My book.

My book.
"Fascinating" Stephen S. Hall. writer, N.Y.Times magazine. "Hard to put down." A.C.P.A., American Chronic Pain Association.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Put your shoulders down

A few weeks ago I had to get an x-ray. The technician instructed me to "Put your shoulders down." I tried. No good. "Can you please lower your shoulders?" I tried again. Nothing. The film was going to be as good as it could get with my shoulders raised high and squared.

When I awaken my whole body is tight. My knees lock, my shoulders and back are tight with tension. I try to do a whole body relaxation tightening everything. Hold it. Hold it. I instruct myself. Tighter, tighter, tighter still. Keep going. My teeth clench, gritting with exertion. Tighter, Just when you think you cannot hold it any longer you can hold it even tighter still. Then, as I learned to do, and as I have taught others to do, I say to myself Now, as fast as you can, let it go. I release my body but the muscles do not want to let go. Within a second or two every ounce of tightness has returned.

When you do not say "Ouch" outloud, when you try and hide your pain, emotional and physical, it has to have an outlet somewhere. For me it is all of my body, the enamel on my teeth worn through in places from the gritting - awake and asleep. My breathing is off because I am so tight in my chest. At times I literally forget to breathe, a habit held over from when I had my first chronic pain issue.

When I was 19, while driving, my left thigh went into a severe cramp. I pulled over as I waited for it to subside.

The rest of the day was painfree: I thought I was fine. My friend and I arrived at the hotel and quickly fell into bed and asleep. The next morning my traveling companion asked how I had slept. "Fine. Thanks." "No, you didn't. You woke me with yells of pain. You kept crying out "My leg, my leg hurts."

Soon the whole leg was in pain. I had trouble walking and took to using crutches. Despite the obvious I insisted I was okay. Inside of myself I was not. I learned as a child not to admit to pain. I was not going to do it now. Instead, as I tried to maneuver upstairs or just down the hall, I held in the sounds and with it my breath. After all, sounds are made on the whoosh of an exhale. Don't exhale = no pain noise.

It turned out I had developed a spontaneous stoppage in one of my knee vessels. It started out of the blue and stopped the same way but some of the pain continued. Up the stairs, for instance, stop breathing. Try to run, hold your breath. No pain, no gain? No, no sound, no pain.

The habit stayed with me. Once the pain of the trigeminal neuralgia started, my body, especially my shoulders, took the brunt of the 'hold in the pain' behavior. Higher and higher, tighter and tighter I held my shoulders. Fence in that pain. Keep it quiet. Don't let it breathe.

I am trying to teach myself to breathe no matter if there is pain or not. The lesson is so well learnt that I forget to breathe during a walk or even talking. My brother, many years ago, told me he would get me breathing lessons for a Christmas present. Maybe that is not such a bad idea.

Maybe the better idea is learning to let go. Accepting that it is okay to let the pain out in words and sounds. Maybe, finally, it is time to give my shoulders, body, and mind a rest from all the holding it in.


  1. Wow. Thank you for letting go and sharing. Prayers are with you. You have such courage. Donna

  2. Thank you Donna. (I just went back to your site. I missed the little pic of Shrek at first. That gives a smile for ending the night.)