This is written by one of my cherished friends, Colleen. She describes how she is using one of the skills of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to help manage her chronic pain.
Several weeks ago, my dear friend Jen asked if I would consider writing a post for her blog. I quickly responded “Yes! I would love to!” I felt honored to be asked to do this, and excited to share something which would hopefully help other Pain Camp readers. As is my intention whenever I say yes to anyone asking me for assistance, I intended to get writing as quickly as possible. Then somehow the days that passed turned into weeks, and now the weeks have turned into a month, and I am finally fulfilling my promise. I have been wondering why it has taken me so long to do not just this but other tasks which I have been subconsciously avoiding, and I believe I have figured it out. This will be the basis for what I have chosen to share with you today.
Before I do so, let me briefly tell you a bit about me and my journey of living with chronic pain. Nearly ten years ago now I underwent what was to be the 4th major reconstructive surgery on my left knee in addition to about 8 other minor surgeries and procedures, following a downhill ski accident when I was 16. This surgery was to replace the entire joint that had almost completely worn out its cartilage and was wreaking havoc on my ability not only to work but to do anything at all without agonizing pain and instability. Though the surgery was successful, and with lots and lots of therapy I regained my strength and ability to become active again. Somewhere in about the sixth month, while at work, I began to experience a pain in that leg unlike any other pain I had ever felt.
Since I happened to be working in the surgery center, as a surgical care assistant, one floor above where my surgeon was in clinic, I was able to go down to see him right away. He ran many tests to rule out infection or other problems with the prosthetic, and could find no immediate reason for the pain I was having. This was good news of course, but also troubling as there was for the first time since the accident no “quick fix.” He was able to offer me a medication which might help the unrelenting burning, pins & needles pain and a referral to one of our pain management doctors. The diagnosis I eventually received of “complex regional pain syndrome” was something I’d not ever heard of and sounded completely foreign, complicated, and downright scary. Granted I had survived a great deal with this leg in the preceding twenty four years and had worked hard to maintain my ability to even walk. But with this, it looked as though the new name of the game would purely be survival.
Fast forward now to the present moment in which I am having trouble with concentration, memory, and staying engaged in anything requiring sustained focus and stamina, even for writing which usually flows effortlessly and with great joy. Could it be another bout of depression which, in addition to the unceasing pain, has plagued me and on several occasions debilitated me even to the point of wanting to end my own life as a means of escape? I guess it could be, though mild enough that I might have missed it if I hadn’t learned what the early warning signs of depression are for me, and to then utilize some skills to counter-attack it before it becomes a crisis.
One of those skills which I have practiced throughout my lifetime, but now has a name, is “O2E“, an acronym for “opposite to emotion.” Simply put, it is the act of doing something that is in complete opposition to what my negative emotions are telling me to do. For example, I realize that I have often been feeling lately a strong desire to sit more than usual in my comfortable chair with my feet up, the heating pad nestled on my aching back, and binge watch my favorite shows on Amazon Prime. I also know that my to-do-list continues to lengthen as I’ve been neglecting to attend those activities involving critical thinking and sustained mental effort.
So, to turn this around, what I have to do is avoid the chair until I have “earned it,” and tackle at least one thing on that list. As it is for me, and maybe for you as well, this is easier said than done. Most of the time I am able to do this on my own, but there are certainly times when I need help from someone else, mostly my God, to help me keep focused long enough to successfully complete at least one thing I need to do, and cross it off the list, usually just in time for another to be added, which always happens! The greatest trick to doing so is to not only ask for help, but also accept it, which could very well be another topic for me to share!
This one skill, O2E (opposite to emotion) is one of many I have been learning as part of a treatment called Dialectical Behavior Therapy often utilized as part of an inpatient or outpatient treatment plan for those struggling with various forms of mental illness, and in a group setting. I know this may sound like something complex and possibly irrelevant as it pertains to the many issues unique to those living with chronic pain but actually it is a form of therapy that teaches life skills applicable for all people young or old in good health or poor. And like all skills we learn they require daily review and diligent practice before becoming refined and a natural part of our lives.
In closing, I would like to wish you well, and encourage you to try this skill O2E (opposite to emotion). Also, I sincerely hope that I have been able to demonstrate to you that in completing this one task today, which I have put off for far too long, I have been successful. And as a result, I feel competent and confident, which is opposite to the all too familiar names I’ve given myself, such as “failure“, “incapable“ and “weak“. It is just one small step I’ve taken in my goal of not just surviving this challenging life, but of thriving in it and experiencing joy along the way, even when I feel like giving up.
Your “PainCamp” friend,
P.S. If you click on Dialectical Behavior Therapy highlighted in blue, it will link you to a website offering more information and resources.