19 November 2014

Little Things Make A Difference

When things are bad -- like last week, when I was in the midst of a series of bad migraines and people dear to me were struggling -- it's usually the little things that make the most difference.

Like having tiny bottles with a few flowers in each, scattered around the condo.
Photo by William Marsh

Like my sweet little dog.

Like a text message from a loved one, a hug we're not sure we deserve, a surprise gift of favorite cookies.

Pain can narrow our perceptions. Depression tells us we have nothing good around us. Chronic conditions of mental and physical health, a recurrence of a life-threatening illness, relapse into addiction, seem to encourage us to give up.

Mostly, we don't. Mostly, we keep going. How do we find the strength? From where does the courage come from to set one foot ahead of the other when things look really bleak?

Sometimes, it's the little things that help keep us going.

Thanks for reading my blog. You can comment below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

16 November 2014

Resource -- Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Anthletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall

As recent posts have indicated, I've joined the YMCA, signed up with a personal trainer, and established a routine of recumbent-bike workouts.

I'm not running. I'm not sure why this book -- Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall -- attracted me. But it did and I have been listening to it for the past few days.

Photo by William Marsh
There are so many things to love about this book. It's a fantastic story and McDougall tells it well. He has an accessible, descriptive and interesting style that does well with the topics and people he writes about. It's an amazing cast of characters mixed with science, history and evolution, and tales of long-distance running. There's more information here than you ever thought you'd need, especially if you are a non-runner like I am, and it's all fascinating.

Much of what he writes about fits my spiritual life, offers insight into living with chronic pain (not that he meant to do that), and encourages me in my new experiment with getting in better physical shape.

I've got a lot of posts coming. I can feel them in my fingertips.

More later.

Thanks for reading my blog. You can comment below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

09 November 2014

Strength for the Journey -- The Pain / Benefit Compromise

I wrote a week ago about beginning a new exercise regime with a personal trainer at the nearby YMCA. Two days a week, I have a thirty-minute session with Veronica, during which we work on my goals of (1) back and core strength; (2) upper body strength; and (3) flexibility. And although whatever migraine pain I have that day is one or two degrees worse when the sessions are over, I am really pleased with the results and the way I feel otherwise.

Photo by William Marsh
I think of this as the pain / benefit compromise.

Here's the background: We migraineurs are told to rest and stay quiet -- don't lift, don't bend over, don't get your heart pounding -- when we have a migraine. Activity of almost any kind makes our heads feel worse.

But I spent a few years resting and hoping staying quiet would decrease the severity and number of migraines I had per week. It did not.

Then, two years ago, when I threw my back out for the umpteenth time and finally got the MRI that diagnosed degenerating discs, I had to go to physical therapy or I ran the risk of ending up immobilized one day. And what I noticed about the physical therapy sessions was that, even though they made migraines worse, I felt better in other ways.

That experienced made me willing to try the training at the Y. And, three weeks in, I find it all confirmed. 

I have accepted the fact that I'll be in more pain when I'm finished a workout or training session because I know I will feel physically better, have more stamina, feel emotionally and spiritually better, and will be able to approach pain management both more positively and from a plateau of greater overall health.

The compromise is well worth it. What a relief.

Thanks for reading my blog. You can leave a comment below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

01 November 2014

Strength For The Journey -- Exercise Regimen

Within the past month, I have joined the YMCA down the street and signed up for eighteen 30-minute personal trainer sessions. I thought I might blog about the process of getting into better shape, how it affects my pain (chronic migraine mostly, but also degenerating discs in my spine) and what it all means for life and spirit and body and me.

I'll blog about the usual things as well, but will post maybe once a week about how the new exercise regimen is going. I hope it's helpful and informative to others. Although the particulars of our lives with chronic pain (physical, mental, spiritual) vary, our responses to it are often rooted in the same things, like grief, vulnerability, frustration, self-esteem, and productivity, among others.

So here are a few random thoughts to begin the new series.

