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Episode # 564   Sarah Anne Shockley - How to Cope With Chronic Pain

About The Episode:

Living with chronic pain is a very demanding path on all levels; physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. It is relentless and unforgiving and tests our ability to cope with extreme challenges on a daily basis. How do we live with chronic pain and not fall into depression and hopelessness? How can we take this journey with less hardship, and create more ease and well-being in the midst of persistent pain? How do we stay engaged with life, despite the pain? All these questions and more are answered in today’s revealing episode of The Inspiration Show.

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Episode # 564 Sarah Anne Shockley - How to Cope With Chronic Pain

NL: Hi everyone. My name is Natalie Ledwell and this is the Inspiration Show. Today on the show, my special guest is going to be talking about an uncomfortable subject but something that’s very important. We’re going to be talking about pain and about her new book, The Pain Companion. So before I introduce my special guest, I just want to remind you that after the show is over don’t forget to click the link below this video so you can download the free ebook version of my bestselling book Never In Your Wildest Dreams. So let me please introduce my special guest today, Sarah Anne Shockley. Hi Sarah. How are you?

SS: Hi. Good morning Natalie. It’s good to be here. Thank you so much.

NL: It seems a little bit of appropriate name, Shockley, when were talking about pain and a very shocking subject today. And I know that we’ll be talking more about the book and some of the information you have in there. But before we do that, why don’t we start with your story and how you got to write such a pivotal book that’s going to help a lot of people.

SS: Alright. I’ll be happy to do that. So in the fall of 2007, I was contracted to something called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. It’s a collapse between the clavicles, the collarbones, and the first ribs. So that space in there, through that space has to move the large scaling muscle from the neck, large nerve ganglia, big artery and veins. So there’s a lot going on in there already and mine was a structural collapse. It’s not like a disease, it’s something that happens and for me, it was computer use, over prolonged length of time using too small of a keyboard and I’m almost 6 feet tall. So the top of my body was crunching without me realizing it and finally it just collapsed. And what happens is all of those things that are operating perfectly fine normally that are trying to fit through this little space gets squished. And that creates a great deal of pain, nerve pain, and it also affects the ability to use the arms and the hands, to turn the neck and a lot of pain, a lot of physical debilitation. So pretty much overnight, life stopped.

NL: Wow. So you’re still in pain now?

SS: Yes, I am still dealing with pain, still living with pain. Pretty much 24 hours a day but my ability to be with it has improved immensely and the pain levels have gone down quite a bit.

NL: Right. And I’m sure that this is what the book is addressing. So you’ve been in chronic pain since 2007.

SS: Yeah. It’s a long journey. And I know there’s a lot of viewers out there that are in pain now and listeners that are dealing with this. So what the book is about is what the medical community isn’t addressing and probably can’t really address and that is what happens to someone when they’re in pain over time. What happens to your life? What happens to your relationships? How do you feel about yourself? And the kinds of things, you know, when you’ve been with pain for a while it feels like an unwelcome roommate that just moved in. Somebody you never asked for is there and they won’t leave and they’re with you when you wake up, they’re with you when you eat, they’re with you when you shower, they’re with you when you’re at work, they’re with you in every one of your relationships and you don’t want them there. So certainly there are things that we try to work with medically to alleviate that and when that’s not working and pain is still sticking around, what do you do? How do you live with it?

NL: Yeah. Because I’m thinking your option is either medication, but who really wants to, you know, use medication the whole time. Although it is a necessity for a lot of people. So what are some of the other alternatives?

SS: Well, what we do is, well the first thing that I look at is, when we’re living with pain there’s a lot of other things going on around it or with it and that is, when I talked about, it’s like an invader, somebody moving in. It’s not just that you’ve got a physical pain in your knee or your neck hurts. It begins to take over your whole body. You feel like you’re living in pain. So your life becomes permeated by that experience. So what’s happening is there’s a lot of sadness and loss, a lot of grief, a lot of shame, and guilt, comes with living with pain. These are things that a lot of people don’t realize occur for those of us that are in pain. Because we just don’t think about it, we think about it as a medical condition and somebody is dealing with physical pain. But there’s a lot of other things that come with it. And a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, loss of a sense of future. So what happens over time is the person in pain begins to feel like they are losing themselves. And that is also painful. So I talk a lot about how to, first of all, recognize those things that are happening. You know when we are in pain we are focused on the physical aspect of the pain that’s so loud and insistent in a sense and we’re trying to deal with that and we don’t always recognize everything else that’s going on at the same time. So that’s when we can slide in to this feeling of depression and hopelessness and not even realize that we’re going there. So the first part of my book is about first of all, acknowledging that and recognizing it and working with the emotional aspects of living with physical pain and mitigating those. So I have lots of ideas, I call them antidotes. You know, how do you re-engage with life, how do you re-engage with yourself even though you’re still in pain. And then the other aspect that I talk about is changing our relationship to pain. I feel that when we treat pain only as an enemy, which certainly feels like it is, and we get in to that battle with pain. You know, here’s pain, and the first thing we’re going to do is kill it. That’s our solution, we medicate it as you mentioned. Or we have to put up with it. But, you know, we only have those 2 choices, that’s about it. So what’s all that room in the middle? There must be something else that we can do. And for me, what I discovered over time is that, it has become for me much more healing to try to create a relationship with pain, a more positive relationship with pain to begin to perceive that not so much as the enemy or the invader but it’s a messenger. It’s the part of me that’s asking for help. It’s the voice of the part of me that’s hurting saying “Hello, I need a different kind of attention here”. and when we just get in to the battle aspect and we just try to get rid of it and kill it, you know our pain medications are called pain killers, we’re almost putting the cart ahead of the horse, we’re trying to get to the end of the road first before we’ve taken the journey. And I think that’s part of what’s keeping pain in place for a lot of people. Because we’re not, I think it’s more healing, to kind of back off that battle line doesn’t mean you can’t take medications, it doesn’t mean you give up. I don’t mean that. But while we’re doing that, that’s not the only answer, that’s not the complete answer. But how can we be with pain differently? In other words, communicate with it. What are you asking for pain? Why are you here?

