This week I began a 10-week pain management class at the Stanford Pain Management Center. The goal of the class is to improve my overall quality of life by teaching behavioral interventions that I can use to help manage my chronic pain. Hopefully I will eventually be able to increase my overall level of activity, improve my quality of sleep, understand better the link between physical pain and stress, minimize the negative effects of pain on my relationships, and manage moods and life stressors more efficiently.
In the first session we learned that the pain management class is only part of a multi-disciplinary treatment program, along with physical therapy and medical interventions. All 3 must be followed if the overall quality of life is to improve; doing just one or 2 of them won't achieve lasting benefits. (Rats, I was hoping to wiggle out of physical therapy.)
We also began to learn about pain gateways to and from the brain, where stimuli are processed. A two-way communication exists, allowing messages going up to the brain to be modified by messages on their way down from the brain. Supposedly this two-way communication can lead to the intensity of the nerve impulses being changed or even blocked out. Hopefully we will learn to control these gateways to lessen the intensity of the sensations.
We were reassured that our pain is not "all in your head" (aside from the fact that it actually is literally in our head -- i.e., our brain). We were reassured that our pain is real, and that our pain is manageable. But we were also told "you control the amount of pain you experience." If that's true, I wonder what will happen the next time I have a bad flare. Will I be asked if I want to be in pain? Will I be asked why I don't just simply close my gateways and be done with it? Will I be asked why I'm not trying harder, when I've actually been trying my hardest the whole time, and my best effort simply isn't good enough? This is my apprehension. We were told that acknowledging emotions is one of the factors that can help close the gateway, so I'm acknowledging my apprehension here.
Even so, this is not a good way to start out in this program. Truly, I'm trying to give the program a fair shake. I'm trying not to get ahead of things and not to jump to conclusions. I'm trying to keep an open mind in spite of some misgivings I have about the basic premise. I'm going to try to ignore my ambivalent feelings and give it a go as best I can. And time will tell how useful this program will be to me.