Marathon update

For weeks, I could hardly move outside without injury. It was maddening. I completely ran out of arnica pills, my best tool for keeping soft-tissue injuries from turning into flares or spreads of CRPS.

At the same time, I couldn’t make myself do the meditation exercises I’d been assigned, where I’m supposed to let some strange man tell me what to relax. Getting anything but my appointments done has been nearly impossible.

Today, I walked half a mile, half of it uphill, and most of that at around 15 degrees’ slope — really. And so far, I’m just fine. It seems  a bit miraculous, after the past few weeks.

For the past few days, I’ve also been wrestling with my dead… and at the risk of appearing to complain, I’d probably better explain that.

I’ve been interested in re-remapping my brain to a more useful cartography (so to speak) for years; that’s what holds the most promise of moving CRPS aside and leaving more room for life.

Sheer gall, determination and bloody-mindedness can only get me so far. Pretty damn far, but I think I’ve hit the limit. I need to move beyond, because frankly, life is barely worth it and I won’t stand for that.

To gain enough mastery over my brain that I can really push it into a different shape means getting my conscious mind and subconscious mind to play well together. Sooner or later, THAT means coming to terms with a few things I’ve shoved under the floorboards. Then I can put them in their proper place, and make a reliable path around them. It’s no good trying to build new paths in a brain that’s booby-trapped.

It’s impossible to discuss these losses and bereavements and horrors without sounding pathetic or whiny, so I won’t. Tell you what, though, I’ve stopped editing them out, when they’re relevant.

Something’s come loose. It’s true. It does seem to be working.

I’ve finally gotten myself scheduled into my meditation exercises, PT, and cleaning up… and I’ve walked half a mile today, much of it really steep… and I seem to be fine.

Every marathoner knows… you really run it from the inside.

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The wall, redux — with demons on the side

Sooner or later, deep and chronic illness (like, oh, let’s take an example at random, CRPS) will bring you face-to-face with your worst demons. It’s only a question of when, and precisely how.

When I came to adulthood, I realized that I felt a powerful need to earn my right to take up space and breathe the air. You’d think I’d be a cringing slave with that underlying attitude, but I wasn’t. I felt I deserved good pay, reasonable work/life conditions, and common courtesy, because that was fair; I just didn’t deserve to live.

Once I could no longer work, but had to fight like mad to live, this was a bit stressful. Like many, I almost didn’t make it. But then, as the very deepest trough began fading into memory, I noticed that something remarkable had happened.

Rewind about 10 years… I was a nurse for eight years, which put me in a critical relationship to others at critical points in their lives. I might have dealt with 10 patients in an hour, but, in the moment that I was dealing with each person, that was the most important person in my life. I may have coded hundreds of people, but every life I fought for, I fought for with all I had.

There were no caveats or conditions: if you were my patient, you had my absolute attention every moment I was with you.

I think this healer outranks me, but you can see
how focused he is on his patient. It’s like that.

I found that it’s impossible for me to work hard for someone’s survival, and not come to care about them – no matter who or what they are.

Fast forward to where we started, after the deepest trough, around early 2010… I had spent several years increasingly incapacitated, used up all my money, all my favors, all my savings, and lost a lot of friends – some of them to the Grim Reaper.

I won’t go into the brutal and abusive bureaucracy of California EDD or Oakland Social Security offices, because if you haven’t been through it, you wouldn’t believe me. That bad. Worse, even.

I woke up one spring day, with a strange sense of dawning inside. It took an hour or two to wake up, and to realize that I’d been fighting so hard, for so long, for my own survival, that I had become important to myself.

I no longer felt I needed to earn the right to live.

Ever since that time, I’ve never had a serious case of any kind of block – writer’s block, self-care block, learning block, anything – that lasted more than a couple days, unless it was explicitly disease-related.

Then, with this move to a strange area, with no connections, near a city I almost loathe… To get real care, for the first time in years, from seven highly skilled and capable professionals…

I hit a wall. Not just a block, but a huge, massive, precision-crafted, towering, deeply bedded, gateless wall.

