A Healing Relationship With Your Pain

Last night as I was falling to sleep, I decided to listen to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief. I’ve listened to this audio book many times over the past few years, and I will admit that the first few times, I was quite dumbfounded with many of the concepts that I heard being discussed (primarily, the one about turning towards and embracing the pain, instead of hoping that it goes away). I continued to listen, however, and eventually reached the point where I figured that I’d give it a try, partly because it was right around this time when–years into living with rheumatoid arthritis–I started to realize that the pain just wasn’t going to go away.

Only recently have I realized just how far I’ve come, in this regard. A couple of weeks ago, I asked the following on my Facebook page:

Does anyone else feel a certain sense of “comfort” from the chronic pain? I mean, it hurts and all (no doubt), but as long as I feel the pain, it’s a reminder that I’m in my own body…and as long as I’m in my own body, it’s a reminder that I know exactly what to do, which ultimately leads me to the awareness that I’ll be okay (no matter how much it hurts).

On the day that I wrote these words, I had woken up with a stronger-than-usual morning flare, and what surprised me that most was what I wasn’t thinking. I was not feeling angry or sad, disappointed or frustrated. I wasn’t even wishing that I had woken up without this flare…I was just accepting my situation exactly as it was, and I was okay. Not only was I okay, but I was actually feeling a slight sense of comfort, as I realized that everything I was experiencing–including the intense pain–was normal.

As I sat there that morning, reading the responses that started coming in to the question that I posted (a majority of which said that they understood what I was trying to say, and often experience similar feelings/thoughts themselves), I went on to ask my sister (who has been one of the primary sources of support during my journey with RA, and who is also an experienced psychologist) if this new relationship that I’ve established with my pain and disability was a healthy one. After all, declarations of hate and anger towards pain and disability are so common, are such the societal norm, that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that one’s relationship with the pain and disability can instead be based upon the complete opposite of hate and anger: love and happiness.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if what I now feel is actually love and happiness for the pain and disability themselves, or is love and happiness for the life that I have…but since the pain and disability are such integral parts of my life, I don’t think it’s really necessary to make such a distinction.

I love my life, pain and disability included.

Any shreds of doubt that I may have previously associated with this statement have completely disappeared. This is my new mindset moving forward, and I feel like I’m on top of the world. The hope that I feel doesn’t deny my pain and disability; instead, it embraces them fully.

As I was listening to the audio book last night, I was struck by what the author said, a few minutes into the introduction. He said that if you were able to do one of the exercises that he had just walked readers through, then “you are already well on the way of developing a new and potentially healing relationship with your pain, and even more importantly, with your own mind and body.”

He could not have been more right.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

12 Comments
12 comments
  1. Jennifer B says:

    Great article, thanks for sharing your life with so many. I have recently come to feel the same as you. I still struggle with the lifetime pain sentence, especially because I’m a single parent, but it is what makes me me. My oldest daughter told me that I was her hero the other day so I asked her why and she said, “you are not a quitter and super strong

  2. Lana says:

    I don’t know that we really get comfortable but I think that we start to realize that it is very much a part of our lives. I also think that we embrace our pain out of necessity and not choice. Of course, there is a choice is deciding to not let anger and hate be a central part of that, even though some amount of that is normal. But you are correct in that we get to a point where denial is replaced by hope. After all, hope is everything and infinite.

  3. RA Guy's Mom says:

    As I face challenges in life with my health and life and as I get to the points that I feel I can not handle anything more…I think of my son–what I personally witnessed him going through during his bad RA flares (when he recently visited)–and “HE IS MY SUPER HERO”!

  4. Aurore says:

    I have to say that finding your blog has given me hope.

    Having only been diagnosed this year, with aggressive RA, I haven’t come to terms with my new situation – the pain, the limits, the new ways of life – but your words give me hope that I can and will, eventually.

