By Nimuë (Angie I. Cruz, MAE, LMHC, MHP, R-DMT)
Sara was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia six years ago. She had told the doctor right off the bat that she didn’t want to go on pain meds. Her family history included addiction, so she didn’t want to “temp fate” by going on heavy pain meds, so she decided to do everything within her power to learn how to live with chronic pain without medication management. Sara read everything she could on “Fibro” and made diligent efforts to eat healthy, do gentle exercise (mostly swimming and yoga) and basically bought stock in “Icy Hot” and other over-the-counter liniments. However, she still didn’t feel as good as she wanted to. “Is this as good as it gets?” She dishearteningly asked herself. And yet, she continued to seek the answers she sought.
One day, Sara had her niece Alice over who loved to paint. “Grab those watercolors and the paper, I’m going to get the oil pastels and draw over here.” She excitedly giggled to her niece. Suddenly Sara was flooded with memories of doing art when she was young and felt inspired to remember to “play” again. While Sara and Alice did their art, something unexpectedly moved Sara. She noticed she was starting to draw a “pain monster”. Her monster had red spikey horns throughout its body, with a ball and chain attached to it. The eyes looked sad and misunderstood, and tears streamed down its scaly face. “Ohh, your pain monster looks so sad! Why is he sad?” Alice inquired. Sara intuitively said, “It’s sad because on the outside it looks mean and threatening, but on the inside it’s hurting and sad because it feels so misunderstood.” Sara bravely answered. “Hmm, sounds like your pain monster needs compassion” Alice squealed with joy. “Hmm, I think you’re right, Alice!” Sara responded. Suddenly Sara had an inner “knowingness” that she herself needed this hug and felt sad that she judged her own pain so harshly.
Later that night, after Alice had gone home, Sara sat with the drawing of her pain monster “Harold” she had created. She closed her eyes and went into a meditative state to address Harold and let him know that she “saw” him and felt immense love for him (which in reality Sara knew that she was coming to terms with her own body). By externalizing her pain, addressing it, and listening to it, she came home to herself to learn how to be gentler and more appreciative of her body and all it did for her, despite her chronic pain. She started to address herself in a more understanding manner, and practiced listening to her body’s needs, on a daily basis without judging herself as harshly as she did before. While her pain did not necessarily shift, her relationship with herself did. Which in turn, led her to ways to be more patient with herself. While this is a fictional story with fictional characters, many clients have reported this type of response to me when working with them through the creative arts.
Can doing art help you reduce your pain levels? Absolutely! As an Expressive Arts Therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) I enjoy teaching my clients how to develop “tools” for their “toolbox” to reduce their pain, anxiety and depressive symptoms naturally, by engaging in activities that may help distract them from their pain and actually close the “pain gates” in order to experience pleasure. How does this work? Well psychologists posit that the perception of pain and pleasure run along the same neural pathways, that is why when we are feeling something pleasurable our pain is dulled, and vice versa. If a person enjoys doing art, it can act as a pleasant distraction from our pain, increase our ability to feel pleasure, and help us process what we are feeling leading us on our journey to healing! Neat, huh? Here are five tips to help you reduce your chronic pain, while having fun experiencing the creative arts.
So there you have it. Now you have some extra “tools” to play with. Now go out there and sing, dance, paint and sculpt! I can’t think of a more enjoyable to way to lower one’s pain while increasing one’s general feeling of wellness! Happy Healing! Note to the reader: Sara is a fictional client representing a blend of clients we see at PRA.
As we enter the holidays, people are getting busier. While social distancing might put a damper on some holiday celebrations, it is important at Progressive Rehabilitation Associates that as a staff, we focus on our own self care in the ways we teach our clients.
That is why every year, we have a healthy habits challenge through November and December! The entire staff is divided onto two teams to encourage a friendly competition. People submit their points weekly to watch their team points grow. People come up with bonus challenges, which are fun ways that as a team, people can earn extra points while spending time with their colleagues.
One aspect we appreciate during the challenges is the focus on whole person health. Yes, exercise is a category, because we know movement is medicine. However, the categories also include sleep, water, creating a new habit of your choice, letting go of a habit of your choice, practicing mindfulness, communication with friends, accountability, and coming up with one long term goal to work toward over the two months.
As we enter into this busy holiday season, what are you doing for your self care? How can you encourage yourself to engage in joyful movement, to call a friend, or practice mindfulness? What strategies are you using to help manage your symptoms from traumatic brain injury or pain? PRA is here to help; we have behavioral health counselors and groups designed to help you support your healthy habit goals.