Tangible Monster: Pain

I used to see my pain as this tangible monster that needed to be run from. I thought that once I got far enough ahead of it, it’d be gone forever. I’d gain enough of a lead to catch a deep breath in peace. The sky would open for a moment, and I’d see not just the dark clouds that’d always clouded my lens, but also the sun and all that blue around them. Relief.

dawn people woman hand

Oftentimes I declared victory, convinced I’d lost my monster to dust once and for all. I assumed that the process of healing chronic pain was linear and finite. That’s the approach most doctors I saw took, at least – surely, they must know what was best for my body… right?

Wrong. That monster found me eventually, each and every time I ran away. Every time a doctor comes up with some miracle idea such as injections, muscle relaxers, physical therapy, etc. It found its way, always sprinting back up to me – until I found Mindfulness. That’s not to say I’m cured of all that hell, because I’m not, but I have found a state of continuous healing. I discovered through sacredness and self-compassion that the monster I always ran from was no monster at all. The monster was a culmination of all those internal parts of me that felt injured and left behind which I repressed so hard. Less monster vibes, more wounded inner-child that needs nurturing vibes.

Unluckily for me, my lived experience made me a prime candidate for neuroplastic pain. Hypersensitivity… check! Childhood trauma… check! Self-critical thoughts… check! Repeated injury… check! The list goes on – check, check, check, check, check.

Neuroplastic pain is pain that roots in the brain and is not a reaction from a musculoskeletal issue in the body. It can sometimes begin as a result of injury, but unlike acute pain (or what I like to call “primary pain”), it sticks around. It is “secondary pain”, the arrow that fires again and again as a result of learned pathways in the brain. It shoots until safe-response pathways are intentionally created to combat the painful pathways. Many people spend years and fortunes trying to determine what their pain is a symptom of, because that’s what doctors are taught to do. As it turns out though, in most cases of chronic pain, pain is the monster itself… Not just a symptom.

woman in gray tank top while sitting on bed

Unfortunately (yet very fortunately), the only way to heal pain that originates in the mind is to heal through the mind – most specifically, through the mind-body connection. Unfortunate in the sense that it requires your own undying effort and resilience, but fortunate in the sense that it’s very possible to heal, and it’s all within your own hands. Empowering, isn’t it? It’s not something you can simply pay someone else to rid of for you without much work on your part. It’s a call – a message from your body – to find your footing on the trail of self-compassion.

A few years ago, I found my first footing. I surrendered, decided to look my monster in the eyes, and listen. Tend and Befriend. Notice, Allow, and Accept. I learned how to breathe and still smile on the days when the entire sky is all dark clouds and birdless. I’m not pain-free, but my pain is far less life-sucking than before, and it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. When I feel it swelling up inside of me now, I know that I have a choice: to dive deep into the overwhelm, feel the weight of the past, the pain, and the future, and try my best to run away from the monster impossible to run from… OR …to instill messages of safety to my body and mind and remind myself that the sky does always clear those dark clouds away.

Despite all the work I’ve put into myself, I still sometimes go with the first choice. It’s the easy choice, and after years of dealing with all of this, I’m still not perfect. I only say this to express that it’s normal, right, and human to fall off the path here and there. But every time we forget and we fall is also an opportunity to remember and get back on. It’s in those moments of remembering – of choosing the path of Self in the face of pain again and again – that true transformation occurs.

This is not a call to cure, but a call to find your own footing. If you’re feeling that call, I urge you to respond by signing up for my Monday evening yoga class at The Body Mind Being Institute. One thing that’s always helped me is to have witnesses like those I’ve been incredibly lucky to have within those doors. During class you’ll be provided with that witness and plentiful modifications to allow you to take your mind off of strain and towards a comfortable presence. The tools I’ve gathered along the way as gifts from my mentors or as birthed by self-discovery will be passed down to you, too. Embodied movement, breathwork, meditation, and themes of transformation will assist you on your path and as you confront your own monster and choose self-compassion.

This path of healing chronic pain is not linear. It is not impersonal, and it looks different for everyone. Pain is a message from your body, urging you to lean into signs from the universe.

Will you allow this to be your sign?

I really hope to connect with and witness you Monday evening. Register and you might say you’ve found your footing.

Ally Schmidt

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