weeks, the emotions turned to panic and sheer terror. I chalked it up to end of the semester “blues,” aka hair-pulling, gut-wrenching, nerve-wrecking stress. I couldn’t breathe, I felt like my heart was pounding out of my chest, the world felt like it was spinning (and sometimes tilting, and losing it’s gravitational pull) so I thought to myself “this must be what a panic attack feels like…”

I went home to “rest” and my curiosity got the best of me, so I (finally) read the warning label on the side of my allergy medicine. Note to self: Always read the label first! It turns out all of these symptoms of a “panic attack” I was experiencing were side effects of my allergy medicine. Then the researcher in me started browsing the interwebs comparing the side effects of my allergy meds with my nerve meds and lo and behold, the two combined increased each others side effects! Now mind you, I am still in the middle of a “panic attack” as I am discovering all of this, my doctor is not in the office, and I have to be at work in 2 hours on a busy Friday evening. Then the fire alarms in my condominium complex go off! As freaked out as I was, I somehow calmly got up, grabbed my keys, my purse, and my phone and headed to the door thinking to myself, “of course my apartment would burn down today, of all days…” only to be greeted by the maintenance man apologizing for not telling me they were testing the alarms! It was quite a day for me, one I can fortunately look back on and laugh.

With all that being said, I have not taken the allergy medicine since, and I am now on a holistic search for allergy treatments. I should know by now that it is best to speak to a professional about this, someone who is familiar with holistic treatments and how they will interact with my current medication, but I chose to browse the internet and print an article instead. This very short, 7 paragraph article somehow turned out to be 106 pages, and well that’s just another bullet added to my series of unfortunate events. While I found some interesting natural ingredients that can act as a histamine blocker, I’m going to learn the lesson from my past, and not try any of it until I know it is safe and won’t interact with other medicine.

Well, that is all from me today! In the future look for articles on education, time management, mommy-ing skills, 5 year old superheroes, and other daily life experiences. Expect bouts of humor, sarcasm, emotions, and wisdom.