A wonderful and insightful guest blog post by a patient that wanted to share her experience toward health and wellbeing. I was touched by this patients deep reflection on pain and the new found connection between her body and her mind. What a wonderful journey...so proud of you Becky!
Physical therapy taught me so much more than how to walk so my foot won't hurt. It taught me about how the story inside my head impacts the reality of my life. It taught me how to pay attention in order to live a better life, externally and internally.
Severe back pain and plantar fasciitis brought me into the physical therapists office. Ready to heal my body from what I assumed was just my own physical weakness or overtraining, I discovered that a whole lot more was going on just below the surface.
And as the doctors began to point out the ways I was moving, holding, and using my body I immediately noticed the connections between my body pain and the emotional experiences of my life.
I'm not suggesting that all physical discomfort is rooted in psychological pain. Of course I know that injuries or anatomy can be the only cause of physical pain.
But what if there are many, many people in pain for other reasons. Reasons that are based not in the reality of being hit by a car or breaking a leg or having surgery, but in the intangible world of emotions, perceptions, and psychological processes. Stories that we have learned to tell ourselves over and over again. Stories that might not be true but have very real impact on our lives.
What if the things going on inside the brain are translating to physical pain? For example, I have chronic upper back and neck pain. And also headaches. On first glance one might think, "well she's just got some tight muscles. Maybe she's been sleeping wrong or carrying her kids too much. If she stretches, gets some massage, and strengthens her body the pain will go away."
But on evaluating my posture, the physical therapist pointed out that I stand with my shoulders flexed all the time which has caused chronic tightness and pain. That made sense to me on a level deeper than anatomy or injury or just tight muscles.
Because of my experiences as a child and messages I have heard and believed, I've spent my life feeling like I'm in danger. I'm anxious, on defense, in flight or fight mode nearly constantly. I believe this story line. And my body acts congruently with this belief. My body flexes its shoulders to prepare to fight off danger. My body is tense in case I need to run. And over time this constant vigilance for danger has translated to chronic back pain, headaches, and neck pain.
Through physical therapy and tending to my pain, I began to understand and see how my experiences became literally embodied. How my perceptions became reality. How the things I thought and believed became real, living, gnawing pain.
Ok, that's great. But why is it relevant? Can't we just do the physical therapy exercises and move on with things? Why drag up the old stuff?
Because only by tending to our inner stories and beliefs can we fully address the physical bodies we live in. Like a tooth that shows outer signs of decay but has a root infection so our bodies can manifest symptoms of inner pain.
Only by identifying the mistaken belief that I am in danger can I give my body permission to relax and let down its defenses. Now, physical healing can begin. Now when I do my physical therapy exercises, they will impact my wellbeing to a greater extent.
Maybe even more importantly, by listening to the source of our physical pain, we can make different and more informed decisions in the future.
If we're wise to this whole process we can choose to slow down when our bodies begin speaking in pain. We can choose to listen in. To find out if our bodies are trying to communicate a deeper issue. The pain can serve as a kind of signpost for what's going on under the surface. And once we know we can act. That's life changing.
And if you spend the time to work on your inner life and the physical pain that often accompanies it, you will see the possibilities of full healing expand before you.
And this works in the positive as well. Our bodies might feel light, tired in a good way, and well oiled when we are in a place of inner joy. We might feel physical comfort and confidence. When the stories we live by are useful, true, and graceful our bodies reflect that experience externally.
So take moment to identify your pain or your comfort. And if you pay careful attention maybe you will hear muscles, tendons, bones, and nervous system whispering a story worth listening for.