Chronic pain

The second worst year of my life began when my first baby was five months old.

It started out well. We had a gorgeous healthy girl, we had just bought a lovely house in a new place, joined a great church, and my husband had just started his career in law after finally finishing years of study.

But then one day, out of the blue, my baby decided to stop breastfeeding. Not wanting to give it up, I expressed milk madly, hoping she would eventually take the breast again. However, the expressing brought on painful tendonitis in both wrists. All of a sudden, I had an injury that restricted my life in severe ways. I couldn’t change nappies or hang out washing. I couldn’t turn on taps or open heavy doors. I couldn’t push the pram or drive the car. My arms and hands were constantly in pain.

As with most injuries, I thought it would go away. I tried to cut down and stop doing things, hard as that was for an task-oriented achieving type. But instead of getting better, it got worse. After three weeks, I reluctantly accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be doing any craft or sewing for a while, and submitted to a low level of boredom and mess while waiting to get better.

However, the pain got worse. It spread to my elbows and down through my fingers. I had dull aches and shooting pains every minute of the day. Thankfully I could sleep, but two minutes after I woke I would feel the familiar burden of pain creeping back up my arms.

The pain stayed for a full twelve months. Over this time I took anti-inflammatories, cortisone injections and muscle rub ointments. I tried alternative therapies: Chinese herb patches, Alexander Technique classes for relaxation. I visited physiotherapists and specialists, none of whom could find any cause for my pain.

“It’s in your head,” said one and I was angry. Why would someone like me, full of energy and plans for the future want to ‘imagine’ a disability that left me sore, angry, depressed and incompetent.

I started to see a chronic pain doctor who prescribed anti-depressants, which helped the pain, but left me spaced out and not myself. I went to an occupational therapist who helped with techniques to find better ways to do things. I was starting to become used to the idea that pain was my life.

I had to ask people for help to do the most basic things: take me places, help me shop, do some vacuuming, pick up the baby. It’s not a great way to meet people in a new area: “Hi, I’m Cecily, and can you come and do my housework?” Many were very kind. But I felt guilty for being needy, and fatigued from showing appreciation to everyone. A few times, my helpers fell through. Once, I took the plunge, phoned a friend and asked her to help me. She took some time to think, and said “Sorry, no.” I felt ashamed and humiliated.

I cried out to God again and again. “Take it away Lord.” “Why are you doing this to me?” “What do I have to learn?” “Heal me please”. I went to a healing service, and well-meaning people prayed for me while I cried, but nothing happened – at least not then.

The healing did finally come. But there was another healing which had to take place for it to be effective.

At the end of 12 months, I was in a stage of non-acceptance, looking for anything that might help. And I found the answer.

In a nutshell, and with apologies to any medicos: Dr John Sarno, an American doctor, in treating patients with otherwise unexplained back pain, discovered that repressed anger and negative emotions can cause the brain to block oxygen from certain muscles. The oxygen deprivation is not serious and not permanent, but it causes enough pain so that the patient’s thoughts are firmly on the sore spot in the body, and far away from the negative emotions.

In other words, mind and body are so connected, that rather than face emotional pain, your brain distracts you with physical pain. His treatment for this kind of pain is to face the painful feelings and deal with your emotional life.

Although not completely convinced, I bought his book (what’s another $30 in treatment if it works…) and started simply thinking about the pressures in my life. As I wrote things down, and began to really look at my expectations for myself, and what I thought God expected of me, I could feel the anger inside. Emotions started coming out that had lain dormant for years, because I thought they were either sinful, inconvenient, or just didn’t fit into the picture of myself as the ideal, fun-loving, patient, sincere, competent Christian.

The truth was, that me, a good, mature, well-adjusted missionary kid from a great Christian family didn’t really have it ‘altogether’. I was suffering from trying to good, to be perfect, to be everyone’s answer to everything. God kept peeling back layers and showing me more things he had to deal with, including the anger and hurt from the worst year of my life, which is another whole story!

I worked on my issues every day for an hour or so, and within a month I had no physical pain at all. My prayers for healing had been answered, but I still had a lot of emotional healing to do. Lessons in honesty, anger and dependence on God continue on to this day. On odd occasions, the pain comes back, and when it does, I know that I have an issue to deal with! It’s like a physical barometer.

I am thankful for the 12 months of pain, and for the real lessons I learned about accepting help, not being independent, and needing brothers and sisters. However, I am even more thankful for the way God healed me: not miraculously, but from the inside, dealing with the cause of the problem, not just the symptom.