Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Allowing for sensation
Life is painful, it is. It's a lot of other things, too, of course. But being alive involves pain from the moment of birth until our last gasps, moreso for some than others. No wonder, then, that we began searching for ways to dull the pain long ago.
According to my quick google search, opium was first used as a painkiller 6,000 years ago. My guess is that even before that, we used fermented fruits, grains and milk - that is, liquor - to ease the aches and pains of life. Herbal medicine is ancient. Willow bark was steeped in hot water, administered as a tea, long before we figured out how to turn it into aspirin.
May I say right now that I'm all for pain killers. I'm grateful for their existence! Who wants to suffer? Not I, nor anyone I know.
But - at some point, we got carried away with the wonders of painkillers. The picture at the top of this post does not include all the options to relieve pain that are available at the corner drug store. There is an entire aisle of painkillers, which of course doesn't include the stuff you can only get with a prescription. Caffeine is a pain reliever, too.
We can not get enough of our painkillers. That should be a good thing, I guess. What I see is that the emphasis on using every kind of painkiller has served to convince us, at a very deep level, that we shouldn't experience any kind of physical sensation except pleasure. Believing we should never be in pain has created many problems!
Because we think we should only feel good, whenever we feel a twinge, an ache or a sharp pain, we take something to make it go away, or alternatively we try to ignore it. It's rather appalling to realize that many of us do both at once - swallow an Ibuprofen while actively ignoring the very thing that made us reach for the bottle of pills. After years of this kind of behavior, it becomes almost impossible to feel anything going on internally - except pleasant sensations. It's a big problem when we go see the doctor because it's difficult if not downright impossible for us to accurately explain what we're doing there. We are not fluent in the language of describing symptoms, and too, we're embarrassed, frightened or ashamed to admit we're in pain. We've learned to think pain is wrong. Pain is normal, it is a guide. Yes it's scary - it's supposed to be scary.
The doctor's job is to figure out what's going on. Without detailed input from us, the doc has no choice but to administer tests. Oh lord, the testing, the drawing of blood, the scans, MRIs, the invasions of our beautiful bodies with probes and needles and lights and scopes - well - none of that is pleasant in any way. Yet we submit to these tests because we have no trust in our ability to describe or even to feel what's ongoing internally. We have, by and large, given up even trying to sense health imbalances. We learned to leave it up to the professionals and the professionals came to believe we were of no help in the process of diagnosis. Hence the rise of modern medical testing.
Thank god modern medicine's love of testing peaked a few years ago. It's a relief to see that studies and experts are now advising us to scale back on testing. Current research supports the truth that, in many cases, testing causes more harm than good. I always say to my clients that our bodies do not enjoy being probed, poked, scraped, and having little bits snipped off. Yes there are times when testing is important. I'm grateful we're able to test, but unless something is wrong, it's unpleasant, expensive, frightening and time consuming.
Here's a link to an article from the New York Times about pelvic exams, something I endured annually as a young woman. There was never anything wrong with me. My periods were regular as clockwork, I had cramps but nothing serious. In other words I was a healthy young woman, but still I put my feet in the stirrups every year, submitted to the discomforts of the speculum, for no good reason.
What I've not seen yet is common sense advice to go along with less testing. We have to begin to allow ourselves to feel what's going on inside us. We need to spend time with our symptoms rather than push them away. When we get a headache, we need to be conscious, take note. We need to pay attention to where it hurts, whether it's a dull or sharp pain, if it passes quickly or hangs around. Is there a fever? Do we feel queasy? Are there visual components to the headache? Are we congested? We need to think about whether we've had more headaches than usual recently. If we pay attention, then when we see the doctor, we will be able to provide detailed information about the goings on of our bodies. Less testing won't work unless we step up to the task of paying attention.
When in pain, please try to be kind to yourself. I have clients who get angry with their bodies when they're in pain. This response does not help and is cruel. I say to these people, if your pet was in pain, or your child, would you get angry? Of course not.
Symptoms are the body's way of expressing itself. Please pay attention, please work with those sensations instead of always trying to tamp them down or wipe them out, will you? In this way we will not only become more active participants in our health care, but will become kinder and more compassionate as a result.
Respect your body, please? It's doing the best it can! Shalom.