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If your body is a boombox, and the nervous system is music…

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Think of the nervous system like a boombox up on your shoulder, 80’s style, playing sweet jams at all times. When the body is healthy, balanced, and running smoothly, the music playing from your system’s radio station are your favorite hits at the perfect volume, and your drop-in harmonies are totally on point.

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When the nervous system is out of sync, those beats flowing from your station are tragic- like the song you hate most, on the loudest setting, playing over and over again. You can’t change the station, no matter what lengths you go to!

When you have a chronic neurological condition like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome for example, it’s as though someone traded out your cool retro stereo system for an old broken down radio. You can play records on it sometimes, and it’s AMAZING to listen to any music again when you’re not in a flare or a relapse, but even then, all the records have scratches on them, so the music is constantly skipping and warped. The stereo’s wiring gets so bad over time that the record player doesn’t work anymore, and your radio only receives static.

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A chronically malfunctioning nervous system is like listening to a broken radio stuck on static at full volume constantly. 

When the “music” or the nervous system’s wiring is flowing properly from the brain throughout the body, pain receptors react to appropriate painful stimuli, telling us when there is a problem, and the pain subsides when the problem is resolved. When we have “faulty wiring” we may experience hypersensitivity to touch, sound, light or even smells so intense that it can cause a severely painful reaction. Think of raw wires on the end of electronics sparking and flaming just to the slightest touch.

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The malfunctioning nervous system might react to normal stimulus with severe increased pain, increased stress may cause a seizure, or in others severe tremors and body spasms may occur. For some with POTS, (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), a loud noise or changing positions can cause the body to completely check out, going into fight or flight mode, and beginning to pass out, or passing out completely.

Going back to the stereo analogy, imagine being invited to a party where the DJ had a broken stereo system, playing static on blast or his stereo catching fire in front of everyone. That’s exactly what it’s like to live with a chronic neurological disease…well, sort of.

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Meditation, spirituality, organized religion, trying to improve sleep, and other stress reducing efforts are ways we try to turn down the knob on the stereo. Medications, alternative therapies, eating well, surrounding ourselves with positive support are all ways we can continue turning the knob down little by little. The static kicks out on full blast each day, and we use our tools to adjust or manage the incoming noise levels. We may not have the ability to turn the station away from the blaring static and back to music, but we can attempt to turn the volume down so it isn’t blasting constantly every day.

Invasive and surgical approaches to treating neurological diseases are like kicking the side of your stereo to try to get it to work again. Jolting it hard enough may coax the system to finally play music once again, or you might kick it so hard that you completely break your stereo. For many, surgery and invasive treatments are worth a risk of causing additional problems for the possibility of returning to good health and functioning.

That’s my super-scientific explanation of the nervous system, and how it’s exactly like a boom box. So…. this analogy might not end up in a medical school text book, but if it helped anyone better understand an aspect of neurological disease, or put a smile on your face, then virtual high fives all around!

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Multiple Sensitivities…of the Heart

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Breathe. Don’t pass out. Keep moving forward. One foot in front of the other. Pay no attention to your pain. Focus on your breathing. Focus on your legs not giving out. Don’t fall down! Ok, throwing up would be the worst right now. Here come the shakes… Breath girl! The light? Do we have to do the light? Oh no, there goes your head. I can’t see, I can’t see… This hurts too much. I can’t do this. I have to do it. Okay, let’s do it.

*****

This was this morning in physical therapy. My physical therapist comes by once each week. Some days are good, some days are bad. Today was a great day, so we decided to do something I’ve never done before… at least not for almost 5 years: go outside.

When I go to doctor’s appointments, I’m usually taken out from my bed in a wheelchair. I have a face mask on, ear plugs, a head set, and I keep my head down between my knees to keep my blood pressure from plummeting, so I don’t faint. If I’m in the seated position too long, over with my head down, I have to get out of the chair and lay down on the ground with my knees tucked to regulate my blood pressure, breathing, and head pain. (Laying in an elevator or doctor’s office waiting room hasn’t made me any friends-yet.) When I get to the car, I lay in the backseat under pillows and blankets for arduous the drive.

