Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Pain-Panic Syndrome

The combination of pain medication, energy work, yoga, emotional renovation, and HBO has helped me to manage my pain so that, most days, I act and feel like a normal.

But some days, the pain resurrects. What starts as a slow ache in my lower abdomen in the morning can escalate into a of herd of wild stallions stampeding through my body by mid-afternoon. This explosion of pain can be catalyzed by an argument with my sweetie, worry about my parents' health, a change in the weather, a freak anomaly in the space-time continuum, a butterfly flapping its wings in China -- in other words, "Who knows?"

Because I, gratefully, have so many good days now, the first signals of a pain spike are enough to launch me into panic mode. I forget how many years I have dedicated to learning how to move beyond pain, to attach my consciousness to something bigger than my own measly ego, to use my mind to meditate the pain into a blue wave that flows out of my body with each breath. I forget that I have an arsenal of medications I can combine into a giant hammer that can slam any pain spike into oblivion. I forget that the pain comes, and it goes, and that it will never be as wild and uncontrolled as it was in the first years of hell.

Of course, panicking over pain only feeds it. When I panic, I constrict my muscles and my mind so the space I create around the pain is tight and tiny; and therefore every thrust of the pain is that much sharper and always hits its target.

Here's what helps when the reminder of pain starts to set off a full blown panic-pain attack.

I try to breathe consciously. To follow the path of my breath as it swells and ebbs instead of focusing on the ripples of pain. I move my breath to those places where pain grips, and I watch as each breath pries pain's fingers looser and looser.

I remind myself that -- "This is now and then was then." That this pain episode may last hours, all day, even a couple of days -- but not years. There will never again be years of relentless suffering. I am better now. And I have tools now that I could not have imagined then.

And I ask for help. I ask my sweetie to remind me of the truth I try to hold onto -- the truth that the panic makes me forget. He tells me, "This will pass. Don't worry. You know it will. Now, let's see what's on HBO."


Maureen Hayes said...

Thank you for this post. I am in the process of lowering my pain medication and I have been blogging about the pain and the fear. I felt you read my mind with what you wrote. Thanks for understanding and for reminding me it doesn't have to be the way it once was!

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Good luck Maureen with tapering your meds! Take it real slow. Let me know how it goes.

Kerry said...

Hi Barbara, You expressed beautifully the PANIC (and as Maureen said fear) of the onset of a pains return. Woke up last night to the pain I experience with Gastroparesis--thought it had left me alone for a good while. Good timing with your post--remembering this pain will pass.

I do yoga too Barbara and it's one of my favorite coping tools,as is talking to my hubby.

I enjoy your blog much, Kerry

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Hi Kerry - I hope you pain passes quickly, and stays away.

Maureen Hayes said...


I had to go back up to the original dose after a week of increased pain. At least we tried. I will try again, maybe when there is less going on that complicates the issue, and hopefully I will be more successful then. I am proud that I at least faced the fear and tried it. Thanks for the support and concern.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post; you put it beautifully. I have many good days now, and often when I get very bad pain it lasts for a day or so before calming down slightly. During a pain spike that lasts, one that I can't seem to get under control with deep breathing and imagery and music and talking to friends/family and and and... I start to get PANICKED. What if the pain doesn't calm down? What if this is what it's going to be like for the rest of my life? It takes talking to someone saner than I am at that moment to remind me that pain flares will come and go; then the pit in my stomach goes away as I remember that- oh yeah- this too shall pass. Hopefully with every passing year it gets easier to remember that? Saturday marks six years of having RSD and I plan on getting better with every year.
Take care all and best wishes for an enjoyable weekend!

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Maureen - good on you for keeping on trying. I go up and down on my meds, sometimes by tiny increments. Each "down" gives me hope; and I try not to assume that each "up" means I'm falling back into the dark hole.

Anonymous -- you describe the slide to panic so accurately. I wish that each year, and each day, brings you closer to being out of pain.

MaxJerz said...

Thanks for this post, Barbara. On days when my Migraine pain spikes into the "severe" range, it's hard sometimes to get a handle on the panic that inevitably makes it worse. I'm still in the stage of my treatment where I'm looking for what will help me achieve more good days than bad. Thanks for the reminder that I will get there and I can survive this.

Be well,

jeisea said...

Hi Barbara
I don't get that sense of panic but I can get overwhelmed by the experience and forget what to do to help myself. That's one of the reasons I started blogging - to keep the focus. I also notice that one small trigger can bring on a cacophony of symptoms. I now know that the brain remembers old pain. There is also pain memory at a cellular level I believe, so what starts with my shoulder can quickly involve a whole side - head to toe.
Hope this flare ends soon for you.
Be gentle on yourself.

Barbara K. said...

Maxjerz - have faith - you'll get there.

Jeisea -- what a great perspective - to see blogging as a way of reminding you what you do know about managing pain and keeping focused, and maybe even retraining the brain.