Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Registering a Disability (aka GRRR!)

So, I am beginning classes at a new university this fall, on account of I graduated and am starting a Master's program, and for this gigantic switch I'll need to have my documents regarding my disability (pain, yes) sent from one university to another. Basically, the new U needs to be sure that I do have the injury I claim to be troubled by, and the old U has documents from various doctors attesting to this fact. The old U however, even after so many phone calls, e-mails, faxes, etc. has yet to send the documents forward.

Because of this annoyance, I may have to get everything confirmed with my drs again. Am seeing the regular dr. tomorrow and maybe can get her to authorize things- but as I am beginning school on Friday, I feel like I'm cutting it really close! Shouldn't the old U know better than to put chronic pain sufferers through such an irritation!

I am very cranky.

Magickal Teas

Well, only the one, actually, but it FEELs magical, which is enough for me to break into song and dance. Anyway, as I probably have mentioned, unless I was trying to nobly avoid the subject, I take Vicodin on occasion for pain and a great deal (2-4 pills a day av.) of over-the-counter pain-killers (I think I may be over-hyphening...). Well, I saw my doctor, as you know and about which I have complained at length and the aforementioned liver problem possibility arose and has been haunting me poltergestically for the past few (or has it only been one?) week. So, though I am not hugely into alternative medicines (though I feel I am getting more into it with the Tai Chi, acupuncture, and, now, tea), I looked to see what herbs/teas there might be that help reduce pain.

Now, I must ease your suspicions- I do not work for the company that produces the tea about which I will soon begin to rant. In fact, I applied to work for them, and did not even so much as get called in for an interview. Which is a real shame for them, as I could so wholeheartedly convince people to buy this fantastic tea.

It is called Tranquil Dream and is produced and sold, not at an inconsiderable price, by Teavana (they have one in Alderwood Mall, if you're in the Seattle area). The tea is marketed as helping one to sleep, but has the additional effect of "calm[ing[ your nerves, reliev[ing] aches and pains, and generally relax[ing] your body and mind." It is a bit of stretch to consider that this tea might eliminate all pains, and I do not suggest it does.

The greatness of this tea is in that it does help A LITTLE. When I find my pain gets so bad that I have light or sound sensitivity, the pain begins to radiate, etc., this tea can help bring it back to a more manageable level. This is especially helpful at night because it can ease the ache just enough to allow me to sleep.

I must confess that the taste is awful, at least to me. It is like chamomile mixed with something awful, like crap. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but it doesn't taste good to me at all. Perhaps you will be luckier...

Anywho, three cheers for pain-reducing tea! I have been drinking it for a week now and it continues to help. Huzzah!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Pain

It's weird, but when the pain changes, even a little, everything feels a lot worse. The past few weeks have seen some of the worst pain I've experienced in a long while. One of the reasons is this strange shift in pain. Most of it just sits in my neck and shoots up to sit just above my ears and in my head. At some point, it will make it far enough and hit my eyes. I'm worried about having another migraine- I've only had a few but it always comes from these neck aches.

Another pain support group has opened up in the area- for chronic migraines. So far there haven't been any meetings yet, but I'm looking forward to attending if I can. Lynnwood, the location of these meetings, is much more convenient than the Seattle location of the other group. I hope that something is scheduled soon- it would be nice to be able to talk with someone.

Going back to religion again, I found a Patron Saint of Protection and Cures from Pain- Saint Madron. From

ST MADRON: The Patron Saint of Cures from and Protection against Pain

Cornish Saint with a village and a Holy Well bearing his name.

The well is recommended for the cure of chest complaints, nightmares and rickets if certain rituals are followed. These seem to be more Pagan than Christian.

Still, with hospital waiting lists getting longer in Britain it could be worth a try. One tried and tested tip is to leave a small piece of fabric from your clothing at St Madron's Well; your illness will dwindle away as the cloth deteriorates.

Of course there is no guarantee if you choose to wear man-made fabrics, and nylon is a definite no-no.

Apart from its fascinating wells, Cornwall is also well known for breathtaking coastal scenery, tin mines, cream teas and delicious pasties. Why not choose Cornwall for your vacation this year?

