I would be lying if I said that, in the beginning, chronic pain didn’t take over my life. It was a vicious circle for me. I would be in pain, which would cause depression and anxiety. The anxiety would cause me to tense up and I would start to have migraines. 9 times out of 10 those migraines turned into whole body pain events that knocked me out for days. I was living through 1-2 migraines a week with them turning much worse at least 3-4 times a month. It was one of the most difficult times of my life, and I’ve been through a lot of medical issues.
It all started with hypothyroidism. My college roommates used to sit me down with packages of Oreos begging me to eat something because they were convinced I was anorexic. Little did any of us know my thyroid was producing so much of its hormone that it was poisoning me. I was unable to gain weight, had horrible dizzy spells and would black out frequently. By the time I found myself in the emergency room for severe dizziness and altered consciousness it was so bad that half of my thyroid needed to be removed. I went through a round of radiation as well during this time to try to rid my body of the excess thyroid hormone.
Several years later when I was pregnant with my second child I began bleeding severely. The pregnancy was found to be a partial trophoblastic pregnancy. My son, although seemingly previously healthy, had been taken over by precancerous cells and no longer a viable pregnancy. Although this time was a tragic one in my life it was also very medically trying. I lost so much blood that I needed a blood transfusion. I remember only flashes here and there of my time in the hospital as I was so far from consciousness throughout most of it. The following year I would have multiple surgeries to remove ovarian cysts. Eventually, I would have a partial hysterectomy in an attempt to treat my endometriosis and PCOS.
Starting around 2015 I began to have blinding migraines. These headaches interfered tremendously with my vision and ultimately caused me to leave my job as an EMT. I no longer felt safe transporting patients as I had no idea when I would have a migraine or lose my vision. Not much later I left my position as a volunteer firefighter as well because I felt it was not safe for me to assist. I attempted to go to nursing school but found myself in debilitating pain more and more frequently each month.
By January of 2017, I was unable to get out of bed. I was unable to eat. I experienced frequent short term memory loss and had no energy to accomplish anything throughout the day. I was in so much pain that my day to day life was far from anything I would call enjoyable. I was experiencing so much depression too. Not only was I unable to do anything I needed or wanted to do but I was missing so much of what my children were doing. In just a few short years my chronic illness had nearly completely taken me out of my own life.
Needless to say, I was desperate for any way to get myself out of this slump. More often than not it just felt so hopeless. I didn’t want to take a bunch of medication but it was the only option I was given because physical therapy hadn’t helped. When I finally gave in to the medication I found that it made things worse more than it helped. I experienced severe nausea. I could barely stay awake. This certainly wasn’t living either.
I read every book I could find on alternative ways to treat pain and anxiety. The two were so enter-twined for me that I knew I had to have a one-two punch to truly get to the bottom of my problem. I wasn’t interested in any woo treatments or anything too far out there but I knew there had to be something other than pills. I read a lot about biofeedback and homeostasis. I studied a lot of just how connected the mind and body are, and how we can affect that connection in a positive or negative way.
In the end, and after several years of research I have found a way that works for me. Now, the bitch about mental and most physical illness is that just because a method or system works for one person there’s no guarantee that it will work for anyone else. We all have our own chemistry, environmental factors, and principles. I do think, however, that there are a few basic principles that are a good addition to any life. One of the most important of these is meditation. Meditation can be a great way to ease the mind and calm symptoms of anxiety. It can also be a great way to bring peace to the body and ease tight muscles and tension. It truly does give a fantastic mind/body experience of relaxation that can kickstart or amplify relief of pain and anxiety.
Related: Getting Grounded as a Mom with Mental Illness ( Tips on Dealing with Anxiety and Stress)
The Benefits of Meditation for Chronic Pain and Anxiety
There is no denying the link between mental illness and chronic physical illness. Day after day I see posts in bipolar support groups online discussing the prevalence of Fibromyalgia in the mental illness community. Statistics show that it goes the other way as well. As a result of living with a chronic illness, many individuals are more prone to irritability, anxiety, and depression.
