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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How I Overcame my Chronic Pain.



Today is the 11th day I have woken up to a painless body, after a harrowing seven- month ordeal. I am immensely grateful for the recovery and I will never again take good health for granted. It is like being blissfully born again every morning. 

The pain started sometime in September 2015, from what I thought was a 'normal' stiff neck due to work and stress, it developed to a pain that turned terribly worse. The pain quickly spread to the shoulders and arms till the end of my finger tips. The doctor said that my nerves were impinged by the neck vertebrae that triggered the stretch of pain downstream. 

The pain was permanent and persistent. There was no break in between. I woke up in pain, went through the day in pain, went to bed in pain and sometimes got woken up in the middle of the night by the pain. It was like a dark cloud had descended and there was no way out, nor could I do anything about it. The doctor said that the only way out was a surgery to space out the vertebrae, but before that, he suggested that I go to a physiotherapist to check if conditions could improve.

I graded my levels of pain from 1 to 10,  with '1' being the least painful, and '10' being the most painful.

During that time, there was never a '1'. It was usually waking up at level '4', where the neck, arms and fingers were already electrically charged in pain and physical movements had to be gradual, so as not to aggravate the situation. By the time I returned home at the end of each day, it was usually a level '6', when the walk from the bus stop to the the house was a long painful struggle. Each step felt like a destructive pull on the nerves. Sometimes the struggle to walk home ground to a halt for me to still my mind from the pain.

If I did reach a level '8', I had to look for a sofa or a bed to lie down immediately as it was unbearable. When nobody was around, I would literally be screaming out loud. Lying flat motionless, would gradually ease the pain and I would go down back to level '4'.

If I got woken up by the pain in the middle of the night, it was a '10'. It was painful enough to bring me to tears.

I became foolishly obsessed with the numbers, as if it was a way to look forward to a less painful day. I embraced those numbers. Then, I realised that the numbers had become my virtual hope and my escapism.

The pain crippled my life. I am usually someone who observes good habits, and used to be very healthy. I jogged and worked out three times a week and kept my sugar and carb intake low. So, I had never thought that I could end up this bad even in my darkest nightmares. But now, I struggled just to walk upright, without looking bent and lopsided. I became obsessed with fighting the pain till my mind switched off from many other essential chores.

I became absent-minded, forgetting to turn off the tap, or where I left my phone; once, I even offered to pay for my food twice at a checkout counter. The world felt entirely different from what I used to know - the one when I was pain free. "Health is Wealth" now rang very loudly for me, as I went through the trauma of a malfunctioning body.

As I didn't want to go for surgery, I tried alternative healing methods, like acupuncture, Tuina, acu-pressure massage, chiropractic realignments, osteopathy, Reiki; and spiritual healings from Christians speaking in tongues. I even got approached by  gurus and charlatans that made preposterous claims so that they could con me.

Some professionals were honest. They did their best, but couldn't heal me. The others weren't much better than those sleazy charlatans. Some over-serviced and over-charged, probably to support their posh clinics and lavish lifestyles. Some tried scare tactics to break down my self-confidence so that they could dominate and control me. It was all about the money. The bottom-line was that none of them brought my pain down.

Among the professionals, I only continued with the Osteopath, because he was the only one who could give me a comprehensive explanation of my problem. He could also answer all my questions with specific answers. In contrast, I got nebulous answers from mainstream practitioners. Ultimately, they always conclude by explaining that the body is 'degenerating' and 'aging'. I don't buy that. I know many people accept that we all grow old and degenerate, but I beg to differ. I believe that it is all in the mind. If we have to die, we could die 'healthy', just like my father did, he died in his sleep peacefully at the old age of 89 years old.

The Osteopath diagnosed that the source of the problem was the stomach and that it had caused the muscles to pull and compact the vertebrae, therefore squeezing the nerves firing up the pains down from my neck to my fingertips. Recovery was patchy. I got better after a few sessions, and then it got worse. This cycle went on several times - my getting better, then followed by another spike of pain.

When I told mainstream health practitioners about the Osteopath's diagnosis, none of them supported the argument. They were not comfortable going down this route of reasoning. They consider it impossible and radically different from what they were taught in their medical school. Though it should be noted that Osteopathy pre-dates physiotherapy and was propounded by a Western trained medical doctor in the US. Nonetheless, they were not convinced. While I did not expect them to embrace the Osteopath's diagnosis, I was surprised that they were so closed to new inquiry and thinking.

