Pain Perceptions: Not All Beliefs About Our Pain Are Created Equal
What if we changed the way we looked at our pain? In this blog post I share how you can look at your pain from a different perspective. I touch on pain perceptions, chronic pain, physical and emotional pain, and give you journal prompts to help you look at your pain a little differently.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a full body inflammatory and immune disease with a hormone component. The endometriosis lesions are similar to the endometrium that lines the uterus, however, they are outside of the uterus. These lesions are hormone sensitive and respond to the hormones of the menstrual cycle, but endometriosis is not caused by excess estrogen. Some explain the lesions as tiny blisters all over your internal organs. It is listed as one of the top 20 most painful conditions in the world and unfortunately, there is no cure for it.
There are an estimated 200 million women worldwide that have endometriosis and the reality is that number is probably a lot higher due to the lack of understanding from our medical community and the delay in diagnosis of this disease. It takes an average of 10 years to get diagnosed with endometriosis. And the most common surgery performed by a normal gyn is ablation/coagulation which leads to more pain and scar tissue, prolonging pain and suffering for many women. Click here to read more about endometriosis and click here to learn more about common endometriosis symptoms
Pain Perceptions: Not All Beliefs About Our Pain Are Created Equal**Depending on where you are in your healing journey, this might be triggering for you. I challenge you to read until the end and use the journal prompts to get to know yourself and your pain a little deeper
I just want to start out by saying that your pain is 100% real and 100% valid.
But, what if we changed the way we looked at our pain?
It is so common for those of us living in chronic pain to be scared of our body and scared that something we might eat or do will make our pain worse and as pain persists, negative beliefs about our pain experience and negative thoughts in general often develop. It creates this vicious physical and emotional pain cycle where we stop doing the things we love to do which oftentimes leads to depression, anxiety and increased pain.
But one of the interesting things about endometriosis pain, and chronic pain in general, is that when we have it for so long it almost becomes part of who we are. And, for most of us, if we woke up one day without pain, we would not know what to do. Because it is part of our story of who we are, it becomes ingrained into us and intertwines throughout everything we believe that we are. And because of this, we tend to cling onto our pain because we associate it as part of who we are and we find ways to sabotage our healing because who would we be without our pain?
We end up saying things such as, I am a woman who has endometriosis. I am in chronic pain all the time. I am suffering. I am hurting. I am in pain. And those I am statements are one of the fastest ways to rewire your brain to believe that what you are saying is part of who you are. When we associate things with “I am” we are telling our brain that this is part of who I am, this is a part of me that is true for me, this is my ultimate truth.
When this happens, we are also telling our brain that this is a constant in my life. Our brain LOVES the constants, it loves to keep things as they are because that is what it knows, that is what is safe. So even though we are in pain, our brain begins to believe that this pain equals being safe. So whether it be conscious or unconscious, we end up clinging to that story of who we are (I am a woman who is in pain) and we end up sabotaging our healing. We try to control our circumstances that we cannot control, we try to fight our current reality, we avoid things, and we end up staying right where we are, stuck in pain, because again, our brain believes this to be safe.
Depending on where you are in your healing journey, this idea, this thought, this truth, might be extremely triggering for you. You are probably thinking to yourself, fuck you Chelsea, no fucking way am I sabotaging my healing. My pain is something that was thrown upon me, I didn’t choose this, I don’t want this to be my story.
And if that is what you’re thinking, I commend you! That is the first step of healing. Deciding and choosing to not let that be your story! Because the wonderful thing is, that it doesn’t have to be your story. There are so many women with endometriosis that have learned to manage their pain, that have learned to have more good days, that can live in harmony with their endometriosis.
How you perceive your pain, your perception of your experience of pain, affects how much pain you’re in because the mind and the body are connected. They are one. For example, I want you to think back to a time where you were angry. Really feel the knot in your stomach, the fire in your bones. Now I want you to think of a time where you were extremely happy. Really feel those happy feelings in your body, feel how your heart feels full and you feel light and joyful.
Your body created a reaction to those memories, even though, there were just that, memories. They were just part of your thoughts. This is such a great example of the mind and body connection. This is why, your thoughts, feelings, emotions, about your pain story can have an effect on how you actually feel.
There have actually been studies showing that people who catastrophize their pain, which just means they are predicting that they will be in more pain than they are going to be in and they are anticipating it to be worse than it is, typically have a greater pain experience in those who don’t catastrophize their pain.
That brings me back to the physical and emotional pain cycles that we can all go through because when you’re anticipating your pain to be worse than it is, you stop doing certain activities, which leads to muscle loss, which leads to muscle pain, which leads to overall increased pain. Then because you are not doing the things that you love, this leads to depression and anxiety. which leads to even less activity, and the cycle continues. So how can we break this never ending cycle? This is what I help my clients work through.
Because when you are able to become aware of your thoughts, you are able to change and rewrite your pain experience, and form positive physical and emotional coping mechanisms, you can break this vicious pain cycle and start to rebuild your life from where you are right now. Not looking at the past and wishing you could get back there, not looking back and wishing you could change your experience. But accepting your experience and becoming okay with where you are in your life right now. Because the thing is that you can't change the past, you can’t change what happened to you, but you can change how you perceive your experience, and choose how you want to move forward.
In no way am I saying that you can think away your pain. Your pain is 100% real and 100% valid. But I am saying that you can control what you choose to believe about your pain experience. Because the thing with chronic pain is that it is actually not causing any more harm to your body. Your brain has been receiving pain signals which have been reinforced over time, it can create abnormal pain pathways. For example, if you’ve had your endometriosis lesions excised properly by a trained endometriosis excision specialist you can still have pain to that area even though there is nothing in that area causing pain. This is an abnormal pain pathway that is created from chronic pain, emotions, trauma, etc. So realizing this, and learning about chronic pain, and learning to rewrite your story in a way that supports you instead of keeps you trapped is such a powerful way to regain your life and live in harmony with your endometriosis.
The thing is, sometimes we are going to wake up from surgery and still be in pain, sometimes we are going to take medication and its not going to help our pain, sometimes we can have the most perfect diet and still be in pain. Our pain might still always be there, whether it be a tremendous amount of pain or minimal pain. But we can choose to look at our pain differently, and we have the power to create a different story for ourselves.
Here are some journal prompts to help you look at your pain a little different:
- What “I am” statements do you tell yourself about your pain, your endometriosis, and about who you are as a person?
- Are these statements true about your pain, your endo, and yourself?
- Are these statements absolutely true for everyone in the entire world?
- What happens to you when you choose to believe these thoughts/beliefs?
- Who would you be without these thoughts/beliefs?
- When did you decide that these thoughts/beliefs were true?
- How can I look at my pain through a different lens?
I want you to know that you are not alone! There are millions of us out here supporting each other, fighting for a diagnosis, fighting for better healthcare! United we are so much stronger! Do not hesitate to reach out, I will always be here for you <3
Chelsea Blackburn | Endometriosis Coach
Email: email@example.comPodcast: The Endo Babe Podcast