I saw the trailer for Jennifer Aniston’s new film ‘Cake‘ which depicts the life of a woman suffering from chronic pain. I got a jolt of recognition; just her body language: hunched shoulders, winced face, gallows humour. You see, I have suffered with pain for years. I had tooth ache and face pain and seized shoulders and a sore neck. My head hurt. My jaw clicked, alarmingly.
Medically, they drew a blank. Misdiagnosis went on for an age; the single most distressing part of the whole experience was that countless doctors and dentists told me that they didn’t know what it was.
They said it’s all in your head. Take some pills. Anti-depressants will do the trick, even if you’re not depressed; the only side effect is that you’ll feel comatose and like you’re walking through treacle most of the time. Not great when looking after children. Or trying to do a job. Oh it takes six months to see if they are working and oh, no, they didn’t work. Ahh well, try some more pills; this time epilepsy drugs. No, you haven’t got epilepsy but this is about altering the pathways in the brain (layman’s explanation). You perceive pain all wrong. It’s all in your head. The end.
Nothing about the pain (especially the source of it) changed and meanwhile I was indeed going slightly nuts. I kept a lid on it and carried on as honestly, compared to what a lot of people endure, this was more on the uncomfortable side than the agony side. I could function, but over time, it became cumulative and over time I started to wonder if I’d ever feel the absence of pain again.
I then turned to alternative therapies, case studies, real-life experience summaries, anything that might explain what was going on. Google was my best friend.
It’s a magnesium deficiency. You need bone broth!
It’s an iron deficiency. More kale!
You can be healed. Just download this e-book!
It’s teeth-clenching. You need to wear a mouth-guard to bed!
You need to do jaw exercises; strengthen the muscles. Open and close your mouth a lot!
It’s tongue position. Anchor it to the roof of your mouth!
It’s the food you eat. Pulverise everything to a pulp!
Hydration. More water!
It’s your posture. Relearn to walk/sit/stand/run!
It’s your cranial muscles. Use a different pillow! Hard pillow, soft pillow.
You’re just too stressed. Chill out!
It’s how you sleep. Don’t lie on your front!
It’s about stretching. Do yoga!
Run. Walk. No, run. No, walk.
It’s adrenal overload. Meditate!
It’s driving a car. Walk!
It’s your handbag. Get a satchel! Be hands free!
You need an Osteopath. No, a physiotherapist. No, a chiropractor. No, an acupuncturist, No, a reflexologist. No, a homoeopath…
And all in the newly acquired knowledge that millions of people suffer with these unspecified problems and that they affect women more than men. Why is that so?!
Memories of events were coloured by the mental overlay: was I in pain that day? Parties spent in agonising smalltalk. Needing to lie down, to rest from the pain, the put my head down. Making conversation saying everything is fine because frankly, after years of saying it’s not fine, who wants to know? What more is there to say?
And in the end, over a really long time, I had to change everything about the way I live. I studied myself to learn the triggers (some of which still allude me). I tirelessly learnt ‘The Alexander Technique’ and found indeed that it was postural and muscular and the enemy was within me; I was causing much of my own pain! Jaw clenching and muscle tightening and an entire overload of the system.
Now of course, it is better. For months at a time I can be pain-free. And what I do get an ‘attack’ I can manage it and cling to the knowledge that this too shall pass. I’m careful about getting enough sleep, I do yoga, I walk every day, I try hard to sit well. I gave up work. I take it easy. I try not be frightened of the dentist. I don’t stress.
I look on with envy to those people who don’t translate their worries into physical symptoms; they (in the words of Taylor Swift) shake it off. Somehow for me it became completely internalised. And now ,well now I take each day as it comes…