What is pain? Some might describe it as an uncomfortable sensation in the body signaling that something is wrong. It could be a pinched nerve, a fractured finger, a persistent throbbing sensation, or a sharp sudden shock that renders you immobile. Scientifically speaking, pain is a signal either originated in the brain or transmitted through the nervous system to the brain. Regardless of how we experience pain, there is no doubt that pain demands our full attention and demands it immediately, which is why pain is the #1 reason for doctor visits. I have been studying and experiencing complicated chronic pain for the past three years and it has gifted me a deep understanding that my pain is my Compass; an understanding that has been critical to my recovery as I reclaim my health, my happiness, and my life.
When my pain first showed up in my knees three years ago, my initial thought was that I must have hurt myself doing yoga. After various x-rays, MRIs, and steroid injections, the doctor informed me that there was no sign of physical damage and I was sent to physical therapy for strength building. After months of therapy without results, I returned to the doctor's office just to be told, "Go home, nothing is wrong with you". I decided to see another doctor; by then my lower back also started hurting. In the course of the next two years the pain eventually spread to various joints in my body to the point that I couldn't sit for more than 20 minutes at a time and I had days that I couldn't hold a cup in my hand. At many points I was told that I might have fibromyalgia, lyme disease, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, and even severe allergies. After three years of intense physical therapy, numerous visits with orthopedic doctors, rheumatologists, immunologists, chiropractors, and neurologists followed by varieties of treatments, I still had no answers or relief at all. In fact, my condition was deteriorating at such a fast pace that I was convinced I would be fully disabled within a year; a grim prospect for a 35 year old.
Before the onset of my pain, I had great health, a solid yoga practice, a deep spiritual practice, and a thriving career in the tech industry. I was always the overachiever in school as well as life. I was curious, highly organized, efficient, and had a plan for everything from my career to what I was cooking for dinner in four days. I took responsibility for my experience and was easily annoyed by people who weren't claiming their full power to change the lives they were unhappy with. Pain was no different, I was going to get to the bottom of it and fix it right away! Little did I know that this pain would become the most challenging, transformative, and rewarding experience I’d ever had.
The physical pain was difficult, but what was much more challenging was how much it impacted my emotional well-being. Those who've lived with chronic pain know this all too well. Yes, the pain was uncomfortable but what exhausted me the most was the search for answers that wouldn't surface, the story I had to retell over and over about all the treatments I had tried, the flood of treatment recommendations from my thoughtful friends and family that often left me overwhelmed, the inability to dance, hike, or feel like a normal person for even a day. I was tired, angry, and depressed for the first time in my life. I had to grieve the loss of my health, vibrancy, and joy as I watched the days, weeks, months, and years pass me by as I isolated myself in a corner of my house day after day, night after night. Was this truly my reality? How could "I" the warrior, the survivor, the doer, be so stuck and suffering without any real prospect to change my condition?
Often I would find myself staring at the large letters tattooed on my wrists "Trust" & "Surrender". I had gotten these letters tattooed just a month before the pain first showed up. Was I somehow subconsciously aware that the biggest lesson in trust and surrender was about to strike when I got these letters permanently marked on my body? Was this perhaps the ultimate test of my faith? It took me over two years to move through the first four steps of the grief process; denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. But "acceptance"? My warrior spirit wouldn't allow me to even consider "acceptance" as an option. I felt that if I accepted my condition, it meant that I was giving up and admitting defeat. In January of 2016 after failing to accomplish yet another goal I had set for myself to regain my health by the New Year, I found myself too tired to fight, to move forward, and to live another day. The options were clear, end it all or give in to the psychiatric medications I had been rejecting this whole time. At last, I had arrived at a place of acceptance.
Rumi the famous Persian mystic says:
Learn the alchemy True Human Beings know: the moment you accept what troubles you've been given, the door opens. "
As I reluctantly started the daunting task of finding psychiatrists I had no desire to see, something magical happened... I stumbled upon the work of Dr. John Sarno on Mind-Body Syndrome (also known as TMS: Tension Myositis Syndrome). What I thought was the dark and sad end to my journey of recovery was in fact the last chapter of my suffering, and the beginning of a whole new journey to transform every aspect of my life, a new version of me was emerging; stronger, healthier, happier, and so much wiser.
At last I had found the source of my suffering not in the body, but buried in the depths of my subconscious mind. The next three months was a roller coaster of emotions as I learned the source and triggers of my pain and started having some pain-free days which came with a whole new spectrum of emotions – including the shame associated with being the source of my own suffering, and the deep fear of the pain returning.
These were challenging months but I had learned that the only way to move forward in life was to accept that I am the creator of my reality which instantly empowered me to change my condition. I had to change my relationship with pain from something I must "cure," to something I must study with a deep sense of curiosity. As I shifted my perspective, I clearly saw all the ways that I was not living my life in alignment with my highest purpose. I knew that I had to make some very challenging and uncomfortable adjustments, but none more challenging than what I had endured for the past three years.
As I sit here launching this blog, I have been 90% pain free for the past 4 months. I have finally come to the understanding that my pain is my compass. So anytime pain shows up, I pause, study the circumstances, try to understand what it's trying to communicate, change course, and offer gratitude to this deep inner compass guiding my way: not only back to health, but also towards my true path in this life. I have left my demanding full-time career in tech startups, launched a tech consulting business, and have kick-started my studies in Holistic Pain Management and Trauma Release Techniques. My days are filled with joy, inspiration, lots of fear and uncertainty about what's to come, and a whole lot of excitement for all the possibilities unfolding. My wounds have become the source of my wisdom and my pain has become my compass guiding every step of my life as I launch the Anahita 2.0 upgrade! Stay tuned!