Podcast Episode 43 – What to Think About Pain

Jul 1, 2023 | Podcast

I’m Diana Swillinger, and you’re listening to the Renew Your Mind podcast. Episode 43 What to Think About Pain 

DIANA: Hey. Hey. Hello, everybody. How are you doing? Happy New Year. 2021 is here. It’s going to be an amazing year. I already decided, so now you know. But, uh, keep in mind, I also think 2020 was amazing. I think, uh, 2021 is just going to be filled with more amazing connections with people, more building relationships, more helping women feel better and getting unstuck, more growing my coaching business, more amazing moments and special times with friends and family. All of that stuff. Even as I’m continuing to struggle with a chronic pain, which I’m going to tell you about a little bit. And I’m starting a new chapter in that journey this year. Sometimes that brings moments of feeling discouraged or doubtful or concerned or that kind of stuff, but I have to say, I even find all that amazing too. And if you’re wondering how that’s possible, don’t worry. I’ll answer that today. Because today we’re going to talk about chronic pain. And if you don’t struggle with chronic pain, that’s okay, because this episode is still filled with tons of stuff for you. You can apply everything I am talking about to any area of your life. If you’ve ever felt any physical pain, any emotional pain, if you’ve had any struggles, if you’ve ever been uncomfortable, or if you think you will be in the future, then this will apply to you. So to give you a little context, I will give you some quick background on my own. Chronic pain in the was diagnosed with TMD, which stands for temporal mandibular joint dysfunction. So without getting into all the details of it, just quickly, it’s dysfunction in the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles. So for the past several decades, I’ve dealt with chronic headache, neck pain, jaw joint pain, um, sometimes some pretty crazy cramping in my jaw muscles. That makes eating especially a hazard. 


Kind of on a soft food diet these days, but that’s okay. Talking is not easy. Much of the time, I have a little bit of a lisp, and my tongue gets in the way and I hide it super well. But there’s some complications with talking, too, which is kind of funny because God put me in a career where I talk all the time. God does have a sense of humor, that’s for sure. For several years, I’ve been able to manage this pain with chiropractic massage. I’ve had some mouth appliances that I wear over the years, and I’ve kept the symptoms kind of tamed, but the problem was never really solved. And last year, basically since April, I’ve had a full blown TMD flare up with pain that has brought me to tears sometimes, and the kind of pain that keeps me from sleeping well. And the kind of pain that requires a lot of thought management to not end up just sitting in a pity party or curling up in a corner and not living my life. So why am I telling you about this? I’m, um, not looking for any sympathy. I am not complaining at all. But as I embark on this journey, I say embark because I’m told that fixing my face, as I call it, is going to include a lot of things. It could be going on for several years, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to keep it all a secret as we go. I might even get braces at some point. Could be a surgery involved. We’ll see. So you guys can just come along on this journey with me, and I think there will be some value in me sharing what I’m going through. So you can apply it to yourself. But today, I just want you to know I understand if you’ve been dealing with chronic pain. I understand. 


I am not going to just share some Jedi mind tricks on this episode and not have compassion for you if you’re going through pain. I know pain, and I get it. And I know many of my clients and listeners suffer with chronic pain. And it can be kind of like a conundrum, because we feel stuck and we’re not sure what to do with it. We get stuck wondering how are we going to be happy while we’re in pain? Or we get stuck focusing on our pain instead of enjoying living. And we just feel stuck, like it’s not fair, or we wish it wasn’t our problem, that the pain wasn’t our burden, or this thing we had to deal with or bear. I’ve had lots of my own thoughts about it. If you have chronic pain, I’m guessing some of these are going to sound familiar to you too. And if you don’t suffer with chronic pain, this is about your emotional suffering or your big struggle or a, uh, tragedy that’s happened in your life. All right, so my thoughts when I’m struggling with pain, some that come up sometimes this is so disruptive. I’m having a hard time. I hate this. It hurts. It’s hard to focus. I can’t do this, I can’t keep doing this. I just want it to go away. I mean, these are just a few. 