I tried to keep myself as positive as possible. It was more difficult to do so being in constant pain, with no end in sight. One night, after being woken up in pain, I questioned if life was worth living at all. This defeatist thought surprised me, as I used to be a very positive person. It was then I realised that I had changed. It scared me, so I resolved to turn around. I had to find a way. I didn't know how, as there was no sustainable progress and I didn't even know if I would ever be healed. I had to endure my life one day at a time.

Eventually, I accepted that the pain will be here to stay and that I will have to plan my life around it. That means to get on with life as normal as possible despite the pain. Principally, it required acting against the pain. It can't get worse! 

Then on the 3rd of February 2016, it did get worse. A lot worse! The pain suddenly spiked up so much. It was so crippling, that I had never knew such pain could even exist. It was mind shattering. The pain level busted all the previous levels - by far! It was probably a level 13. It was unbearable sitting or lying down, even when motionless doing nothing. Any movement would trigger an explosive pain. A sneeze, a cough, sitting on the throne in the loo, or even a fart for that matter, sent electrifying pain down the nerves. I struggled getting out of bed and made my way to the kitchen to make a cup of hot chocolate. I needed the energy. I had to. I was alone in the house and I was starting to feel weak. The choco powder spilled all over the cup and made a mess, as my hand trembled in pain with each twitch of the fingers and each twirl of the wrists. It was terrifying.

I thought I was going to die.  My mind started to wander negatively and pondered why I would have to die this painfully. What had I done wrong to deserve this?! I thought that, this was it. I knew that if I were to stay at home I would not get any better.

So I dragged myself to the nearby clinic. There, the doctor gave me a steroid injection, and a cocktail of strong medicine like muscle relaxants, pain killers, menthol cream to apply on the body,..., etc. I normally do not take strong medicines, but in this instance, I threw in the towel and downed the medicine desperately. After that, I started hallucinating. That was probably because I was not used to medicine, especially those strong drugs.

The hallucination was beautiful though, as I could see exotic vast landscapes with brilliant colours and everything seemed and felt larger than life. Next, I found my emotions and presence getting curiously connected with those beautiful visuals.

In one, I was in a desert with red-brown sand dunes and a narrow road cutting across diagonally. Then  an old black vintage car drove past leaving a tail of colourful dust. It looked like a guppy with a long colourful tail.

In another, it was a seemingly mundane situation of a man talking to a woman, however, they were in such perfect harmony and their movements were so continuously smooth that it was inexplicably fascinating to watch.

It was so relaxing going through those mental visuals. I was in a parallel universe momentarily.

That night, as I closed my eyes, I saw three sparks of bright white light coming down from high up and hovered around my head. It was a relaxing feeling, then a cozy and safe feeling as the light blended into my body. I could feel the pulsations as it happened. I felt very protected and the pain subsided significantly.

My Christian friends said that the White Light was probably the Trinity. Another (Christian) said that it was probably my hallucination, even though I told her that I did utter Jesus' name prior to that to call for help. Ultimately, people choose what they want to believe. I know it was not the medicine, as I had seen those White Light a few times before when I was not on drugs or medication. On the previous occasions, the White Light had also healed me, but of very minor ailments. I don't know who this White Light is. I don't profess it to be God, Jesus, nor would I attempt to give a name to it. I just know that it represents Love.

Just to clarify, I don't normally take pharmaceutical drugs, as I try to keep my body free from unnecessary chemicals, and  avoid them as much as possible.

Meanwhile life goes on, particularly in the film industry where the show must go on. There were some mornings when I was worried about how I could possibly get through the day. But somehow, I always did. So some of the films and TV dramas that you see me in, could well be the ones made when I was really sick.  For more about my acting gigs, click here.

Miraculously, when the cameras rolled, the pain somehow disappeared, either that, or I couldn't remember that it was there, as I got into the script character.  Upon the shout of 'cut', I started to feel my body coming back with the pain. Then, I  realised that it is possible to beat the pain with my mind. But how could I do it? That was the question.

That was my first turning point. I figured that I could beat the pain through meditation. I have meditated regularly for more than ten years, until last September when the pain took over. It became too distracting and I could not focus. But now my experience in front of the cameras on set taught me that it is possible to ignore the pain.  So I started doing that - ignoring the pain. I did it for a few seconds first, then prolonged the time. Then I learned that if I could ignore the pain past the first three minutes, I was able to conquer the pain. Gradually I did. After each meditation, I felt better and then woke up the next morning with a lower pain level. There were times when it was too difficult to focus as the pain was overwhelming, so I stopped for that day. In all, I succeeded 8 out of 10 times.

