When My Pain and Exhaustion Became Uncontrollable

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I was tired.

And not in the usual “every part of me aches and burns but I’m going to keep on living” sort of way. Unfortunately, that’s my regular. Chronic fatigue tends to become the norm when you live with chronic pain. Even on the good days your body sometimes has this way of reminding you of its ever-looming presence.

But I was tired.

Tired from lack of sleep, tired from hours spent trying to study but barely able to see through the pain, tired from make up homework and exams. According to a Harvard study, your mind and body function begin to change at just 16 hours of being awake. It felt like I had been awake for days, occasionally finding an hour of two of medicated sleep to hold me over. Rest is important and I wasn’t getting anywhere near enough of it.

The lack of sleep made my anxiety skyrocket to the point where I felt like I was in constant fight or flight mode. I started to not trust myself to lay down and close my eyes, fearing I would end up oversleeping and missing (yet another) class taught by already frustrated professors. I remember that annoying voice scratching at the back of my head, “If you have time to sleep, you can work on all the schoolwork you’re behind on.”

My eyes were tired. My mind was tired. Everywhere I walked felt like some hazy sort of dream where my body ran on autopilot. I stopped hearing my name on the first call as all sounds started to run together until they were a constant muffled static in my ears. I was tired of listening to it and of not being able to find silence.

I didn’t know how tired I was. In my mind, I was doing everything right. I was finally making it to my classes again and I was working on assignments. I didn’t know that in class I was like a zombie with only superficial conversation, if I even spoke at all. I didn’t know that the hours I spent working was a mess of jumbled thoughts and ideas that I would never be able to understand the next day.

Pain I can live with. What I wasn’t prepared for was the cocktail of symptoms that made its own vicious circle around me. My anxiety stressed my body, my body in pain made my thoughts run wild. My inability to move from pain made my depression show its ugly face, and my depression made getting moving again almost impossible.

So yes, I was tired. Too tired to realize I was so dug into this rabbit hole. Too tired to ask for the the help I needed. I started to shut down in a class I shouldn’t have gone to. Unable to do anything for myself, I heard myself asking quietly through the pain for help. Then suddenly there were people were there. Through the muffled voices I heard an ambulance being called and I could practically hear my mother guiding them through the process through the phone.

As I sat there in agony, finally begging for the help I needed, I looked around and finally managed to see what was in front of me. People who care. People who hate to see the suffering. People who would’ve been there for me far earlier had I just let them in.

Suddenly it was quiet again, despite my own sounds of pain. But I could hear everyone around me. And for the briefest of moments all I could think was, “I’m so tired.”

I learned so much that day, even if it took some time to process. All I had to do was speak up. All I had to do was reach out to any one person who had shown time and time before that they were trying. I’m not suggesting the pain would have stopped or that I wouldn’t have still been in a downward spiral. But I wouldn’t have been alone. I would have had someone to look at me and be able to say, “You’re not OK,” without me shooing them away.

This was my wake up call. It’s a day I reference a lot because of how much that would change following it. I don’t want your wake up call to come too late. I don’t want you to struggle in silence. You are not alone. Please recognize the “tired” that you feel today and make sure that it isn’t becoming the “tired” you can’t control.

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Thinkstock Image By: aywan88

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I Refuse to Apologize for Being in Pain

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Pain is a part of my everyday life. I did not choose it, I did not ask for it, I do not control it in any way, but it is always there. There are better days and worse days – days when I could almost forget about it and days when I am left unable to do anything at all, when the pain is so strong I think I can’t possibly bear it. Whatever pain level I find myself at on any given day, it’s always there due to my illnesses and it’s a part of me and my identity.

My pain is a part of who I am by now, whether I like it or not. It’s been a long journey, accepting that my illnesses are a part of me, and sometimes I naturally still struggle with it – it’s still a battle I am fighting – but it’s undeniably a part of who I am either way. It is not the only thing I am, of course – I hate to be seen as just my illness but I can’t erase it either; it’s one of those many things that make me myself – even if it’s a thing I’d give up anytime due to the struggles it brings to my life.

 

Yet, I find myself apologizing for being in pain to others whom it does not actually harm. There are – as always – many layers to this, many points of view and many different situations that I found myself in over the time that made me want to put this into words.

But I’ve been thinking about it, thinking about why I don’t really have to apologize for it and I’m learning to keep reminding myself that the truth is that the pain I’m in is not my fault, same as my illnesses are not my fault. They’re here but I am not to blame for them, nor is anybody else. I’ve never understood why people have the urge to imply you’re not doing enough to be healthy if you find yourself ill, as if chronic illness and disability were just a lack of effort to stay healthy and therefore the ill people themselves were to blame for their illnesses.

I can’t even count the times someone tried to imply that if I tried harder, did more of this or maybe that, I’d be healthy. And maybe that’s a part of why I feel like I’m expected to apologize. But that’s not true nor right. And my pain is simply not my fault.

Another reminder for myself is that my illnesses are a part of who I am – and I finally found myself understanding that I don’t owe anyone an apology for that. I understood that same as I am not going to apologize for not being straight, I am not going to apologize for being ill and for being in pain.

