Thoughts On the Intro to the ‘Mindfulness Solution To Pain’

Thoughts On the Intro to the ‘Mindfulness Solution To Pain’

This is my first blog post, so here we go! My first project for this blog is to track my journey towards living mindfully with chronic pain as I read a book called  the Mindfulness Solution to Pain (2009). In the introduction the authors tell us about how they came to facilitate mindfulness courses for chronic pain patients. A major theme that leaps out right away is the relationship between emotions and pain. ‘Dr. Jackie’ (Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix) writes that in her practice she has noticed many patients whose pain improves because of positive emotional experiences like falling in love or going on vacation. ‘Lucie’ (Lucie Costin-Hall) describes how, during one terrible flare up, she read a book that made the connection for her between her own accumulated anger and her pain, which caused her pain to leave permanently. I found both of these observations to be alternately hopeful and alienating. On the one hand, I hope that this book will give me the tools to level out my volatile emotions and reduce my pain; but I am also skeptical that it could be as simple as making the connection between intense emotion and intense pain. I have already been in therapy for a few months, and have learned that tension in my relationships leads to the tension in my body – but my pain hasn’t gone away! I feel like most chronic pain patients already know that stress in their lives leads to increased pain in their bodies.

The key point in the introduction is that mindfulness offers a way to modify the emotional experience of chronic pain patients, which in turn can modify the pain experience. The authors are quick to point out that day in no way mean to suggest that chronic pain patients are psychologically deficient or less capable than normal people. However, in both Lucie’s story, and another example they give of a man who participated in one of their classes and was able to come off of his pain medications after practicing mindfulness regularly and doing some much needed soul-searching for a couple of years, the authors implicitly suggest that a core part of recovery involves dealing with your psychological baggage. This may be so, but what I find troubling about both examples is this suggestion that dealing with psychological issues will effectively cure you. Jon Kabat-Zin, the father of using mindfulness for chronic pain, is adamant that mindfulness is about finding a more helpful perspective on your situation, not about eliminating your pain. I’m sure the authors did not intend to suggest that mindfulness is a magic bullet approach, only to offer hope to people living in very frustrating circumstances. However, I think the examples are poorly chosen and even undermine the key message of the book. When I flip ahead through the rest of the book, though, it seems like the authors go on to tell a much more complicated story about the relationship between mind and body, which I’m looking forward to reading more about.

The introduction goes on to talk a little bit about the chemistry of thoughts. I thought this section was really interesting. The authors explain that your very thoughts are chemical reactions, which can trigger a cascade of biochemical responses in your body. For example, thinking very stressful thoughts can even weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to you disease or impair your healing. This is very relevant for fibromyalgia patients because researchers recently discovered that fibromyalgia causes cellular immune depression (Behm et al. 2012). This makes me all the more eager to get going on my mindfulness journey! On to Chapter one!

Sources:

Behm et al. (2012). Unique immunologic patterns in fibromyalgia. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6890/12/25

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