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How a Neck Injury Taught Me Mental and Physical Pain Are Interconnected

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Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

“Your body hears everything the mind says.” — Naomi Judd

Does your mental health ever spiral as you experience physical ailments? Mine has. And I never quite understood the depth and powerful reality of the mind-body connection before. As someone with anxiety, when things happen to me that I feel no control over, my anxiety goes wild.

A few weeks ago, I injured my neck skiing and then sleeping in different beds while traveling intensified the pain. The neck pain was then exacerbated by a constant headache and ringing in my ear. The pain remained and no amount of Ibuprofen helped. I went to my doctor, the chiropractor, had a massage, rubbed topical analgesics on my neck and there was little to no relief. I was desperate for relief. I couldn’t sleep, I was crying from the pain by the end of the day. I couldn’t imagine how to live like this and I began to think about not living.

Because many pain medications I took were depressants, they made me go down, far down, hard and fast. And when I was down, I started numbing and mixing drugs with alcohol. And I kept taking whatever I could that offered temporary pain relief, stuck in the cycle of physical anguish fueling mental anguish which fueled the physical and around and around I went. And then, in that down place, I stopped being able to keep track of any medications, including my mood stabilizers. And the insidious dark thoughts started to consume me. I had no idea what to do.

And in the most remarkable coincidence, a friend invited me over for a coloring and conversation night. My friend is a physical therapist who specializes in head and neck pain. I spilled out my story and the terrible acute pain I had been struggling with for over three weeks at that point and she was more than willing to take a look. I laid down and she began working on the knots and analyzing the pain and as she worked on me, she also worked with my mind. She guided me through a visualization where I was to imagine my neck as a frozen steak and with every stroke of heat from her hands was defrosting the meat, making it softer and more malleable with each pass, relieving that pain. She worked for about 30 minutes and came again a few days later and I still can’t believe the improvement I’ve experienced without any medication.

I got back on track with my own meds, gave up those that were not mine and I’d like to say I learned my lesson. I’m still working on focusing my mind in positive ways to help manage my physical pain. I am so thankful for a trusted friend to help guide me through the depths of my pain and darkness, without judgment. She helped me see and learn what I could not on my own.

I never fully understood the power of the mind-body connection, but now I fully believe in it. I’m fully open to learning more and practicing. I’m fully open to healing – mind and body. I am not healed, but I am healing and for that I am grateful.

“The body achieves what the mind believes.”

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Thinkstock photo via fona2.

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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