If you’ve been reading my blogs and watching my videos you’re probably still wondering how one ends up with chronic body pain. I don’t think I’ve written specifically about the science behind it, so this week I thought I’d dive in and give you a very basic understanding of the how and why chronic body pain occurs.
Chronic body pain, like Interstitial Cystitis, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue, Migraines, general neck and back pain, just to name a few, is pain that we create in our own bodies without even knowing it. And the process begins with not feeling our emotions.
When you were younger, do you remember people saying these things to you:
“Stop being a cry baby”
“Just pretend it didn’t happen/just ignore it”
or another variation of those remarks? These comments teach us that there is something wrong with us if we feel a so-called “negative emotion”, and we end up pushing the emotion down so we appear strong and tough just like everyone wants us to be. We learn that expressing our emotions shows weakness, so every time we feel anger, hurt, or fear we stuff it down so we aren’t labelled a cry baby, or we appear as if “everything is ok” when in fact it is not. We get really good at doing this at a young age, so as we grow older we are able to continue to suppress our emotions without even knowing we are doing it.
Here is the catch. We actually have to tighten/clench a muscle in our body in order to avoid feeling an emotion. This muscle clenching takes our awareness off of the emotion because, instead, we are focused on muscle clenching. This is a defense mechanism to divert our attention away from feeling our emotions. Most people are not even aware that this is happening because they are so disconnected from their bodies. (I was included in that category, too!)
So if we are continually suppressing emotions that means we are constantly clenching a muscle in our body. Consistent clenching of a muscle will create chronic tension because we are restricting blood flow to that area. When we restrict blood flow to an area it gets less oxygen, which means it can’t function optimally as it isn’t getting all the nutrients it needs.
Everybody clenches different muscles when avoiding an emotion, which is why chronic pain can occur anywhere in the body. For example, people who tighten their pelvic floor muscles instead of feeling an emotion may end up with Interstitial Cystitis, and people who clench one or more muscles in their back may end up with chronic back pain. There are studies and theories that try to explain why people clench the muscles that they do, but nevertheless, SOME muscle in your body will clench/tighten every time you avoid an emotion. This is a survival habit to keep emotions at bay until it is a safe time to feel them. If you don’t take the time to feel them later on, you will have to keep re-clenching that muscle to keep stuffing it down, which can result in that muscle being clenched almost constantly, all day, every day, which means a huge reduction of blood flow and oxygen to that area. Of course the nerves in that area are going to end up frazzled and in pain! Just imagine, if you were to flex your biceps all day, how tired that muscle would get and how it couldn’t perform optimally anymore. Even lifting a light object would seem like a grueling task for that fatigued muscle!
If you are currently experiencing chronic body pain, I don’t want you to beat yourself up about how you could let this happen to yourself. How could you have known? We weren’t taught this in school. There was Math, Science, English, Gym, etc. but no Emotions 101 or Mind/Body Health class. Of course we are going to clench our muscles and not feel our emotions! We thought that was the easiest and safest thing to do up until now. We didn’t know that recognizing and feeling our emotions had so much to do with our health and the way our bodies would function!
When I found out that I was tightening my pelvic floor muscles almost constantly, I didn’t start scolding myself, I felt empowered by it, because now I knew exactly what was going on in my body when I was suppressing an emotion. I was now on to my own tricks! I invite you to embrace this the same way. Embrace this by getting curious about your body pain, whether it’s chronic or not in nature. Does that area feel tense? Is there any area in your body that feels tense? Could it be tense because there is something you are trying not to feel at this moment? Was there an emotion a week ago you think you may have avoided? Could you set an alarm on your phone every hour or so to remind you to check for tension in your body? If you feel tension, could you imagine and feel that tension melting away? Ask yourself lots of questions and try to investigate and get curious about what you are feeling without getting into the “story” about your pain (the “story” is something I will talk about in a few weeks).
