Thursday, July 13, 2017

From Pain to Equilibrium: This Really Is A Thing

A few peeps have emailed or commented to ask about how my “anti-inflammatory-esque lifestyle” is going, whether the pain is gone. I figure, at this point, I should approach the question more holistically than nutritionally because, while I understand my body differently, with more nuance in each passing month, I cannot attribute improvement to just one approach.

The thing about chronic pain (intermittent or otherwise) is that it often isn’t caused by one factor – and it’s generally resolved (or managed) by many solutions that take years to parse together. I’ve been on the anti-pain scavenger hunt for a few years now. In retrospect, I know I’ve had musculo-skeletal and nerve pain since childhood and it went entirely unheeded, because I didn’t understand what was happening and adults don’t assume that children are in regular pain. Then it went away, but would routinely recur in one form or another in my 20s and 30s– frequently in neck and head. Then I got pertussis in my early 40s and, man, that fucked me up. I’ve been dealing with the fall out ever since. Add some mid-life hormonal chaos into the mix and there’s my own personal factoral soup. (Note: It’s way more complicated than this but you get the gist.)

I spent the first 4 years of my pain-management experience focused on bio-mechanical fixes, diagnostics, body-work and supplements. The ones that have been infinitely most useful, depending on the day, include my Yoga Tune-Up balls, my acupressure mat and pillow (the bed and head of nails, as I call them), vitamin D, collagen powder, massage, acupuncture and my self-devised body-work plan (which focused initially on therapeutic yoga, traction/hanging, breath-work and fascial release).

I’ve spent the last year focused on diet, with the express aim of reducing systemic inflammation, specifically as I now know I have non-negligible osteoarthritis which is thought to be motivated by my genetics and a family history. Oh, and I’ve also given a lot of attention to neuroplastic techniques for pain reduction, which is more of a mental-shift than wholesale new activity, because all of my body-work is fundamentally neuroplastic.

Each of these things has reinforced the others while numerous other approaches seem to have had no impact, so they have been abandoned. It’s impossible to say whether – in the last year - a critical mass of techniques has finally started to yield more significant improvements than ever before, but I do believe that the dietary changes have been key. Mind you, so have all the others, as far as I’m concerned. The thing is, I may get a massage once a week but I eat multiple times a day. So I do think diet has created a kind of pathway to cohere all techniques – a metaphoric service tunnel in the house that is my body/mind.

Having said this, I still can’t quantify exactly how I am improved. I still experience pain and sometimes it is severe. I still crave sugar and that is emotionally very difficult. I’m still stressed out by all of the things in life that stress all kinds of people.

So what’s changed?

I’m glad you asked! What hasn’t changed? I’m older, I’m wiser, I’m more aware of interdependencies (of biochemical and other varieties). I now know why it is believed that I have pain (a diagnosis) – though I’m so naïve that I don’t realize there are many people with infinitely more gnarled skeletons than mine and they feel little or no pain. I have also come to understand how a mechanical issue (jaw malocclusion) has had rather significant impacts on my ability to sleep, breathe and pretty well do everything else one does with one’s mouth. I now have a bespoke mouth gizmo to undercut the negatives but I may need to get more extreme about the medical dental devices in the future.

There are people who spend less time on their careers than I’ve spent on my pain condition and I still have pain. But I’m less afraid of it than ever before because I don’t feel like it’s controlling me anymore. As we know, pain is something that happens in the brain, not in the muscles and bones and fascia and joints and nerves. Sure, all of those things express the impact, but the source of this issue is the best place to target it. I do believe that the huge shift I’ve undertaken – the essential flip in my ingestion of carbs and fat – has helped my brain tremendously but not in the ways you might expect. I don’t think my memory is any better. I’m still anxious (and BTW, I in no way begrudge my anxiety – it makes me who I am and I know it’s as protective as it is antagonistic). Anxiety is also comorbidly associated with pain – as are many of the other conditions I just naturally happen to have been born with. If ever there were a candidate for chronic pain, I am that individual. But I am mercifully introspective. My sensitivity and my intelligence (note: I’m not going to underplay this - I’m smart and I own it) have given me so many mechanisms for improvement. I feel everything, physical and otherwise. I feel all of the bad and all of the good. I feel it deeply and broadly and incisively in ways that sometimes threaten to smash me up. But my awareness will also fix me. Mark my words.

Somehow, stopping the sugar/grains/processed food, limiting the booze and legumes and amping up the fat has made me better able to understand the contingencies between my body and my mind. I feel the gear shifts in my brain that bring about the gear shifts in my body. And they are so calibrated, so nuanced, it’s bizarre. For example, eating fat has somehow allowed me to understand (convolutedly, of course) that I have to be less active than I’d like. Sure, I can do vinyasa yoga with the best of them but it’s not good for me. It looks good but it brings pain that lasts indefinitely because I by-pass all of the warning triggers that my biochemistry is sending. I’ve used body-work just as I’ve used sugar – as a numbing agent. If I don’t want to be in pain, I have to listen. I have to slow down. And that’s something I don’t do naturally. I’m not wired that way and it’s very hard for me, to vastly understate it. Fat curtails my natural impulse to act constantly. It’s soporific. For some people, that’s not helpful. For a person who is compelled by everything -it may be a saving grace.

I have one other ace in the hole. Another tactic that's vastly changed the pain situation for me, but I'm not going to discuss it on the blog. If you suffer with pain, you're a regular reader/I know you, and you'd like to reach out, feel free to email. What I will say is that, like fat, it targets the pain where it lives, and - along with the dozens of other things I do on a daily basis - it's been a game-changer.

