The Pain Mastery Institute, which I’ve been blogging about for a couple of months, is shutting down due to financial considerations. Their courses have been useful to me but not nearly as useful as if they had survived long enough for me to get through the whole program.
The main thing I learned from the courses is that much of what is available for mastering chronic pain is drawn by observed people as they take actions or make decisions which assist them in managing their pain, or ameliorating the amount and intensity of pain.
While the course is gone, and the Institute website shut down, this doesn’t mean that I’m abandoning my pursuit of effective pain management strategies. So keep watch for my blog because I will coming back with a new approach soon.
Update on Intermittent Fasting
Starting on Monday this week I began a five day fast, which so far has been a bit frustrating and challenging. The second day and the third day I found myself absolutely starving, which is odd because up until now, fasting for three days a week, 36 hours, I have never been really hungry.
It takes a bit of a different strategy for longer fasts, like a five days on, four days off, but I’m learning and will be putting together a new primer based on somewhat longer fasts.
This has been a really sad and horrific week for me, and for many Canadians. 147 Canadian residents and citizens were killed this week by an airline shot out of the sky by Iran, either by mistake or by design. Either way, we have all lost so much and I can’t really even begin to make any sense of it. I am just sick over it, and I didn’t know anyone personally on the plane, although I do know some family members.
The Prime Minister of Canada has been highly visible in his demands for accountability for this disaster, both from Iran and the United States governments, who put into play the violent altercation that led to these deaths, whether by misadventure or by malice.
I don’t know whether to rage or to cry, or both. I’m not expecting any closure any time soon. Iran is virtually certain to lie through their teeth on this, and Trump will do no better. This is a terrible tragedy for everyone involved in the flight, and all of their country mourns their loss.
People who have been abused as children have a really hard time as adults, especially as young adults trying to formulate romantic relationships. Without a solid foundation established early in life, emotions can feel like quicksand and you soon feel like you are drowning. People become desperate for love and accept all sorts of inappropriate behavior that seems like it must be some kind of love, or it wouldn’t be so intense. So this is the story of one such person, after an abusive and destructive marriage
Even after years of counseling, he still feels the desperate self-criticism of his youth, pulling him back into depression and suicidal thoughts. At the end of his first marriage, he actually tried to kill himself by sleepwalking in front of a bus
The transit bus driver drove his bus into the side of a building to avoid hitting the patient, most likely saving his life.
He went to see a doctor after this because he felt that he was in danger because of his actions. He consciously knew that he was a danger to himself and potentially others, but so deeply depressed about losing his wife that he was wandering around in a complete daze.
This was despite the fact that the relationship was fundamentally dysfunctional, and she used and abused him virtually every day from the very first moment he laid eyes on her. His self-worth was so low that he actually believed that everything that ever went wrong was his fault. He allowed himself to be her emotional and physical servant, charged with somehow making her feel good about herself.
Although she was highly intelligent and won many academic awards she required constant affirmations of her intellect, and couldn’t accept any opposition to her opinions on any subject at all. To whatever degree he differed from her point of view, she called him out and accused him of trying to undermine her and make her look like an idiot to their friends or families. He also took on responsibility for taking care of every aspect of her life, including paying all the bills, providing her with funds to pay for her advanced education, and a constant stream of extravagant gifts. Their life together was one of extraordinary social adventures, with a stream of her unusual friends variously moving into and out of their home and their lives together.
They were together for nearly ten years and had a daughter. Their divorce was highly acrimonious and as a result of an emotional breakdown, she intimidated him into giving into virtually all of her demands, including extremely restrictive access to their infant daughter, who is now almost forty years of age.
Because of his blindness to her faults and unwillingness to acknowledge her abusive behavior, He simply was not in any position to provide adequate co-parenting to their daughter, who ended up with her being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by his ex-wife and her mother, who had previously done the same things to his ex-wife.
It wasn’t until their daughter ran away from her mother’s house to live on the streets that he became aware of all that she had gone through in her mother’s care.
The daughter suffers from multiple psychological disorders including acute anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD as a result of multiple sexual assaults starting with her grandmother as early as five or six years old. After she ran away, at thirteen years old, from her mother’s home when she came to live with his current partner and him. It was only then that he heard her story and got her into counseling. The road was very difficult, and they were not very successful in helping the daughter overcome her many conditions.
Never in all the years he had been married to his ex-wife did he realize how destructive her constant personal attacks and total narcissistic behavior had been to him. After he more or less recovered from his breakdown and hospitalization after their marital breakdown, he still blamed himself for everything that had gone wrong in their marriage.
