Pain management techniques
Pain sucks yet it is inevitable. Everyone who lives will experience pain. I have found the following techniques useful for managing my own pain and hope they are of some use to you.
The two arrows : There is a Buddhist teaching which goes as follows. Which is more painful, to be shot with one arrow, or with two? The obvious answer is two. The first arrow represents our pain and it is inevitable. The second arrow represents our internal response to pain, this is within your control and can potentially be avoided.
When you do an ultra-marathon there will be pain, but your response to the pain is within your control. I have definitely been shot with the 2 arrows before. I used to struggle against the pain and ask myself : "Why do I need to experience this discomfort". Do I really expect to do an ultra with no pain? This unrealistic expectation only causes more pain. A simple mental trick is to interpret the pain differently. "What does this pain mean?", "To push on despite feeling this way is exactly what makes this an incredible achievement." (To be clear you should not push through an injury). If you finish a race with no pain at all, did you really try your hardest, or did you leave some in the tank?
Suffering for purpose : To suffer and inflict pain on yourself for no reason is foolishness or a sign of illness and is to be avoided. To suffer for the sake of a higher cause and purpose is the most noble of human endeavors.
Give meaning to your pain : You cannot avoid your pain but you can give your pain meaning and in doing so make it more bearable. Only you can decide what meaning to give your pain.
In the past few months I have been meeting with people struggling with MS and listened to their sufferings. I see my struggles as an act of solidarity with them. I link my financial stress to theirs. I have made the choice to leave work and train without an income to achieve this dream. When I feel financially stressed I think of the stories MS patients have shared with me. Some have been terminated unjustly from their jobs, some struggle to make ends meet with their disability checks, others struggle to support themselves. They need our support. "Purpose over paycheck, people over possessions", is the line I say to comfort myself.
When I struggle mentally in the pool by being alone with my thoughts for so long I think of my aunt Claire who was trapped in her body. What I am suffering pales in comparison to what she and others have gone through. I am going through this by choice, they did not have that option. When I feel this pain I tell myself, I am suffering so that one day others need not feel this pain.
Some MS patients I spoke to experience a lot of physical pain. "It is like everything is on fire, when you are suffering, make sure to think of us". I am and I will.
To avoid pain is to cause yourself pain : Paradoxically to always avoid pain is to cause yourself a great deal of pain. Pain, by it's very nature, is a subjective experience. Your mind uses it's own past experiences as a gauge for pain. If you have not experienced much, when real pain strikes, you will not be equipped to handle it.
Hypothetically, If you avoided pain your whole life and then experienced a paper cut, this would be the most pain you ever experienced and it would feel totally unbearable. When you have really rough and difficult experiences your mind can recalibrate and sets this as the new bar for your most painful experience. This has the potential to make normal boring days seem quite great in comparison.
Microdosing pain : The anticipation of future pain makes pain unbearable. When I think of swimming 350km my brain begins to melt. A thought that arose midway through my 14 day challenge was, "There is no way I can handle the pain of swimming 7 more consecutive marathons." I could not look at it this way.
Instead I used a technique I call microdosing pain. I told myself : "I can tolerate the pain I am experiencing in this instant, therefore this is where I shall keep my focus." If you keep focusing on this instant, this instant eventually becomes the future. The pain of this instant is so much smaller and tolerable compared to the sum of all that future anticipated pain.
I hope you have found these pain management techniques useful, and I hope they reduce your suffering. #MSMSExpedition