Category: Other

Book Synopsis: How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard


how-to-be-sickHow To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

I recently read How to Be Sick for the third time! Each time I read this book I take away comfort and knowledge…comfort from knowing I am not alone and knowledge from the helpful practices she shares in the book. The author offers both a chronology of her illness and an introduction and explanation of primarily Buddhist-inspired principles and tools that help her deal with being sick.

(Important side note: people of any religion can benefit of this book…the concepts in the book are not ‘religious’ in any way and I believe they should not conflict with one’s own spiritual beliefs).

As I read her book, a feeling of relief comes over me, from knowing I am not the only person practically home-bound due to their health. Of course I know this to be true without reading the book, social media is full of us ‘spoonies’ sharing snippets of our lives, but there is something about reading her account of her illness and its impact on her life which I really connect with. For instance, I can so relate to her going to great lengths to stay at her job. She resorted to teaching her class sitting in a chair instead of standing, not to mention peeing in her office (you have to read the book to get those details)! Her account reminded me of when I was still trying to work and I would lay on the floor of my office during every break and lunch hour and then, like Toni, I would go home and crash for the entire night. We both pushed until we could do it no more. She then shares examples of missing out on family and social activities, being unable to take care of herself and a myriad of others issues we all face when living with pain/illness. She shares her story in an incredibly honest, open and humble way. She admits to breakdowns and at times not handling things well, however, she always moves forward from these challenges. She details the specific tools she uses to handle each type of situation.

The tools she refers to include Buddhist principles and practices such as the four sublime states, Tonglen and mindfulness. In non-Buddhist terms, these principles relate to compassion for oneself and others, acceptance, peace, and awareness. She keeps her explanations simple and easy to understand so readers unfamiliar with Buddhism should have no problem grasping them; while those familiar with Buddhist practices, will welcome learning how to apply the principles to living with illness/pain.

She references the work of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh whose books, meditations and talks first introduced me to mindfulness and led me to the realization that I had finally found an approach that truly could help me live with chronic pain. Therefore, it was validating to have Toni include some of his practices in her book.

She also highly recommends and explains teachings of self-help author and speaker, Byron Katie, in particular, an inquiry tool called “The Work” where one is asked to go through a series of steps to challenge the thoughts towards one’s situation and then turn the thoughts around. I think we all have quite a few thoughts related to our pain/illness that could be effectively challenged with this method.

If it sounds like the book offers a lot of helpful tools and information, you are right! The author summarizes all the tools at the end of the book which makes the book easy to refer to and trust me you will want to refer to it over and over again.

Overall the book is wonderfully written and packed with so many transformative ways to approach dealing with illness and/or pain. Most importantly Toni serves as an inspirational example of someone who, living with illness, is changing lives and making a difference in the world. As Toni says, “there is sickness, but I am not sick.”

 

 

Adult Coloring for Chronic Pain or Illness

 

IMG_1021Adult coloring is all the rage right now. People living with pain should definitely explore this new fad as coloring can provide incredible relaxation and allow one to temporarily forget about physical pain.

Not to mention that scientists have found that coloring actually quiets the part of the brain, the amygdala, that causes stress and is often activated when we are distressed by our pain.

A recent Huffington Post article stated that the famous psychologist, Carl Jung believed that the coloring of mandalas could be used as a relaxation technique. I personally find mandalas to be the most calm-inducing items to color as the patterns are repetitive and require concentration. I get so focussed I literally am completely in the moment and don’t worry about my pain or anything else. Here is a photo of two manadult coloring bookdalas that I recently colored from the Just Add Color Mandalas Adult Coloring Book. I used two types of markers,
Stabilo Point 88 Pen Sets rollerset set of 25 and Stabilo Point 88 Pen Sets rollerset set of 25. These types of extra fine-tipped pens are required, especially if you plan on coloring the detailed drawings in the most popular adult coloring book right now, The Secret Garden.

secret_garden_roll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to see if coloring should be added to your “pain toolkit”, you can download two free beautiful coloring pages, “Today is Going to Be Awesome” and a gorgeous owl.