Please Note: When you are consciously feeling tension and relaxing a tense area you will be allowing an emotion to release. It may take a while, but you will soon open the conduit for emotions to start flowing again if this is practiced regularly. I highly recommend working with a Mind-Body Coach or Therapist as you begin this journey, as it may feel overwhelming at first. Receiving support and guidance will increase your success in your healing journey.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a 20 minute consult or to book a full session with me.
when I didn’t have a dime
I remember the times
when we didn’t have a dime
Those were the best days.”
~ Lucy Pearl
How many times have you said this to yourself? “Oh, those were the good old days” or “Remember when (insert memorable situation here)… – what good times!”
Well, let’s rewind back to those good times – 2, 3, maybe 5 years ago? Even though you may be reminiscing now about how awesome those times were, I bet back then you were using that time to reminisce about how awesome life was 5 years from then, and so on. When you were younger, more beautiful, more carefree, etc. You remember that trip you took with your friends, all that money that seemed to just keep flowing in (or lack of money, but it just didn’t matter then). THOSE were the good old times. And I bet during THOSE times you were thinking about the awesome past again, or maybe even dreaming about the future and how great it will be when you find “the one”, are in a career making more money than ever, or something else that you believe will truly make your life great.
Do you see the pattern here? Actually, there are two things that become clear.
Number 1. We spend too much dang time in the past and future, and not enough time in the present moment. Be it reminiscing about the past, cringing at the past, worrying about the future, dreaming about the future.
Number 2. We never seem to enjoy the present moment as much as we enjoy thinking about it once it’s already in the past. Can you imagine how much richer that moment would be if you spent the time enjoying it fully, with all of your senses, when it was actually happening? Instead we often spend the present moment thinking about the years past…
I think it’s safe to make an assumption that years from now you’ll be thinking back to today and remembering “the good old times” that are today.
So, instead of realizing how awesome our lives were after the fact, why don’t we just assume that right now – this very minute – are the good times. 🙂 How do you think we would approach life right now if we were fully aware that these are the good times right now!? OMG! We would fully immerse ourselves in the moment now, thus creating even more awesomeness and richer times because we are 100% here living in the present moment.
But wait a second. What if you are someone who is living with pain right now? Are you thinking that I have gone completely insane because you will NEVER EVER look back on these days and think that these were the good old times? Hmm, I think you will! In fact, I know you will!
About 5 years ago from today I was fairly knee-deep in suffering with pelvic pain. And yet now, when I think back to those days, the memories that come to mind have nothing to do with pain. This is what comes to mind first. All the fun and randomness I experienced traveling to South America. Getting accepted into the dental hygiene program. Creating amazing friendships. De-stressing with my friends on the weekends with cocktails and laughing. The time I stuffed the world’s largest roll of sushi into my mouth. Isn’t it funny how my mind doesn’t even go to the memories of struggling with interstitial cystitis? It becomes so secondary to all the good times that I had. It is almost as if the pain wasn’t even there as much as I thought it was.
If you are in pain right this instant, but knew that 5 years from now you’d be spending time reminiscing about the good old days that are today – all those knee-slapping times (or maybe just that ONE knee-slapping time you had that made milk shoot out of your nostrils), the love-filled gatherings between family and friends, you with less wrinkles and less grey hair – would that change the way you live your life today, with or without pain symptoms? Even if you are thinking right now how awful everything is and how you have zero fun, I bet you could think of one or two times that were a wee bit better than awful. Maybe it was how peaceful you felt cuddling with your pet the other day, or the feeling you got when that stranger smiled to you on the street. If you know that these are the things you will remember 5 years from now, and not necessarily your burning hoo-ha or paralyzing anxiety, would that change the way you approach life right now? Maybe just a little bit? I have a hunch that it would. A hunch that it may make you get up and do the things that you have been avoiding because you think your pain is stopping you from doing them. Because, hey, that’s what you’re going to remember 5 years from now!
It’s like playing in a totally different ballgame. Instead of living life with one painful toe in, now it’s like living life “all in!”
And that, my friends, is what is going to help you get rid of your pain.
In my mind-body coach training course we are learning all about emotions and trauma. We shone a light on all of our past traumas by writing a list of the things that were stressful in our lives. After compiling a list of the stressful events I’ve experienced in my 26 years of living, I found out something quite surprising. I still carry a huge amount of emotion in my body from something that happened in my life 10 years ago! As I wrote down every single event about my mom and her battle with a brain tumour and eventually her defeat in the battle, I would immediately burst out in tears, even a few hyperventilating tears.
