I have been dealing with chronic pain for seven years. The first five years were all about diagnosis and pain management. I never really got a medical diagnosis because the doctors cannot figure out where my pain is coming from. Yes I have two herniated discs in my neck and a separated shoulder that healed incorrectly but they are not severe enough (so say the doctors) to cause the pain I am experiencing. So that means my pain is where? You guessed it, in my head!
Somewhere around year six I was asked if I experienced any stress, anxiety or depression. My answer was “Yes!” To all of the above. It took awhile but eventually I was referred to a therapist. The first thing I learned in therapy was that myofascial nerve or musculoskeletal pain is not a medical diagnosis. Pain is a symptom of a medical issue but I do not have a medical issue (once again, so say the doctors). This has been driving me crazy for the past seven years!
The first psychological diagnosis I had to combat was panic attacks. I have been studying psychology for over a decade. I know the definition of a panic attack. A panic attack is a severe physical reaction to a non-threatening stimulus. People who feel like they are having a heart attack in confined spaces are having a panic attack.
My issue is the total opposite. When my muscles are overworked they contract and knot up into balls. I get pressure and spasms in my chest. I know I am not having a heart attack. It has nothing to do with fear. It is the pain that causes my reaction.
(This idiot nurse (yes I said it!) told me that I was in pain because I had been given bad news. Mind you, I was lying on a hospital bed crying in excruciating pain at the time. I told her that I was in pain when I came to the clinic. It got worse after my visit. She said something stupid about me talking to a counselor. I stopped listening to her after that because I had to focus on controlling my pain and I did not have time for her ridiculousness.)
Once I was 100% sure the pain was not in my head. I had to deal with what was in my head. After years of adapting to my pain and learning how to ignore it something happened in my brain. Somewhere along the way I started hiding in my own head. Therapy helped me notice that my defense mechanism for dealing with my pain and the emotions I was afraid of was zoning out. When I say “zoning out” I mean that I would start thinking about something besides what I was actually dealing with at the moment and I would get lost in the thought. I would get so consumed by my thoughts that I could spend a good five to ten minutes drifting off into space.
It feels like I am stuck in my own head! I will get in there and start opening boxes and finding things I forgot even existed. I lose the most time thinking about things I wish I had handled differently. There is a warehouse in my brain with boxes full of things I wish I would have said or did. When I dig into one of those boxes I get lost. All the feelings associated with the situations I am remembering come back to me like a flood. It is like I am living it all over again. It is so captivating that I don’t realize what I am doing until I come back to earth.
What drives me crazy about it is the fact that I actually lose time in my present focusing on my past. They are not always bad memories but the bad ones last the longest. I lose minutes of my life thinking about things I cannot change. It is very frustrating. Therapy has helped because now I recognize it and I can bring myself back to reality. I have to retrain my brain to realize that I can handle whatever I am dealing with in the present and I do not need to run and hide in my head.