-- this makes me want to go back to England and at least try. If I can make my way to Ireland to study abroad, I'm sure that I could get to this place in England. I suppose it's just silly and superstitious, but if there is no scientific cure, what else have I left to depend on? I have water from the river Jordan, where Jesus was baptized. Would it make any difference if I drank it?

Enough silliness. I've found an acupuncturist in Bothell- hopefully that will work. Massage again, which never works. And a cortisone shot coming up. Will try some more classes- make sure to get up early enough to go to Tai Chi on Saturdays and perhaps begin yoga again.

Bengay seems to help- I must depend on it more. Will smell strangely forever. Enough self-pity as well!

P: 8
M: 3

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dr. Appt.

Well, I went to see the back doctor for the first time in over a year on Thursday, and the prognosis was not pleasant. It just seems like we've reached the point in treatment where everything we can try is a "Hail Mary." He used fancy works like "empirical" in his explanations and wore a grim expression throughout. Plus, since it had been over a year, I had to fill out all the paperwork, sans insurance info, again- 12 pages of background! The paperwork was probably the worst part, because it asked personal questions like "Do you feel you have ever been sexually abused?" and "Have you ever considered suicide?". I understand that they must have some information regarding my psychological state, but throwing such intense questions right in the middle of an otherwise yes/no type scientific questionnaire was unnerving.

Anyway, I will begin massage again and acupuncture anew. My back has been crazy terrible this week on account of moving furniture, holding the baby, running errands with the baby, and a mess of other things. I didn't make it to Tai Chi Saturday morning, yet again, and feel terribly guilty, though I slept very little on account of the pain, so I wouldn't have been at my best/even at half-best.

I really should try to write something more poetic when I'm in terrible pain but the trouble is, when I'm in terrible pain the very last thing I want to do is try to be poetic! Speaking in grunts comes more naturally, or single wordy syllables such as "Ow!". It is a conundrum, to be sure, and perhaps one that might best be remedied through the purchase of a voice recorder. A mono-syllabic poem would be better than none at all.

Applying for jobs and interviewing add such stressors as can only result in pain as well. I have three job interviews next week and can't help but worry worry worry my head off. And by "head" I mean "nerves throughout my neck, back, and shoulders." Plus, if I can only find a well-paying job in this awful economy, I might be able to make it to Chile this summer and meet my family whilst learning Spanish. Oh, hopes and dreams. Yet, I will most likely end up in a secretarial position, which will necessitate my sitting for hours on end hunched over. I will have even more pain to look forward to. Oh, glorious anticipation!

Must find an acupuncturist who will take my insurance. And book a massage appt. How will I have the time for these things? Perhaps I should take a yoga class again as well...

Anyway, if the acupuncture does not work, I'll be looking at a cortozone shot. Apparently, I have misspelled corotozone. How would I know how to spell it though? Cortizone? Courtizone? Courtazone? Cortazone? Cortazon?

Had to look it up- Cortisone, apparently. The dr. thinks that it won't work, but might randomly because pain is so confusing. I hear that it doesn't hurt too badly because they numb you up first. We'll see, assuming acupuncture doesn't work, which is rather pessimistic.

Also, must go to the regular dr. and get a liver test. Back dr. worries that all these pain meds may have damaged my liver. Though, at least liver failure/disease is something they can actually do something for :(

You may have noticed that, yes, I have been having some pain-related depression, which was diagnosed but remains untreated. Must also see regular dr. for some anti-depressants. Cymbalta was recommended by my psychologist, but only psychiatrists can prescribe. How annoying...

Been trying Bengay cream and heat patches lately. Apparently, you really have to shovel out the dough for the brand names- patches don't stick if they're cheap and the cream just doesn't work. Anyway, Bengay burns- painfully so, but it does help. Make SURE to wash your hands after smearing it (or having someone else smear it) on the area of pain! It will burn anywhere on your body except the hands (at least for me- it might be a result of barista work). Trying to use creams and such instead of pain meds (Vicodin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc.) on account of the liver thing. We'll see how long I hold out for.

Anyway, I'm off to pretend to sleep, because I won't be able to on account of all this awful pain that now sits in my shoulder blades in particular. Shooting pain that makes my fingers numb, ew.