Today, I wasn’t going anywhere but the porch. It was a warm overcast day, and happened to be very quiet on our road. What better day than this to do an “exposure” to sound and light? I don’t have OCD or an anxiety disorder and I’m not in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but desensitizing your body and brain to stressors and pain are very similar in traditional Physical Therapy. My PT uses Cardiac Rehab Therapy and Pain Rehab Therapy with me to get me stronger and moving… and it IS working. My fatigue is lessening, I’m stronger, I can tolerate more sound and light than I used to, I don’t pass out like before, and I’m progressing in general.

But today, there was another sensitivity I didn’t expect to encounter…

I bent over my brand new walker, slowly moving out toward the door for the first time, swapping my eye-mask for dark tinted sunglasses. Because I was pretty much blinded by the daylight, I was trying to maneuver awkwardly out the front door. My brother had joined in with my physical therapist to help me on my pilgrimage. I was so focused on all of the physical aspects written in the first paragraph that it caught me so off guard when my physical therapist wrapped his hand around my waste and grabbed my hand to help me out. That’s the moment I choked back tears. That’s the pain that hurt the worst.

It wasn’t the horrible pain in my head, the ringing in my ears, the screaming sound of birds chirping, or my heart racing from trying to be on my feet for too long, it was the caring touch of another person that reminded me so much of my ex-spouse… that almost took me down.

Maybe that sounds creepy to you, but if you have a condition like CRPS/RSD in which people around you are unsure where and how they can touch you, so much that they decide it’s best not to at all, you understand the touch aspect of this. Or, if you are no longer with your once-significant other, you will understand missing supportive touch, like a pat on the back, or an outreached hand when they notice you need help down a step.

Today was 2 firsts. I went out onto the porch successfully. I knocked out another goal! Wahoo! I turned my low pain day into a triumph. It was also a day I realized how much I miss supportive touch. I really want to find ways to incorporate touch back into my life, however physically painful, so it isn’t this emotionally painful to be without.

“Touch has a memory.”
John Keats

Gift Ideas for a Chronic Pain Warrior

Chronic Pain gift ideas

This gift guide is full of links to unique items to help you shop for your young, eclectic friend who just so happens to have Chronic Pain. *Starred shops are run by entrepreneurs with chronic pain.


 Socks

When I asked my friends with chronic pain what they’d really love for the holidays, they said SOCKS PLEASE! The catch? Most of us have finicky feet and like our socks to be just right. Here are some of the fancy sock suggestions straight from chronic pain fighters:

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Compression Socks by Support Plus

Smartwool.com has attractive and high quality over-knee socks and knee socks for women.

World’s Softest Socks by Hanes  has a nice selection of extra soft and comfy socks and slippers that come highly recommended by the owner of very sensitive feet. See Footsmart for in-store shopping.

Heat Holders come in thermal socks for both men and women, tights, and thermal leggings. If your loved one always has cold feet, these might be their new favorite sock!

Compression Socks are my personal fave for my own picky (angry, control-freak) feet. I love a toe-less compression garment like this thigh high version from Truform on Amazon. Today, you can also find fun printed compression socks, like the mild compression socks from SupportPlus as pictured above. Compression socks help with circulation, swelling, and sensitivity, however keep in mind, not everyone can tolerate wearing tight socks.


Armwear

For those who have chronic pain in the upper extremities, supportive arm and hand gear can be difficult to find. Period. Throw in the need for protective cold weather wear and add the desire for attractive pieces that fit your loved ones personality…you get the idea. Unlike easy-to-hide protective legwear and therapeutic socks, the arms and hands are not as easy to disguise. Here are a few gift ideas and shops to help you find a protective garment that your loved one would be proud to sport.

These super soft Cashmere Fingerless Gloves/Arm Warmers by Blumen Kinder Seattle on Etsy are fitted, to the elbow (or over), and are available in multiple colors. These were another item my friends said they are hoping they receive for Christmas. I can’t think of anything softer or more luxurious than cashmere…. (Sorry, that was just me luxuriating.)

What about the boys? I scoured the internet looking for men’s long cashmere fingerless gloves/arm warmers and found them at Turtle Doves in the UK as well as the Etsy shop Lain Design in 100% soft gray cashmere! You’re welcome guys.

For those who prefer the protection and swelling control of compression wear for their arms, check out the shop Lymph Divas on Amazon. They make original tattoo-design compression sleeves for women that everyone will envy.

This full length compression sleeve from Juzo is advertised as “extremely soft against the skin.” Made from silicon, it conforms to the skin and moves with it, adding a thin layer of protection and light compression. It comes in various tones including chocolate brown and light beige.