Since writing “Frustration at the wall“, I’ve been faking it in the hope of making it. That’s a lot of weeks to keep running up against the same damn wall!

I finally started talking about it – I’m a writer; I’m a woman; I process by words; let’s move on – and began to get unscrambled. Then I had the deeply disconcerting pleasure of having my brain picked apart, cleaned with a dental pick, and neatly reassembled by the deliciously incisive Dr. Faye Weinstein. 

I can’t help thinking that the following is going to strike a few chords with some of my lovely readers…

I am, as she said with characteristic precision, “a helpful, compulsively self-reliant minimizer.” Really, why should I trust these people, who wield the power of Gods over what happens to me?

There’s a deep part of me that says “blow that, let’s go hide instead” and off I go, hiding behind advising on Facebook and diving into books and catching up on others’ crises; my condition is not that bad, so my care is not really that important, and it’s not like these people care more for me than their own crap anyway, so I’m on my own really.

My distraction activity is all very worthy, so I needn’t justify it. But, well, so much for the many new things I need to do to put together my own health…

Unconscious reactivity could be the death of me yet.

I said this illness would raise all your demons, even the ones you’ve hammered a stake through the hearts of. It turns out that the squat and fetid cranks who propped up my old conviction that I “don’t deserve to live” are still there, farting wetly and hawking loogies.

With apologies to Heironymous Bosch.

The demons of our earliest perils can shape our responses to major change forever. The trick is to see them for what they are, face them honestly, and put them back where they belong: in the past.

(Easier said… I think a booger just landed in my hair. At least, I hope it was a booger.)

To add to that, with years of excruciating work behind me and more ahead, my old motto of “change or die” doesn’t carry the same weight: Yes, part of me wants to lie down and die. The frantic, aching, endless weariness is beyond description.

But change is more interesting. A lot more interesting. And I only get to do this life once.

Conscious curiosity could be the birth of me yet. With luck.

With a better sense of what I’m doing, I’m preparing to turn and, with tactful and gentle persistence, come to terms with those monsters.

I might as well. I’m going to be here awhile.

Speaking of which…

Marathon training update

After one day to recover from the trip south, I was able to pull off my .8 mile route up and down this hill, and recover enough a few hours later to unpack the car (that’s a lot of steps!) and get some things done. Today was a lot of appointments, which involved walking at least a mile on city surfaces.

On Thursday or Friday, I hope to increase my hill walking to 1.1 or 1.2 miles. We shall see. No more overdoing.

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Need more than "Dysphoria"

There’s an impressive clinical word for “feeling yucky” — it’s “dysphoria.” It’s literally the opposite of “euphoria.”
One of these people is Dysphoric and one is Euphoric. Guess… 🙂

The trouble is, there are so very many ways to feel yucky, or dysphoric, especially with a disease like CRPS, but only one word to describe it all. Our experience of life no longer maps to that of a normal person, but language can’t describe what we experience. However elegant it sounds, “dysphoria” is inadequate.

That’s about to change. Here are some words I’m adding to the lexicon, a short selection of the most common and most describable (because some are indescribable) of the dysphoric states I move in and out of…

Dysphoria Sunnysidedown
The particular kind of yucky I feel when I get up before I’m ready. It takes about an hour, usually, to avoid D-Sunnysidedown.

Otherwise, I get tremulous, nauseous, my heart races (but quietly), and I’m aware of a particular kind of fragile ghastliness in a minor key. If I really get up too fast, I fall over — muscles quit. This adds up to Dysphoria Sunnysidedown.



Flip ’em!

Dysphoria Darkofnoon
This is a natural consequence of D-Sunnysidedown and usually happens later the same day, but occasionally happens by itself. Darkofnoon involves feeling peculiarly ragged (as if my adrenals had been in overdrive for hours, which is accurate if I arose too fast), forgetful, physically weak, slightly shaky, and of course nauseous. Sometimes dizzy spells.

There’s a more solid kind of ghastliness, more in a dominant chord. Dysphoria Darkofnoon usually happens when the day is brightest, between 11 am and 3 or 4 pm.

