Taming the stallion

I’ve been a season ticket holder on the pain train for a number of years now not just because it is an interesting and complex topic but also because I have a personal connection with persistent pain.

Whilst spending a summer living and working in New York in 2003, I became quite ill and eventually got diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC). Since that diagnosis I have been living with abdominal pains that come and go. Interestingly I quite likely would have had this pain prior to the diagnosis in that summer but would never have labelled it as a disease. The very labelling may have made me more aware of the issue and made the pain worse.

Anyone with either UC or Crohn’s Disease would agree that what affects one person would very likely be perfectly fine for another when it comes to flare ups of symptoms. I look back on those initial few years with incredulity at times. I was a terrible cook and was almost apathetic about the new label I had, not really wanting to find out more for fear it could make things worse.

A few years later however, I had no other choice. In my final year of university in 2007 I spent another summer living on Vancouver Island. The pain was so unbearable at times I had to curl up in a fetal position to get any respite. I began to face up to the fact that I needed to know more about this UC diagnosis to make a better life for myself.

Over a number of years and with the help of plenty of friends and health professionals I was able to come to terms with what I was dealing with. I started with giving the pain a personality to allow myself to easily explain to friends why I was choosing to avoid certain foods, drink or activities. My UC was now called ‘Timmy’ and Timmy was a temperamental prick at times.

young man in sleepwear suffering from headache in morning
Labeling my pain as a person helped a lot

“Sorry Marie, Timmy wouldn’t appreciate that vodka so I’ll stick with the 7UP right now.”

“Sorry guys, Timmy isn’t very happy right now so I’m going to call it an early night”…words may have been slightly slurred when that sentence was uttered from my mouth.

Over the next number of years I realised that Timmy did not like my job very much. I worked in business consulting, mostly sitting at a computer, trying to meet strict deadlines and performing tasks I had very little passion for. I would spend some days crouched over the desk with pain knocking back chocolate like a corporate Jabba the Hutt (for some reason eating chocolate would temporarily keep Timmy happy).

I worked part time in personal training and sports therapy and these jobs seemed to settle Timmy down a lot. Timmy would almost drag me like an impatient five year old to this environment after a day working as a desk jockey.

It soon became apparent that Timmy might have had a point. I wasn’t enjoying the desk jockey job, in spite of the decent wages. I felt a much more natural passion for the health and fitness industry and was encouraged by the feedback I got from customers and athletes I worked with.

Fast forward six years and Timmy turned out to have the right idea all along. I work in an industry that both inspires me and frustrates me in equal measure but one I would comfortably work in for the rest of my life. I have not once had a sinking feeling of dread waking up in the morning that I was so accustomed to feeling a few years ago.

My interest in the topic of pain has been borne out of these difficult but worthwhile past experiences. I have been greatly helped along the way by people, very knowledgeable in pain like Louis Gifford, Lorimer Mosely, Kieran O’Sullivan, Peter O’Sullivan, Mike Stewart and Ian Stevens. Armed with this understanding, I have become far closer to Timmy than ever and understand him more. This deeper meaning to my painful experience has meant the two of us get on now like a house on fire.

This is why we need to chat about our painful experiences.

I use the story of Timmy on occasion with patients to help them understand their pain. To me, Timmy is a wild stallion, my Patronus (for all those Harry Potter fans out there). If I am looking to get places with Timmy, it wouldn’t be wise to adopt a gung ho approach and just leap on. That would easily result in a very startled and pissed off stallion accompanied by a very broken and bruised ass.

An example of this would be me in a flare up going to the gym and fighting through the pain to try and get rid of it through movement and balls to walls effort. That always ended in more pain than before.

Taming a wild stallion, requires understanding, respect and gently forming a mutual bond. Once a bond is formed that stallion can take you wherever you want to go. Timmy has proven that.

If this relates to your experience and feel we might be able to help, get in touch with Clem Nihill Physiotherapy Limerick for a free consultation today.

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