Mind over matter. The brain beneath my chronic pain.

When I was 11 I had a gymnastics coach who wondered if I might have juvenile arthritis. I was in pain often and I was training for gymnastics a few times a week. I have no idea if the pain that I had then is linked with the chronic pain that I experience today. I do think that some of my childhood contributed to it and probably contributes to the pain that I experience now.

I have been learning a lot about ways that emotional trauma has an impact on health, especially on chronic pain. One of the things that I’ve learned is that trauma or adverse childhood experiences and high levels of stress all contribute to chronic pain. Regardless of where the chronic pain stemmed from. Even when someone has pain resulting from an injury. When it becomes a chronic pain there is usually something in our past associated with trauma or stress. And likely something from childhood.

I didn’t have a traumatic childhood, but I do think that I had a stressful childhood. I don’t believe stress is necessarily a negative thing. There is definitely negative stress. But some of the stresses are good stresses. There are positive things that cause stress. Things like getting married, child birth, moving to a new place where you are starting a new job… But at the same time there are also negative stresses like a car accident or bullying or domestic violence that are also traumatic. Stress and trauma contribute to the way that your brain is wired. That has an impact on mental health and on how your body experiences pain.

Mind over matter. 

This isn’t to say that pain is all in your head. Unfortunately some people do believe that. But that’s not at all what I’m saying.  Our brain is wired and has receptors for pain that are developed in our childhood and are affected by our life experiences. So when you have an experience of high stress… that will have an effect on how your brain is wired. Both with how we experience those emotional situations and also with things like pain.

Childhood stresses

So when I was 11 years old I was a child of an RCMP member (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a federal police force). That meant that we were usually transferred to a new posting every 3-5 years. I had already moved halfway across the country twice by the time I was 8. The move at age 8 moved us to an isolated community in the north. As caucasian English speakers we were in the minority. That doesn’t mean that we suffered from discrimination. In fact the opposite was true for “whites”. Even though the white English were less in numbers we still held greater power. We held the professional service positions that had brought us to the community: police, doctors, teachers, firefighters, etc.

We moved to that community from Saskatchewan. I was one of the few white girls in my class and I very quickly became a target of a bully. I lived in the community at a time when children were held back if they didn’t do well in school. Today we know for social development it is important for children to learn with their peer groups – even if they haven’t mastered the skill level to move on. At that time I had a 16 year old girl in my grade 5 class. I was 10 years old. And she decided that she didn’t like me. She harassed me, physically attacked me and tried to taunt me into fighting with her.

This is an example of the kind of stress that I experienced in my childhood. I think that it may have contributed to my health condition then and today. At the time these things didn’t really feel so serious. I certainly didn’t attribute it to the pain I was experiencing when I was in gymnastics.

Chronic acute stress

Skip ahead to today. I believe my development of fibromyalgia more than 15 years ago is due to chronic acute stress. Some of the stress hasn’t been traumatic. Some of the stress has been from some of those positive life changes.

I moved a lot. I enjoyed moving. I liked the change. I liked getting to know new communities… new people and learning a new culture. Those things, while I experienced them as positive stress, were stressful things. And were experiences that would have had an impact on my brain development and the wiring of those pain receptors and how my brain interprets the things that my body experiences.

Now Distant Thoughts

Marital stress

I have experienced quite a number of  traumatic things in my adult life. A marriage that ended after ten years. During which my ex-husband had two affairs. Moving multiple times. When we were looking for new opportunities and then because he had joined the military, and then when we were posted. We had two children during that time. I changed jobs multiple times because of those moves. Some of those things were positive. But, it was a roller coaster of a marriage. And the things that I think had the biggest impact on my health were those of highly traumatic negative stress.

Own your choices

Since that time I have also had a couple of very negative work environments. I ended up taking a medical leave and eventually moving on to another job. Making the decision to move on was a difficult one. And I made that decision again three years ago. I moved to a job that definitely allowed for a decrease in that stress, but also meant a big decrease in my pay cheque.