Lying down periodically helps me get through the day, but I’m not likely to be quite right until a good night’s sleep and a proper start to the next morning.


Dysphoria Hate2Bme
Stunning levels of distraction, with a dense pale-grey cloud wound around and through my mind and perceptions, dissolving what it doesn’t hide.

It insulates me from such trivial issues as major appointments, where I put the keys, and the state of traffic lights. I can tell where my body is in space, but not how it feels. Likely to injure myself, risking further spread.

It would be tolerable if there weren’t any consequences or anyone leaning nervously away while looking at me with worried pity. When I’m experiencing Dysphoria Hate2Bme, the humiliation and underlying fear are the most dysphoric elements, though there is something intrisically unpleasant and destructive-feeling about the dense grey cloud.

Dysphoria Mitoshriek
This happens when I’ve overtaxed my body, though sometimes it happens by itself. I think of it as the mitochondria in my muscle and nerve cells all setting up a synchronized shriek of anguish as they fall over in a dead faint. (I don’t know how they scream while fainting, but they seem to manage it.)

It feels like my soft tissue threatens to dissolve when I try to get up or do anything. There’s a sort of wholesale, pitiable unpleasantness in mind, body and soul with the least physical effort.

My muscles react with a sort of “You’re kidding, right?” when I try to use them, and if I push through in order to get something done, it’s done by pure determination and then I’m out of commission for a couple of days. I pay hard for pushing back against Dysphoria Mitoshriek.

For all I know, my mitochondria have nothing to do with it, but mito self-care seems to help: tons of antioxidants, lots of vegetables, and as much horizontality as I can stand. I can tell when it’s time to start moving — about 3/4 of a day after I start really wanting to.

One thing that is no worry at all: I don’t ever have to worry about being too lazy.


Your faithful writer at 2 yrs old. I refused help; I was going to
cross that dry riverbed all by myself, come Hell or high water.
Photo: JLD Tifft, used by kind permission 🙂

Bodies and minds, like engines, were made to go, and I’m most at home when I’m going in mine.

After the intense inward training of living as usefully and zestfully as possible despite CRPS, can you imagine what it would be like to have all this determination and energy unleashed on the world if I were finally well again, and could focus on, remember, and do things on a vaguely regular basis?

Can’t wait to find out.

So this is peaceful ol’ me…

…saluting all that keeps me from that.

Speaking of which…

Marathon training note

I’m stable with walking 1.5 miles at a time, and recover fast enough to do more later that day. Will aim for 1.8 later this week, after recovering from this trip.

Despite spasms and cramps etc., I made it all the way home in 1 day yesterday, instead of splitting the drive into 2 days as I usually must. This amazes me. My eyes didn’t cross and my mind didn’t splay into a messy 10-pointed star, both of which usually happen after 4-5 hours of driving with hourly breaks. So, there are some key neurological pieces that are definitely doing better.

Yay cerebral blood flow! Yay exercise!

It might be smart to take today off and stick to PT exercises and tai chi. No more bloody relapses. But boy, I sure am heartened!

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Marathoning, murder, and masses

Who the hell would bomb a marathon? The shock and fury make my eyes hot and narrow.

Second thought: what a way to go – accomplishment, adrenaline, euphoria, and a quick blast.

Yesterday, ironically, I realized I was fully recovered from overdoing. That only took 11 days… I took careful walks around the park while recovering, so as not to lose much ground.

Leading myself along, and minding my posture.
Today I roughly doubled my walking distance and I’m back up to ~18 min. On a flat.

I’m grateful.

I grew up in Egypt, a Middle Eastern country. We were there in the relatively tranquil days of the late 1970s: Sadat was secure in power, a secularist who stood no nonsense and could be bought – excuse me, persuaded – into a peace treaty that ended several thousand years of war. (For the meantime.)

Islam was a thoughtful, neighborly religion. Guests were treated like the loveliest royalty. A blonde 13-year-old girl with a forward figure could (at least, did) walk the streets in daylight fearing nothing more than vile remarks and, in a crowd, a vile grope.