Creative-Coloring-Inspirations-PrintableNature-Mandalas-printable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For people with chronic pain or illness, the great thing about adult coloring is that it can be done just about anywhere. You can color laying down, standing up or sitting. You can be in bed, at a desk, in the waiting room of your doctor’s office or my favourite place to colour, at the beach.

Is coloring going to heal your pain or illness vanish…no, but at least for brief periods of time you can hopefully forget about your health and feel a sense of peace and calm…a state of mind that is a welcome respite from the stress of living with chronic pain/illness.

Have you found coloring to be helpful when living with chronic pain or illness? If so, I would love to hear about your experience!


 

Chronic Pain/Illness Photography Project Follow-Up

“Know This…You’re not alone and you’re more than your pain.” – Participant, Janice Feinstein

Chronic Pain Life’s online 21-Day Chronic Pain/Illness Photography Project recently completed. The participants’ photographs and accompanying explanations were all incredibly impactful, insightful and powerful. The most popular of the project’s daily photo prompts were: Goals, Identity, Know This, Who I Was and Acceptance.

Day after day as participants explored and shared their experiences of pain/illness, through taking and sharing photos as well as viewing and commenting on other members’ photos, a sense of community was established. The online group space remains open indefinitely so that members can continue to connect and support one another through the sharing of photographs related to their pain/illness.

“I’ve come to love this group of women and men who share the same burden in life that I do. This group has changed my life, my marriage and my entire outlook on my illness. Your project saved me in a way I can never repay. I’m forever grateful to you for it.”
-Participant

chronic pain therapeutic photography
“I used the door and the half of me because one part of me puts on a good show for all to see but behind that door is pain non stop, worry, depression, stress, wonder, and the one with the eye means lots of people don’t see or understand at all. And the last one is the real whole healthy me.”

Several members expressed how photography provided a safe and less vulnerable way to explore and share their feelings about their pain/illness. As most of the participants do not regularly practice photography, most were surprised at how much insight, clarity and healing could take place through taking and analyzing photos.

“I had not used any visual means to express anything I felt about my illness/pain before this project. It gave me a way of saying things […] and helped me see myself more clearly.” –Participant

The success of the project validated my belief in the therapeutic value of photography for people who live with chronic pain/illness. Chronic Pain Life will continue to offer a variety of photography-related projects related to pain/illness. To learn more about these projects and therapeutic photography, join the Chronic Pain Life Facebook group and sign up for blog updates.

You can view more photos from the project on the Participant’s Photography page of the Chronic Pain Life website.

Disabled from chronic pain, I am questioning my faith.

Chronic pain and GodI am really struggling with the fact that I think I have finally given up on believing there is a God.

I just can’t possibly understand the purpose of my housebound life. A life where my spine requires I eat my meals laying down, a life without the ability to have children (whether adopted or my own), unable to drive, go to the movies, grocery shop, and a long list of other “normal” every day activities. Add to that days when I am unable to shower, make a simple meal for myself and walk from my bedroom to the kitchen. Deriving some purpose or point to my disabling chronic pain seems impossible. I ask “why would God allow this”? Why should anyone have to feel like EVERY day is a major struggle? Why should anyone live with this little quality of life?

For the first few years of dealing with chronic pain I held onto my faith despite losing the ability to fly, jog, garden and work full-time. I grieved the losses but pushed forward, striving to be grateful for what I still could do and believing God had a plan for me. Over the past three years as the level of my disability  significantly increased, my faith in God was often the only thing that kept me going. I would pray and tell myself I was not alone; that I always had God. I even had people trained in faith healing come and pray with me as I lay flat in my bed week after week. I longed to believe their words telling me that God is real, God is good and always with me. However, as my physical disabilities continued to decrease so did my level of faith in God. Now today as I lay here living a primarily horizontal life barely managing to do the basics of self-care each day, I realize that I have come to a place where I no longer believe in God.