Significant loss

I lost my mother 6 years ago. It was quite sudden. We were close. I had just moved back to Nova Scotia where my parents were living, a few years before. We had lived a long way away from each other for quite a while. We didn’t live close enough to see each other everyday, but close enough that we could see each other when we wanted to.

When I lost my mom I felt like I’d lost a huge piece of myself. I’m sure most people who lose a parent at a young age feel that way. My mom was 59, I had eleven year old and nine year old daughters who were very close to their Nanny. I lost not only my mom, but the biggest support in my life.

Mom was someone who understood what I was going through. She also had chronic pain. She also had fibromyalgia. Mom could relate to my migraines. Mom would take care of me. She was one of the few people who did.

My own theory for a number of years now has been that my life of chronic acute stress has been the main cause of my pain, chronic sleep issues and frequent migraines.

Improving mental health and chronic pain

I’ve been learning a lot about things that we can do to improve our health and especially our pain and mental health. Each of those things can be isolated when describing what they are and how to treat them. But they are interconnected and have commonalities both in cause & effect and in treatments. So one of the things that I have learned will have the most significant benefit is to address those root causes. Of where the pain, the depression, the anxiety, the migraines, the chronic health issues all are likely stemming from.

Things like mindfulness practise. Things like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). By addressing childhood adversity in a way that you come to terms with and can separate those experiences from your pain conditions our health can improve. I’ve found a number of different experts from both traditional medicine and from a psychological perspective who say a lot of the same things.

Of course we need to address the things that are very clearly physical. Like eating right. And physical activity. And doing what you can to improve your sleep. Based on the routine that you have every day and the things that you consume.

Mom: A life force that lives on within and around me.

The brain beneath my chronic pain

But there is this whole other piece that can also help to integrate the way that your brain processes experiences and the way that your brain tells you your body is experiencing things. It is actually those pain receptors that can be positively affected by psychiatric and psychological treatment.

Mindfulness isn’t this hooey, soft, ineffective trend that people do just to feel some inner peace. Practising psychological, CBT, psychiatric treatment or emotional therapy are actually ways of changing the way that you brain perceives experiences.  Physical and otherwise.

I’m starting to practise some of these exercises. And I’m beginning to find that even the way that I think about my pain and how I am feeling each day is different than it was before. I have heard a lot of positive reports from others doing these exercises too.

These are not things that would be of concern medically or counter-indicated. They are not exercises that could result in making things worse. Unlike the medication that is prescribed to me that might have side effects or could result in addiction. Sometimes there are physical therapies that a person can try that can actually cause injury if not done properly.

The exercises that I am talking about are gentle exercises of your brain. At their very worst they could have no positive effect. At their very they best they could help me feel better.

Choose to feel better

People need to be hearing that we have control over how we perceive (feel) our own physical experiences. We are able to change our mental health. And we can do so by making choices and by doing exercises that require a little bit of discipline. But are actually quite easy to do without needing a lot of professional guidance.

A picture of mental health. Photo credit: Debbie Roberts

Photo credit: Debbie Roberts

So that’s where I am at.

I am starting to make these exercises a part of my routine.

It’s not easy. When you start from a place where your day to day means just getting through the day. Feeling completely spent, exhausted and uncomfortable. Maybe even in intolerable pain. It is very difficult to see where you can make the time and mental space to do these exercises.

So, I’m starting small. I’m starting with little short exercises a few times a week. Hopefully increasing that to several times/week soon, and then to a daily practise.

Once I have a daily practise, I will increase the length and number of exercises that I do. I can change the connection that my body has with my mind and my emotions and how I relate to the world. Both the physical environment around me and the people that I have relationships with.

I’m going to share a few resources that I have found really helpful.