Books

In my last gift guide, I advised shoppers to steer clear of books that tell people with any illness how they can become well again or heal. On the flip side, there are excellent books to read for LIVING with chronic pain, managing the symptoms, and coping with emotions and relationships in the new changing body.

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Author/Poet Mary Jane Gonzales is a long-time chronic pain fighter and advocate for chronic pain awareness. She has published several soulful books related to living with pain; my personal favorite (thus far) is *Poetic Devotions for those in Pain, which touches at the heart of life with painful degenerative illness, loss, relationships, and connecting to personal faith in the midst of struggle. After reading, I shared this ebook with several friends, not all of whom had chronic pain and they also loved it and related to it. Available on PDF ebook and Nook.

In 2013, Cynthia Toussaint of ForGrace.org and Women in Pain foundation wrote her inspiring memoir, *Battle for Grace. For more than a decade, Toussaint has been an activist for the rights of people with chronic pain after her own life as a professional ballet dancer was changed forever. Read about her long time relationship with her partner, the loss of her body, and how she found new purpose and passion through her bewildering conditions, including CRPS. Available in paperback and ebook.

The Measure of our Days and The Anatomy of Hope are not books about Chronic Pain, however I wanted to include them here as gift ideas. They made an impact on me in the first years after my diagnosis and I have never forgotten them. Multiple, real life, patient-centered stories depicting how people find hope in the face of rare and terminal conditions might speak to you or your loved one as they spoke to me over 11 years ago.

Or, give your loved one a gift card so they can download the ebooks on their wish list. Visit this page for a comprehensive list of books from the American Chronic Pain Association.


Distraction Therapy Gifts

What most people call “hobbies,” people with chronic pain call “distraction techniques.” These are captivating projects which don’t take too much physical endurance but help us busy our minds and hands as a method to fight against pain overtaking us. Creative art projects, crafting, playing video games, playing musical instruments, doing puzzles, board games, cooking, digital editing, and coloring or painting in adult coloring books are some of the ways in which we might distract ourselves from pain.

Recently, scrapbooking and journaling merged to create a new trend in beautiful artistic journals. People can document their lives by incorporating writing, painting, drawing, photos, and collage. If you know someone who might be interested in a project like this, pick up a Smash Book at a Kohl’s or Wal Mart.


Comfort Items

Since we have to spend a great deal of time at home resting and recovering, comfort is key! Think about the coziest, softest thing you’d like to snuggle up with, and that’s a great place to start shopping. I prefer vibrant colors in my room and faux fur anywhere my hands wander.

 

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Check out this Blanket Foot Tent at Sears for $22. If the touch of the linens keep your loved one awake at night like many of us with Allodynia (pain to touch), this awesome tool might help your loved one get some added zzz’s.

On the flip side, a weighted blanket might solve their “comforter anxiety” as my friends and I like to call it. These blankets will stay put and are known to reduce anxiety and increase Serotonin by adding gentle weighted pressure. They are also made with very soft fibers which are attractive to anyone with chronic pain. Find a wide selection of colors at the brand new shop, *Comfort Hugs on Etsy.

There are so many wedges for the bed. Some go underneath our legs, to prop our legs up, special pillows to rest between our knees. We have wedges for our backs, and piles of pillows we shift all around to try to get comfortable. It’s difficult to suggest one kind of wedge or pillow that might add to your loved one’s comfort. However… a giant teddy bear might be a great and unexpected fill-in, and a really comforting and sweet gift, too!


Therapeutic

In my last gift list, I noted the wonderful benefits of epsom salt baths for aches, pains, and spams. However, bath soaks are not possible for everyone with chronic pain conditions, unfortunately. This unscented Epsom Salt lotion from Morton Salt allows for your loved one to get the benefits of Epsom without the need to get in and out of a hot tub of water. It is available at Wal Mart and Walgreens for about $8.

Guided Meditations for Chronic Pain on audio is a nice add-on item or stocking stuffer for anyone with pain. Stay clear of the ones that claim to “cure.” Instead, look for guided meditations, mindfulness, or visualizations aimed to help “manage” or “cope” with chronic pain. Mindful Meditations for Pain Relief has excellent reviews online by pain patients. Though I have never tried this particular audio book myself, I do utilize mindfulness and meditation as a coping strategy for my own pain.

