As a heart transplant recipient and cancer survivor, I have experienced intense physical pain and prolonged mental anguish. I have a few tricks I use to endure pain and I will share them with you. I hope it brings you some measure of relief.
What is the opposite of depression?
This is a question I often asked clients during a counseling session. The answer I always got was: Happiness or some version of happy. This is not correct.
The opposite of depression is not happiness, it’s resilience.
Resiliency has seen me through the darkest of times both physically and mentally. Just Google the word “Grit,” it will inspire you. Webster’s defines grit, as “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have many moments of weakness and tears, it doesn’t mean I am made of steel and that I don’t bend.
Think of yourself as standing in the ocean and waves are coming towards you, some waves are strong and knock you down and other waves barely cover your feet with water and you stand firm. Life has many waves and challenges: illness, death, financial concerns and likewise, joyful but sometimes stressful life events like birth and marriage.
These life events, like waves, are unstoppable and it’s how you respond to the stressor that makes the difference, so here are some of my tricks, but first how I did I get here.
At 15 years old, I endured 13 months of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation to treat bone cancer. I had very few coping skills and largely relied on grit to deal with painful procedures or vomiting my guts out for days. This is where my journey of dealing with pain began.
At 39 years old, I had a heart transplant (because Chemo damaged my heart) and was in a medically induced coma for four days. I emerged from the coma psychotic and unable to walk. I had many complications.
Three months after my transplant, I discovered I had breast cancer and would eventually have a mastectomy. During this time, I had a violent Grand Mal Seizure and pulled my own arm out of socket. I would dislocate my shoulder six times and each time required an ER visit and propofol to put it back in. Then two days before my 41st birthday, my Mum lost her battle with Ovarian Cancer. The grieving I experience is deep.
I know pain.
So here are my top 5 strategies for dealing with pain…
1. Guided Imagery, Visualization and Meditation
Pretending to be somewhere else is a trick that has served me well over the years. I can conjure up the most beautiful beach scene and convince myself of the sound of seagulls, the warmth of the sun on my skin and the smell of the salt air. Usually I pick a location that I’ve been to repeatedly and try to replicate in my mind with layers of detail. I have my “go to” places when I’m an in a MRI machine or the Cath lab. 🏖
To stay fresh on my guided imagery, I see a counselor that practices hypnotherapy. I get so much benefit from problem solving, reminding myself of my mantras and experiencing empathy and validation. I’ve seen many therapist in my lifetime and when we do not have rapport, I find another one. I tend to see the same therapist for years when I find one that meets my needs.
Counseling is one of my tools that I use to keep strong and keep my grit in the crosshairs.
3. Surrounding Myself with Family & Friends
I call my friends and family “My Tribe” because I feel surrounded by their love, concern and support. I feel like “we” are in this together and that I am not alone. Loneliness can kill a person, I know.
I have developed these relationships over time and I have been purposeful to be a good friend, so that I have good friends. I have the deepest gratitude to My Tribe. I honestly think that it if weren’t for my family and friends that I would not make it–I would not be on this earth.
As a teen cancer warrior, loneliness combined with physical pain nearly crushed me.
I mustered the grit to tolerate my treatment, if it meant my family didn’t have to deal with my death. Even today at times when I want to give up, I think of my husband, my sister and dear friends. I’ll endure pain for them.
If you don’t have a strong support system, then I encourage you to seek out a faith based group. I have drawn great strength from my place of worship. It let’s me know I am surrounded by a community of care and concern.
4. Cautious Use of Social Media & Cute Puppy Videos
I have to be careful what I Google. I stay away from medical journals and the horror stories. I use Facebook to let My Tribe know what’s going on with me and folks will leave me comments, prayers and funny GIFs. In times of despair, I can send out one post and immediately friends from all over the world will send me their love. I also watch a lot of Dodo animal videos. Who doesn’t love a cute puppy or kitten video? 🐩🐱
When I was ready, I used the internet to find people going through similar experiences. I joined and created Facebook groups to connect with other Heart Transplant Recipients. I avoided these groups while I was on the Wait List because I was scared and sometimes ignorance is bliss. Now though, I have other Transplant friends that mentor me and likewise, I am happy to help someone going through the process. 💕
5. Reminding Myself of My Strength and That “It Could Be Worse”
“It could be worse,” is a mantra that has gotten me through tough times. I remind myself of the hardships I have overcome and it sustains me because I know that if I have done something in the past, then I can probably do it again in the future. I imagine mother’s giving birth have these thoughts and this is why they can give birth to multiple children.
I will leave you with an amazing spoken word poetry performance of “Complainers” by poet Rudy Francisco. It’s 3 minutes of inspiration. If you are reading this, then you are not a “Complainer.” We are all warriors & survivors.
Thank you for reading this blog. I hope that if you are experiencing pain that you find some relief. Please leave me a comment…I really read every comment.