But no more. His daughter suffers from many psychiatric and emotional defects, some of which would have been there no matter who raised her as a young child. She also has many physical disabilities including muscular and skeletal problems that have resulted in her living life in chronic pain, and incapable of independent mobility. She also had two children, which he had to have taken from her because she is incapable of providing the minimum care level necessary for their physical and emotional health. He doesn’t blame his ex-wife or her mother for all of it, as it would unfair to do so.
But what is fair to say is that without the abuse by her narcissistic mother and a grandmother who barely survived Nazi rule in Holland as a young girl before abusing her own daughter and granddaughter, their daughter didn’t have a chance at any reasonable life. Despite years of counseling himself, He still knows that he has blinders on regarding his ex-wife and still has hard time understanding what he allowed to happen in his marriage, or what really took place in all the years she had total control over their daughter’s care and custody.
He had even blamed himself for that restricted access, and his lack of involvement in his daughter’s life. The extreme anger his ex-wife expressed towards him made a more normalized co-parenting arrangement impossible. Even spending thousands of dollar on legal fees trying to get better custodial arrangements failed.
If you are a survivor of an abusive relationship and have gotten out, don’t try to deal with this all on your own. Find a good counselor and make every effort to deal with your own demons before they drag you into yet another dangerous quagmire.
Unfortunately, you may find yourself repeating your mistakes, over and over again. Learn to recognise the cycle of abuse in your own life, and take action to change your circumstances. Leave.
How has pain been a complex problem in your life? How has pain interacted with your movement, energy, sleep, social life, finances, identity, memory, and mood?
Mastering Pain Institute
After listening to and reading the materials in the 1st leasson of the Pain Mastery Class it asks the student to answer the above questions.
How has pain interacted with my movement? As pain from various causes has increased over the past few years I have observed that my ability and willingness to move has undergone an uncomfortable metamorphosis. Simple tasks like walking, bending over, picking up items, getting dressed, doing my toe nails, making the bed… etc. have all become much more difficult.
Neuropathic pain has combined with arthritis to make steering the car for long periods increasingly painful. I alternate from my left to my right hand constantly as I drive, because the pain builds up in each as it is used. Eventually the pain is too great in both hands and I have to take a break. The pain in my legs and feet make driving hard as well, and certainly limited my pleasure from doing so. Driving a car is one of my great pleasures, or, it used to be one of my great pleasures and it represented a kind of freedom that is now gradually disappearing from my life.
The same can be said for a lot of routine physical tasks, all the way from making the bed to cleaning the mirrors in my bathroom. I didn’t used to mind housework or gardening but it is now so painful to mow the lawn that I’d rather let it grow twice as long as I used to. These type of restrictions have inevitably reduced my freedom of movement, and my interest in and willingness to do routine, simple life tasks.
How has pain affected my energy? Anybody who suffers from chronic pain will attest to the fact that constant, unrelenting pain is exhausting. There is almost no time when I’m not tired and so sore I feel like I really just want to lay down and sleep for a while. Even a nap would seem like a relief, if I can sleep, that is.
The net available energy is a function of pain in my body. The more severe the pain becomes, the less energy I have. And not only to do life in general, but in having the interest and energy to participate in the things of life. A lack of energy is behind so many other deficits experience by people with chronic pain that it tends to blind us to how serious it actually is. Without sufficient energy to function properly nothing actually works the way it is supposed to work. How the hell am I supposed to do my job at work, when I hardly have enough energy to get there in the first place every day?
How does pain affect my sleep? To most of us with chronic pain sleep is seldom deep or really very restful. Not a single night of sleep goes by without being disrupted, again and again by waking fully or partially because of pain in the body. For me it is all sorts of different parts of the body and different types of pain, but it all hurts, and it all makes me awaken at some point during sleep. If I wonder why I’m so damned tired all the time, I simply have to remind myself that I really haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in years.
I’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but sleep apnea really isn’t the reason I’m awake half the night. It’s the pain, the pain. Snoring is a part of it. Blocked airways aggravates it. But pain causes sleep interruption, over and over again, every single time I go to sleep.
How does pain affect my social life? What social life? Who really has the energy to maintain a social group or friendships when you’re in constant pain? It takes energy I don’t have and mobility that is a constant struggle, simply to get out and visit with people. I’m no longer the happy go lucky guy I used to be. I try not to spread my pain around, or make my kids and grandkids suffer from my experience of pain. But I wonder if my increasing isolation from them is at least partly because I do longer know how to overcome my pain for long enough to actually properly engage with people.