NL: Well, that’s the thing, and it’s a great reframe or great shift in focus that you’ve just been describing here. Because I can only imagine that if you’re constantly in pain and I know what it’s like, like this is keeping you in a lower vibration, now we talk a lot about Law of Attraction here and the frequency that we give out in to the field. And so then it’s like a snowball or domino effect where everything is bad because you just can’t get out of this pain. But what you are doing is saying, “Well, let’s have a proactive look at this and see this as a messenger”. Like if this is happening for me, and then I must be learning something, what is that? That really ripples out in to all other parts of your life as well.

SS: Absolutely, and I think in our culture we’re very pain averse. We think were supposed to never have pain. It’s not supposed to happen on the human journey. Somehow it’s kind of like aging or death or loss, we don’t want it to happen right? Let’s not have that. But we’re going to meet those things in life so far in the human journey. Maybe sometime those things will change but right now, you are on the path of the human journey. We’re going to meet some pain, emotional pain, physical pain at some point. So it’s how we meet it. And it’s how we perceive it. Is it the enemy approaching us or is is the messenger? Is it something to fight or is it something to work with? And if we could think of it as part of ourselves, the hurt part of ourselves speaking to us, that part of ourselves maybe hasn’t had enough attention and is asking for attention. And then turn toward it instead of away from it. And see what we can learn from it and also what’s it asking for. So I found that pain tends to ask rather than for the battle it’s asking for softness, it’s asking for to be acknowledge. You know, a lot of time in our culture, we’re not supposed to talk about it, it’s never supposed to be there. We certainly, there’s a lot of guilt and shame around having pain. And also in the way of the community, it’s not okay. If you’re in pain, there’s something wrong. You haven’t acknowledge something or you haven’t seen something or it must be past (inaudible). and it could be all those things but that attitude makes the person in pain wrong for being there. So let’s back away from that and just say, this is an experience. This is on my path, it shown up. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong, doesn’t mean I’ve made a mistake, it means I’m human. So how am I going to be with this differently? And can I find out what pain is asking for? And I found that the way we are with pain reflects the way we are with ourselves. Or often when we are with our younger self too. Do we want it to shut up and not bother us or are we willing to listen and say what are you bringing me, what are you asking for? Do I need to slow down, do I need to be kinder to myself is often part of it. Do I need to learn how to be compassionate towards myself and towards others. All of those are things that pain bring to us. Not in a way we particularly enjoy but there it is, you know.

NL: And you know, and the thing is to be able to look at it that way is a choice. So, and I am mentioning over a good 10 years, that you’ve been in chronic pain. That your pain teaches you or is telling you different messages all the time.

SS: Absolutely. It’s deep and it’s messages to me in a sense. I mean, at first of course pain is saying stop, take a look here! But when we just try to turn the messenger off, it’s like the smoke alarm, you know, fire alarm goes off and you just blast it with a hammer. Stop that. I mean, okay, it’s annoying, we don’t want to hear it, we don’t want to be with it but it’s got something that it’s saying, it’s pointing at something. And it’s how we respond and so the first message is to stop. Or at least take a breather, slow down. Which a lot of us don’t do. We’re taught in our culture to keep going, to muscle your way through. To put it aside, don’t think about it, don’t ever stop, go for your goals, be strong, be resourceful, you know, wow, and then we do that with pain. We do that with the hurting part of ourselves. Nope, got to keep going, can’t feel that. And we do that with both emotional pain and physical pain. So certainly the first one is step back, slow down, there’s something to listen to here and then you tune in to what is that. And I found there was levels and levels of things to find out about myself, find out about pain. And I’m still on the journey, I’m still learning, I’m still moving through it. Maybe this is part of it for me too, talking about it. Being an advocate for people in pain so it brings its own strange unexpected gifts as well.

