Buck up. Grow up. BE AN ADULT. Stop crying. If you’ve heard those words, and I admit to having flung them at myself, you can understand the resentment they might cause. If I’m having a rough day I might say it to my mirror image.
I’ll goddamn well give YOU something to cry about.
Why are you getting so fucking FAT?
I brought up LOSERS for children.
I wish I’d never given birth to you little bastards.
Ah, the things we sometimes say to our kids.
Some of us wear these words for life. Or, until we find a way to rewire the constantly-playing loop of parental/caretaker/teacher/preacher/friend disapproval.
Which is, if we truly understand ourselves, is nothing more than our own disapproval of ourselves, tossed like grenades at the unsuspecting.
Every parent has bad days. They’re allowed. Some parents have bad lives. Some parents take their disappointment and anger out on their kids, just like their parents did to them. I tend to believe that obstacles that we are presented even very early on build us or break us. I’m not a fan of folks who spend their lives blaming their folks for how they turned out.
I do believe in searching for ways to relieve the negative conversation in our heads.
There is increasing evidence that to a certain extent, our ability to handle hardship could have been affected before we were even born. If our mothers were abused, that gets telegraphed to us. Simply because what happens to Mom happens to baby. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170529090530.htm)
Anxiousness, apparently, raises stress hormones in the amniotic fluid. This could potentially have far reaching implications, depending on the child’s environment.
This past Saturday I happened to catch the tag end of the NPR Ted Talk Radio Hour. What I heard so caught my attention that I looked up the transcript (https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=545092982) and wanted to offer her Ted Talk as well:
The extraordinary growth of ADD and autism and so many other disorders has a direct connection to the levels of anxiety that these kids — many of us — were subjected to early on. The science is coming in. It’s instructive, particularly in the whole debate about nature and nurture.
For us teenagers and adults, too much anxiety can cause back pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, a host of illnesses which are far more likely to have their beginnings in stress. Pain doesn’t need a broken leg. It simply needs a broken heart.
If you live in the constant terror of being backhanded, beaten, verbally abused by unpredictable caretakers, such as they are, food insecurity, housing insecurity, you tend to develop an extreme sense of awareness. If you are worried about your job, have an autistic child that is particularly challenging, can’t find work that pays the bills, are facing eviction, you live in a state of hyper alert 24/7. For the body, it’s like sitting at a red light with your gas pedal to the floorboards.
This came up for me recently because of a recent horrific bout with interstitial cystitis, which cost me an adventure trip and a whole lot of stress and pain. I started asking different questions in my research. First, my diet. Then my research took a dog leg.
What about emotional pain?
All signs point to how that bout was probably caused by a nasty breakup after a toxic relationship. Why? Because all the tests came back normal. The docs were clueless and frustrated. Doctors are taught that pain has a physical source and that they can fix it. Not always.
The pain and problems were real. But they weren’t caused by an infection. It had a lot to do with how I process stress. The toxicity of that relationship had a physical outlet.
In a great many other ways those life lessons teach us precisely what we need to survive, overcome and ultimately, thrive. I am grateful for mine. Albeit, there have been costs. Still and this will always be my argument, had I not had all those experiences, I’d not have had this life.
I like this life. I would simply like less anxiety in it. I’d like to learn to process stress, and manage the inevitable anxieties of life, a lot better.
I would, for example, like fewer migraines. Or, for that matter, how about NO migraines, and no drugs to control them? Now we’re talking.
We all do the best we can with what we have. That is all we can do.
Clearly I could do better.
What is clear is that anxiety, the widespread sickness of our time, is likely the cause of a great many of our ills. (https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/anxiety_and_physical_illness). However, further investigation is telling me that list is far longer than what this article states.
Nor am I surprised.
Any time I’ve ever spent with some of my military peeps who have PTSD, it is clear that they function on high alert, 24/7. That’s fucking exhausting. On top of that, they’re mad at themselves for not being able to fix it. Christ, does that hit home. I know that internal drill sergeant.
NOW. What to do about it?
The point is to break the patterns. Based on what I’m researching right now, there are several ways to do this.
