Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Little Thing Called Hope

Anxiety is frustrating and difficult to overcome. I deal with anxiety regularly and I usually handle it fairly well, but it is absolutely a struggle in my life. As I am waiting on results from a test that could potentially change my life, my anxiety is in overdrive. I'm surprised I haven't gone into full blown panic attack mode yet. I feel it coming though. And because I feel it coming, I'm trying to get the thing out of the way that's giving me anxiety.

A week ago today, I had an MRI of the brain and cervical spine. I was told that my doctor would have the results within the week. My GP's office has had the results for at least two days now. I've called and asked to see if they were in and was informed that they were indeed in, but my GP hasn't looked at them yet. Which is making me even more anxious knowing they're just sitting there in the office, untouched. I've decided to just go to the walk-in clinic tomorrow to get my results. Because that's the best way to get them at this point.

I don't think it's the idea that something might be wrong that is giving me anxiety. In fact, I know that isn't what is giving me anxiety. It's the idea that everything could be completely fine. Because, I am in pain. I know I am experiencing pain. What I don't know is why or what is causing it, or if there even is a cause at all. My anxiety is based around the thought that the results will come back revealing nothing out of the ordinary and I'm not sure what to do next. I've lived with this hopelessness of not knowing what is wrong, but we've run so many tests and did so many procedures without any answers coming up. I know how I will feel if I'm told the results are negative. Hopeless.

I prayed about this yesterday because my anxiety has been driving me mad. I prayed that no matter what happens, that God will help me handle it. Help me to move on and decide what to do next. Later in the evening, I picked up a book my mom had found for me at a second hand store called Pain: Learning to Live Without it. I had automatically been annoyed by this book because my problem isn't learning how to live without pain, but how to live with it. This book so far has been a pleasant surprise. It may be just the thing I need to focus on if the results do in fact come back negative. 

I'm only a few chapters in but already I am appreciating the author and his way of understanding what it is like to live with chronic pain and suffer from Chronic Pain Syndrome. He explains the different views the world has on chronic pain and what a huge epidemic it has become. He also understands that chronic pain needs to be taken seriously; because even though there isn't always a reason for our pain that can be found in a test, the pain is still there. The brain has a pain center, and if that pain center sends out signals, you will feel pain. It's like when an amputee experiences 'phantom limb pain'. They feel pain and cramping, etc. in a limb that has been amputated, or in other words, they feel pain in a limb that is no longer there. Which is kind of like what it is like, in some cases, to live with chronic pain. This is just the start of some of the things I have been reading that have so far, given me a little hope.

I think that what I'm trying to say is that, if the results come back negative, this book is going to be my guideline. Chronic pain sufferers often feel misunderstood because the world views chronic pain either as being caused by injury or disease, a psychological problem or malingering. Which means, it is thought that pain can really only be caused by an injury or a disease or the notion of someone being in pain because it is "all in their head", or the last one "malingering", which means, people think that others sometimes exaggerate or invent pain symptoms to seek attention or financial benefits. What I love about this book (so far) is that the author (Dr. David Corey) completely SHUTS DOWN these views on chronic pain by refering to them as inadequate.

Back in 1664, Rene Descartes developed the Descartes' theory. The theory wasn't completely correct and ended up in a lot of disastrous surgeries involving cutting out parts of the brain that were believed to be causing pain. This was done because Descartes' theory explained that when harm comes to the body a response is produced on the skin, which then sends a signal up through to the body to a "pain center" in the brain. From there, the pain would operate as an alarm bell to warn of damage occuring to some part of the body. After realizing that the theory wasn't fully accurate, more studies were done and theories made. Eventually it was learned that it is possible to have damage without pain, and pain without damage. Descartes was partly right -- a signal is sent toward the brain from the site of an injury. But it is not a pain signal, it is a harm signal. And it doesn't always result in a feeling of pain. 

It explains in the book that the brain is "Control Central", where final decisions are made. Dr. David Corey explains that when you cut your finger, the pain that you feel isn't in your finger, it's in your brain. We perceive the pain to be in the finger because of the way our bodies work. For example, when you see something, it seems you are seeing it with your eye. But, that's only the beginning. The back of your eyeball, the retina, translates the light into nerve signals, which travel to various places in your brain. So, the final act of "seeing" occurs within a part of the brain (the visual cortex). It is similar to this with all of your senses. OKAY, here is where I find things get really interesting in terms of Chronic Pain. It is now understood and accepted that the pain system and the brain are procuding these pain message themselves. Again, like in the case of 'phantom limb pain', the brain produces a mental picture of the limb as though it were still there, and the person feels it there, because the brain is missing the normal sensory signals that it used to receive from the limb. Even some quadriplegics (who have no sensory below the neck) experience pain in their lower limbs.

This, is a direct quote from the book because I won't be able to explain it properly myself..

"When the brain receives harm signals and translates them into pain sensations, they are then pinpointed on the brain's own map of the body. The message the brain applies to the map-site of the injury produces sensations that we feel as pain back where the injury occured. The brain does not send pain signals directly to the affected area. I know it feels as though the pain is "out there", in your toe. But, in a sense, the brain is playing a trick on you. This is just the way the system has developed and it works reasonably well -- except when the pain messages no longer serve a function." 

Alright, I know this blog post is getting ridiculously long but I'm just trying to explain a little of what has made me gain a slight bit of a hope in the case that my results come back negative. I'm still hoping and praying for a real answer, because some things have yet to be ruled out. But, if there isn't an answer that we can find; I know that my pain is valid and that I'm not crazy for feeling it. I can learn to manage it. Hopefully, with the help of this book (Pain: Learning to Live Without It). 

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