I wonder how you woke up this morning?
However you normally wake, I suspect you probably didn’t wake the same way as I did today. You see, I arranged a team of builders, electricians and building suppliers to arrive at 6am this morning to start some renovation work on one of our clinics, 30mins away from home. The plan was for me to meet everyone there, provide access and coordinate the start of the build. Only problem was, I woke at 7am to a whole lot of love from so many workmen on my answering machine. Sigh. I learnt a huge lesson: If you are normally very busy and find yourself excited to have a day with no commitments, you probably have forgotten something as big as the start of a building project.
Thankfully after a morning of apologies, everyone agreed to return to the clinic and start the build tomorrow. I should probably take the boys breakfast, right?!
Why am I debriefing to you about my mixed-up morning? Because if you’re a chronic pain sufferer, no doubt you know the impact of stress on the body and pain levels! More stress= more pain for so many of us! More pain also means your loved-one is dealing with a more irritable partner, right?
I flew out the door and as I was driving down the highway in a panic, I started to hear my inner-critique getting to work on making sure this situation would never happen again. My inner-critique (inner-voice) is great at that, protecting me from danger! The only problem is that it always tries to teach me lessons in a negative way…. ‘Karra, how could you be so stupid to leave your phone on silent’. ‘You had one job today and you couldn’t even do that’.
Negative self-talk in this situation was just my attempt at protecting myself from a similar mistake in the future but lately I have been learning about another way I can protect myself that doesn’t add unnecessary suffering, through self-compassion.
Now, before you close the screen because you can’t stomach another chronic pain self-compassion blog, just hear me out. I’m not talking about the ‘how to cultivate self-compassion or self-love for the healthy person’ tips here. It doesn’t involve listing the things you love about yourself.
I recently finished reading the book ‘Self-Compassion’, packed with expert advice on limiting self-criticism, from pioneering research by Dr. Kristen Neff. I have also had a check into what the research has found for people in pain. It turns out in stressful situations, we are adding unnecessary negative self-talk that is destructive and moves us toward extra flare-ups of pain that we and our partners don’t need!
I first realised I needed to tune into my inner critique when I was experiencing heightened anxiety while grocery shopping (before online shopping). Every week, by the time I was at the check-out, I had a knot in my throat and was slightly panicky.
As I investigated why that specific situation was inducing anxiety, I started to listen to my inner-critique and wow was it scary!!
Over the years many health professionals have advised me of different ideal diets for my conditions. If I was to follow all the advice given, I would be able to eat just carrots, celery and spinach (I tried and only lasted 3 days on spinach soup…). So, I’ve compromised and created a diet taking into consideration the main recommendations and my experiences. It turned out though, that my inner-critique didn’t get the memo and thought I should still be eating spinach soup, which like a great protective mechanism, was just trying to keep me safe.
I walked into the grocery store and immediately, I hear in my head, ‘Karra, you mustn’t want to get better, you’re looking at the tomatoes. They are nightshades’. ‘Karra, you have no self-control, you just looked at white potatoes, they have too much starch.’ ‘Karra, you’re so stupid you just turned down the cereal aisle. You have no self-control’.
What!? I wasn’t even reaching for these items! I stood baffled!!No wonder I was sick with anxiety after grocery shopping! My mind may have thought that negative self-talk was the best way to protect me from harm, ensuring I didn’t pick up anything that would increase my pain, but it seemed to have forgotten the impact stress and anxiety has on the body! Well my body at least… anyone else?
I couldn’t stand the unnecessary suffering for a minute longer.I entered the confectionary aisle, purposefully. Wow did my inner-critique hit overdrive! But I stopped every thought that came and reframed it with encouragement as if my closest friend was speaking to me. The thought, ‘Karra, you really do want to be sick, you’re in the chocolate aisle’ was quickly replaced with ‘I know you love chocolate, you miss chocolate, but if you eat this you will be very sick tonight’. ‘Karra, don’t these chocolates look yum! It’s probably best you don’t eat them though because it increase your pain’.
I was exhausted when I got to the end of the store after challenging and replacing probably close to a hundred negative thoughts but, I was ecstatic that I had arrived to the check-out with no lump in my throat and no anxiety. Instead, I had built a small amount of compassion for myself for having to walk through a store with so many items that possibly trigger pain.
How powerful is our inner-voice!
So, here’s where I was going with the morning mix-up with my builders. As I started driving, the first negative thought popped up and I had a choice. I could let my subconscious teach me a lesson through negative self-talk or I could problem solve the situation with self-compassion, like an old friend would who knew that the day before, I had attended the funeral of a young friend, had a stressed husband preparing to present to 300 people and was awake with nausea and nerve pain the night before. I chose to say ‘Karra, you have chronic pain and a busy life, sometimes you will forget things, but it might be a good idea to never put your phone on silent again, ever’.
With love & pain,
The Chronic Pain Couple
Have you tried reframing your inner-voice and giving yourself compassion? We would love to hear in the comments how you have or how you’re going to try to experiment with this strategy