As I said, there are more sides to it, more different points of view. There is the need to apologize for being in pain when it limits me and the need to apologize for it when I do something despite it, the need to apologize for how I do or do not cope with the pain, and there’s the need to apologize to people around me simply because I have chronic pain – the need I find myself forced into by the view of society on friends, family members and others who are around ill and disabled people.

It’s like this; people around disabled and/or chronically ill people are often painted as the heroes, the brave, the saints – simply for being around us, simply for being our friends or family members or caregivers. They’re often painted as better people and above others because they supposedly have the amazing strength to be around chronically ill and disabled people, to be our friends despite us being ill, being limited, being in pain.

But that’s not how it should be. People around me know who I am and should accept who I am, my illness and chronic pain included. But what’s heroic or special about it? What’s brave about being friends with me? Is it that terrible, such a huge self-sacrifice, to be around us?

Of course it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be treated as such – as an act of heroism – and therefore I don’t have to apologize to the people around me for being who I am. My pain doesn’t make me any lesser than them, it doesn’t make me a worse friend, or a worse sister and daughter and it doesn’t make me a worse person. Pain doesn’t make me unworthy or lesser. It does not make me a burden. It just makes me a person with specific needs and some limitations and I don’t owe an apology to people for that, despite the common assumption.

Sometimes when I am left completely unable to do anything at all I feel the need to apologize to others even if it does not affect them. On the contrary when I do something – be it something I have to do or something I want to do for fun, for the experience, because I am human and want to make memories and live and have fun I feel like it’s either assumed my pain isn’t as bad or as real as if I just stayed in bed. But I am not sorry for wanting to live my life either.

I am not obligated to apologize for any of it. I do not have to apologize for not being able to do something due to my illness and my pain, because it’s not my fault and in the same way I am not going to apologize for wanting to live my life even if I am in pain.

Each of us is different. We handle pain differently, subjectively, we rate pain differently and find different pain levels bearable. We are, each of us, individuals with different experiences and issues and that’s OK. If I can do something at a pain level which someone else would find unbearable I don’t have to apologize, nor does the other person for not being able to do something. And my coping mechanisms are not something to be sorry for either, even if I need to be in quiet and alone, have to cancel, leave the room or anything else, it’s OK.

At last there’s the feeling like I need to apologize to the doctors who seem bothered when I am honest and something they suggested is not helping me or I got a new symptom, or I feel like they don’t take me seriously. But here I have a reminder for myself as well – my doctors are supposed to be here for me. It’s their job and I am not at fault here either.

So no, I am not going to apologize for being in pain.

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Thinkstock photo via grau-art.

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What We Need to Remember About Lady Gaga's Fibromyalgia Diagnosis

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Paige Wyant, The Mighty’s Associate Chronic Illness Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

Ever since I heard “Just Dance” on the radio back in 2008, I’ve been a huge fan of Lady Gaga. I loved her dance-worthy music, outrageous fashion choices and inclusiveness of people of all races, genders, beliefs and abilities. She has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and is open about her struggles with depression, sexual assault and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As I struggled with depression, anxiety and an undiagnosed autoimmune disease throughout high school, I often turned to Gaga and her music as a source of encouragement. She may not know it, but she played a tremendous role in helping me to believe in myself and embrace myself for who I am. For years I have put on her albums to help me cope on tough mental health or flare days.

Recently, Gaga has also begun to talk about her struggles with chronic pain, and just today confirmed her diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

While more and more celebrities have been opening up about the challenges of mental illness, it is rare to see one (especially as famous as Gaga) talk about having a chronic illness. And it leaves me with a lot of mixed feelings.

Although I would never wish illness on anyone, part of me felt strangely excited when Gaga confirmed her diagnosis. Celebrities can often seem like these flawless, impenetrable icons, but seeing Gaga be vulnerable and open about her health issues somehow makes her seem more human, more relatable. As someone who also battles chronic and mental illness, it’s comforting, in a way, to think, She gets it! One of my role models really gets me.

It is also heartbreaking, of course, to know Gaga has an incurable illness; and yet there is potentially so much good that can come from a celebrity like her speaking out about the realities of chronic pain. I am sure there are many people like myself who feel validated and less alone, knowing someone out there is facing the same battle. Plus, Gaga has a huge platform from which she can advocate, raise awareness and help spread understanding about chronic pain. People with chronic illnesses are so often judged or disbelieved, but with public figures like Gaga speaking out, perhaps these conditions will begin to receive the recognition and understanding they deserve.

However, as the knowledge of Gaga having fibro continues to sink in, I’m left with a funny feeling that’s not 100 percent excitement for the future.

Lady Gaga is a performer – an extraordinary one at that. Her Born This Way Ball was the first concert I ever went to, and it set the bar really, really high. She is not just a phenomenal singer and dancer, but the overall performance (including the elaborate theatrics of it all) is so over-the-top in the most unforgettable way.

At the beginning of the concert I attended, Gaga told us she was hurting and having some health issues (she didn’t go into specifics), and unfortunately her performance would be a bit scaled down. As I watched her, mesmerized, for two and half hours, I had a hard time believing she was in pain. I still cannot fathom how the performance she gave was a “scaled down” version. She was unreal.