And being socially isolated also increases my experience of pain, because lacking real human contact with others is not only uncomfortable, but it’s also actually harmful physically because it encourages inactivity and passiveness. Instead of getting out and doing things with the people I love, I stay at home, watching television, at least partly because it’s less painful than the alternatives of getting out of the house, and doing the things necessary to have a life.
How does being in pain affect my finances? This is one of the things that is most humiliating about being in pain. Instead of being vibrant and capable, I’m tentative and withdrawing from challenges. I used to love going to the office and taking on new challenges, meeting new people, creating new financial opportunities for myself, and for my staff. Now I have no staff, and I’ve been afraid for years of taking on jobs that I know I’m qualified to do because I’m afraid that I’m going to let them down, or worse, prove myself to be incapable of handling the physical and emotional demands of the work.
In addition, my increasing health problems cost a lot of money, which I am now having to pay with a lot less income, due to my reduced employment capabilities. I struggle to manage my prescription deductibles and copays. And that’s for the prescriptions, which doesn’t actually include any pain medications I can trust. Nothing the doctor has prescribed for pain has actually helped very much, if at all. I know that opioids would be more effective than OTC drugs but I also know that they are highly addictive, and have major other problems that I don’t need to add to my pain.
And being chronically short of money, as well as in pain, means that I can’t take advantage of one of the things I used to do a lot, which was going out to nice restaurants and have good meals with friends. Shortage of money means that I’m socially isolated by it, as well as by my resentment over finding myself in this situation. I never wanted to be dependant on anyone else but I find myself in a situation that make this every more a fact of life.
How does pain affect my sense of identity? Truthfully, I don’t really recognise myself any more. I no longer feel like the man I used to be, and I certainly don’t have the confidence I have always had. I’ve always thought of myself as a highly charged, somewhat hyperactive and oversexed Type A personality. If I had faults they were likely the faults of thinking that I could do anything, be anybody, accomplish anything. A little bit of humility probably wasn’t a bad thing for me to learn, but pain has driven me to distraction. The amount and persistence of pain has now reached proportions that are disabling my sense of self to a point of no return. I don’t actually know what it would look like for me to be me, the way I have always been. So damage to my sense of identity is a real cost of being a victim of chronic pain.
How does pain affect my memory? My partner says that I’ve become a lot more forgetful than previously. I’m not sharp anymore, and I don’t automatically pick up on things so quickly. I don’t think I’ve lost my marbles, but I get confused more easily and mix things up, despite my best efforts to not do so. It means I slow down, because I can no longer count on my memory for important information. I’m a lot more cautious than I used to be, if for no other reason than I hate being unable to remember even the simplest facts or common words.
I’ve always been a prodigious reader, at one point reading more than a book a day, not to mention newspaper and magazines. Now it takes me a week to read a novel, and a month to work through a non-fiction title, no matter how interested I am in the subject. I don’t remember names very well, I never did, but I’m also losing the ability to remember what books I’ve read or which ones I liked or didn’t like. I find myself half way through the first chapter of novels only to realize that I read the damned thing six month ago. So yes, memory is being affected negatively, if only because I’m so distracted by the constant pain interrupting the flow of my thoughts and feelings.
How does pain affect my mood? I was diagnosed as being bipolar when I was about thirty years old, after a major breakdown and depression. After being hospitalized for six months I came out of the hospital with somewhat better emotional management tools than I had previously. Relatively quickly I abandoned the prescriptions for bipolar I had been given, because they made me feel like I was living in a fog. And I reconciled myself to living with vivid emotional ups and downs. So depression and mania have long been a part of my nature, and my life. I’ve done well in managing to live a full life despite these problems, but now it feels like depression stalk me, without the accompanying manio to provide any balance to it.
There are two kinds of depression with which I struggle, one of which is a direct result of serious and chronic pain. It’s tough to get out of being depressed when you feel like you’re under a constant pressure cooker caused by physical and mental pain. This past weekend, in addition to chronic neuropathic pain in my hands and feet, arthritic pain in my shoulders, fingers, hands, I was also slayed by a serious migraine headache. I haven’t suffered from migraines on a regular basis for years, ever since I started practicing a form of self-hypnosis that seemed to be effective at shortening their duration, and eventually led me to being able to predict and prevent the worst of them.
Even that ability seems to be beyond my control these days, because it’s pretty hard to meditate when I’m in so much pain that I can hardly sit still.
I don’t know if this exercise in counting the ways that pain affects me is supposed to make me feel better, but it hasn’t yet. I also suppose that to defeat an enemy I first have to understand the enemy and all the territory it has staked out in my life. This is the exercise from Chapter 1 in my program to begin to manage my pain. I hope the next exercises don’t leave me here.