That was the key to life in a tourist country: avoid the crowds.
 
When terrorist attacks happened, and they were rare then, they happened in crowds. My family was constitutionally adventurous and put off by mob thinking, quite apart from the (really tiny) chance of bombs, so we just did what came naturally and took off on our own.
 
We saw crowds the way a sailor sees sandbars: a lot of work, and not much fun to get stuck with.

Moreover, I’ve always been an introvert in the Myers-Briggs sense, meaning that I recharge in solitude and that I find society in large doses simply exhausting.

Now, with CRPS, this distaste for crowds has become a deep aversion. The physical dynamic of being in crowds is unbearable: when people bump me unexpectedly, it’s horrific; the noise overwhelms my sensory brain, which, let’s face it, is overworked already; and, of course, my hotwired autonomic nervous system is ready with the fight or flight response… with nowhere to go that isn’t in the crowd.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

I was reading Angela N. Hunt’s book about living while training for a first marathon, and her description of the starting crowd was appalling. For me, it would be like being inside a tiny electric fence, cattle jostling around against the outside, bashing and zapping me mindlessly and endlessly.

Not do-able. Not even think-able.

But that’s just a problem, and problems are meant to be solved.

There are several possible solutions: invoke the ADA and start in my own class behind the crowd; rustle up about five good buddies — preferably large, sturdy types — to run around me for the first half, and be a better fence until the crowd thins enough;

run a different marathon course over open country, with only a handful of others; or abandon the whole thing.

I can hear some strenuous votes for the last option. In the wake of the Boston marathon bombing, I’ll ignore them. Completely.

I will go on. If distance is not an insuperable barrier, then neither is willful fear. I’m a woman, weakened, disabled, and rather poor; I have enough to be afraid of. I don’t let it stop me. Why should this? I’ll wear the names of the dead, if it helps. I won’t let it stop me.

I will go on. I’ll find a way to avoid the crowds, in some creative and tasteful fashion.

I will go on.

“Watch me go.”

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Overdoing…the first time

My walking time in PT went from 5 min. to 10 min. when we decided to start training for the marathon. My walking at home took the 10 min. up to nearly 20 min., a third of that uphill.

That was nearly a mile. In a burst of what I thought was genius, on Friday I decided to walk down to town (0.8 miles), run a couple of errands, sit down on a sunny bench if need be, and walk back (0.8 miles, all gently but steadily uphill.)

Then, I thought bouyantly, I’d throw necessaries in the car and take off for my two week vacation.

Well, I got as far as making it back to the house. I knew, as I started back from town, that this had been a bad idea, and that there were three outstanding questions: would I have to find a place to sit down en route, exactly how hard would it hit me, and how long would it take to recover.

Saturday was a dead loss.

Sunday, I packed in small loads, resting for an hour or two between each trip to the car. No kidding: an hour or two. By Sunday around 4pm I was beginning to recoup a little. I left at 5.

I had forgotten what a mitochondrial shriek-fest felt like. An almost devastating feeling that my flesh turns to rot when I try to get up. I don’t recommend it.

Mitochondria are the wonderful little hitchhikers that house our bodies’ energy factories, in return for a warm place to live. They are most thickly concentrated in nerve cells and muscle cells. I knew all along that rebuilding my mitochondria was going to be perhaps the most essential part of training, but after my stellar success on the Hill, I thought I had more to draw on than that.

A delightful piece of training advice I got years ago was, “You can do all the cardiovascular you want.” Perhaps that was true at the time, although I noticed I did better when training four days per week than five or six. Perhaps I should’ve remembered that last week.

I think I should’ve rested for a day after my Hill expedition, for one thing. More importantly, I should’ve had a backup plan on my “adventure”, so I wasn’t stuck with the hike back. And I probably shouldn’t have done this around the excitement of going to see my sweetie.

My kitten just typed $. I have no idea…

Perhaps he’s telling me that overdoing doesn’t pay.

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Marathon — second thoughts

I’ve gotten some interesting responses to my marathon proposal, some of them very worried, bless their excellent, loving hearts. I feel I owe some explanation.