After seeing her posts on Instagram about undergoing treatment for chronic pain and now, her Tweet confirming the fibro diagnosis, I think about all the performances she has given over the years and, knowing what it feels like to have a chronic illness, I can’t help but wonder, How?

How does she do that? The vast majority of people I know with chronic illness and pain aren’t able to dance around on a stage all night, every night. If she has fibromyalgia and can do all that, why can’t I?

It’s wonderful to be able to relate to celebrities, but by trying to find common ground with them, sometimes we realize how different we really are. Then we run the risk of playing the comparison game – something that never ends well.

What we all need to remember in regards to Gaga (as well as other celebrities) talking about chronic health conditions is this:

1. For starters, everyone is different. Just because one person with fibromyalgia is able to do X, Y, Z doesn’t mean another person with fibromyalgia can also do X, Y, Z. (Maybe they can do A, B, C instead!) Just because Lady Gaga performed at the Super Bowl doesn’t mean everyone with fibro can leap off the roof of a football stadium (or have a job, go to school, or any other activity society thinks they “should” be able to do) if they just “put their mind to it.” People are unique, and so are their conditions and abilities.

2. Celebrities tend to have far more access to money and resources than most of us do. They may be able to afford more expensive doctors, treatment options or medical equipment. They may also have access to luxuries such as a private chef, for when they don’t have the time or energy to cook, or personal trainers, who can modify a workout regimen according to their specific health needs. They just lead different lives.

3. We don’t always know what goes on behind the scenes. It can be easy to focus on the incredible performance Gaga just gave, but what happens after she exits the stage? Maybe she goes to an after-party, maybe she has to lie down and apply heating pads or ice packs or take medication. We just don’t know. Many of us are masters at hiding our illnesses and putting on a smile, so perhaps Gaga does the same. (I look forward to watching her new documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two” and being able to better understand what does go on “behind the scenes.”)

Beyond the chronic illness community, I am also concerned about what will happen if/when Gaga becomes a sort of “poster child” for fibromyalgia. If all people know about fibro is that Lady Gaga has it, they are only seeing the “celebrity version” of the disease. They may develop misconceptions about the illness, and this could perpetuate the lack of understanding rather than reverse it.  

Ultimately, a celebrity opening up about a chronic illness is a double-edged sword. While it’s fantastic for a public figure to use their voice to raise awareness and shed some light on an often misunderstood health issue, it can also be frustrating for those who have been struggling for years to see a celebrity immediately get the spotlight and special treatment simply because of their wealth or fame.

Going forward, I hope Lady Gaga is able to use her influence in a positive and constructive way. I hope she not only sheds light on fibromyalgia, but on the millions of people who struggle with it quietly every day.

Gaga, you have been a hero of mine for many years. Thank you for being open about all the struggles you have faced, and know you are part of an incredible community of warriors.

Photo courtesy of Lady Gaga’s Facebook page

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What We Need to Think About in Regards to Opioids and Chronic Pain

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Editor’s note: The following is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before going on or off medication.

“Uncle Sam Is the Worst Drug Fiend in the World”

This was the title of a New York Times article on March 12th, 1911.

It goes on to quote Dr. Hamilton Wright, then the Opium Commissioner, who says emphatically, “Of all the nations of the world, the United States consumes most habit forming drugs per capita. Opium, the most pernicious drug known to humanity, is surrounded, in this country, with far fewer safeguards than any nation in all Europe.” The subtitle of the article says, “We use more of that drug per capita than the Chinese.” He blames in part over-eager physicians, druggists and pharmaceutical companies.

Sound familiar?

I guess some things do resist change.

In doing my research about opioid use, I found out the current epidemic is actually the third opioid epidemic in the US since 1900. In the early 1900s, there were 200,000 people in New York City addicted to heroin, hence the above article which I reference below. We are currently caught in the third wave; opioids are the leading cause of prescription drug deaths in this country. In 2010, Vicodin became the most prescribed drug in the U.S.

Given these statistics, the obvious answer to the question of opioid use is to ban them altogether; after all, if they kill that many people, why take the risk?

I wish it were that easy. The truth is, for many people, opioids are the best option out of a bucket load of not very good choices, and for those people, banning opioids may feel like a death sentence. I’ve lived with moderate to severe pain for 46 years and although I’ve never been a chronic opioid user, I have needed to take hydrocodone daily for months at a time during my life. If I hadn’t had that option I honestly don’t know what I would have done; it was the only way my painful body would relax enough to sleep. I do know that before my doctor thought to give me the hydrocodone I almost killed myself by falling asleep at the wheel on a California freeway. I hadn’t slept more than four hours for months due to my severe pain. Six months after I began hydrocodone, I stopped taking it because my pain levels decreased to a more manageable level. I can say with some certainty that hydrocodone saved my life at that time.

The use and misuse of opioids is a complicated issue.

Over the past few months I’ve listened to and read countless accounts of people who have died due to using opioids, often as prescribed. I’ve heard about how other people have “cheated” the system in order to maintain their opioid use. I’ve been flabbergasted, yet again, by the influence the pharmaceutical industry has on the prescribing habits of doctors. There are high emotions on all sides of this issue, and with good reason – this is life and death we are dealing with.