After 10 years of crying and releasing sadness here and there, I was surprised to find out how much emotion is still stored in my body from this time in my life.
I’m not beating myself up for storing so much sadness for 10 years. I’m actually thankful to now be aware of this, and now I can give myself the time to grieve over the loss of my mom 10 years ago.
When we don’t let our emotions flow in our body, we aren’t able to release our emotions from our body. So what happens to these emotions when they aren’t felt and released? Emotions are vibrational energy within our bodies and when they aren’t felt and released they are stuffed down and stored. They don’t just magically disappear just because we don’t want to feel them. They lodge into certain areas of our bodies, and if this is done repeatedly, over time this will create physical pain in our bodies. Enter stage right: interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines, or any kind of chronic pain.
I am pretty motivated to keep interstitial cystitis far away from my pelvic region from now on, so I am happy to now set aside time each day to feel some stuck emotion, and new emotion as well. There are many ways to do this, my favourite being listening to music that I feel strongly connected to. It does a fine job of opening up my emotional valve. Other ways you can access and allow those emotions that have been stuffed way down:
- moving your body in any way (dancing, doing yoga, lightly working out, walking, stretching)
- getting a massage
- doing breathing exercises
- spending time out in nature
- journaling/writing without any editing
Now, take a moment to look at your life and the stressful events you may have gone through. Does a specific event or time in your life immediately resurface in your mind? If something does immediately resurface, it means that there is still some emotion that needs to be felt around this, and it is time to do so. Your body will never give you more than you can handle, so whatever resurfaces is supposed to resurface, and it’s ready to be felt. On the other hand, if nothing comes up, try some of the techniques listed above to start oiling your emotional valve. Trust me, and just do it; especially if you want to live a pain-free and fabulously energized life. Your body will thank you for it!
Are you stuck knee-deep in pain right now? If you are, I know how you feel. I’ve been there. ‘Tis not fun! And I want to let you in on a little secret. Do not waste your time hanging out in health forums so you can learn about all those people who have lived with this or that condition for ump-teen years. It will NOT help you heal. In fact, that knot in your stomach that appears every time you log on to those forums is actually increasing your pain!
Bottom line: You can’t trust everything on the internet. Don’t waste your time believing wrong information.
When I was knee-deep in pain and desperately searching for “the” cure, or anything to ease my Interstitial Cystitis (IC) symptoms, I visited forums now and then. I would find forums for people with IC who were all there for the same reason – to find a tiny little shred of hope. Everyone was searching for hope, and no one was giving out any. Everyone was stuck and desperate, and reading posts about people who were stuck and desperate did NOT make me feel better. “If no one else is getting better, then how am I to?” I would think. So, did I find hope there? Nadda. I did, however, find out that I would have to cut out 50% of the foods I loved and stop exercising in order to lessen my symptoms of IC. Lessen, not get rid of, just lessen. And at the expense of cutting out caffeine and my favourite fruits. These forums made me believe I would have to modify my lifestyle in order to live a happier and less disruptive life with IC. Bleh! This made me feel worse, hopeless, and depressed.
Fast forward to my life now. Now what I know to be true: anything that makes you feel worse, hopeless, depressed, or anything like you’ve been tied to a chain link fence, is just not true. And I have first-hand evidence to back this up. I’m free of IC. Free of pain. And I drank tea and ate ketchup and pineapple throughout my healing process! Those anxiety-provoking forums told me I would have to live with IC, and not with tea, ketchup, and pineapple. Hmm. Talk about WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! Anything that gives you an awful feeling in your body is a hint that what you are thinking or believing or reading is NOT TRUE! I felt awful when I was reading these posts that told me I would have to live with it forever because it wasn’t true. My body knew this. My soul knew this. It wasn’t about the food, or the exercise, or taking medication that had anything to do with me getting better!! It was nothing about this stuff, and all about learning more about myself, my soul, my emotions, my body, and my thoughts. It was all about learning who I was, what I loved, what I hated, what I yearned for, what I was passionate about. It was all about me and me only. And doesn’t that feel great? Knowing that you have the power within yourself to get rid of your pain? You might need a little guidance to get there, but you can get there.
