Two years ago I was attending a pain management course at the Astley Ainslie Hospital in Edinburgh. Over the course of ten weeks, I learned a variety of strategies for helping me cope with living with pain. Now, two years on, I'd like to share some of the techniques which I continue to use. But please remember we are all unique, and if you're struggling with pain or anxiety it's important you find the strategies that work for you. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be interviewing people who have helped me get to where I am now, including a massage therapist and my yoga teacher.
I open the envelope with curiosity and, interestingly, a level of anxiety. Have I set myself targets? What if I'm failing to meet these targets?
I take the letter from the envelope, relieved to see there are no bullet points, no targets, and no list of must-dos. Instead I begin by telling myself how proud I am of what I've achieved over the course so far. That's a surprise.
And now I remember one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome at the beginning of the course. The expectations I set myself were ridiculously high. I was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a teacher and, like so many other people, I was my own enemy. Until I started attending the pain management clinic I put my own health at the bottom of my list of priorities. This feels like a perfectly normal thing to do, but if we're not careful our own health may suffer and then how can we care for those around us?
In the letter I remind myself that it's okay to accept help from family and friends:
They support you because they love you and want to help you in the same way that you love and care for them - no guilt necessary!
By the time I get to the end of my letter, tears are running down my face. I'm reminded of how difficult living daily with chronic pain was, and how every day it was a battle to put on a smile and face the world. But I hope you notice the past tense in these sentences. Yes, my body still experiences pain and anxiety, but I'm managing to live alongside my pain these days rather than inside it. As I tell myself:
It's not a quick fix or a race; you're in it for the long haul.
My letter finishes with some words of wisdom that I hope anyone reading this can try today:
Be gentle with yourself xx
Two years ago I was involved in an accident at work that left me in extreme pain and, because the accident involved young children, I suffered from panic attacks and constant anxiety. I was at an absolute low.
The pain didn't subside as I expected, and I was left struggling with everyday activities, and this was having a devastating impact on my family life. I was aware of the strong link between mental health and physical health and knew I needed a holistic approach that would attack the pain from all angles, not simply using medication. So I joined a ten week pain management course run at the Astley Ainslie in Edinburgh where I met a group of caring staff who understood and spoke openly about how pain impacts on work, relationships and mental health. I cried when I heard other people's stories and for the first time I didn't feel alone. The course changed my life and by using the range of strategies taught, I now live alongside my pain rather than inside it.
Emma Mooney is a writer of Scottish contemporary fiction and is the author of A Beautiful Game. and Wings to Fly.