My tiny handful of fellow “imps of the possible” are all for it, completely understanding the uncertainties and sidetracks and possible (even probable) different endings in store – and knowing that it’s the reach that’s important, that spreading

Letter to my PT – how about a marathon?

Dear [PT],

Something crystalized in my mind, after reading the preface to a friend’s book. (On Kindle here.)

I  do well with having rather demanding overarching goals. (Trauma nurse at DC General, software geek at Borland? yeah :)…) I have some good mental and creative goals (books on mythology and CRPS neuro-endocrine-immunology, 501c3 called “CRPS: Art and Spirit”, etc.), but my physical goals are reactive rather than proactive

Right now, it’s all about beating back the assaults on my function; there’s none of that necessary “F.U.!”-sized stuff on my horizon that can help me bring enough focus and determination to vault over such paltry issues as washing my damn hair. (One side of my face laughs wryly as I say that.)

There’s the shorter CRPS walk/roll/run in December, Quench the Fire!, and that’s a good, reasonable goal.

I need a slightly unreasonable goal, or I can’t really focus. Normal goals really do bore me. Sad, possibly warped, but true. 

And this reactive mindset is doing me no good at all — look at my last stallout. Awful. 

It’s just awful to be reactive in my goals, and especially in the goals for my horribly challenged physical self — my only vehicle of life. 

I have to do better. 

I need something more — something a bit larger than life to strive for. (Just ask my mother. I’ve been like this since I was at least 2.)

So… I’m considering running next year’s marathon.

Positives:

+ I have a year to pull myself together. If you could help hook me up with some kind of structure for training, so much the better.
+ Keck staffs the medical tents, which I find automatically reassuring.
+ It’s slightly crazy, but not completely insane. Perfect.

Negatives:

– Mostly pavement. A real problem. (I don’t have to train on pavement, though.)

– Potentially difficult, risky and expensive. …Just like life.

– Ummm…

I think the Ayes have it. What do you think? And, if I’m in town, I’d be delighted to do the 5/10k at the end of this year. Not as a goal, but as a coincidental benefit.

It’s all about pacing.
I realize we’ve only just met, and this might strike you as brash or ill-considered. I’m not saying it isn’t, but it’s very much in character and, with a little bit of faith from those backing me, could be just the mental kick to help with quite a few intermediate hurdles.

And, of course, I might finish.

(With a little publicity, this could be pretty cool all around. Fat, brittle, middle-aged, chronic CRPSer turns marathoner. — Huh, that gets MY attention! And how cool if I was not the only one….)

I used to be a middle-distance runner, going 4 miles up and down a canyon or 6-10 over surface streets, 2-5 days a week. I kept getting back to it, pre-injury; I enjoyed it, and looked for places to live where it was safe to run.

Marathoning is a different mindset, but I think it’s learnable. And learning to do a marathon in a paced, calm, controlled, ANS-managed, non-frantic manner… well, that’s one hell of an F.U. to CRPS!

I look forward to hearing what you think about this… I think 🙂 I really do want your advice and would love to be able to check in with you as I go, so please mull it over. I’m seeing my whole team next week, so I’ll get to do plenty of hashing-out. I’ll blog it and talk it over with some of my old guard this weekend, too, so I’ll be better prepared for our conversations.

Many thanks,

Isabel


Writing on science, adaptation, surviving, and running…
* Health and Life with CRPS-1: http://livinganyway.blogspot.com/
* Cauterizing the Bleeding Edge of medicine and science: http://biowizardry.blogspot.com
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Back in the saddle again

The grip of the last round of the Yucks started to break right after posting my last. I hate it when I have to go that far to get past a bad spot, but hey, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep heading in the right direction.

Dignity is optional. Progress is not. Words I live by.