NL: Because you do advocate in the book that people tell their pain story. Why do you do that?

SS: Well, because of the habit we have of hiding pain. We’re ashamed of it. That means we did something wrong so we hide it and we are not in a culture that says, Hey, tell me what’s happening for you. And you say, I don’t feel so good. “Oh I hope you feel better”. That we are not taught how to be with it. We’re scared of it, a lot of us. A lot of our response to people in pain is that we want them to get better quickly, we try to help them get better. We think that’s what we’re supposed to do. But again, we’re kind of trying to jump over the journey there. And I think it can make actually, paradoxically, the journey can move faster when we are actually with the pain rather than trying to jump forward over it. So one of the things that I found worked for me really well and I’ve spent, talked with a lot of people that have used this effectively is to express the pain. And I don’t mean have a pity party and I don’t mean, well you might have to wail on your own. But to find somebody to tell your story to that will listen, than can hold the space for you, that will not try to fix you or change you. I think one of the first steps in healing that’s so important is to allow the person, whether their it’s emotional or physical pain, to be in the pain they are in first. Just let them be in it. Let them feel it, let them have it, in a sense. Sounds, you know, “Woah, we can’t do that, it’ll never leave.” But that actually seems like the first, it’s very similar to grief. We don’t let people have their grief. We say, hurry up, move on, get back to work, don’t think about it, don’t talk about uncle Sam with that person (inaudible), uncle Arnold, whoever it is. Yeah, that was a Freudian slip, uncle Sam, let’s not think about that. (laughter). You know, then the person can’t get through it if they don’t think about it, don’t go there. So it’s very similar found with physical pain. So to find a way, to find somebody who is able to hear and listen and to ask them, set it up ahead of time say, “Please don’t try to help me this time. Please don’t try to give me advice or fix me or hurry me along. Just can you listen, can you just let me have my emotions here and let me tell you how awful it’s been.” And to tell them not just the physical parts but what is it felt like to you as a person to be somebody who’s in pain and how is it affected your relationships, how is it affected you as a parent or as a spouse or as a friend or as a worker, what do you feel like about yourself? What do you see in the future? Can you see the future? And all of these stuff, it’s hard to do, it’s not an easy path to be on but this begins to move towards healing because we can relax around it. It allows the person in pain to not be the problem. The one who’s wrong. It’s a landscape I’m walking through, can you be with me in it for a little bit and help me walk through it.

NL: Help me vent. (inaudible).

SS: That thing is important, it can be really healing.

NL: Well, because my next question was going to be if I have a friend that’s in pain, how can I be a good friend to them and you’ve just answered my question.

SS: Yes, absolutely.

NL: So what’s the main message of your book? What would you like people to take away from reading the Pain Companion?

SS: I think, there’s 2 main messages, actually. One is that you’re not alone in your pain. You don’t have to stay alone in it. That even though, yes, it’s a very private experience living with pain, you don’t have to completely isolate and pull yourself away. There are ways to re-engage with life, there are ways to find how to even have joy and well-being in the midst of pain. Pain doesn’t have to end for your life to continue. So you’re walking with pain. That’s a really big message. And that there are many many people on this road together. Millions of people walking this road. So to understand that the feelings that come up are common to so many people in pain that you’re not the only that has them. And the other main message is to begin to see if we can encourage people to create a relationship with pain that’s more positive, that’s more as an ally, and even strangely a friend. Something that’s trying to guide and help and heal. It’s the messenger of your healing. So if we can change that relationship that also is really really helpful in terms of bringing pain levels down and creating a faster road to over all healing.

NL: Yeah, perfect. So Sarah, thank you for sharing this message and writing this book and getting the message out there. I think it’s very important. So people want to connect with you or get their hands on the book, where can we send them to do that?

SS: Well, they can find me at, my website. And I have a blog there and they can find information about the book and lots of resources there. And then the book is out everywhere. So they can go to their, certainly encourage them to go to their local independent book seller. It’s also online, of course it’s on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and all that major book sellers. But everyone can order it so you can find it anywhere at any book seller.

NL: Wonderful. So thanks again, Sarah. And guys if you’re watching this show I encourage you to get the word out help us share this message, you can do that by clicking the Facebook and the Twitter share buttons on this page. Don’t forget to click on either the banner to the side or the link underneath here to go through to Sarah’s website so you can connect with her and get your hands on the book. And after all that is done, click the link below that so that you can download the free ebook version of my bestselling book Never In Your Wildest Dreams. So until next time, remember to live large, choose courageously, and love without limits. We’ll see you soon. 

The Pain Companion



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