This was deeply depressing, not only because I wanted to be able to write. As anyone who suffers from ongoing pain anywhere in the body knows, it can make even the most basic daily tasks a huge challenge.
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My condition was finally described as work-related upper limb disorder and it was concluded that I had developed a resistance to repetitive work, which seemed nonsensical and felt wholly unsatisfying. It was only when I began to understand that the mind and body, rather than being separate, are intimately connected, that things started to finally change for the better.
I had been aware that stress could sometimes induce physical symptoms such as headaches, but I would never have believed that psychological factors could be the cause of such severe, scary and concrete pain. It was only at moments of peak desperation that I was able to entertain this idea.
My symptoms were definitely real, but they were also mysterious; they moved around and the intensity of the pain varied from day to day. I would describe the sensations I experienced as burning, pressure, sharpness and tingling. So what was going on?
To cure my chronic pain, I had to learn about the links between mind and body
First of all it is important to know a bit about how pain works. Acute pain is a helpful process that occurs when there is an injury or illness. It gradually decreases and dissipates once healing is complete. If pain persists after three months, it is deemed chronic. What this tells us is that the driving force behind it is the brain. Far from it. Chronic pain is associated with physical changes in the brain at the cortical level.
A whole vocabulary goes along with this: allodynia is the term for when non-harmful stimuli, such as a light touch, results in pain.
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In hyperalgesia, harmful stimuli produce heightened or prolonged pain. Why do some people experience chronic pain? An interplay between early lifetime and environmental and epigenetic factors appears to be at work. So our emotional lives can have a real-world effect, in terms of changes to the brain and increased pain. Those real world effects then influence our emotions in turn. The two systems are intertwined: in fact, they are one system. These insights, though doctors are often aware of them, have not changed the day-to-day practice of most medicine — yet.
Once you understand that the mind and body are not separate, it seems plausible that, if pain tells us when there is something wrong physically, it can tell us when there is something wrong mentally too. I decided to listen to my body and integrate that with what was going on in my mind. After much research and finding the right help, I set out to heal emotionally.
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I stopped taking pain medication, stopped physio and started moving how I used to. I want to stress that no one should take any steps to alter their treatment without consultation with a doctor. I considered potential repressed emotions from life events, including in childhood, and used different techniques to explore them all.
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