My new kitten has changed apparent gender twice, and is back to being a boy kitty — not that it matters in any practical way. I was looking for a name as elegant, good-natured and playful as he/she/it, while treating an upper respiratory infection that made that left eye look like a mouse:

My cat’s mouse

But then, with returning health and strength, his natural energy and violence reasserted itself. He has exactly two gears:
1. Unconscious (or nearly so)
2. Full-tilt, greedy, grasping, and spikily impulsive (as the scratch-marks around my blinked eyelashes attest)

So I’ve named him Siddhartha, in the hope that something will rub off.

Siddhi playing hide-n-seek.
(“Siddi” is an Arabic address used towards a respectable gentleman.
Another fine malapropism from the chronically punny.)

All of his front nails are trimmed now…

In health care, we call this “desensitization”

As for my own care, I’m up to 2/3 of my reiki time and 2/3 of my basic qi gong routine, and hope to get some t’ai chi in today as well. This is tremendous progress.

Vegetables are once again a chief component of my diet, thanks in no small part to an enormous bag of frozen “Normandy style” blend from Costco and our local dollar store, which sells cheap organic produce out of cardboard boxes.

I actually did laundry yesterday.  Today, I hope to take a shower and — gasp — wash my hair!

 

I realize only a minority of you will find that truly inspiring, but the rest can have a good laugh… and then think for a minute 🙂

For me, life with CRPS is indeed a matter of tiny triumphs and great goals. For the record, I’m still bound and determined to advance the search for a cure, and yes, I’ve gotten slightly more concrete in my ideas about that… More to come in time.

And now, just for the deliciously hokey yodeling at the end…

Links list:
Here is a recap and explication of the links used in this post:

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Frustration at the wall

I’ve had my nose shoved up against a wall for two and a half weeks now. It’s very frustrating but it’s the nature of this disease that, at times, I’m going to get stopped in my tracks, and I may not always understand why.

I have had less energy than I do now, but I have never had less motivation. Me? Unable to start something? This is so out of character that it’s a bit like seeing Mother Teresa bite a kitten — unfathomable.


Speaking of eating, I’ve been craving sugar so intensely I have truly felt like I’d lose my mind if I didn’t eat sweets. I haven’t had serious sugar cravings for almost a decade. That was one problem I never ever thought I’d be dealing with again. That’s finally lightening up, thank goodness — and thanks to some mental judo and nutritional first-aid. I can’t take on any more weight or the pain in my feet will become unbearable, and my hips are already giving me hell.

I have great blog ideas, but getting them into words isn’t happening. No… words… come… together. This is so strange I don’t even need to elaborate. This is the first thing I’ve been able to write in weeks and it’s not a blog, it’s a tirade. Excuse me while I scream.

My muscles across my shoulders and upper back are so tightly knotted I can’t do my exercises or qi gong or even more than a stroke or two of tai chi without that weird warping sensation when the muscles pull my moves awry — and then the nerves pull back and howl. Some activity would be better than none, but low as that bar is, I just can’t make it over.

I got a break from my muscles last night when I loaded up on Flexeril (if you follow this blog, you know it’s almost unheard-of for me to hit the CNS-affecting meds) but the lethargy, brain fog and stupidity this caused, for 18 hours afterwards, is hideously limiting in itself.

After trying to do my most basic stretches just now, I took another dose. I will NOT let this twisty locked-up posture become the new normal.

And somehow, nevertheless, I will function tomorrow enough to get my pills and get my gear and get my food for the day and get my sorry ass over to OT and PT and hope something can break through this maddeningly comprehensive barricade.

Needless to say, this is not my usual pleasant, mindful, lemons-into-lemonade sort of post.

This is me grabbing the damn lemons and throwing them right back, hoping to hear a few screams as they connect. 

In the fullness of time, I expect I’ll be able to  find a trigger, or a clue, as to what exactly started this and how to avoid it in future.  I can’t see it from here, and maybe this is the start of what I dread most: The Slide, the final descent into irresistible helplessness and incompetence.

But I think not. I’m too damn angry to give it that much room.

Let’s see what happens next. My money’s on the chunky blonde with the harsh mouth and crappy attitude. 