I would love to hear your story and if you’ve tried any of these things, what kinds of outcomes you’ve had. Maybe there is some way that we can hold each other accountable. I’m going to do a challenge myself next month and I hope that you will join me. We can be accountability partners and supports for each other and others in need as well.

Sign up for my free worksheet to help you figure out your own wellness goals. Join my facebook group and tell me what your intention is. I want to hear how you plan to challenge yourself to get better.

Living with Fibromyalgia

Living with fibromyalgia is as frustrating as it is painful. After working through the pain all week and not feeling up to anything at home in the evenings, my weekends are most often spent playing catch up on my household chores. But come Monday, when one should return to work feeling rested and ready to take on a new week, I am more exhausted than ever and often in greater pain.

Living with fibromyalgia

This weekend I finally managed to clean out my pantry. Not a huge task on the scale of physical demand, but one that required standing and raising my arms above my head a lot. My shoulders hate that motion. So today, I pay for it, waking in pain. With a typical fibromyalgia flare-up: muscle tension everywhere and a headache that just won’t subside. No matter what extra strength Tylenol and water I consume, hot shower and extra strength Voltaren I use… I find myself sitting half undressed in a lazyboy, overheating from the pain, with a magic bag wrapped around my neck & shoulders.

I know how it sounds when I call into work many Monday mornings saying I’ll be late. I know my staff and my supervisor begin questioning the validity of my condition. Most of the time people around me don’t even know what pain I am enduring. I tell those who do notice, that if they can actual tell that I am in pain, it has to be pretty bad, because the days that people think I’m doing just fine, inside I feel like I’m just barely coping. The fact is, I would be much better off with a part-time job, and even better off with work that I can do from home on a flexible schedule.

I think by speaking with other Fibro-sufferers, people would learn that my situation is not at all uncommon among those with fibromyalgia. There is nothing I wouldn’t give to be able to live day to day without pain, wake feeling rested and not feel fatigued all day long, and have a clear head to process thoughts with an ability to remain focused for more than 90 seconds. Today is one of those days. I don’t want your sympathy… Just a little compassion, instead of judgement. Patience,
instead of frustration. And maybe a few extra moments to process thoughts before giving a response…

We all live with challenges that others don’t know about. It’s time to start opening up and sharing, rather than assume these challenges somehow make us inferior or less than competent. What are your daily challenges that you keep hidden away?


Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun or email me at trish at trishblogs dot com!

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Blogging for recovery (mental health)…

The road to mental health recovery is a long, challenging one. There are curves and dips, mountains and valleys, switchbacks and stalls. Often moving so slowly we feel as if we’re in reverse. Occasionally we truly are. Sometimes the entire process has to restart, and while it feels like we’re back at the beginning, we never truly are. Each leg of the journey adds to the process – sometimes hastening the forward momentum and at times forcing us to a crawl.

Just as with the act of running, if there are two feet moving in a mostly forward direction, eventually we’ll get further ahead than when we began.

There is no magic cure. No pill to suddenly change the mood and make all of the contributing circumstances irrelevant. There are many factors that must each be tackled when the time is right, and eventually depression can be – if not entirely then at least mostly – overcome.

I am by no means in the clear when it comes to mental health. I know that life will continue to throw me curve balls and that my state of being in the moment will have a significant impact on how those events are dealt with by me.

I am confident though that today I am better equipped to weather the storms.

Photo credit: Debbie Roberts

Photo credit: Debbie Roberts

People ask me what I have done to improve my mental health, and there is no single thing. It took an accumulation of events for me to stop coping in a healthy way. It is an accumulation of activities and life changes that have allowed me to arrive on the other side.

Medication can be helpful as a sort of kickstart or bridge depending upon what you need. In my case, it was adjustments to pain medications – rather than an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.

But that it is not what helped the most. My complete lifestyle change starting with leaving a job that was killing me in an almost systematic way is what did it. I started a new job in a much healthier environment where the ultimate goal is helping build a healthier community. I feel as though I have aligned myself with professional work that marries well with my own passion.