I am saddened by the fact that I have lost my faith. I stare at my “Believe” sign hanging in the living room and wish I still could.

How pets help with chronic pain

chronic pain petsLiving with chronic pain would be a lot harder if I didn’t have pets. My two cats are the biggest blessings in my life as I deal with the challenge of a life with chronic pain.

So often with chronic pain we are physically isolated from others. For me, I am rarely able to drive and I often can’t participate in social activities with friends and family. I spend the majority of at home but I am not alone…I have two wonderful cats, Coco and Simon, who take the edge off what could be a very isolated and lonely existence.

Furthermore, with pets, one doesn’t experience the emotional challenges one can experience with friends and family. Often people close to us do not know what to say to those of us dealing with chronic pain or they say or do the “wrong” things. Additionally when we are with them, we may feel we have to put a mask on and fake feeling okay. On the contrary, pets don’t say hurtful comments or judge us. They are there to snuggle us, comfort us, and gaze at us adoringly no matter how we feel, what we are able to do physically, what we are able to accomplish or not accomplish, etc.

Our pets ask for so little yet offer those of us with chronic pain so much. Give your pet a little extra loving today to say thank you for being by your side through the challenge of living with chronic pain.

How have your pet(s) help you with your chronic pain?

Have your hobbies changed since you have chronic pain?

ChronicpainhobbiesLike most people with chronic pain or illness, I have had to say goodbye to many beloved hobbies. Gone are my world travelling days, my biking adventures, and, often, even my waterfront strolls. So I have had to search out hobbies I can physically manage.

My new hobbies have slowly evolved over the past few years. There are some I tried, like sewing, that ended up not being possible on a regular basis, while others like blogging which continues to be a fun and rewarding endeavour. Most recently, I took up knitting. Knitting had never appealed to me but now the prospect of a hobby that is physically possible was downright exciting! Did I seriously just use knitting and exciting in the same sentence??? Uh yes I did, and may I remind you I am under 40! That is how chronic pain changes your view of things. Now the opportunity to do ANYTHING new or creative (including knitting) is a wonderful discovery.

As human beings, no matter what our physical situation, it is important to stay inspired, productive, and experience enjoyment. So be open to new possibilities and new activities. Go on and try that Sudoku puzzle, pull out that sketchbook and pencil, ask your aunt to teach you to crochet or maybe even take up stargazing…you just never know you might enjoy it!

What new hobbies have you adopted since dealing with chronic pain? 

Affirmations to use during a pain flare-up

Don't Give UpI use affirmations, on a daily basis, to deal with my pain. I seriously couldn’t function without them. In a pain flare-up they prevent me from entering a spiral of negative thoughts that in the past led to depression and even suicidal thoughts. Sometimes I only have to repeat the affirmations a couple of times, while other times I have to read them over and over throughout the day. They have helped me make it through another moment, another hour, another day. I even keep a copy typed up on my IPhone in my notepad app. I can’t tell you how many times I have reached for my phone and read through them forcing myself to try and believe what they are telling me. Affirmations make you focus, make you stay positive and ground you in reality. Otherwise our mind can get taken over by pain demons that are determined to rob one of hope, peace and will.

I hope you will find these affirmations helpful. Feel free to edit them or even just use them as inspiration to make your own. That is the thing, affirmations have to mean something to you, they have to be tailored to your situation. Only you know the messages that you need to hear when you are faced with a bout of pain. Following are the messages I repeat:

  • I am aware I have pain but I observe it with detachment.
  • This flare-up will pass…it always does.
  • I breathe calm and relaxation into the pain.
  • I only focus on the here and now. I am not going to worry about how long the flare-up will last.
  • I am handling this flare-up calmly and positively.
  • I am patiently handling this flare-up.
  • I am grateful for the few things I can do despite the flare-up.
  • During this flare-up I focus on taking one moment at a time.
  • I will make it through this flare-up. The pain will subside. My mobility will increase.

