Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Torn Blanket: How Pain Can Challenge Our Sense of Security

Recently I (Colleen) listened to an interview of Bill Moyers with Pema Chodron. In it they talk about security and the impact of challenging situations. When these situations arise, they can affect the parts of our lives that we see as stabilizing, the things that we use to create our sense of "ground." They discussed what happens when life removes this security and how we react to that sense of "groundlessness." 

This lead to a discussion about our reaction to pain becoming part of our lives. (That's what happens when you write a blog with your friend!) 

We think in many cases chronic pain forces us to examine the whole idea of security. For many people our grown-up “security blanket” includes our idea of health and our bodies’ capabilities. Our health is also inter-woven with other pieces of this blanket, like being able to provide for a family, do a certain job, or other parts how we define ourselves. The pieces that make up the blanket are different for everyone and depend a lot on individual beliefs and values.

When chronic pain (or disease) enters the picture it can change all this. It comes along and tears some pretty big holes in this nice secure blanket.  This can be a scary place and a frustrating place. For some it can be a place of loss, for others a place of anger, or possibly confusion.  All sorts of reactions can happen, and they can change over time. The parts that are torn and what parts are left will be different for every situation, and it is important to look at both parts.

So what do you do when you’re left holding a shredded blanket and looking at the gaps? We think that depends on individual beliefs and situations and the way each person handles obstacles in their life. We can't give you a one-size-fits-all action plan (as much as we would love to), but we can give you some things to think about

1. Be kind to yourself: This doesn't mean booking a $10,000 trip to your dream destination. It's more about treating yourself with kindness. Somebody once asked me (Colleen) to pretend it had been a friend in the accident, and to picture saying the things to her that I say to myself. I just started laughing and said "I would never say that!" It was a lesson that stuck - if I wouldn't say it to a friend, why is it okay to say to myself? 

2. Recognize the losses and allow yourself permission to grieve. It really is okay to not be okay sometimes. It's okay to be sad, frustrated, angry, confused or crying. Acknowledging the losses doesn’t mean you are weak or unappreciative of the good things in life. In fact we think it takes a lot of courage to really stop and acknowledge what has changed. Allowing yourself to recognize that the changes in your life are significant is  a huge part of creating the space to carry on. Try to find a balance - acknowledge the loss, but don't get stuck there.

3. Focus on the pieces that are still there. We know, we know, we can hear the groans through the computer. This isn't just one of those "glass half full" trivial comments people make. We realize this is so easy to say but not easy to do. We realize that sometimes it looks like the glass is totally empty and there isn't even a drop left. Even if there are big gaping holes in the blanket, there will also be pieces that are still whole. Look for these pieces, they might be hidden or frayed but they're still there. Celebrate them. 

4. Learn to live with the holes and adjust your expectations.  By keeping your standard bar at the same level it was when you were “better,” everything you do now could look like a failure in comparison. When really that’s not the case at all! By thinking this way, you are limiting yourself from recognizing successes in the present. It`s a fine balance between accepting the now and still leaving room for increased functioning, coping, and healing. 

When all you can think about is making it through the day, it’s tough. But do yourself (or your clients) a favour, and focus on one tiny change at a time. You may feel like your security blanket is gone, but it will come back. It will look different than it once did, but it will still be beautiful.


Thank-you to all the people who have shared their stories and wisdom with us.

If you're interested here is the link to the interview: 

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