I’ve recently had another, very intimate, and (as always with pain) unwanted experience with pain. In fact, I’m still in the middle of it, writing this in the 2 hour window of ibuprofen induced moderate, as opposed to excruciating, pain.
The thing is, I firmly believe pain is telling me something. It’s telling me something is wrong. It’s the body’s way of alerting me to danger, and forcing me to stop and notice, so that I can take action. And I believe this is true for everyone.
The pain response
If the pain is because you’ve accidentally put your hand on a hot surface and are burning, this makes sense, right?
In fact, it makes so much sense, that you’ll be moving your hand away from the source of pain (the hot surface) before your conscious brain is even aware of what is going on.
It’s so key to your survival that you move away from the source of burning that your body can’t wait for your conscious mind to catch up and take action, so the automatic/subconscious/unconscious mind takes over.
It’s usually only as you’re snatching your hand away and back to your body, that your conscious mind has caught up, and you process that you are burning.
It’s then that you’ll take action to stop the pain you’ve just noticed (and the spread of the burn) by plunging your hand into cold water.
Pain is always alerting us to the fact that something is wrong
Pain is always alerting us to the fact that something is wrong. I also think that our subconscious/unconscious/automatic recognises this before the pain starts and our conscious self catches up, and tries to take action.
The thing is, our conscious mind DOES catch up, and in the toxic narrative of ‘you can rest when you’re done/dead’ that permeates our current hustle culture so extensively, the conscious brain overrides the actions the subconscious is trying to make.
Take my latest source of pain for instance.
My latest example of pain
I’m currently suffering with ear ache. This is due to a bad ear infection that has caused the ear canal to swell with inflammation to almost closed, combined with a plug of infection-induced ‘gunk’ literally sealing off my ear. Pretty disgusting!
The result is intense, unrelenting pain and unbelievable pressure that causes me to think the left side of my face is three times the size it is, and that my head might explode at any moment.
I’m lucky to live where I do, and to be able to access the medicine I can for this situation. Currently the antibiotics are giving my immune system a boost, and the combination of co-codamol and ibuprofen are combining to give me roughly 2 hours of manageable (as opposed to excruciating) pain every 6 hours.
So, let’s back up and see where my conscious actions played a part in all of this, overriding the wisdom of my subconscious/inner knowing.
How I contributed to this situation
7 days before I was forced to seek medical help for the pain in my ear, I started with a sore throat.
Nothing major, right? We all get sore throats.
We all ignore them, push on regardless. Maybe roll a little extra On Guard, Melaluca and Copaiba on your feet (if like me you’re not keen on the traditional painkiller route), or perhaps reach for the paracetamol. Numb the pain.
Which is all well and good. It allows us to carry on with our day. But it does nothing to address the cause of the pain.
3 days before I was forced to seek medical help, I was feeling incredibly lethargic and teary. Emotional. I could feel pain starting in my ear, my throat was still sore, and my stomach had joined in the party. Pain in three different areas. I knew I was brewing something.
I lay around the house all day, ostensibly ‘resting’, and with an incredibly unhelpful narrative about how I was ‘wasting time’, could be doing something ‘productive’, was being incredibly ‘lazy’ (with ALL the stories I have attached to THAT word!) running through my brain.
Sure, I may have been mainly physically resting, but it wasn’t mentally endorsed rest! Having to ‘fight’/’ignore’ the stories and narrative of ourselves at these times is exhausting. We’re still using up energy to do so. The rest isn’t as it could be.
And then by Tuesday it was clear I had to cancel my week. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I couldn’t hold healing space for anyone else. I needed to rest.
So, let’s go back a little further.
It always starts earlier than you think
Four days before the sore throat had started, I had literally cried in my yoga class, explaining how exhausted I felt.
I described the feeling of balance being like riding a bike. I was wobbling all over the place.
In a way, it was balanced – I wasn’t crashing to the ground!
But the effort to right myself, to get back to centre after each wobble left and right, was exhausting, and increasingly so. My inability to stay centred, and have all my energy go towards forward motion, was frustrating and annoying to me. And I told the class how I felt this had been going on for YEARS!
My yoga teacher, rather wisely suggested, that if it was taking so much energy to return to this centre point, that perhaps, it was the wrong centre point for me.
You know what you need
Deep down I knew I was exhausted and needed to take a proper break and rest from all the life responsibilities I had. Our societal narrative is that this isn’t possible.
I’d just seen the kids through a mammoth summer holiday, spending my days taking them out to do stuff, and my evenings working.
We were back to ‘normal’ now. School, after school activities, work during the day and evenings, and I’d just been accepted on to the Nat West Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme. This was no time for a break. Hell, I couldn’t take a break even if I wanted to. I knew what I really needed, and I decided it wasn’t possible .
Illness shows you other possibilities
Illness shows me that I CAN take a break from all my life responsibilities.