I have always found health-related changes easier to make when there is already a big change happening. While off to my new job, I started a better routine of exercise and eating well.

Today, almost daily I do 20-30 minutes of cardio and a light weight training circuit. 1-3 times/week I switch it up and take a land-based fitness or aqua fitness class instead, or in addition. Ultimately I knew I had arrived at my desired level of activity when not partaking became something I missed. I feel more like myself when I am active daily. And I am more conscious of what I put inside of my body at the same time.

None of these things are easy. I still see a doctor frequently for chronic pain issues. I still have days that I want to bury my head in the sand. But change really must come from within. Being ready to take ownership of my health and take risky steps to improve things required commitment and support. Whatever that support system looked like I used it. I saw a therapist who really just heard me and validated my feelings while encouraging me to keep moving forward. Friends and family, even passing acquaintances each played a role. Whether in the form of a wellness challenge at work, or bi-weekly tea dates with childhood friends… was all good.

Have you been wanting to make a change?

Just go for it, and stop being so hard on yourself!


Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun or email me at trish at trishblogs dot com!

I invite you to subscribe to my blog using one of the options available on my page (email, rss, Google Connect, like my page on Facebook, etc.)

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Lifestyle changes – taking charge

May 13 / Mother's Day - by Kate Inglis

I have done and tried a lot of different things in the hopes of feeling better, for the last two years I just sort of stopped making any real effort at all. Now I’m ready for a big change. Bigger lifestyle changes than I’ve ever made. One that will result in (hopefully) me feeling better, more rested, more energetic, less pain, better head space… I’m not talking about a diet or a new year’s resolution to get fit and lose a few pounds. I’m talking a complete haul-over. I am going to reboot, reset and hopefully establish a whole new baseline to operate from.

 I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired… How many times have you heard that one before?

How about this one: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, expecting different results… ?

So the new plan is:

Take all of the bad stuff out of the diet, put all of the good stuff in.

Make a daily routine that includes all of the activities that I know will support the kind of healthy lifestyle I am trying to achieve.


No more processed crap, no more sitting and hurting, less mindless head-spinning, more mindful head-clearing.


I want a day that includes a morning ritual, healthy work habits, and an evening routine that sets the stage… for a restful night’s sleep.


What do I hope to achieve? The simple answer… a life as close to pain-free as possible. The more elaborate… happiness, both in state of mind and physical being.


So much of what is recommended for a healthy lifestyle in general is priority for someone living with fibromyalgia to become better able to function. The details of the plan (daily moderate exercise, regular sleep, and omitting foods that are known to be bad for my condition: gluten; refined sugars; processed foods; dairy and soy) aren’t as important to me in making this happen as how I will make it stick.


What’s it going to take to keep on keepin’ on when it gets really tough? Some things come naturally to me – logging/journaling a lifestyle change is what started me on the blogging path eight years ago. Hold myself accountable by sharing my journey online. 


What else? I know I need goals and some sort of reward that I am working towards achieving. I am goal driven. This is the part I have deliberated over the most. I will track and evaluate my progress – there are great apps and other tools out there for this purpose. Once I’ve identified my goals and how I am going to reach them, I will create a focus board to refer to and remind me of what I am ultimately trying to do.


Here are a few of the things I’m working on:


Diet changes:

No gluten, refined sugars or processed foods, white breads/grains

Get back to eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein – i.e. fish, walnuts

Prepare: breakfast foods ahead of time (i.e. steal cut oats, smoothie mixes); lunches ahead (i.e. quinoa/bean salads); and menu plan suppers (slowcooker and/or prep ahead meals) in advance


Let’s be clear here, I intend to enjoy life and there are a few things I have no intention of giving up in the foreseeable future: espresso coffee (but will switch mostly to decaf), dark chocolate, red wine…


Changes to my routine:

Rise early; exercise; practise mindfulness; eat breakfast; lunchtime break – walk? Swim?; evening walks & yoga; prepare the next day’s meals; reading/writing; bed early… sticking with a regular bed & wake time

Do you have any specific goals/plans? What do they look like?



Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun or email me at trish at trishblogs dot com!

I invite you to subscribe to my blog using one of the options available on my page (email, rss, Google Connect, like my page on Facebook, etc.)

If you enjoyed this post, please do like/share it. You can do so using the easy share button below!



Progress in this journey we call life

After missing so many weeks of writing blog posts, it’s time to make it happen. Perhaps looking at what’s been happening recently will help me to get motivated/inspired or simply able to take action!

Life has gotten really busy, and there is a lot of progress worth noting:

  • we continue the quest to sell our house in order to move into a bigger house with capacity for an in-law suite, on lakefront. This has kept us the busiest, making improvements to the house to make it more sell-able. All are projects that were on our list that we were continuously slogging through. Since listing in May we’ve completed most, taking years off the timeline. There have been many viewings, but so far no bites.
  • My sister is settling in with us and our family is reshaping a little. It’s all good, but it sure would be nice to be done with the viewings and to have more space (and that lake to jump in every morning!)
  • I am officially closing a chapter in my life that brought a lot of heavy emotions and stress, the official documents arrived today, and court issued certificate will come in a few weeks. This is a huge weight lifted that will hopefully allow our family to move forward more.
  • Finally another sega is being closed with a settlement hopefully forthcoming in the near future from my car accident.
  • Working with my RMT, chiropractor/ART, and family physician I am getting back to a more active life, with less pain and feeling (bit by bit) more like myself again
  • I bought a new bike (upright city cruiser), and sold my mountain bike to pay for it. I can now ride without neck or shoulder pain, and have started cycle-commuting again!
  • I am becoming more involved with advocacy efforts once more
  • Contemplating my future and hopefully moving into the career I will grow with
  • with things feeling more settled I am ready for a bigger challenge, full-time work, etc.

Week 1.

Exhaustion. Aches. And a hint of light peeking from behind the heavy clouds.

I wake every morning in a fog. I’m uncertain whether my pain meds are causing it, or my interrupted sleep (I have an anxious ten-year-old struggling with her own sleep battles). Perhaps it’s the change in routine.

In addition to my extra work day throughout the election campaign… and a little volunteer work on the campaign… I have finally begun a 12 day group program in management of chronic pain. At a time when I need to reduce my outside projects, I am back to a full-time schedule. Most other projects have come to a halt.

3 ½ hours, 3 days/week. We sit and we discuss, we do fitness baseline testing. We learn. We discuss some more.

I have made a commitment to myself that I will walk to/from group and work in order to ensure I get a minimum of 3 days/week of walking in.

By the end of group, my goal is to create a realistic reachable plan for getting back into a regular fitness routine, with as few setbacks along the way as possible.

Goal setting. Caution. Pacing. Self-awareness. Patience. Nutrition. Motivation. Flexibility. Encouragement.

I may need a little help. 🙂

To hell and back, again and again, and again…

For a long time I’ve been wanting to tackle some big issues with my writing. These are not easy discussions to be had, with others, or with myself. However, even while in the midst of them I tried to be open and share what I was going through for one simple reason: there is no need to be ashamed, especially when you are not in the wrong. Plain and simple we NEED to talk about these things. My goal in sharing my experiences is not to seek sympathy, nor commiserate, but to present an opportunity for open dialogue, to reach out to those who need to know they are not alone in their experiences.

I am going to write a series of posts. They won’t share dirty details, well at least not any identifying ones… I can’t promise how much will be left out, in the interest of illustrating and sharing the reality of these stories – and generating discussion amongst others who have been there, are there now, continue to deal with them, etc.