If you spend a little time digging, you can find some of the coolest adapted walking aids! The flames cane featured above is from the shop, Fashionable Canes which was made popular after replicating Doctor House’s canes. Similarly, the shop Cast Coverz has a wide selection of fun and eclectic crutch covers and walker covers to reflect your loved one’s personal style.

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These items might seem silly, but personal hygiene is one of the most frustrating and tiring parts of the day with chronic pain. Here are a few personal care items meant to help reduce the strain and pain of getting ready. If your loved one has trouble with her hands or arms, this EZ Comb is not only easy to put in, it’s simply a great hair accessory! It does the same work as clips, ponytail holders, and fancy hair combs, but one adjustable hair piece does all the work. If holding a hair dryer and comb is a daunting task, this wild-looking contraption might help her get ready with less pain. If this Soft Hood Bonnet seems too extreme, there are also hair dryer holders available to install. What about a spinning, heated, blowing hairbrush by John Freda? It seems like a must for anyone who has pain or weakness in one arm/hand.



 

Awareness 

 

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Zazzle.com/MixyPixie Awareness Tees

If it comes with a ribbon, shares information about your loved one’s condition, or encourages your loved one, then it falls under the category of “awareness.” They are everywhere these days, and many shops will even customize an item with your particular ribbon color (if you ask nicely).

The Etsy shop, *Tea Bag Embroidery creates sweet little awareness satchels for carrying medication and cell phone. With messages like “Fibro Hope” and “RSD Sucks,” these are truly functional items which spread awareness wherever you go.

There is an array of t-shirts and sweat shirts with awareness ribbons and funny sayings to choose from. Big online stores like Zazzle and Cafepress have a huge selection of awareness apparel, mugs, cell phone covers, etc. with original designs by various sellers. My own shop on *Zazzle.com is pictured above and donates a portion of its proceeds to RSDS.org.

I also wanted to share this new collection of “empathy” cards from *Emily McDowell. If you have never known just the perfect thing to say to your friend struggling with a serious illness, but you want them to know you always have their back, these cards are funny, sweet, beautiful, and say it all. Like this one:

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EmilyMcDowell.com Empathy Cards

No matter what you decide to give to your loved one with chronic pain, your support and un-moving presence in their lives is immeasurable to them. Your friendship is a gift!


To see funny chronic illness gifts and fantastic adaptive tools to help your loved one around the house, visit my Pinterest boards: Spoonie Gifts and PJ Chic. Read my last gift guide here for gift do’s and don’ts when shopping for your Chronic pals. Thank you for visiting,

Happy Holidays!

In Her Skin

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Mindscape by Violetdart.com | In her Skin #Spoonie #CRPS #RSDMindscape by VioletDArt

She hasn’t slept for days. The pain in her leg reminds her of ten million tiny coal miners chipping away at her bone marrow with their axes, sledge hammers and sharp picks. “When do these little guys ever take a lunch?” she wonders. They set off fire bombs from the inside of her, destroying chunks of tissue, muscle, and shards of bone. They light the fuses and her nerves shoot like electricity from one end of her leg to the next, making her gasp for air. Now, her entire leg IS pain. It is no longer a leg. It is no longer HER leg. It belongs to a monster. To a disease she does not yet understand.

The limb is only pain and fire and crushing, sawing icicle bone. When she closes her eyes, she cannot picture what the leg looks like. She can only see purple…

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In Her Skin

She hasn’t slept for days. The pain in her leg reminds her of ten million tiny coal miners chipping away at her bone marrow with their axes, sledge hammers and sharp picks. “When do these little guys ever take a lunch?” she wonders. They set off fire bombs from the inside of her, destroying chunks of tissue, muscle, and shards of bone. They light the fuses and her nerves shoot like electricity from one end of her leg to the next, making her gasp for air. Now, her entire leg IS pain. It is no longer a leg. It is no longer HER leg. It belongs to a monster. To a disease she does not yet understand.

The limb is only pain and fire and crushing, sawing icicle bone. When she closes her eyes, she cannot picture what the leg looks like. She can only see purple and ice blue with white. Like a force-field that radiates around the limb, the colors have replaced flesh.