There’s so many thoughts that come up in your brain when you’re struggling with pain. So you want to know what I do with these thoughts when they come up for me? Well, contrary to common misconception about what I do, I don’t try to think a positive thought instead of these thoughts. People tell me all the time, oh, you’re so positive. Yeah, I have all the negative thoughts, too. And I don’t just slap positive thoughts on top of it. There are times when we could just grab a positive thought and replace a negative one, but I haven’t found that that works really well when you’re dealing with pain, like the kind of real physical pain that I’m experiencing. Because you know what we want when we’re in pain, we want to feel validated. We want to know what matters. We want to be acknowledged. Because it’s hard sometimes, right? We’re going through something hard. We want to feel validated. We want to know what matters. We want people to acknowledge it. And if we just try to slap a positive thought over, uh, some thought we’re having about our real pain, we might just be dismissing it. And ultimately, when you do that, you’re dismissing yourself. Or we’re invalidating our own experience with pain. I don’t think we should do that. So I don’t dismiss those thoughts and try to slap a positive one on top of it. I acknowledge the thoughts. Some of the thoughts feel pretty true. So I let myself think it in that I am saying my pain is valid. My thought is valid. I get to think it, and I notice how it makes me feel. Guys, when we have pain in our lives, there is not a way around it or over it. The only way I’ve discovered is through it. And going through pain means we’re going to have thoughts and emotions. 


You’re going to need to feel some of these emotions. Whether you’re feeling physical pain or emotional pain, some of the emotions that you’ll feel are going to be like, hopeless or defeated, dejected, weary, exhausted. These emotions don’t feel amazing, but allowing them is validating the experience. I’m not saying wallow in them, um, and just go around feeling hopeless and dejected and exhausted all the time. I’m not saying we embrace them and then we just sit in them and make that our experience all the time. That’s not fun, right? And that’s part of why you’re interested in what I have to say about this. But we can’t start by just dismissing all of it. When we validate ourselves and we let ourselves have the emotions, we have the ability to process them and release them. And that doesn’t mean they’re gone for good. They might come and go, but we don’t have to just stay stuck in them or wallowing in, um, them. When we process them and release them. I honor each emotion, and I let myself feel it. It’s the productive processing of my thoughts, the productive processing of my emotions. And when I allow myself to feel the emotions, when I give them space to exist, they don’t have to overwhelm me. We can experience these kind of emotions as we deal with our pain without looking for evidence that we are victims, because that’s pretty easy to do, right? If I decided I was a victim, I could spiral pretty quickly. I could blame the virus and people in power for shutting down massage therapy in spring, because that’s when it all went bad for me. I could blame my childhood thumb sucking habit, or my parents for not stopping me sooner. I could blame God for giving me this face. Or I could blame my pillows, my muscles, my body, or the dentist who made me a dental appliance that actually, while it helped, it took care of my headaches, but it’s totally screwed up my bite. I could blame him. I could blame the weather. I could blame me for not figuring this out sooner or the choices I’ve made. I could throw blame around everywhere and be mad and frustrated and irritable and anxious and overwhelmed. 


The problem is, if I do that, if I just go around looking for things to blame, maybe I’ll get some relief in the moment, right? That’s why we do it, because we try to offload some of the pain by blaming others. But it’s only temporary. What it really brings us is a negative emotional spin cycle that’s going to exist for as long as our circumstances don’t change, for as long as you’re in that pain and you do this negative blame cycle, that’s how long you’re going to be mad and frustrated and irritable and anxious. As long as you have pain in your life and you see yourself as the victim and you look around for evidence that you’re the victim, you’re going to feel helpless, you’re going to feel hopeless, and you’re going to blame. And it’s exhausting. Now you’ve got chronic pain, which is exhausting, and this perpetual emotional pain, which is doubly exhausting. Chronic pain and chronic emotional pain. And if you’ve been blaming you for your pain, you can add shame on top of that pile of emotions too. I don’t want you to do that. Let’s not do that. If you’re in pain, that’s just what it is. It’s just pain. It’s a human experience. We have human bodies that have limitations and nerve cells that create pain messages. Sometimes their bodies don’t form right. 