Eating for Chronic Pain – what to eat and what to avoid

CP Food
Recent research is showing links between certain foods and chronic pain. I have reviewed this research extensively and summarized below, what foods and drinks can ease chronic pain and what ones can increase pain. 

*Please keep in mind that these are general suggestions and should be tailored to your existing health conditions.*

EASE PAIN by eating/drinking:

Ginger – lowers inflammation and muscle pain.
Onions – 
contain phytochemicals that reduce inflammation.
Sea Vegetables (Kelp and Dulse) – contain fucoidans shown to reduce pain and provides trace minerals.
Avocado –  high in Vitamin K can reduce pain and arthritis symptoms.
Tart Cherries or tart cherry juice – contain anthocyanins, which are thought to reduce inflammation.
Pineapple & Papaya – contain enzymes that break down protein that cause pain.
Garlic – contains phytochemicals that reduce inflammation.
Tumeric – lowers enzymes linked to inflammation…Curcumin is the ingredient that likely provides the benefit.
Olive Oil – contains oleocanthal may have the same effect as ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Raw Coconut Water – contains potassium aiding in rehydration and thus reduces pain.
Walnuts – they are high in Omega-3 Fatty acids and antioxidants which may assist in reducing pain and inflammation.
Flax seeds – they are high in Omega-3 Fatty acids and antioxidants which may assist in reducing pain and inflammation.
Pumpkin seeds – they are high in Omega-3 Fatty acids and antioxidants which may assist in reducing pain and inflammation.
Fish (Salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, halibut, shrimp, snapper) – they are high in Omega-3 Fatty acids and antioxidants which may assist in reducing pain and inflammation.
Dark, leafy greens – these are high in antioxidants and creates alkalinity vs. acidity.
Acai berries – high in antioxidants and Omega 3s.
Blueberries – high in antioxidants.
Green Tea – contains numerous antioxidants.

AVOID eating/drinking:

Monosodium glutamate – found in soy sauce, broths, soy products, processed foods, yeast products, sprayed on food crops. Stimulates pain receptors.
Aspartame –extensive research show numerous dangers from consuming aspartame including chronic pain and fibromyalgia. Activates neurons causing increased sensitivity to pain.
Sugar – can drastically increase pain. Causes mineral loss as it extracts minerals from muscles and bones. Sugar also causes inflammation.
Red meat -corrosive free radicals from iron may promote inflammation. Also contains arachidonic acid, which may worsen inflammation and related pain and swelling.
Egg yolks -contain arachidonic acid, which causes inflammation.

REDUCE eating/drinking:

Yeast/Gluten -gluten can be seen as a foreign pathogen and inflammation is caused to fight it. It is found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats and it is also in processed foods.
Milk products  -contain high levels of casein which is hard for the body to process and can lead to inflammation.
Fried foods -contain Omega 6 fats, which can cause inflammation.
Carbohydrates -often cause inflammation.
Caffeine –increases inflammations and causes loss of minerals, Coffee prevents pain relief by blocking the receptor sites.
Alcohol –depletes minerals, causes inflammation, causes dehydration.

Vitamins and Supplements for Chronic Pain

Although there are no vitamins or supplements to “cure” chronic pain there is increasing research showing some vitamins and supplements may ease pain for some individuals and for some types of pain. I have summarized the research below.

  • Fish Oil (2-4 grams of DHA + EPA/day) – major anti-inflammatory and helps with all types of pain
  • Magnesium Citrate – helps with muscle spasms and weakness
  • Vitamin D – numerous studies have shown Vitamin D reduces pain
  • MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) – naturally occurring compound in some plants and animals, which has been shown in some preliminary research to reduce osteoarthritis pain.
  • Glucosamine Sulfate – mostly used for arthritis pain.
  • Turmeric/Curcumin – lowers enzymes linked to inflammation.

Please remember to review any vitamins and supplements with your doctor before taking them!