Illness shows me that I CAN be in bed/on the sofa for 3 days straight, and the world WILL continue to revolve around me.
Illness shows me how much my kids CAN do for themselves, how much my hubby CAN manage it all (washing, cooking, after school activities) without my input.
And illness does this by causing me to feel crippling pain, until my ONLY option is to stop.
So yeah, pain has a message and a lesson.
And how often do we, in the throes of pain, see that our lives have got to change? That the way we live is MAKING US ILL? That our constant on the go lifestyle is unsustainable? That we’ll make lasting changes? Only to recover, and go on as before.
The stories we tell about pain
As we grow, we learn familiar and societal stories about different aspects of life, that we take on as ‘truths’. These ‘truths’, nestled deep in our subconscious, direct our behaviour.
As a child, I learnt that my pain isn’t real.
I learnt that my pain is an inconvenience to others and should never be shown.
I learnt that the only way forward was to push on through the pain and rest when I’d completed whatever task was demanding my attention.
The result of these stores (and whichever story you took on as ‘truth’) is that we disassociate from our bodies.
The effects of disassociation
We start to disbelieve the messages our body is telling us. We start to distrust our own inner knowing.
We become separated from ourselves, and look to the outside world to tell us what’s best for us. When really, the truth of your experience, and what’s best for you, can only come from within you.
And that truth is being shared with you all the time. You just need to remember how to hear it.
Authenticity is when our inside world matches our outside world. When we’re not able to hear the message of our inside world, it’s very easy for a disconnect between the two to appear. Anxiety, depression, illness, pain – they’re all physical indicators of a disconnect. They’re all telling you that you have unmet needs that are fundamental to your existence.
If the way to stop pain is to remove yourself from the source of it, then that’s probably the way to avoid/stop the others too.
And if our unconscious, inner wisdom self is already trying to do that for us before our conscious self is aware, then maybe we need to heed the action we’ve unconsciously started to take.
And instead of instantly dismissing it, because of a story we have about how we ‘should’ be, perhaps we get curious and question why that action might just be exactly what we need to be doing.
How that action might be the start of our healing and recovery.
How that action might be the start of our journey back to authenticity and trusting ourselves.
The dangers of inflammation
Dr Gabor Maté in his book, When The Body Says No, talks about how the underlying cause of most of the illnesses we see in the west, including cancer, is inflammation.
That inflammation is the response the body has to stress hormones.
That because we are living our lives in a permanently stressed state, because our inner worlds do not match our outer world, thanks to the societal and familial conditioning and stories we’ve taken on as children as truth, we are causing our own illnesses.
The role of rest
Our bodies are not evolved to live in the world most of us live in. Amelia and Emily Nagoski, in their book Burnout, tell us that we need to be resting 42% of the time. That works out as 10 hours of rest in every 24 hour period, with, ideally, 8 hours of that rest being sleep.
Sleep is the greatest healing tool we have available to us.
While you’re asleep, with your conscious self-offline, and your body still, your body gets the chance to repair and grow, without having to fight your conscious self.
When we don’t get enough sleep, or rest in general, the body doesn’t get this much needed rest, repair and reset time. So, the body remains in a stressed state for even longer, thus causing more inflammation, and more illness.
In order to start to fix most of our problems, we need to be taking more rest.
We need to break free from the hustle, always on, always doing narrative of living, and start to embrace what our bodies really need, in order to live happy, fulfilled lives.
WE NEED REST.
Once you’ve got enough rest and sleep, everything becomes possible.
On top of rest and sleep, we also need to start tuning back in to ourselves, listening to what we really need in any moment, and then crucially, taking action on that.
None of it is easy!
Clearly, you can see from this blog, and the infection-induced pain-riddled state I currently find myself in, this isn’t an easy thing to do.
To break away from the invasive narratives of our familial and societal conditioning is hard. Unlearning these ‘truths’, and relearning the ‘truth’ of your own body takes time.
And you will get it wrong at times.
And that doesn’t mean you should give up.
Listen in further. Embody and embed further the lessons your body is teaching you.
Lean in. Allow.
Believe yourself. Trust yourself.
The purpose of my work
This is the mission and purpose of the work I do. To provide space for you to rest and be.
To help you create space in your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves.
To help you connect back in to yourself, so you can hear your own inner knowing and truth.
To help you towards authenticity – so that your inner and outer worlds match, and, as a consequence, your stress levels drop.
Lower stress levels = less inflammation = greater health.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to heal
Each of us has the responsibility to heal ourselves in this way, because a healed society is a compassionate one, and the world really needs more compassionate societies right now.
I haven’t ‘made’ it to enlightenment, and I clearly still get it wrong. I’m not a guru who can give you your answers. I am instead a person who has learnt ways to help myself, and others, to reconnect with their inner knowing.