Photo by William Marsh
The Time Is Right

 I notice that I've had to purposefully let go of all the "why did I wait so long to do this" kind of thoughts, which are never productive or helpful, and focus on the "why the time is right" affirmations. For me, the timing has to do with (1) finishing my degree and freeing up time; (2) finishing my degree and freeing up money; (3) a couple years' regular practice with exercises to strengthen my back and core; (4) a YMCA opening up three blocks away; (5) recent treatments for occipital neuralgia pain.

The Bikes Have These Cool Videos
I cannot ride the upright bike because the posture exacerbates my back problems, so I'm really glad for the row of six recumbents near the windows up front. But the real excitement comes from the video bike rides through France that are programmed in the monitor. I can't tell you how excited I was when I discovered this feature, but I now have a habit of sending braggy texts to my husband: "Went biking this morning through the Col de la Colombiere."

My Personal Trainer Is Awesome
I've been leery of exercise because activity almost always makes my headache pain worse. But I've also noticed that purposeful exercise, like walking, improves my mood, which  makes the pain easier to take and helps my pain management practice. It's sort of a compromise, one I've become more willing to make. And Veronica makes the compromise so much more do-able. She keeps the pace slow, checks and double-checks my pain level, allows me as much time as I need to get over dizziness or throbbing pain, and tailors every moment of our time together to the realities of my physical capacities. Which are not impressive but which she accepts.

So far so good. More later.

Thanks for reading my blog. You can leave a comment below or email  me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

28 October 2014

Shame Resilience Final Post

What better way to wrap up a series of posts than to write about a personal experience that illustrates the main points? And even better if one hasn't planned it, if it just happens when one is out of control.

Photo by William Marsh
To recap a bit: I was diagnosed with occipital neuralgia this spring, and began treatments in August. At that time, I understood the doctor to say that the treatments may help or even eliminate the migraines. To my surprise and shame, I realized I was feeling afraid of getting better -- I wrote about it in this post in August.

(It turns out I'd misunderstood; the treatments rarely make a big difference with migraine, though they do well eliminating the neck and back-of-the-head pain.)

That was embarrassing. However, this blog explores and processes the interactions of spirit and chronic pain, so I wrote the post despite embarrassment. And shame. And feeling like there was something wrong with me. That post has turned out to be one of my most-viewed ever. It would seem that others struggle with the chronic-ness of life as I do.

As I reflected on and did some research about shame, I came across Brene Brown and an interview she gave, here in Spirituality and Health Magazine. The bit on shame at the end of the interview became the basis of this series of posts, of which this is the sixth and final.

So here's where the lessons all begin to flow together. Last Friday, I had a treatment for occipital neuralgia. Before the doctor began the injections, we talked about next steps. But I had a migraine, and was still caught up in the original confusion, and so I misunderstood my doctor to say that there was no further treatment and he couldn't give me more of these injections (they're steroids, and will atrophy the muscles). Suddenly I thought I'd be stuck with the pain whose absence the past 12 weeks had been such a relief. And I just about bawled, right there in his office. (I did cry, but later, while lying down until the dizziness caused the the injections passed.) 

While the tears smeared my mascara, I suddenly realized that the fear of healing I'd 'fessed up to in August was gone. I wanted the healing. I'd had it for twelve blessed weeks, had experienced some improvement in quality of life, and was NOT going to give it up. What a turn-around from the original post!

As I lay there I also realized how the blogging illustrates the process of attaining shame resilience.

Writing that August post helped me understand and name something that caused me shame. The process of getting it out, as well as
the comments and interest in the post, helped me practice compassionate awareness when the shame returned. More aware and open, I found the Brene Brown interview and ended up writing about what I was going through.

It's serendipity. Or God's guidance. Or the leading of a spirit guide. Or the will of Allah. However we understand and describe these marvelous comings-together of spirit and mind and experience, they are surely more available to us when we practice the awareness and compassion that come with greater openness and honesty. I have come to see shame resilience as an important part of it all.

Thanks for reading my blog. You can leave a comment below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.