The second turning point was when I met a young man during one of the film shoots who told me that he too was in pain, and had been so since he was a child. Then, he emphasised that despite his pains, he  was not going to stop  doing the things he loved. That surprised me because I wouldn't have known he was in pain, had he not spoken. In a morbid way, he got used to his pain.

Those few words tipped the scales. The coin finally dropped. The secret is that I must play the key role in my own recovery. I am now confident that I can succeed, despite the excruciating pains still shimmering, and imminently exploding.

I usually did not let people around know of my pain so as not to trouble anyone, especially in a production set. At business meetings, I would just ask to be forgiven if I slouch on the chair. I did not want my problem to be an inconvenience to anyone.

Subsequently, I experimented with many things: activities, food, different routines,...etc, and tried to measure their effectiveness, no matter now small. Some worked, some didn't. I stuck with those that worked and dropped those that didn't. Some tricks like drinking lots of beer did help to numb the senses and feel less of the pain. It was kind of a painkiller, but a less harmful one than those prescribed. However, I know that it had to be applied with moderation, otherwise I would be fueling yet another problem.

So I stuck with meditation, swimming, going to bed early and cutting my carb/sugar intake. A friend of mine gave me an inversion table, a table that enables me to hang myself upside down to loosen my spine. I did that too. Through experimentation, I also learned that certain fruits are natural painkillers, like bananas (it has magnesium), blue berries and other berries.

It wasn't a straight line progress to recovery. The pain eased and spiked several times. There were several false hopes, but overall with each cycle, the average pain went down. So slowly, but surely, I healed myself in tandem with my osteopathic sessions. Then on the 17th April 2016, I woke up for the first time in 7 months, with no pain.

This trauma has changed my perception of life forever. I now resolve to live it to the fullest no matter what happens.

I am healed. I hope this is permanent. I dread to even think of what it used to be like. I get goose bumps writing this article itself. No longer will I allow health issues to fester and get myself into a rut of crippling pains. My advice to readers here would be the same.

If you are unwell now, don't give up. Start living and let yourself heal.

If you are well and healthy, enjoy the bliss. Don't get angry over trivial matters. In comparison with a painful body, many matters will seem trivial. Many seemingly urgent matters are probably unimportant. Prioritise and choose what is important.  Enjoy your good health.

Footnotes:
I believe in the comprehensive healing of the body, and when possible, to stay away from drugs. Western medicine seems to fix only the symptoms, which may not last very long. A body is a system, if we forcefully intervene in one part, the imbalance will profess elsewhere. It is akin to a computer program - fix a bug here and the program will bomb elsewhere in another line of code.

I think Western medicine is good in an emergency, or when the sickness has gone into too deep a state to risk using slow and natural methods of healing. It does have its place, and I am thankful to those doctors who have helped me in this traumatic period.

Thankfully, apart from this saga, I am rarely sick. When I am sick, I rest and heal myself by eating well and drinking lots of water.  It works most of the time. When it doesn't, then I try Traditional Chinese Medicine. When all else fails and it gets dire, I  resort to Western medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treats the body in its entirety. It checks for the source of the problem and helps to balance the body by prescribing herbs or applying acupuncture. While I have very positive experiences with TCM, the recent acupuncturists I went to seemed to be treating only my symptoms. They applied the needles only to those areas that were in pain. So that didn't work. I used to know of a very good acupuncturist who would think hard before applying the needles and they didn't necessarily land on where the pain was. However, I have lost contact with this acupuncturist.

The physiotherapist asked me, "Is pain good or bad?"
In that moment of excruciating pain, I blurted out, "Bad!"
Then, upon contemplation, I thought it could be good. Pain is a signal that somewhere in our body, something is malfunctioning. So here on, I listen to my body intently. Things are never purely good or bad. In the good, there is some bad. In the bad, there is some good. This is represented by the Yin and Yang symbol.

Pain is very complex. Through the saga, my threshold of tolerance for pain has raised progressively. What used to be unbearable is now bearable, and what was crippling now borderlines the unbearable. Also, when different parts of the body are in pain, the part of the body that has the worst pain dominates, and the less painful parts feels trivial in comparison.