She waits for the sun to rise for her doctor appointment. All night, she recalled her symptoms again and again. She can’t leave anything out this time. He has to understand- I have to make him realize what is happening to me. I cannot live like this. I won’t. I can’t do it. He has to help me. I will make him understand.

**

Five hours later, back in her bed, she is barely conscious now. Sleep still will not come, but her mind is groggy from pain. Her heart races, body shakes, face tingles and room spins; all that she registers is pain. She feels herself floating away. All but for the leg. It holds her captive. She can’t keep her eyes open. Slow tears stream down her face. Flashes of the past few appointments cut through the fog.

Orthopedic: “I’m sorry to tell you, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is the most painful condition I’ve ever seen. You are so young…”

Physical Therapist: “You have to let me touch you. Stop exaggerating so much. You have to try…Stop crying!”

Neurologist: “I know the spinal injections are painful, but there aren’t many other options.”

General Practitioner: “Pain medication is just really hard to prescribe these days. How about some more extra strength prescription Advil?”

Two nights later, she is in the emergency room screaming and writhing around in agony. Her fiancé rushed her there when he saw her blackened leg, 3x the size of the other, and his beautiful, 20-year-old love rolling around in her bed, moaning, barely able to form words. Even in her state, the doctors and nurses look at her with suspicion. “She has CRPS,” says the fiancé with an obviousness in his voice, assuming they will then finally understand. No, CRPS is a condition the doctors and nurses do not recognize. Her swollen, blackened limb with sores developing around the foot do not remove the look of doubt from the physician’s face. “She can see her doctor for pain medication,” he says, never looking at the girl’s face.

From across the Emergency Room, a nurse rushes over and pulls the doctor aside. After their private discussion, that angel nurse is lead on the team and the shrieking girl gets pain medication immediately. “Don’t stick her with any needles and keep away from this girl’s leg, everyone!” directs the angel nurse. She tapes a sign to the bed saying “NO STICKS. DON’T TOUCH LEGS.” After the girl had relaxed some, the doctor sends her home with a prescription for pain medication and anti-inflammatories.

**

She finally had some hope. The medication wasn’t helping the pain very much, but she did get a few hours of sleep, finally. She felt more like herself than she had all week. Knowing  there was a medical professional out there who knew about her condition and cared enough to try to help her…was like a window just opened and she could breathe again. Maybe in time she would find a doctor like that nurse. Maybe if someone could help her…maybe she could try to do this.

Then, her mom stormed into her room. “Your father and I have decided we want you out by tomorrow.” Wait…what? What’s going on, mom? “We know you have been going around trying to get drugs from doctors. After your little trip to the emergency room last night, we know you got a big bottle of pills and we want you out. We won’t have an addict living in our home.”

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This is inspired by a true story, but “The Girl” is un-named because her story is shared by too many who face this disease Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSD) and other types of severe chronic pain conditions. Chronic Pain does not make you an addict. Taking prescribed medications that allow you to function and survive is not the same as addiction. If you love someone with CRPS/RSD or a severe chronic pain disorder, please do some research on their behalf and understand that the media does not portray pain medication appropriately, from the perspective of chronic, terminal illness sufferers or from doctors who manage chronic pain disorders. 

For more information, read Pain Pills: Chronic Pain Sufferers Speak

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Please check out VioletDArt’s conceptual art page and her gift shop.

@violetda

Breathing Through the Pain

This is a coping mechanism I have myself been using daily for almost 9 of my 10 years with chronic pain and CRPS/RSD. I along with so many other pain warriors use relaxation tools to help live with ongoing pain. Please read below how this young fighter with CRPS is learning breathing and relaxation techniques:

[This article was featured on The Biofeedback Daily E-Magazine!]

The Life of a Fluro Zebra

Hi Guys!
I have been lucky enough that the pain clinic in my hometown have paid for me to have one-on-one yoga sessions. The yoga teacher is so amazing and she has traveled all around the world learning and teaching! She knows lots of different techniques from lots of different countries. One of them was an Indian breathing technique that she showed me, it was called Deep Breath Advantages of Deep Breathing Exercises and I find that it does a great job. Whenever I am stressed or I bump my CRPS foot I do it, and it helps calm me down.It slows down my breathing because when I am in a lot of pain I find it hard to control. The pain doesn’t go away when I do it, it just relaxes my muscles and my mind. I think it could really help anyone when they are stressed or hurt.
I found a really interesting website that…

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