So, for the purpose of moving toward healing as quickly as possible, in this blog there will be no blame. Instead, I’m going to move quickly through the problems. I will assume the following:

– Pharmaceutical companies play a large part in influencing the practice of medicine, as does insurance reimbursement.

– Medical doctors want to help their patients and when given mandates such as the 2001 Pain Management Standard naming pain the “fifth vital sign,” they can get over-eager and over-prescribe medication.

– Long-term efficacy of opioids is still not fully understood, and may change your nervous system in such a way that you actually “teach” your body to be reliant on them. (By the way, many pharmaceuticals do this, including medications that are taken for a lifetime.)

– Pain medication is only one part of chronic pain treatment, which is very complex.

– Blaming the victim does nothing to help people in pain.

– Whether or not we have opioid medication, the problem of pain is not solved.

– The media plays a large part in influencing public opinion. (I’ve heard much more about opioid deaths than the deaths every day that occur in the normal practice of medicine, which studies suggest is the third leading cause of death in this country.)

Where does this leave us people who live with pain as their constant companion? Who may now feel demonized for using a medicine that benefits them despite the side effects it creates? This should be the foremost question in people’s minds. Right now, the answer is that we are in a really scary predicament.

Having been a consumer and a health care provider, I feel the need to offer my advice for all of us going forward. Whenever you look at position papers and institutional guidelines discussing chronic pain management, they always center on the importance of integrated care, and stress how difficult it is for one provider to meet the needs of a client in chronic pain. However, when this actually happens, it is an anomaly. Even “pain clinics” often focus on surgical/pharmaceutical/electronic stimulation (all high dollar items…) and much less on lifestyle counseling, and other more supportive but less invasive therapies.

Here is what the American Pain Society says about integrated care:

“Interdisciplinary care can be provided in acute, chronic, and pain treatment facilities. Moreover, it can be provided along the spectrum from pediatric to geriatric populations. The composition of the team will vary since practice settings differ in size, complexity, resources, and patient populations. Measurement goals will differ depending on type of pain and state of the patient’s disease. However, regardless of the population served, interdisciplinary care is patient-centered, family-centered, and stakeholder centered (ie, case manager, adjustor, employer). Treatment should be holistic, never directed toward an isolated body part or symptom. Efforts are made to achieve empowerment of the patient and his or her caregivers or significant others.”

“Although there may be circumstances where individual health care providers can provide adequate care and situations where there is a lack of available resources for truly integrated interdisciplinary care, we believe that optimal care for patients with pain is best provided within the model we have described and one worthy of aspiring toward.”

We have known for over a century about the problem of opioids, and for decades about the benefit of interdisciplinary treatment for chronic pain, but we are living in a broken record, choosing to ignore very good information and instead pointing fingers and hurting the very people we are trying to help.

It is time to stop.

We are a consumer-driven society and as consumers of health care we can make different decisions in order to drive change. So, here is my call out to all of you in pain. Have frank discussions with your medical providers about your situation. Make an educated decision about whether long-term opioid use, or for that matter, any opioid use, is right for you. Then ask, and if that doesn’t work, demand referrals to other health care providers that can be of assistance to you. (I’ll give you some ideas below.) Create a team of support. And do everything in your power to work with your pain in order to decrease the impact it has on your life. This is what you should have been counseled on and assisted with all along, but ultimately your health is your responsibility and if the medical system is failing you, you need to take action on behalf of yourself.

woman hiking in the mountains with a black shirt on that says 'this shirt turns black whenever I am in pain'

For now, keep your chin up, and stand up tall when you talk to your doctor and ask for what you need. It is their job to help you.

Sending a hug your way!

Here are some ideas about providers that can help chronic pain. (Some will be insurance reimbursable and some not, so look at your pocketbook and ask questions before you commit to working with anyone.)

Occupational Therapist
Physical Therapist
Nutritionist
Osteopathic Physician
Chiropractic Physician
Personal Trainer
Reiki Practitioner
Acupuncturist
Psychologist
Vocational Counselor
Social Worker
Massage Therapist

This post originally appeared on True Health Blog.

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Gentle Exercises You Can Do During a Flare or With Significant Chronic Pain

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This post is part of September’s My Mighty Month Challenge. You can learn more about the challenge and sign up here.

Often when we think about exercise, we think of intense physical activity, but that doesn’t have to be the case. On days when you are in pain or are having a flare, gentle movements can be just as beneficial as strenuous ones.

On painful days, low-impact workouts like stretching, swimming and yoga can help you stay active without adding to your pain. Simple movements and breathing exercises may even help during a flare.

If you are in pain, start small, Anne Taylor, a certified yoga therapist who teaches in New York City, told The Mighty. Start by saying, “Let me just try some gentle breathing for say two to three minutes,” Taylor recommended. Prop yourself up with pillows, put yourself in a position where you feel comfortable and focus on your breath.

We asked Taylor to walk us through some yoga poses that are easy to do on high-pain days. Here are her recommendations.