Dan Pearce of Single Dad Laughing inspired me to finally share my stories. He wrote a post about his journey(s) through hell, and why he’d never change things. I’ve always felt the same way: every experience I had has made me the person I am today. As much as I wish NEVER for anyone I care about (or despise for that matter) to experience some of the pain that I have, I wouldn’t undo any of it. They’ve all been learning experiences, and some have resulted in a better me than I could have ever become intensionally.

All that said and yet I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. My experiences have been (without doubt) both painful and stressful, but I do not mistake them for much greater hardships that others endure and survive. In the worst of my experiences and heartaches, I’ve often found myself thankful that I am not going through that much worse experience of ___ (whatever I may imagine to be worse than my own present state at the time) ___.

My plan is that I will write a series of posts, in no particular order, and with no particular deadline (I believe I must feel innately compelled to write about the particular experience at the time that I tackle it). Here’s a little idea of what’s to come:

  • Bullying:
      • my experiences as a child of 9-11 in a community where I was technically in the minority, while still a part of the greater society’s majority.
      • my experiences as the new girl in a junior high school
      • work place harassment
      • the parent’s great fear of seeing one of their own become a victim of a bully
  • Infidelity and all of the complexities that come along with two very different yet familiar experiences
  • Separation & Divorce
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression

I welcome those who feel so inclined to share their own stories or suffering and overcoming, whether they be related or no.

Out of focus, but not in a blurry sort of way

I’ve been really struggling lately with keeping focus. Of course, I feel like I’d hardly found it to begin with. Sometimes I wonder if one decision in life could have made all the difference and perhaps changed the direction I have taken, leading to a more focused life. A part of me believes I still would have found my way to where I am right now regardless of the path, but could a different path have allowed me a less painful journey? One that might have afforded me the ability to focus better?

Perhaps not, perhaps it’s just in my make-up. Or perhaps it’s motherhood? Although, I’m quite certain this started long before I became a mom. I will soon be celebrating a decade of motherhood. And I have been flitting from idea to idea, project to project, school to job, job to school, even home to home for almost my entire adulthood. Perhaps it’s just the product of my childhood: growing up the daughter of an RCMP member, grand-daughter of two air force members, moving from posting to posting never calling one specific place “home”. Our family are all gypsies, perhaps I’m just no good at putting down roots.

There are a few things in my life that do keep me grounded, they are my spouse and my children.

My children are my world. We plan our lives around them, while knowing that we must have time for ourselves and activities just for me. But I try to take advantage of every opportunity we can to be together. I took a part-time job that would allow me to be home with them more. Our weekend plans always involve family-focused activities when the girls are at home. We go swimming or we take bike rides, we have movie nights and play board games.  We read together.  Sometimes we plan family outings to farms with u-picks, and sometimes we choose to relax without any plans at all.

Their bonus dad is my significant other, my spouse, my partner in life, my best friend. When we met we shared all of our extra curricular activities (like cycling, running and swimming), now we support one another in those efforts, and our time together is more often spent relaxing at home while the girlies are in bed. Lately we’ve been spending a lot of time exploring our options to make a move into a home that will improve our quality of life in the areas that are most important to us. A lakefront property in an area where we can run and cycle and just plain enjoy the out-of-doors together even more.

So, while they keep me grounded, the rest of me is in the clouds constantly rising and falling, uncertain of the weather down below.

Maybe it’s just me. I had been coping better for a while. Now I’ve begun to feel very low about the physical pain I’ve been experiencing again (still), and the effect that’s had on the sleep that I had just finally gotten under control (mostly). I’d been watching sappy movies all evening on the weekend while catching up on laundry. The movies made me cry, something I rarely do while watching films – especially silly chick flicks.

I keep reading about how to make the most of life, hoping something will jump out at me. And little bits and pieces do and have, so I make incremental changes, but part of me wants to make a huge leap! Am I really ready?

When did you know know it was time to make a significant change in your life?