Am I cured? No. Am I on the road? I suspect yes. I mean, if nothing else I am INFINITELY less puffy and I can wear my rings for the first time in 3 years. That's an external sign of reduced internal inflammation, which will eventually lead to reduced pain, I can infer. Moreover, when I have pain (even pain that would probably floor most people), I can generally live "normally" i.e. go to work and work hard. My family life, my non-work energy, definitely takes the hit, but no one said balance is easy.

So that's my update on this topic. I welcome any questions or comments - cuz sometimes these days, despite stats that prove I have many wonderful readers, I do feel like I'm blogging in a vacuum...

14 comments:

  1. Oooh, magical secret cure? My vote is sex, drugs, or rock and roll! ;)

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    1. Doesn't everything get fixed by one of these things?? :-)

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  2. I'm really interested in the secret cure too! I read your blog for the knitting, the food posts, and these sorts of posts. I have chronic pain/health issues as well, and I'm always eager to hear your thoughts about how you manage your stuff, as it is has given me ideas about how to manage my own issues. The primal approach has been very good to me so far (I'm six weeks in, and I do feel better overall) and I appreciate your writing about all this stuff.

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    1. Thanks for reaching out Juliana! Keep going. I found it quite tough at 6 weeks but pain really does start to decline (if inflammation-related) once the sugar is out of the picture!

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  3. Just a thought of to have been in pain forever..I had TB as a small child and was on some strange ass meds until I was 17 yep you heard me 17!!!! anyways those meds left me with constant joint pain and nerve and strange pains I cant explain..well I have discovered purely by accident that organic TART cherry juice 2 times per day had helped this pain..weird I know but it does..the pain is not there NOT KIDDING!!!also raspberries !!!thought maybe you could try it and see what it does for you!!

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    1. I love tart cherry juice! I definitely take this (and eat cherries) whenever I'm in a pain moment - and I don't much love the taste. On the topic of your health - OMG. TB is serious stuff! I really hope that you never have to think about it again (though I'm sure the pain reminds you). Of course, those drugs helped you to heal but at a high cost. Here's to cherry juice and raspberries! You might want to try collagen peptides and vitamin D because they can be helpful for some when managing bone/join pain.

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    2. I haven't tried tart cherry juice, but now I'm thinking I should. I have Crohn's disease (autoimmune thing - bowel and joint issues). Cherries are one of the few fruits I can eat without angering my abdomen. I may have recently snorfed back about a pound of organic cherries over the course of a day... thankfully they were from Costco, so they din't cost an absolute fortune!

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  4. "...amping up the fat...Fat curtails my natural impulse to act constantly. It’s soporific."

    After one of your earlier dietary change posts, I considered but decided against commenting that ingesting lots of non-trans fat seems to benefit most those whose febrile intelligence and intense personalities cause them to relax never. Your natural activity level, mentally and physically, is about as far from relaxed as a non-crazy person's can be. If you weren't a proven over-exerciser, I'd suggest working out to relax. For you, at most I'd suggest meditation!

    I'm impressed you keep avoiding sugar, grains, and processed food. Talk about bucking the system! There's a huge food industry built on those three things.

    You have a sense of humor about yourself that makes these posts readable despite the painful issues discussed. Sometimes I find echoes of my own experience, like the benefits of high fat ingestion. Other times I read something I don't understand, like "neuroplastic techniques for pain reduction." Today I finally looked up what that means. Yeah, I'm lazy.

    Your scintillating writing displays brain power, energy, broad-ranging intellect, grit, and a sense of humor, even about yourself. Today's post was atypical because the technical aspect of your writing was not as honed as usual. I support ALL your efforts to manage the pain. I'm delighted you no longer feel the pain controls you. However, it's possible the ace in the hole you won't discuss on the blog is not the best influence on your writing. I hope you'll forgive my presumption; naturally you prioritize pain management over blog writing. I mention it only because I am a big fan. K-Line isn't "just a blog." There's darn good writing here. You may feel you're writing in a void, but you're not.

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    1. Anon: For starters, I love the term "febrile intelligence"! I'm stealing it. And I guess my posts show my true nature, which really is about as far from relaxed as a non-crazy person can be :-) On the topic of my writing - thank you for your kind words... On the topic of its less-technical quality, above, I'll have to chalk that up to reno stress and a 50 hour week (though I never like to hear I've been less articulate than I'd like!) The only thing I'm under the influence of when I write is a sub-optimally parenthetical thought process and the occasional glass of wine - if not on weeknights. :-)

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  5. Jhabvala you ever investigated or experimented with the combination of L-tyrosine and 5-HTP (one is taken in the morning and the other at night? I'm thinking of seriously doing a trial, as the many studies I've read on the subject indicate these amino acids are lacking in almost everyone's diet,

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    1. I have not. I'm going to look up some info on this. I mean, I know about 5-HTP but I don't know much about phasing it with tyrosine for effect. Thanks!

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing this work. Your thoughts on anxiety are especially interesting to me - I need to sit with the idea that there are good sides (and I get a lot done, and done well, in my life - just have never associated that with my anxious brain).

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  7. Thank you so much for the info you have shared about your journey.
    I am writing this with Silver Splint Rings on my fingers to help with my arthritis.
    I cut out sugar and wheat many years ago , and felt much better. But, nowadays, as my life gets stressful, I soothe myself with sweets.
    I have never before had issues with my knees, but that has changed, and I know that I must both lose weight and change my eating patterns.
    Oh, joy!!!
    I'll email you concerning your magic tactic.

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