1. Seated Stretches

Taylor: So if you’re going to do anything in a chair at home, the first thing you want to think about is you want the hips at least at the height of the knees, never below, because that’s going to strain the back. So the first thing Rachel is doing is finding her placement, really grounding through her legs. Again, it all comes back to just finding some body awareness because if you’re in pain, the last thing you want to think about, sometimes, is your body, and sometimes medications just give us that opportunity to kind of disconnect, and I’m asking you to connect, just really briefly.

So the first thing she does is find her feet and just feel the toes spread wide. See how her hands are relaxed, she’s not clenching her hands. So maybe she just stretches her arms wide, inhaling. Bring the [arms to] shoulder height — in the T position. The first thing there is just to see how that feels. If that feels stressful, then obviously bring your arms back down, and you may need to pass on this one.

But maybe she just reaches to the right and drops her right hand down, and she’s not pulling so that she’s yanking the shoulder up to her ear. She’s just creating some space and she’s just going to just start arc a little bit to the right, creating some space in the left side of the ribs and she’s anchoring through her left. She’s not falling back. She’s not falling forward. She’s just really reaching and breathing into the left side, so that she gets some space here.

We’re back to that concept of prana. If it hurts your arm, maybe go here or even rest the hand on the head. How does that feel? [Rachel nods good]. So she gets some space here, but she’s not stressing her arm. And then she’s going to come back, and we’re going to put another chair on the other side. Let me just get the chair in place, and she reaches and she drops her left hand down. I like the idea resting into something — and then she just drops that right hip down — because otherwise she’s going fall into the right side and collapse into the left. So I’m going to come right behind her, and just anchor through the right hip because that’s what’s going to create some space here.

For a lot of people, this can feel nice just because of the space. Breathe into the chest wall, breathe into the side of the armpits. Build a sense of just melting this rib cage. If you’re very flexible, don’t hang on the pose too long. Come back. Even if you’re not, you just don’t want to overstretch. [Rachel begins to repeat going to the left and right.]

She’s going to inhale and breathe into the armpit. Maybe she exhales, goes back. Once her hand drops, she inhales, breathes into the armpit. Exhale bring the hand back. Inhale, breathe into the armpit. Exhale back. And sometimes if you see me closing my eyes when I’m teaching, it’s because I’m actually envisioning the body from the inside out. It’s almost like I’m in a submarine and I’m seeing everything inside. And then she’s going to come back. Come back to the middle, and let it go. Hands down and breathe.

2. Sun Breaths

Taylor: If you’re having a day, maybe a little low energy, think about some simple movement to create some movement again in the rib cage and also to bring breath into the body.

So there’s something in yoga call sun breaths. So Rachel’s just going to keep her elbows soft and reach up as if she’s pushing energy up. She’s soft and she’s pushing out through the space on the inhale and then she’s pushing the energy down on the exhale, and it’s not rapid. It’s almost as if she’s feeling like there’s this little cloud of energy that she’s pushing up as she goes up on the inhales. And pushing out and down on the exhales. And if you go slow enough, you’ll start to feel it. So she’s just imagining, creating what they call prana vayu. Prana vayu is a current of energy which lifts you up on the inhales. Apana vayu, or that grounding energy, on the exhales as if she’s just pressing down.

In her body, she’s also embodying those two qualities. Her feet are grounded, but they’re not gripping, and her head is lifted, but she’s not throwing her chin up or pulling up with her shoulders. She’s just letting her rib cage move naturally with her arms, so it’s not like a jumping jack. There’s no phrenetic quality to it, but it’s not so slow that it’s uncomfortable, but it’s soft and quiet enough so that she can start to feel her own energy in her body almost like she’s a generator, and she’s generating her own energy by just moving. Maybe do this 10 times and pause. Always pause. I say less is more. Don’t go to the most extreme. Don’t go to the most difficult place. Start with a softer place and build up. A lot of times, we forget. We’re always trying to jump to the next level. The most interesting places are the soft, quiet places where you can feel yourself.

3. Supportive Poses Lying Down

Anne: I’m just putting a blanket under here [Puts blanket under Rachel’s back, Rachel is lying down on floor] that just gives her a little tiny bit of support, so that’s what you’ll be doing for yourself. And something to think about when you’re here is just even sensing where your shoulder blades are, sensing where your hips are and breathing into the back of the lungs and feeling a sensation of relaxation in the back of the waist. So maybe from here she just bends one knee and then the other, grounding through the feet, and just even feeling the earth there can be quite significant.

So I’m going to line up her heels so they’re even because the left leg is slightly further forward than the right. So maybe she just works on just bringing the left arm overhead on your inhale and looking to the right. So stretch your back inhaling looking to the right simultaneously. So there was a little out of sequence because I didn’t cue her properly. Bring the hand back and the head to the middle, so the hand was quicker and the head was slower. Then exhale back. So we’re back to the whole prana concept of the energy in the armpit, so she’s creating a little energy. So she’s going to reach her right arm over her head and look to the left and vice versa, so she’s moving side-to-side and she’s turning away from the arm.

