When I was a teenager, I took a job as a busgirl at an upscale restaurant and worked there for a few years during college. Each individual dish was heavy and a different shape and the hundreds of nightly trips to the kitchen was the length of the entire restaurant – which was housed in a 1920s Kodak film storage facility and almost a half city block long. I will never know if I was born with a bad back or I just treated it poorly when I was young, but about halfway through a Friday night service with teetering plates piled high on my tray, my back gave way. My knees buckled and I fell straight on my face and couldn’t get up on my own. In front of a packed 250 seat dining room. In the fifteen years since, it occurred a couple more times but the every day back pain has a much bigger impact. It makes me mean to the people I love the most.
Chronic pain causes its bearer a lot of problems. In my case, it causes a shorter temper than I’d like, sleep problems and stress about my body’s ability while aging. It’s also heavily intertwined with depression because it will hijack my workout plans when I need to exercise the most. Plus, it can cost a lot of money if you use medication or physical therapy.
I hate that pain triggers an emotional reaction.
It makes me yell at my family and causes jealousy towards my friends who aren’t in pain and anger at something I can’t change. It wastes my time and hurts those that I love. If you are someone who also struggles with chronic pain of any kind, I have compiled a few helpful and mostly free alternatives to conventional medication that have helped me over the years.
The most obvious solution is adding yoga to your routine, as often as possible. I never have time or money to go to yoga classes regularly but I have found several videos online and a few free apps. Stretching works even better than medicine in my experience but it has to be almost constant in order to work. Sitting or resting in bed is not an option for chronic pain sufferers because the pain is always there and many times being sedentary causes the pain to worsen.
Setting small mental challenges for when I feel that I’m on the verge of tears (or a screaming match) helps me a lot when I can’t work it out physically. With my son, I try to remember that a young child’s perception of their life is only what exists right in front of them at that moment. When I lose my patience, yell at him and hurt his feelings, he feels his whole world crashing down. Which means I also have the power to make him feel like this is the most fun, safest and beautiful world he could imagine. Perspective.
Also, smells. Oils, candles, a hot bath with scented salts – almost anything that you can focus on outside of your body. Maybe smells work because of the memories we associate with them or maybe recent studies are right and there is something to aromatherapy. Either way, reaching for essential oils before conventional pain medication or sleeping pills is always better in the long run (especially for your liver!) Not surprisingly, wellness professionals suggest using the same essential oils noted for their mood elevating properties and those associated with relaxation. Wintergreen, spruce, lavender, sandalwood and ginger are common recommendations.
DIY crafts you can finish in one sitting also help to redirect your attention from pain. And part of the depression comes from not being able to complete tasks you once were able to do easily. Finishing small things is helpful. Accomplishment is a great weapon for fighting depression.
While pain medications are likely the first and simplest choice, I’ve found some success with these (free and readily available) distraction methods that can do double duty as temporary relief AND help to make me a better parent that has more patience.