The often confining illnesses can cause a severe drop in a person’s ability to socialize or to feel self-sufficient. This effect alone has been proven to cause depression in the elderly as they find their independence and health dwindling.
There are many benefits that the practice of meditation can bring to those suffering from both mental and physical illnesses. As mentioned above, meditation can be a great way to clear the cloudiness of the mind. It can help to calm anxiety and to strengthen focus. It can help us to get more done during the day as we remain mindful of our goals and purpose. This can lead to more of a feeling of fulfillment in life as we accomplish more and see the fruits of our efforts.
As you grow in your meditation practice you will begin to notice a difference in physical symptoms as well. It won’t happen overnight, but after a while, you will notice that you don’t hold your shoulders as tensely. Your jaw isn’t clenched as you scroll your on your phone or write emails. You should notice fewer headaches and stomach issues after a while as well. This is all because you are giving your body the time it needs to reset and refocus along with your mind. This isn’t even a conscious thing you have to think about doing either. After a while, your body will become naturally more relaxed and at ease. This begins a whole new feedback loop where you don’t feel the need to be anxious because your body is calm. In turn, your body doesn’t tense up because your mind is flowing freely without any restrictions of worries or anxiety.
Beginning a meditation practice can seem like a daunting task for some. I found this to be particularly true because I have lived with largely untreated ADHD for over 20 years. I thought it was crazy talk to say that I should be able to just shut up all the 800 things going on in my head at any given time. Luckily, it is possible ( even for those of us with, uh, overly talkative brains) to find peace. You don’t have to do it all at once, and you don’t even have to completely shut everything up either. As long as you can learn to let thoughts flow on by without drawing your attention you are doing good. Nowadays there are tons of great apps out there to train you on just how to do that. Many of them are self-paced and allow you to work in the style and on the level that you prefer. You can find guided meditations on Youtube, in podcasts, and even on special apps. There is a wide variety of options out there to make it easy to find one that works for your lifestyle.
Related: Did You Know? Five Odd Symptoms Caused by Fibromyalgia
The Best Apps to Help Use Meditation for Chronic Pain
Headspace – If you are a complete beginner to meditation then Headspace just may be the app for you. They do have a subscription fee. However, they offer a trial period to determine if the app is something that you will benefit from. The app breaks meditation up into 10-minute segments making it accessible and easy for anyone. It also offers a guided meditation approach which is nice for someone just starting out.
Calm – This is another app that offers a subscription service. However, Calm is more for mindfulness and relaxation. It is currently rated as the #1 app for mindfulness, meditation, and clarity. They offer two types of meditations through the app including guided meditations and sleep stories. The Calm website is pretty awesome too!
Meditation Studio – This app offers a lower price option for guided meditations. Meditation Studio currently sells for a one time fee of $3.99 which opens up all content on the app with no subscription fee. This makes it a good option for those unable or not interested in going with a subscription service. There are tons of guided meditations available on the app which range from beginner to intermediate focus level. The website also offers a great FAQ for those just starting out on meditation.
Omvana – This app is more or less your one-stop shop for meditation. It offers all levels and types of meditation that you could possibly want. I believe that it is my personal favorite. Meditation times range from 3 to 60 minutes which offers a wide variety of choices to match your personal style and goals. It is a paid service, but I personally find the cost to be worth the value due to the wide range of leaders and styles available through this app. The convenience level available here alone makes it very valuable.
Happify – This isn’t exactly a “meditation app” but rather a really interesting approach to stress relief and relaxation. It uses several different techniques to help promote a more positive outlook and banish negativity from your life. I really think this one is interesting so while it isn’t really the same thing as the others, it’s still totally worth checking out! There’s a whole science behind it that you can read more about on their website. It’s really pretty cool.
Relax Melodies Oriental Meditation – Finally, if you are looking for more of a D.I.Y. method or if you are just looking for something peaceful to relax to there is this app. I have been using this app for years and it remains one of my favorite “relaxing” apps. You can choose from a large variety of melodies or nature sounds, or mix them together to make your own aural scenes.
Related: Colorable Mandalas for Stress Relief on a Rough Day
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