If you have pain, have you been believing or finding information on the internet that makes you feel trapped, alone, and depressed? Even if you’re not dealing with pain, is there someone in your life that is telling you something that feels icky? Is there something you are believing that makes you feel defeated? Identify the “thing” and then get excited because now you know that it holds no truth! There’s no point listening to any of that false information anymore! What’s more important than thinking you can’t, is thinking you can. If you believe you can get better, you will. If you believe you can accomplish something, you will. If you believe you are doing the right thing, you are.
Belief gives you that bit of hope you need to start on your own successful journey, whatever that journey may be.
If I thought I could tell you how to heal your pain in one post then I would definitely need to get my head checked and retire as a life coach. Just to clarify, when I use the word pain, I’m referring to physical, emotional, and mental pain; basically anything that causes you to suffer in your life. If your pain causes you to suffer, then you are dealing with dirty pain and we want to get to the bottom of it and relieve your pain/suffering. If your pain doesn’t cause you to suffer, then you are probably dealing with clean pain, or you’ve already done a lot of work on yourself and you are able to think clearer and more truthfully. I’m going to give you an example of what exactly I mean when I say pain that causes you to suffer and pain that doesn’t cause you to suffer.
We, as humans, are excellent storytellers. Some of us like to tell an uplifting and positive story (either through discipline or being blessed with a naturally optimistic viewpoint) while some of us like to tell our stories like we are victims of our life. Let’s compare two women who have both gone through similar divorces. The first woman tells herself that the divorce shouldn’t have happened, that she’ll be lonely forever, that she’ll never be loved again, and that she is worthless, while the second woman tells herself that this really is for the best, that there is no point to stay together if they don’t both love each other, that this will give her quality time to spend with herself, that she will find someone to share her life with again someday, and that she is a worthwhile person who just didn’t jive with her hubby anymore. Now, I want to be very clear here! Both women are still dealing with pain from the separation of a loved one, but this pain is clean. Experiencing this clean pain is part of the healthy grieving process that everyone needs to go through when dealing with loss and major/minor catastrophic events. The dirty pain that causes such suffering comes from the negative thoughts that the first woman has. She is creating enormous amounts of stress in her body from the constant, spiralling negative thoughts she has about herself and her future. Make sense?
So, if you are one of those people who are suffering from emotional, physical, or mental pain, how do you heal the pain? How do you cure the pain? If you’re looking for the magic pill to cure your depression, anxiety, worrisome thoughts, interstitial cystitis, back pain, fibromyalgia, unhappiness, sadness, weight issues, or any other chronic pain or uncomfortable and unwanted emotion, I’m sorry to say that you ain’t going to find it here, or anywhere else for that matter! There is no magic pill. No magic purple potion. But there is definitely a way to cure your pain. But it involves way more than choking down a horse pill. You can heal your pain by starting on a dedicated, exhilarating, confusing, surprising, and fulfilling journey; a journey that isn’t a simple walk in the park, but a meaningful and worthwhile trek in an untamed jungle where the map is written in an obscure language. It’s a journey of discovering who you really are and what you really want out of life. So instead of handing you a magic potion, I can give you the magic ingredients. I can provide you with information and useful tools for you to use over time, so slowly, you’ll get clearer and clearer and your pain will slowly disappear over time, just like how my interstitial cystitis disappeared. Although I started my journey to relieve physical pain, my journey is now focused on following my feel good and living the life I was meant to live and serving the people I was meant to serve. I am so thankful that I embarked on this journey, because I would definitely not be doing what lights me up if I hadn’t been blessed with a body that talked to me.
So keep on following me if you’re up for living an authentic, healthy, and life without pain…
A quote that helped me during times of pain:
“You can allow yourself to be a work of art, unique, intriguing, perhaps unusual, imperfect, not everybody’s style, but something to be treasured, always.” – Abigail Steidley