I had recently started reading Back in Control, by Dr. David Hanscom. A top-notch spine surgeon, he had watched his life bottom out. His comeback story also involved finding the book that I am now reading: Unlearn Your Pain, by Dr. Howard Schubinger.
That big fat tome- which is a 28-day workbook- outlines a few things that hit me with all the subtlety of a cast iron pipe wrench.
Actually, that’s a very good thing.
We all carry a goodly amount of anxiety or anger or stress or all three. It leaks out in one way or another. More for some, less for others, but we are all carriers.
For people who have what Dr. Howard Schubinger calls Mind Body Syndrome, it’s very common that they suffer debilitating pain. The doctors can’t find a physical cause. That’s because it’s not physical. The pain lives in a different part of the brain.Our brain delivers a pain signal as though someone was conducting dental work with all the subtlety of a chain saw.
In this (probably incomplete) list of what he calls MBS, these are common conditions that can be directly tied to a high level of anxiety:
- Heartburn, acid reflux
2. Abdominal pains
3. Irritable bowel syndrome
4. Tension headaches
5. Migraine headaches
6. Unexplained rashes
7. Anxiety and/or panic attacks
9. Obsessive-compulsive thought patterns
10. Eating disorders
11. Insomnia or trouble sleeping
13. Back pain
14. Neck pain
15. Shoulder pain
16. Repetitive stress injury
17. Carpal tunnel syndrome
18. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)
19. Temporomandibular joint syndrome
20. Chronic tendonitis
21. Facial pain
22. Numbness, tingling sensations
23. Fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome
25. Chest pain
27. Interstitial cystitis/spastic bladder (irritable
28. Pelvic pain
29. Muscle tenderness
30. Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome
If I return to the military PTSD example, it’s very common for battle veterans to have over reactions to loud noises or for Vietnam veterans to startle at helicopters. They relive the experience all too vividly. In many ways, if we lost the love of our live in our twenties, in the mysterious way that our brains work, we may develop a terrible low back pain on the annual anniversary of her death.
You could argue that over the course of our lives most of us are going to have a bout of something. The problem is when that something becomes chronic. Or debilitating, as I have read here on Medium about people who are crippled by migraines. Depression. When they can’t live full and happy lives.
Perhaps what I appreciate most about the research so far is that there is hope. For those of us who do battle chronic issues, understanding that they may well be caused by some kind of event in our lives is good news. We may be able do the work to re-route those behaviors and feelings. That in turn can get us off the meds. Get us back in life in full. I am up for that.
Part of our work is to unplug from the messaging.
Advertisers use our anxiety to sell us panaceas, pills and junk we don’t need.
If you listen to the underlying messages of most ads, they speak to our helplessness, our feelings of self-loathing or need for validation. Products “let” our bodies work as they should, as though they didn’t already. Especially if we’d stop eating the sugar that gives us the temporary feel-good vacation from the blues.
Anxiety drives our economy: our anxiety about our looks, our bodies, our lack of a mate, the mate we hate, our kids who aren’t geniuses, our relative status compared to others, even our need to prove we aren’t anxious.
As this Atlantic article outlines, the American way of life is Anxiety Central: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/07/trickle-down-distress-how-americas-broken-meritocracy-drives-our-national-anxiety-epidemic/259383/. People who move here from quiet, pastoral countries end up just as harried as we are. Here: take a Xanax. Join the club.
I began Unlearn Your Pain last night. The first exercises are wicked-hard. Most truly good work is. For my investment, I think it’s worth it. There are no guarantees. I like that it’s up to me.
Dr. Schubiner wants you to map everything out. It’s tough but cathartic. I get a lot of satisfaction when I can name a thing. That gives me the pathway out of it. This is just the beginning. The first step of a thousand-mile journey.
If there’s something worth reporting, I will.
Perhaps what I hope most is that if this protocol pays off, it might be valuable to some of those voices I read on Medium, people dealing with many of the same things I have so far. All I want is to cope more effectively. Laugh more.
Play more and worry less.
And kindly, not end up having to spend several nights in Paradise sitting on the pot with my computer, because I have to pee so badly.
Now that, I’ll take any day.