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My Top 3 Totally Unorthodox Methods for Managing Chronic Pain

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In the world of autoimmune disease and chronic pain, there are obviously medications galore out there for us to try in an effort to manage the many symptoms we experience on a daily basis. This is especially true when it comes to pain management. What’s not as well known are all the alternative methods of symptom management available to us. And having been sick for going on 21 years now, I have tried most of them and even developed some of my own. The latter are the ones I’d like to share here.

First, if you don’t have chronic pain, you may not realize that pain, especially chronic pain, can alter a person’s temperament. On good days, or even low to moderate pain days, we can be very pleasant. But shoot that pain level up past six or seven and looking at us cross-eyed might get you a front row seat to a volcanic eruption. It takes a lot of effort to mentally manage pain so there’s not much left in the tank to manage life with. And that fact frustrates us to no end. So, I came up with a few unorthodox techniques to help manage that frustration and, in a way, to mentally manage pain as well.

1. The first is based on the common relaxation technique called visualization. You know, you close your eyes and visualize yourself in the most relaxing place on earth. (Most people pick a beach.) That doesn’t do it for me. I mean, sure, I relax, but afterwards the pain is still there. So I actively visualize fighting it. My disease becomes a monster living in my body that I have trapped in a box – not unlike a large treasure chest – with chains wrapped around it and padlocked. When it escapes, I hurt or I flare. So I visualize capturing it and locking it back up. It probably helps that I am a huge nerd – I played Dungeons and Dragons in high school before it was actually cool to do so and can wield a broadsword and dual fencing foils in a dress. (These facts just add to my imaginary adventures.) But seriously, I feel more powerful and active against what is going on inside my body by doing this. And it’s fun! So win-win, right?

2. Next is a technique based on how kids are taught how to manage their frustrations about the way the world works and deal with others (because children are so good at talking stuff out…). And having raised two highly active boys, I was all about reducing the pushing and shoving, especially at the top of the stairs. There’s a common school of thought that recommends teaching them to take out their anger on a pillow. Because pummeling your brother is not acceptable. No really. It just isn’t. Those of us experiencing chronic pain get frustrated and angry too, but that frustration is unfortunately directed at our own bodies. And let’s face it, we’re not going to smack ourselves. So, I have a freaky blue stuffed mouse that I throw around sometimes. Or usually just pelt a pillow with. I know it sounds violent, but the sheer release of energy is actually very cathartic.

voodoo doll made from an Ugly Doll

3. My last unorthodox technique is referenced in the title. Don’t be put off by the idea of it please. Yes, I have created a pain relief voodoo doll. Let me explain: the idea behind real voodoo dolls is both religious and magic in nature. The psychological theory is that they work because people believe they will. The power of the mind is awesome. So why not try to harness it for our body’s own good? A few years back, there was a popular toy out called The Ugly Doll. To me, they looked like what I pictured the actual cells of my disease would look like. So I bought one, and then I got to thinking. I made a bunch of long pins, with my idea being to lessen my pain by “transferring” it to a comparable area on the doll using my mind and the very concrete action of sticking a pin in that area. Sometimes, a concrete action such as this is extremely helpful when the only real answer is mental control. And sometimes, it’s just fun to stick pins in something. (Especially this because it doesn’t resemble any human or animal on the face of the earth at all!) It really is like sticking it to my disease – pun intended!

So here are my top three totally wacky, unorthodox ways of approaching chronic pain management. I also do the normal stuff like heat, cold or compression. I even do mid-level stuff like creating my own rice-filled weighted teddy bears for headaches and carrying palm-sized stuffed toys I call pain squeezies to squeeze when sudden pain pops up. But by and large, I have found attitude helps more than anything else when managing pain. And you gotta admit, these techniques take attitude! And they’re funny. And laughing helps everything, right?

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Originally published: January 11, 2017
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