Maybe We Shouldn't Always Keep our Eye on the Prize
by Carla Friesen
(Licensed Psychotherapist, Pain Coach, Teacher)
"Sometimes we need to loosen our grip on the outcome to start becoming aware of our progress."
This thought came to me while I was showering today. I don’t know why deep thoughts often come in the shower. And then we often lose them by the time we towel off and get to a pencil and paper.
For years we were focused on fixing Greta’s pain. We wouldn’t stop until we could figure it out. We did what you all have been doing… medications, chiropractors, acupuncture, neurologists, many other -ologists, massage, physio, OT, supplements, diets… and none of them could fix it.
I sometimes wonder if any of those things might have helped her a bit but we didn’t notice it because we were always so focused on eliminating the pain. We didn’t want something to just take the edge off, we wanted it GONE!
We kind of had to tire ourselves out trying everything we could think of until we got to the point mentally and emotionally where we would be happy to find something that could take the edge off. Til we could be happy with something that helped even 2%. And THAT is when things started to shift for us.
For us , the shift started with understanding how chronic pain was often a nervous system problem - an overprotective brain sending pain signals when there was no tissue damage. And the answer to that was to become more functional. That shift in our thinking helped us to commit to supporting Greta to take the small steps to do a little more each week.
The progress was almost imperceptible at first but it was better than nothing. It helped maybe 0.001%. Maybe we noticed it helping our mental states more than pain levels at first. We kept going. After a couple weeks it was 0.001% (that is one less zero!) and by the end of the month it was 1%. But the end of 3 months it was probably up to 5% and now, a year later, it has helped exponentially!!! I am not sure how to quantify it.
Greta still has pain. But she is living life. She has a part-time job and wants to work longer shifts. She doesn’t want me to ask her about her pain (whereas at one point I was trying to limit her talk about her pain). She has plans for an intense graphic arts diploma in the fall.
The point is that when we are always focused on eliminating pain, we may miss something helpful along the way. We may not try that thing for long enough because it is not fast acting. We are so desperate that we want relief NOW! But we have been on this journey long enough to know that it is seemingly impossible to find immediate relief.
Slow and steady can seem EXCRUCIATING when our pain is intense and daily. But slow and steady seems to be the way to make progress with chronic pain. And in fact, it almost seems like taking our eye of the end result and instead focusing on slow, consistent progress seems to be the key to almost everything in life! When we loosen our grip on our end goal, we can start to become more aware of our progress in:
· Weight loss
· Yard work
· Learning to play the guitar, crochet, do a handstand…
· And so many other things!
What if you put the end goal of eliminating chronic pain aside for now and rather focus on the small things that show a little progress, however imperceptible.
These things aren’t anything to write home about now. But they might be a few months from now, and definitely a year or so down the road.
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