Sometimes they’ve been exposed to trauma. Sometimes we just don’t know why the pain is there. Sometimes there’s a disease. Okay? It’s just pain, though. Pain happens, no one escapes it. Now, when we have the pain, instead of searching for evidence of, uh, who or what is to blame for it, we can put our minds to work in a different way. We can have our minds look for evidence for what’s good. We can have our minds look for evidence of why it’s normal or why it’s okay, or why it means we’re on the right track in our journey on Earth. I’m not talking about throwing a positive thought out there just to cover up our struggle, okay? Have you tried these. One of them I hear like all the time. Well, the first one, hey, could be worse. People are starving across the world. You’re not starving or others have it worse than me. That’s one I hear all the time. Another variation of that it could be worse or I should be grateful. Sure, I have this, but I just need to be grateful. I just need to be strong. This too, shall pass. Sometimes these kind of thoughts work, but usually not. I feel like these kind of thoughts are a Band Aid that might stop the bleed momentarily, but they’re not going to give you a permanent fix to the negative thought spin about your pain. We don’t want to slap a Bandaid positive thought on it. That’s one of the things you can apply anywhere in your life. 


You guys, if you’re struggling with a thought that something’s wrong or you don’t like the way something is and you’re frustrated or you’re angry or whatever, if you just try to slap a Band Aid positive thought on top of it, they don’t work. They don’t last for long. Instead, I mean, there’s other strategies for your thoughts that I could teach you that aren’t positive bandaid thoughts. But the one strategy I’m going to teach you today is very effective with pain. We get to choose to see our struggles as opportunity. This is the only way that I’ve been able to keep myself out of emotional misery about my pain. It might seem hard, but we get to allow ourselves to feel some discouragement, and then we can notice it’s an opportunity to grow or help others or be creative. Several of my clients have asked me for help with chronic pain, and at that first moment they do, I always wonder. I wonder how they think I’m going to help them because I don’t have any special thoughts to offer them that are going to reduce the physical pain. I mean, there are studies that have shown that less anxiety and less stress in your life that’ll make it easier to manage chronic pain. Sometimes it relieves some of the symptoms. It can lessen it. So I know that’s true. I guess I do help people that way. That’s part of it. But I like to think of the main way to manage our thoughts around chronic pain is coming to a place of acceptance for it, accepting what is. I have pain and I’m not going to resist it. I’m m not going to think I shouldn’t have it. It’s just there. We get to normalize the pain. People feel pain. Human bodies have pain. It’s normal. That’s the way our bodies are supposed to function. They’re sending signals that something is off. 


God made our nervous system work. That way it’s functioning properly. We don’t have to be dramatic about it. There’s pain there okay? There’s pain. And there’s also carpet on my floor, and there’s a car in my driveway and there’s apples on the counter and there’s pain. It’s just there. It’s just something in life. I have pain in my neck and my jaw, in my face all the time. That’s enough for me. I don’t need to add a bunch of drama on top of it. I don’t need to think it’s not fair. That brings up self pity. I don’t need to think I can’t handle it. That makes me feel defeated. I don’t need to think that it shouldn’t be happening to me. That just makes me feel frustrated. And why shouldn’t it be happening to me? Am I supposed to not have pain? Or am, um, I not supposed to have pain above a certain level? Which level? Maybe level two. Would that be fair? If I don’t have pain over level two, then it’s fair, and that’s okay. Is it true that I shouldn’t be in physical pain? I don’t think so. Not here on Earth. It’ll be true in heaven, but not here. Are humans supposed to have physical pain on Earth? Yeah. We are guaranteed. No one escapes it. So at what level? On a scale of one to ten, which level is acceptable? I suggest maybe all the levels are. 


Otherwise, who gets to decide which person will experience pain at which level? Jim Bob gets level seven pain. Sally gets a level four. Diana should be at a level two or less. Now we’ve got to figure out who decides this. How do we know if it’s fair? What is fair? Is it fair if other people get to have some pain, but you don’t? Maybe other people get to have some pain, but not you. And the people you love, add them to the list for no pain. But then those people that you’ve added to your list, they’re going to want to add some people to their list for no pain and go on and on and on. We don’t like to see our friends in pain. That’s not fair. So ultimately, maybe it’s just fair if no one’s in pain. That would be fair. No pain for anyone. But once again, that is not the human experience. That’s the promise of heaven, which wouldn’t be a very special promise if we were all pain free today. Having no pain robs us of growth and maturing. It robs us of creativity. Did you ever notice how some of the best ideas are birthed come out of a painful circumstance for people? Most of the amazing creative ideas have come from people who are experiencing pain or discomfort of some sort. Honestly, if you think about it, if we take away pain, Earth doesn’t have much purpose. You could just whisk us all away to pain free heaven right now. And, um, the same with emotional pain. No pain means no purpose. Think about that one for a while. That will send you into a deep philosophical thought. No pain means no purpose. If we had no pain on earth. What would the experience be like? What would the purpose be? There’s no growth without pain. 