My experience in the aftermath of acting in a scene.
Last week I played a violently sexual Christopher Columbus in a scene in a documentary film. As an inexperienced actor (my first paid gig) I did my best to follow the directions of the Director, a Vancouver woman with many film credits and obvious confidence, and to keep my own feelings about the subject and the scene somewhat suppressed. I know that the character is not me, and it’s unlikely I will find myself typecast after only one scene.
The young indigenous woman actor who played the victim in the scene was raised in an adopted non-native family. She is reconnecting with her native roots, including her birth mom and blood siblings who she hadn’t met until her twenties. It was moving to hear her talk about finding her birth mom and siblings.
She and I had a good opportunity to connect as human beings before the scene was shot, and I was comfortable at the time that she felt positive about her experience in playing this role with me, despite her playing an extreme traumatic scene with implied violent sexual assault, which was also designed to be symbolic of the assault on the first nations of the Americas. The opportunity to meet and chat casually together before acting out the scene actually made it harder, in some ways, for me to act the villain, against this young woman, who seemed rather remarkable.
In the short time we spoke I learned enough about her to have a great deal of admiration for her search for her roots, her education in aboriginal history and laws, and the courage it took for her to seek out her birth mother and blood siblings. She is also a mom with a five year old child, raising the girl largely by herself, as the father is living far away in Haida Gwaii where he works as fisher. She’s also attending college to become a social worker, with ambitions to work with troubled teens and aboriginal youth.
She is a great actor, and her performance was extremely credible. Her defensive struggles included physically attacking the rapist with her nails and fists, while she made loud and shrieking cries. I’ve never heard anyone sound so much like she was being actually raped and attacked, while we struggled to make the implied attack as convincing as possible, including beating her with a rope and tying her up, while I ripped off her blouse exposing her breasts. There was a lot of pushing and pulling with her fighting off her attacker as best she could. I was directed to make it look as if I was actually having intercourse, and kissing and sucking her breasts, without actually doing so. It’s likely that anyone seeing the film will wonder if the she was actually being violated during the filming.
However, it was all make-believe, and there was no actual contact between my lips and her breasts, nor was I ever pressing against her body in the way that the film will probably make it appear. During my attack against her, after I ripped off my shirt and was ripping open her blouse, she tore open wounds on my back and shoulders with her fingernails, with such ferocity that she actually opened wounds which bled during the filming. She was quite apologetic about injuring me in her enthusiastic performance but I felt that she gave the scene gravitas and believability with her focus and intensity.
The makeup artist took the minor wounds and made them look a lot more serious than they actually were, but nonetheless I have scratch marks on my back and shoulders that have only now begun to fade. Her defensive struggles only made Christopher Columbus become deranged and even more violent in his assault. Which made her cries and screams even louder and more emotionally expressive about what was happening to her.
This documentary is about two separate but related themes – the violent assault on indigenous women as a part of the conquest by the Spanish fleet and the enormity of the humiliation and defeat of the nations of the Americas by European invaders. My scene is only a part of the documentary, and obviously I haven’t seen any of the rest of the film.
What making this film has done to me however, is give me a lot to think about and to process, particularly in regards to the sexual and violent assault of a young woman, by a much older and more powerful man. I doubt that the invader would have given her a second thought once he was done with his depraved behavior, and simply would have gone on to the next act against the native peoples, including more attacks on defenseless women and children.
History is largely silent on what happens to vulnerable women and children during wars, although recently there has been a lot more discussion and literature on the subject. What I did as an actor was play out the most vile behaviour in as convincing a fashion as I could. That was my job, and the Director and the Producer were very complimentary about how the two of us did our scene together.
I still dreamt about the scene, and her pitiful cries during the scene, and her heartfelt weeping during the rape scene itself. At the time I felt my heart pounding, and my body was trembling with the emotional impact of this close encounter. The sweat on my face and my body wasn’t all from the makeup artist. I’ll carry a visceral memory of this scene with me for a long time, and this memory will inform me in ways I never would have expected about how intensely personal and intensely evil is sexual assault actual. The very fact that she was able to express the terror, the outrage and the aftermath so eloquently with her body and her voice means that I’ll never again hear or read about a sexual assault without being deeply moved.
During the filming, the actress kept in character the whole time, until the very end. After the shoot was over she was very subdued, in the aftermath of shooting such an emotionally draining scene. I’d feel a lot better if I could be sure that filming the rape scene isn’t haunting her dreams in the way it has mine.