… And the new kitten…

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Pushing back on neuroplasticity

I got the Sydney norovirus right before it hit the news. I’m recovering, but slowly; the persistent low-grade nausea is annoying — and worrisome. I don’t want my body to get the idea that this is the new normal…

Brain plasticity is a major culprit in CRPS and its maintenance —
  • from the first refusal to cut pain signals off…
  • to the growth of the brain cortex area that monitors that body part, so it can handle more pain signals and provide less space for normal body areas…
  • to the deeper remapping and rewiring that alters cognition, disrupts memory formation, screws up autonomic signalling, knocks endocrine and digestive function out of whack…
  • and so forth.




It’s important to stay on top of the brain, so to speak.

 
Thanks to the brilliant pioneering work of Dr. V. S. Ramachandran, we now know that mirror therapy and reducing-lens therapy can remap the brain’s perception of injured body parts to something closer to normal. That was a huge help with the pain, when I had CRPS in limited areas.
 
The reality-shattering concept behind mirror therapy is, basically, that conditioning can work in reverse: rather than allowing ourselves to be the passive objects of what our brain becomes accustomed to doing, we can push back against the brain’s alterations using our natural mechanisms of perception and intent. (The basis of Dr. Ramachandran’s discovery is that perception alone can provide the altering input. Intent gives it more focus, force and direction.)
 
The relationship between body, intention, and brain is interactive, multi-dimensional, and interdependent. 

Having said that, it’s not completely reciprocal, nor is it ever under perfect control — unlike a good trapeze act.

 
If we could will ourselves better, then, given the extraordinary focus and determination of my fellow CRPSers, I know for a fact that we would have done so already. I never had met anyone with as much determination as me, until I met my core group of CRPS friends. If will alone were the answer, we’d have it!
 
CPRS is complex indeed.
 
Anyway… back to what we CAN do.
 
Communicating with the brain, in language it can’t ignore
 
The basic principle of RE-re-mapping the brain is this: describing to the brain, in language it can’t ignore (combining sensory perception and intent), what it should be doing.
 
In my Epsom bath article, I described rubbing a washcloth over body parts that have distorted perceptions and telling them silently, over and over again, “It’s just a washcloth. Feel just a washcloth.”
 
Where there is normal perception, or even nearly-normal perception, I stroke from the normal area to the abnormal area — never, ever in reverse! the brain understands the concept of “spread” — and tell my brain and body, with absolute focus, “This is what normal feels like. Feel normal HERE now. This is normal. Feel it here now. That is the correct feeling. It’s just a washcloth. Feel a washcloth.”
 
Not a burning sheet of sandpaper twice the size of my leg. Not a blunt sense of almost nothing, somewhere else.
 
A washcloth, right here.
 
When I’m doing this, I don’t even think about what the abnormal feelings are like; I came up with those metaphors just now, sifting through my memory. I shut the incorrect perceptions out of my mind and dismiss them, over and over, as obviously false information.
 
I have to take a break sometimes when the pain is bad and just breathe, but I don’t think about it, I focus on the point: learning to perceive what’s really there.
 
Vision, tactile input, kinesthesia (meaning that, as my hand and arm moves over the body part, my brain’s mechanisms triangulate on where things really are and its picture of my body gets corrected), and the focus of intent, are all part of the exercise.
 
This combination of factors is what makes it so effective. The multisensory inputs, the constant messaging of proper information, eventually overrides the false information.
 
Slowly at first, but with increasing pace, the normal sensation spreads over into the abnormal area. Every time. Not always completely or perfectly, but often both.
 
So far, I’ve reclaimed normal sensation in my back and most of my left leg, and I’ve kept the sensation and function in my arms at a level almost incompatible with the decade that I’ve had this disease.
 
Considering how bad things have gotten when I let this slide, the value of this exercise is clear to me.
 
