My dear pain-in my-feet
I’m sorry we ever met. Can you please tell me the place where we first met? Oh, yes—on my February trip to Death Valley, where I assumed long days of hiking had caused a rock bruise. Instead of healing you jumped onto the other foot.
Many thanks for this reminder. It’s a great reminder. It helped that I was able to be there in Valley to mourn my sweetheart Tony with tears, rituals, and an individual funeral. I HATEI was forced to go on this Earth without him. So I see you now for what you really are—grief and longing and fury that my soles keep on treading. Let me cry—okay, wail—for a while. Again. More grief to work through—endless, it seems.
Repeatedly over my life, I’ve suffered bodily pain caused more by stress, anger, or grief than by anything physical.
In my 30s, I was first struck by back pain. It lasted for over a year. There were many treatments, from physical therapy to drugs. My attempts to cure it only made it worse. It disappeared like magic three days after I read a book I’d picked up in desperation. Dr. John E. Sarno’s work introduced me to the concept of mind/body pain and freed me from it. His suggestions helped me identify resentments I’d been hiding from myself.
Since then, mind/body pain in my feet, joints, and elsewhere struck and then vanished—or at least ebbed—in similar fashion. I often suffered from pain for several months before finally realizing the new, more severe form of my problem was emotional.
Lulled by society’s disregard for the power of our subconscious minds, I keep forgetting to tend my body holistically. Each time I must abandon, “I wish X would stop hurting,” and switch to, “What emotion is this pain holding for me?” Only then do I find relief.
The same tactic won’t work for everyone with chronic pain, of course. But neither do surgeries or potent drugs, even when the pain’s cause is known. For me, writing a letter to interrogate my pain has worked better than any drug, and it’s free. Once I ask the pain the right questions, it leaves—as it did when I recognized that my feet were sore mostly from walking through hot coals of loss.
Of course, not all pain can be caused by hard emotions. Many people suffer pain from injuries and structural problems, as well as conditions such auto-immune diseases or endometriosis. Research has repeatedly shown that no matter what the reason, anxiety and depression about pain can make it worse. These feelings may even cause our brains and hearts to experience pain more from the neurological rut that any other physical reason.
Pain can’t exist, after all, until our brain interprets signals from nerves. Changing that interpretation—or reducing its volume—is the purpose of interventions such as meditation and deep breathing. Writing can also help, no matter the reason our nerves are jittering.
As a way to manage trauma and chronic pain, journaling is often recommended. Many studies support its effectiveness. It’s almost spooky how writing—preferably on paper, by hand—can reveal truths stuck in our bodies or subconscious minds.
Writing a letter about your pain like I did, has many advantages over ordinary journaling. Particularly, you can write. You can find more information hereIt is the suffering that matters, not the solution More it:
1. It helps us to distinguish ourselves from pain instead of being identified with it or define ourselves through it.
2. It reduces your tendency to complain or describe it. This can reinforce the neurological rut.
3. This can improve our control over and feel calmer, which may help to lower anxiety, and possibly even the pain.
This approach can be used to ask your body questions about your pain and then let the pen answer with your pen.
- What was happening in my life at the time you arrived?
- What, when, and where do you most trouble me? Why?
- If ever you do leave me, when is that? What’s different about those times?
- Is there a difficult emotion, decision or other distraction that you are keeping me away from?
- Are you keeping me from doing something I secretly hate or fear?
- How can you assist me (such as with rest)?
- How do you see our relationship evolving? How do you envision it moving from now and what does that look like for both of us?
- As I write this, how are we feeling? Why?
Don’t censor the thoughts that arise, especially when your pain’s offering answers. Write quickly. Read later for insights.
Multiplipliering letters can lead to new areas of inquiry. The more I practice, my revelations are faster. The last pain letter I received was only five lines long.
My deepest pain
Is it because you are stuck on my left side? It could be that I prefer to sleep on my right side when I first start sleeping? I do that because—oh.
Because that’s how I slept when Tony was here, snuggled against him, and I don’t want to “turn my back” on his place in our bed or my life. Hmm.
This explanation seems simple since I do not roll in any particular way throughout the night. But, as I lay down that night, I decided to try my luck by lying on my left side. I was not hurt but my heart. I wasn’t aware I’d equated that position with turning away from my love.
Though I was able to let out tears, the next morning I awoke feeling pain-free. The pain hasn’t recurred. Credit the placebo effect if you like—I don’t care why the pain stops, just that it does. All pain management methods are valid.
It might be possible to reduce anxiety by talking about your pain. Take a note of the pain and let it know. You’ve got little to lose besides ink. Although my feet are still hurting from time to time, my letter was more effective than what the podiatrist recommended, which included staying away completely for weeks. The rest of the letter was a thank you note for the pain, and it was dismissed.
Thank you (?). for the head’s-up. Goodbye. Don’t come back. I’d rather give heartache the attention it apparently still needs. I’ll mourn on my daily walk in the woods, where nobody cares if I sob. Satisfied? You may be trying to help, but I don’t need you to hold that emotion for me.
Emotions can be hurtful, but we prefer to avoid physical pain and all the negative effects it has on our daily lives. Get out your pen and paper, and you’ll be amazed at what comes up. A fresh perspective can help you feel more at ease.
About Joni Sensel
Joni is an author, certified grief teacher and has received art therapy training. She explores her passions in creativity and spirituality as well as other issues of the mind/body in her memoir. The feeling of fate (2022).
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Tiny Buddha published the article How writing letters to my chronic pain helps me find relief.