  5. Mara says:

    I think it can be helpful to listen. Last night as I laid in bed waiting for the pain killers to let me sleep, I let my mind wander across my body and notice what was actually angry. I normally feel like it is just such a strong influx of pain for RA sufferers that for me at least it almost feels like a huge blanket of pain across my entire body. But last night I thought about which specific body parts hurt. I noticed one knee was far worse than the other, and that my ankles weren’t anywhere nearly as bad as my feet, etc. So each really bad spot got an ice pack for the night. It was a telling moment because I usually spend every waking moment trying NOT to feel it, or at least push the pain into the furthers recesses that it will go (which isn’t far, don’t get me wrong, I can’t think my way out of pain) but listening too it every now again is very healing. Great post thanks RA guy.

  6. Leslie Cizewski says:

    RA Guy, I’m not quite there yet. I’m trying…

    I must purchase Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief right now! My dad is rather fond of Jon Kabat-Zinn and has given me a few of his books; Wherever You Go, There You Are and Full Catastrophe Living.

  7. Tina Bone says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I’ve had RA for 4 years. I’m not at that comfortable place yet. I know what you meant and at one time I thought I was there but lately I seem to be grasping at straws. I’m thinking of changing rheumatologists. I want a doctor to exhaust all tests trying to figure out why this has attacked me. No one in my family has ever had it or anything similar to it. I also want a doctor to help me with trying different things such as diet changes or hormone stuff or antibiotics. I want to be in on clinical trials. I guess in other words I want a research doctor and a clinical doctor. I know there isn’t a cure but to be sure there’s something besides biologics and prednisone that can help. I’m worn out, tired, angry, exhausted, frustrated etc. we can take a human heart out of a person, sit it on a table and repair it, put it back in a person but we cannot figure out why RA or find a cure…..give me a break!

  8. Bahrsmom says:

    I’ve been living w RA since childhood along w Fibromyalgia and I’ve found that making peace with your pain certainly eases things and checks your attitude. Most of the time I simply refuse to acknowledge it. Deep breathing exercises, walking, walking, walking, does as much for your head as it does for circulation. Meditation and a deep seated goal or task you must complete before you allow your body to succumb to anything. I also take pharmacuetical grade liquid vitamins and strength train using rubber bands and cuffs. Most of the time people notice my back and arms before they notice the crooked hands, knobby feet n shoulders. I’m 54 yrs old and I can still turn heads when I walk into a room. my motto: What doesn’t kill m only makes me stronger and a little wiser. My long term goal (which has no room in it for RA or the likes of it) to rescue my grandchildren from foster care. The odds they say are against me. But that’s what THEY say. THEY said Id be a cripple, HA! THEY were wrong. Start and end each day w a positive statement and stop n smell the roses. Thank our creator and or the universe for all the things you are truly grateful for, and for all the things that have been and are great in our lives. I sincerely hope I’ve been a good cheerleader. Good luck! Good days and good life.

  9. Bahrsmom says:

    Oh forgot to mention, I still have really rotten days. It gets easier with time but you have to listen to your body. For the most part I’ve not had a serious flare up in years. Once you get your mind to cooperate the body kinda follows. If that makes sense. When the flare is over, dance like nobody’s watching, play ball. . . Live. And most of all don’t mind the ill comments. Ive been accused of sick leave abuse more times than I can count. The only people that really came close to understanding what it’s like living w/RA were the people that lived with me. And even they sometimes were insensitive. But it doesn’t bother me any more. I am who I am and I got things do to, I’m on a mission to wellness and rescuing my grandchildren from foster care. Even CPS has put an expiration on my ability to grand parent because of the RA they do not understand. Family members, co-workers & employers should be encouraged to read these articles also. I’m glad this site is here.

  10. Margaret says:

    I go to bed each night in thankfulness that I am still able to do some things I love…I care for my puppy, babysit a 7 y/o and an 18 month old when needed…and cook, I love to cook. I have wonderful family and friends. And even though I have lots of pain…I am blessed to have my life.

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