If for any reason it creates pain, you don’t want to bring the arm so far back that it’ll hurt you — so we’ll let her go. She has a lot of range in her shoulders, but, again, you don’t want to exploit the range. You just want to feel like you’re getting a stretch, but you’re not yanking on your rib cage. I’m going to bring that there so that she doesn’t go as far. How does that feel? [Rachel answers good]. So it gives the arm a chance to rest, then she can bring it back slower. So she’s just inhaling and just looking away and just reaching so that what I’m thinking about is getting her some energy in her armpits and some mobility in her ribs because sometimes with pain, anxiety, depression, the diaphragm can feel stuck. It’s hard to breathe. It’s like your world shrinks, and it’s not only your physical world shrinks and your emotional world, there’s almost like a shrinkage of the energetic world, and you think of your lungs and your diaphragm as part of that gateway to that energetic universe. You’re just creating some movement there so that there’s the possibility for just a little more space, not only physically with the breath but emotionally and energetically.

And if you tend to run on the anxious spectrum, you can take longer exhales, which is going to start to quiet the autonomic nervous system. And if you run on the depressive end of the energy spectrum, meaning your thoughts not your physical body, you can have fatigue but still be very anxious, so if you have fatigue in the body and fatigue in the mind, you can take longer inhales. It’s almost like opening the gateway just a little bit more to let a little more energy flow in. But if you tend to have too much energy going and there’s almost like an overload of the circuit, then you go a little slower. You take a shorter in-breath and a longer out-breath as if you’re just letting off some of that extra energy. So she’s just going to do one more round, and her arms are not going quickly.

If you find that you’re going quickly, then maybe you shorten the distance, you can even bring your arm down here [places another blanket under her arm]. See how that feels. If she feels like it’s just too heavy to bring the arm up and down, she shortens the range. Not with the idea that that’s her permanent range, but just that for this time, she doesn’t have to go as far down. For example, if it’s fatiguing to hold your arm in space, you just bring it down a little more. The blankets are not even in their height, so if I had to do it all over again, I would put the yellow one next to her on the left side as well as the right, but it’s just shortening her range, so that she’s not over-reaching and yanking her ribs or shoulders or her hips around.

She’s just going to rest there for a minute, and just feel her feet on the ground. And then maybe she can just stretch her feet out. This is a very simple thing. It’s deceptively simple. All I’m going to do is put a bolster on her, no, she’s going to rest against it. Now, first of all, I see her knees locking a little bit, so I’m going to put something under her knees. I’m going to take these away from her arms. The other reason I have them there is for some people, they tend to kind of collapse into the ground. She’s not really collapsing in this position, but for some, it can feel nicer to just let the arms rest into something. Just putting a blanket under her knees. Lift your knees for a second. You don’t have to have fancy yoga blankets. You just want something that kind of interrupts the locking of the knees. So I’m just going to place her feet, so that they’re a little more even. I’m going to pull this bolster, so she has more space to press into, so I’m going to step out of the camera range, but you’re just going to see that this bolster is an imaginary wall. So this is nice because she is getting some work in the legs. Do you feel something, Rachel? In the legs or the feet?

Just putting a blanket under her knees. Lift your knees for a second. You don’t have to have fancy yoga blankets. You just want something that kind of interrupts the locking of the knees. So I’m just going to place her feet so that they’re a little more even. I’m going to pull this bolster, so she has more space to press into, so I’m going to step out of the camera range, but you’re just going to see that this bolster is an imaginary wall. So this is nice because she is getting some work in the legs. Do you feel something, Rachel? In the legs or the feet?

Rachel: I do. I feel like the energy going down into the bottoms of my feet.

Taylor: Whatever’s going on for you, if you’re in a wheelchair, if you have pain, it’s rare that you get this experience of any kind of significant weight bearing or a sense of activation in the feet or the legs, so this just gives her some awareness in the legs, but it’s not so significant that it’s the same as her standing like she did in the earlier pose. She’s just having a sense of being grounded.

4. Standing Supportive Breathing

Taylor: For anyone who carries any kind of pain or tension in the neck and shoulders, it can feel nice to just get some space. [Rachel is standing and Taylor wraps a scarf around Rachel’s midsection.] So lift your armpits. If you’re doing this at home — I’m doing it for her — you can always ask a friend to do it. Just wrap, and it’s not tight. There is a style of yoga where you would use a yoga belt, and it’d be very tight. What I’m creating is just using this scarf to just give her some awareness, which means that she can feel where her body is in space and kind of sense herself, not from a place of reacting to the pain or trying to distance yourself from the pain, but just to have a subtle dialogue with her body.

I’m just crisscrossing, if you’d be so kind, Rachel, to turn around, so you can just see. It’s just wrapped around the back and across the top of the shoulders and then crisscrossing. This is not tight. It’s not meant to pull her shoulders down or to wrap or tighten her ribs. It’s just to create some sensory awareness under her armpits. Where the chest wall and armpits meet is said to be a space where prana or energy is stored. When you’re having pain — or even a physical, mental or emotional pain — there’s sometimes either a heightened nervous system response of a sense of being depleted.

So you’re just going to exhale round, and just imagine there’s a big physio ball in front of you. Soften your knees and breathe and then inhale and open your chest. Imagine the ball is behind you now, so you don’t want to throw your head back. You just want to feel like there’s a support here. Then exhale round, so nothing dramatic. It’s not about how far you run forward or how much you backbend, it’s about breathing into your rib cage and just opening and letting the arms just. They’re not pulled back like you’re doing a gym exercise, they’re just softly reaching as if you’re expanding and feeling like the lungs are reaching all the way out to the fingers — so there’s energy going all the way out through your hands. Then you’re inhaling and just opening the chest.