Pain can also be lessened by applying heat on the body. Heat changes the chemical composition of the affected areas and different signals are sent to the brain.

Pain ought to be carried by the nerves in the body, but there are cases where the main nerve is fully squeezed by the vertebrae, and the person experiences no pain. Somehow, the body is very intelligent and works around the problem.

During the spiritual healing, my Christian friends surrounded me in a circle, put their palms on my shoulders and spoke in tongues. Each of them seemed to speak a different tongue. Some of them sounded a little bit like Arabic. I could feel pulsations on my body as they chanted and my body did feel less painful, but only for a short while. By the time I was on the way home in the bus, all the progress was gone. Some Christians think that speaking in tongues means speaking in the Holy Spirit, but I beg to differ. With due respect, they are probably speaking on behalf of some wandering spirits. I do appreciate their intention to help me though.

One masseuse suggested that my pain could have been caused by spurs growing out of my spine and that I ought to go for an MRI to confirm that. The fact is that probably 90% of people my age would have spurs, though most with spurs experience no pain. So be careful with opinions from people who are not fully trained. They are effectively quacks, but can bring your morale to the ground. In the world of agony, keeping your morale high is crucial. That is why real doctors are taught to relay their findings to the patients and their family in an emotionally neutral tone.

Another masseuse talked down to me for not exercising enough, while he demonstrated that I could only turned my head to a very limited arc. To add insult into injury, he warned that it would be very dangerous if I drove because I would not be able to see the blind spots. What kind of comment was that? How would that help me to heal? He was not even correct, as I did exercise regularly prior to when my pain started. And he said all that, while I was visibly cringing in pain. I infer that he was deliberately trying to demoralise me so that he can position himself as the saviour. In his eyes, I am a recurring business potential.

One charlatan tried to get me to pay him thousands of dollars for a spiritual initiation, claiming that he has the mandate from God. He said that I was possessed by evil spirits and he could help me. It was so ridiculous that I didn't even bother to argue with him. I just walked away. He then bluffed me and said that I would go back to him after two weeks as my condition would deteriorate quickly; and that he could afford to wait.

Two weeks later, his side kick called to ask for an introducer's fee. He said that was a fee for him for having introduced his guru to me. I thought that given that the  guru was so rude and crude, they should be the one paying me for my tolerance and time. I think the guru took the intimidating stance to try to break down my self esteem and confidence, so that he could control me. For hints on how to identify a fake guru, click here.

Emotional Pain.
Some people had it so bad with emotional pain that they cut themselves physically for relief. They said that at least physical pain has a locale. They cannot grapple with the frustration of being immersed in pain without a physical presence. I have my fair share of emotional pain in my life, though I hadn't resorted to cutting myself. Perhaps it is because my emotional pain is not deep enough, or that I managed them better. 'I' here refers to the soul, the 'little voice' behind the mind, telling the mind what to do. Some people cannot differentiate between the two and think the mind and the soul are one.

The soul is like the tree, grand and steady, always peaceful. The mind is like the leaves, they flutter whenever it gets emotional. But  the soul is always peaceful.

The stomach is said to have a direct connection with the emotional state of the mind. So I guessed that could be what drove my stomach out of balance and resulted in the pains.


Disclaimer:
The above is a chronicle of my journey in pain and what works for me. Some of what works for me may not work for you, as we are all different. I am also not a medical doctor nor one trained in medicine either, so none of the above should be construed as medical advice. I am merely sharing my experience. Believing is not necessary, but contemplation is. I am not selling any seminars, magic potions or club memberships. So feel free to take what you believe in and apply with your own discretion, and drop those you think are ridiculous.


Some Related Posts in this Blog:

Reiki, click here.
Raja Yoga, click here.
Focus, click here.


Share this post if you find that it has benefited you and that it will inspire someone else to live their life to the fullest.


3 comments:

REBECCA jones said...

Nice article. I am also having hard time in relieving back pain and I am now going to try chiropractic care that a friend has recommended me. I will be consulting one of the best chiropractors in Mississauga for the treatment.

Michael Chua said...

Thank you for reading my article rebecca.

Agnes Lawson said...

I am happy for you that you are no longer in pain. Living a life of pain is very difficult. Thank you for sharing the symptoms, especially the stiff neck as I have stiffness in that area as well. It's time to go to a doctor for myself, and I wouldn't know what to be concerned about if you hadn't posted.