Even physical growth happens with pain. Y’all remember growing pains growing up? These random pains because we’re growing. Stretching is discomfort in pain. Exercising is discomfort in pain. Struggles in life are pain. Uncomfortable emotions are pain. Grief is pain. We all have pain and we all get aches and pains. Some of us have greater physical pain than others. I know it’s not equal. It’s not the same level on the pain scale. Why? I don’t know. But we all are going to have physical pain at some point. But there is purpose in the pain. Have you noticed that you’ve chosen pain before you’ve chosen to go through pain? Why? Because you have a purpose. Lifting weights is painful. People do it when they have a purpose. Getting tattoos is painful. People do it when they have a purpose. 


Train for a marathon, getting surgery. Whatever physical pain you are choosing in your life, you do it because you have a reason. When we know the reason, we elect to bring pain into our lives and we have purpose, so we’re like bring it. But when we haven’t elected to go through pain when it comes to us and we did not choose it, we didn’t have a purpose picked out driving us to choose the pain. Some of us now we just feel like we have to endure the pain and we never bother to find the purpose. And that is the big miss. Without purpose. Your pain is never going to be okay. You won’t come to peace with it. Find your purpose. My chronic jaw pain is not for nothing. I’m going to use it to grow. I will use it to grow in compassion for others who struggle with pain when they’re feeling alone. I can be a person who can offer understanding and compassion. I’ll use it to mature in my spirituality. I get to look to God for strength and courage to walk on this journey without pain. I guarantee I’d engage with him less. This is an opportunity to lean in. I will use it as an opportunity to prioritize care for my own body and my health. Listen, if we just had perfect bodies and we felt good all the time, we would not invest in our own selves. This is an opportunity. I will use it to grow my gratitude for all the ways I don’t feel pain and all sorts of things in my life. 


Doing all of this is exercising my mind. It’s exercising feeling emotions on purpose. It’s exercising my faith. It’s growing my resolve. And I’m becoming stronger. I’m becoming more accepting, more compassionate, more confident, more grounded. My purpose and pain is to get closer to God and become more Christlike through the pain. Now there is purpose and it makes all of it okay. I can do some pain. It’s fine. Look at all the ways I get to grow. Nothing’s gone wrong here with me having pain. It’s normal. Human bodies aren’t perfect. And in their imperfection, they offer us pain. It’s okay. I’m in for the human experience. Whatever it brings. It could be anything. I don’t know what’s next. Some of us have a little pain. Some of us have a lot of pain. Some of us have full body function. Some of us have bodies with restricted function. Some of us get disease. Some of us don’t. Some of us live to be 100. Others don’t make it a full decade and everything in between. All of it is the human experience. And we can resist it and create a lot of emotional discomfort, or we can embrace it and we can grow. I’m choosing to embrace it, and I hope you will, too. I really do. 


So remember, the first thing I said about this is one of the most important. Give yourself some space to acknowledge the thoughts that chronic pain or whatever pain you’re going through gives you. Notice the thoughts and let yourself feel and process the emotion that is coming up for you. And then you can move through it, and you can move on, and you can start embracing the purpose of your pain. It is there. All right, one quick announcement. This month’s Webinar sign up is ready to go. I think the topic is Stopping Toxic Thoughts, something like that. It’s going to be a good one, though, because those toxic thoughts, man, if you don’t notice, um, them, they’ll sabotage you from the life you want. So definitely check that out. If you want to sign up for this month’s Webinar on Stopping toxic thoughts, go to Rympodcast.com and look for the monthly webinar link, and I’ll see you there. All right, y’all, that’s it for today. So I will catch you next week for my regular episode, but stay tuned. Later this week, Thursday, I’m going to drop a bonus episode about habits, so watch for that. All right, talk to you later. Take care of you. 


As an advanced certified life coach, I help Christian women trying to live their best lives, but they still feel unsatisfied and stuck. I teach thought management skills that work so you can enjoy life again and step into who God has created you to be. Don’t forget to head on over to Rympodcast.com to get my free resources or a free coaching call.

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