I’m going to have you turn sideways, so they can just see it from the side. Again, she’s just rounding on the exhale when her breath comes. Don’t force it. Don’t be in a hurry. Inhale opening, breathe into the chest, and just let the arms be a little more relaxed. And then exhale, rounding soft as if the breath is just falling out of you and then you start to open and create a receptacle for the breath to enter your body and give you more vitality. So on a day when you’re having emotional distress you can imagine this just getting rid discursive or negative thoughts and then inhaling and taking in the possibility of something new.

If you’re in physical pain, the same thing. You give yourself a chance to step away from the discomforting and just let go of the experience of the physical pain as your primary experience. Still there, but it’s just sort of shelved. And then you exhale, soften. When you inhale, take in the possibility of your own wellness. Again, this is not a reductive statement, but just a sense of just making room for something else. If you have a house full of things, and you just get rid of few things to make room for something else. You still have your house, that would be you. You’re just creating space new possibilities. And then she’s just going to relax, drop her arms.

5. Modified Tree Pose

Taylor: Put it back, wrapping forward toward your front body [Taylor hands Rachel a scarf to wrap herself with]. She’s going to open it a little bit, so there’s space so that she has a soft band of fabric that’s about this wide. She’s just wrapping, wrapping around the kidney area, which falls just below the rib line. She’s not making it tight like a cumberbund. She can double it because of her waist, but some people can just tie it in the front. It doesn’t have to be a very long piece of fabric, but just enough so that you get a little sense of — it’s almost like — containment. This is sometimes referred to as the hara in Japanese culture, which is right about here, actually [points to Rachel’s chest] — our power center, the danti or dantian in Chinese medicine. It’s the Manipura chakra in yoga, which means basically this is where your power is.

I’ll let her spill forward, put your navel forward like you’re aggressively pushing forward. So we’re pushing like, “I need to have control.” Maybe you’re dealing with doctors that are difficult or you compress and you go back like, “I’m afraid. I’m giving all my power away.” So I’m going to let her be right in the middle, so she’s neutral, so you find that center. Her feet are a little turned out. That’s OK. Just keep them soft, and don’t turn them out significantly because if they do — if I turn my feet out a lot, I open the front of the pelvis, which may be helpful for some, but I’m also narrowing the back of the pelvis, which can create tension in the buttocks.

I’m just going to let her hands rest here [Rachel’s hands are by her side]. She’s going to choose a point to focus on. So if you’re having a day where it’s hard to focus, feeling depressed, you’re feeling anxious, or you have a lot going on, maybe a tree pose — it could be a very modified tree — may just make you feel just a little bit better. It just brings your attention into your body, which allows you to feel a sense of living in your body.

She’s going to look at a point in front of her. She’s choosing a point somewhere, maybe off in the distance — four feet, six feet. Dancers use this when they’re dancing. It’s a spotting point. In yoga, they call it a drishti point, which is your gaze point. And she’s not going to bring the foot up way into the thigh, which is what we associate with tree pose, but she’s going to ground through the ball of the foot on the right and bring the heel into the calf of the left. Maybe you bring it a little forward if you feel any pain. You can even bring the foot down and just rest on the ball of the foot. It doesn’t have to be a big turnout. She’s just going to rest there and think about this leg moving into the foot, and this foot moving into the leg. It’s very gentle. It’s more about coming into her center rather than how high and dramatic she’s making the heel. She’s just working there from her center and thinking about the triangle of the left foot or the four corners of the left foot and then thinking about resting on the ball of the right foot. She’s already shifting her weight, in theory, into the left foot, but she’s bringing that left leg back into the right. So again, not always leaning into one thing or another but always trying to come and meet in the middle. She can bring her hands wide if she wants. That sometimes gives people a sense of being expanded. Why is this band on her waist? Because it’s going to remind her to breathe into her kidneys, which can be very calming. Just letting go. Breathing into the back of the waist, so it’s just a reminder. If I was teaching a class, I might have my hand there for a moment. I might have my hand here in between the shoulder blades, and I’m just going to maybe put something right on the top of here. Find something in my house. It doesn’t have to be fancy things when you’re doing yoga. Just this little cap, which it’s actually from my cat’s treats. Rachel likes my cat. She’s just going to feel that little piece of plastic on the top of her head, and she’s going to imagine just lifting up into it. When you’re dealing with emotional, physical pain, there’s a tendency to kind of compress and shrink, so this is just giving you an opportunity to lift up and open and feel that you can expand. I’m just going to reach up here, and she’s just going to breathe into the space. Her gaze is steady. You’ve had a night of difficult sleep, or you’ve had caffeine in the morning, you’re balance may not be perfect, but you do this to help build a sense of balance. Not to balance because you’re perfect, but you just do it to build a sense of balance.I’m going to take this away, and she’s going to bring her hands down and let go. Good.