Pruning your neurons intelligently
 
Learned responses are due to the basic learning mechanism in the brain:
  1. neurons hook up, and a connection (or association) is made;
  2. if the connection gets used (or the association is allowed to stand), more neurons hook up to make it stronger;
  3. once enough neurons have hooked up, the connection becomes like a good road;
  4. and the thing about good roads is, they get used, even if they’re used for something odd.
It’s important to manage the roads in your brain, especially when you have a neuro-plasticity disease like CRPS:
  • Make sure the roads in your brain are useful to you.
  • Do that by pruning the connections you don’t want.
  • Prune those connections by letting the associations die.
  • Let a connection die by deciding to think about, or do, something else, whenever it comes up.
    Consistently. Persistently. Relentlessly.
  • And keep making that decision every time it comes up.

It works by a negative, which is not how we are taught to do things: turn away from the response, shut out the perception, ignore the link. That’s how you prune an unhealthy connection.

It takes time, but it works. The time will pass anyway, so your brain might as well be better off at the end of it…

Masters of distraction
 
We CRPSers are masters of distraction — not to mention the kind of persistence that this pruning takes. We can learn to be diligent about applying it to sensory associations we don’t want. This is where ADD, used selectively, becomes truly — oh look! Yellow feet!
 
… Wait, what was the connection I was about to make? I’ve forgotten.
 
See? It works!
 
The joy of having a bit of ADD and being a meditator is, you really can choose when and how to let out the ADD — as long as you do it often enough. It’s a great tool, and I’m grateful for it.
 
Pruning specific sensory and functional associations
 
I’ve had recurring nausea for months now. It’s related to upticks in stress, of which I’ve had more than an elegant sufficiency in the past year.
 
Then there was this tummy bug…
 
It’s day 5 and I haven’t vomited in 3 days but I’m still nauseous. While this bug is supposed to leave one nauseous for quite some time afterwards, I really don’t want my brain getting the idea that sending nausea signals is going to be the new normal. I’m not going to let the nausea become habitual. So I’m pruning those connections.
 
I can’t will nausea away, as it comes from quite deep in the brain from a primitive place. And, unlike pain, distraction doesn’t help much for long.
 
So I’m balancing the use of ginger (short acting, “hot i’ the mouth”, sugary) and anti-nausea meds (long-acting, makes me slower in brain and gut) to shut down the nausea for a good part of each day. 
 
This means I’m not nauseous for a good part of the time. This helps retrain my brain away from constant nausea by letting the relentless association, and the neurons that make it, die off. I’m going to keep after it over the expected week of recovery still to come.
Only constructive connections, please.
That’s one example. It doesn’t take much thought or mental discipline, just persistence.
 
My lovely friend X has a recent example of something different, an obviously inappropriate new association being made.
 
She multitasks, making full use of her functional time. When she was eating, then turned aside to the plastic phone or plastic computer to respond to someone, then turned back, her food suddenly tasted and smelled like plastic.
 
That is a very errant association indeed. Prune it!
 
She is now putting aside the laptop and turning off the phone while she eats, so the association doesn’t develop further. Moreover — and she may have just enough ADD to pull this off — she hopes to be able to switch her attention immediately when the plastic taste pops back into her — Look! Yellow feet!
Egrets make great distraction, especially in funny socks.
It takes time to let those connecting neurons die, but if you get on it quickly, as X did, it can turn around pretty well and pretty quickly.
 
The Principle of Primal Exclusivity
 
This is simpler than it sounds. It’s the opposite of pruning.  
 
When you’re doing something really basic (or primal), like eating or drinking or sleeping or running or sex, keep your attention basically on that activity. It helps keep your brain straightened out about those things.
 
You really don’t want them getting bollixed up, because rewiring primal functions takes more work to undo.
 
That’s one reason why insomniac advice is about having a calming bedtime routine and sticking to it: it’s retraining the brain around a primal activity. The brain needs absolutely consistent signals over a period of time, to retrain successfully.
 
Incidentally, sex (alone or together) is the only activity that (ideally) engages both sides of the autonomic nervous system: arousal is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system, and orgasm by the parasympathetic nervous system. It provides a balancing mechanism I can’t think of occurring in any other sphere of life. Done properly, it could be the perfect autonomic tuning tool…
 
And with that happy thought, I’ll leave you to wash your hands against this norovirus and do whatever seems best.
 

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