She’s just going to rest there and think about this leg moving into the foot, and this foot moving into the leg. It’s very gentle. It’s more about coming into her center rather than how high and dramatic she’s making the heel. She’s just working there from her center and thinking about the triangle of the left foot or the four corners of the left foot and then thinking about resting on the ball of the right foot. She’s already shifting her weight, in theory, into the left foot, but she’s bringing that left leg back into the right, so, again, not always leaning into one thing or another but always trying to come and meet in the middle.

She can bring her hands wide if she wants. That sometimes gives people a sense of being expanded. Why is this band on her waist? Because it’s going to remind her to breathe into her kidneys, which can be very calming. Just letting go. Breathing into the back of the waist, so it’s just a reminder. If I was teaching a class, I might have my hand there for a moment. I might have my hand here in between the shoulder blades, and I’m just going to maybe put something right on the top of here [gestures to Rachel’s head]. Find something in my house. It doesn’t have to be fancy things when you’re doing yoga. Just this little cap, which it’s actually from my cat’s treats. Rachel likes my cat. She’s just going to feel that little piece of plastic on the top of her head, and she’s going to imagine just lifting up into it.

When you’re dealing with emotional, physical pain, there’s a tendency to kind of compress and shrink, so this is just giving you an opportunity to lift up and open and feel that you can expand. I’m just going to reach up here and she’s just going to breathe into the space. Her gaze is steady. You’ve had a night of difficult sleep, or you’ve had caffeine in the morning, your balance may not be perfect, but you do this to help build a sense of balance. Not to balance because you’re perfect, but you just do it to build a sense of balance. I’m going to take this away, and she’s going to bring her hands down and let go. Good.

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lady gaga at doctor appointment

Lady Gaga's Not Afraid to Show the World Her Chronic Pain in New Netflix Documentary

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Update: Lady Gaga has confirmed that her chronic pain is caused by fibromyalgia.

In Lady Gaga’s upcoming Netflix documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” viewers will get a glimpse of Gaga’s life away from the spotlight — including her struggles with chronic pain. While promoting the documentary, Gaga opened up about why she included these difficult scenes in the film and the support she hopes her fellow pain warriors feel while watching it.

At a press conference with the film’s director, Chris Moukarbel, in Toronto ahead of the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival today, Gaga reportedly became teary-eyed as the conversation turned to why she chose to document her struggles with chronic pain. She said it’s “hard, but liberating,” and explained that she believes pain is a “microphone.”

“My pain does me no good unless I transform it into something that is. So I hope people watching it who do struggle with chronic pain know that they’re not alone. It’s freeing for me… and I want people that struggle with it to hear me,” Gaga said.

She also acknowledged the shame that is often associated with chronic pain, but that struggling with something doesn’t make her “weak.”

There is a degree of self-deprecation and shame with feeling in pain a lot. And I want people that watch it — that think there’s no way I live [with chronic pain] because they see me dance and sing and don’t think that could possibly be — to know I struggle with things like them. I work through it and it can be done. We have to stick together. I don’t have to hide it because I’m afraid it’s weak. It’s a part of me, and I’m grateful to Chris for caring. The compassion is overwhelming. That’s why it makes me emotional. It’s very touching.

Moukarbel said it was “incredibly hard” filming Gaga while she was in pain, but said she still wanted him to keep shooting. “I think she was very aware of other people who struggle with similar chronic pain. She is not even sure how to deal with it, and that’s a reality,” he said.

Last month, Gaga released a series of short clips from the documentary, including one that showed her at a doctor’s appointment discussing treatment options for an unnamed health condition.

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Gaga has spoken about her health issues before — in 2010, she revealed she had tested “borderline positive” for lupus, the autoimmune condition that led to her Aunt Joanne’s death before Gaga was born.

Last year, Gaga posted on Instagram about her chronic pain and shared the methods she uses to treat it. “Having a frustrating day with chronic pain, but I find myself feeling so blessed to have such strong intelligent female doctors,” she wrote.

I was so overwhelmed by the empathy, confessions & personal stories of chronic pain in response to my previous post I thought what the hell. Maybe I should just share some of my personal remedies I've acquired over the past five years. Everyone's body and condition is different U should consult w ure Dr. but what the heck here we go! When my body goes into a spasm one thing I find really helps is infrared sauna. I've invested in one. They come in a large box form as well as a low coffin-like form and even some like electric blankets! You can also look around your community for a infrared sauna parlor or homeopathic center that has one. I combine this treatment with marley silver emergency blankets (seen in the photo) that trap in the heat and are very cheap, reusable and effective for detox as well as weight loss! In order to not overheat my system and cause more inflammation i follow this with either a VERY cold bath, ice bath (if u can stand it, it's worth it) or the most environmentally savvy way is to keep many reusable cold packs in the freezer ( or frozen peas' n carrots'!) and pack them around the body in all areas of pain. Hope this helps some of you, it helps me to keep doing my passion, job and the things I love even on days when I feel like I can't get out of bed. Love you and thank you for all your positive messages.

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Earlier this year, Gaga appeared on the cover of Arthritis Magazine. She told the magazine that she had been dealing with chronic pain due to a broken hip and synovitis, an inflammatory joint condition.

“Gaga: Five Foot Two” will begin streaming on Netflix on September 22.

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