P: 8
M: 8 (seeing Wicked tomorrow!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Perfect Ten

So many things happened this weekend that today I am left with a perfect ten in pain. Usually, when it gets like this, I can't do anything at all, just lay somewhere and moan, and usually I'm extremely depressed. Even though it would feel better if I laid down, I'm sitting up and writing to you, and I am not very depressed. Not 100% happy either, but maybe this is a sign of improvement?

Okay, that about ended the sitting up, and I am propped on a bed of pillows again.

It just feels like if I move at all, I'll break, like everything is bent to the limit, even when it's straight. For my neck, it almost feels like my head is supposed to be inside my chest or resting against it, but has forced itself up painfully. My shoulder blades just feel like a knife has been stabbed in them. The in-between is numb.

What to do on a day like this? Will probably try to read and listen to music, but will end up sleeping, I'm sure. Will just have to get the Vicodin out again.

The cause: moving furniture and carrying a five-year-old.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Buddhist Philosophy and Pain

* I'll format it later, I promise.

Written by Amanda Martin <---me

Buddhist Philosophy and Pain

In the study of Buddhism, one of the first lessons to be understood is the concept of suffering or disquietude (dukkha) that is central to considering the Four Noble Truths and the nature of samsara. While dukkha includes disquietude of all kinds, this paper will link the concepts from the philosophies of Dōgen, Kosho Sensei, and Nishitani to the dukkha that is commonly referred to as physical pain. As one who continuously experiences physical pain, I will additionally relate these philosophies to my own experience of dukkha and how this reality need not be interpreted as negative but can easily become a tool for the Way-seeking mind. Through the activity of meditation on pain in an attempt to achieve continuous practice, and/or the meditation on extreme physical pain, it becomes apparent that the subject can utilize his pain and realize it as potentially becoming or already existing as one of the eighty-four thousand dharma doors to enlightenment.

As an exercise to purge pain from the conscious mind, pain specialists have long advocated the practice of sitting meditation. The subject is told to focus her entire mind on the center of her pain, allowing the aspect of the mind that experiences pain to grow accustomed to and understand the nature of the pain. The suggestion thus is that by focusing entirely on the pain and nothing else, the pain might be eliminated as a continuous experience. However, the meditation, once achieved through sitting, must be continued throughout everyday life, in order to become a mechanism for living a healthy life. The pain-suffered is told to practice maintaining her acceptance and understanding of pain beyond just the time spent in sitting meditation. This meditative state of mind that the practitioner seeks to always maintain is akin to Dōgen’s concept of continuous practice, and supposed seek for a healthy life, really a venture toward understanding the Way.

In the fascicle “Tenzo Kyokun” (“Instructions for the Tenzo”), Dōgen explains that “Those of old tell us, ‘For the tenzo, the mind which finds the Way actualizes itself through working with rolled up sleeves.’” What is particularly noteworthy about this statement is its specificity, referring to the role of the tenzo, the temple cook, generally a single member of a temple’s monastic community, alone. This particular member of the temple is singled out in the fascicle and in the statement, thusly explaining that not every Way-seeking mind must actualize through the mindful work in the kitchen because not everyone can or need be a cook. While the tenzo must be careful or mindful when pouring rice to prevent the waste of even a single grain, a monk in charge of cleaning similarly must be careful or mindful to make sure that every speck of dirt is removed from the temple’s floors. In Dōgen’s fascicles entitled “Continuous Practice, Fascicle One” and “Continuous Practice, Fascicle Two,” various examples of monks attaining enlightenment are given. Sometimes these monks attain enlightenment upon hearing a statement or question, such as Zen Master Fachang after hearing from Mazu that “Mind is Buddha” (122), but sometimes it is a physical sensation that accompanies the realization of enlightenment, such as Linji upon receiving sixty blows from a senior dharma brother (132). The particular moments at which these monks attain enlightenment are seen as mostly irrelevant, merely a natural result of their continuous practice.

Dōgen’s concept of continuous practice can similarly be applied to the chronic pain sufferer’s attempt to continuously meditate on the center of his pain. Similar to the tenzo who must be every mindful about every aspect of every item in his kitchen, the pain sufferer must learn to be mindful about every aspect of his pain. Like the monks who seek out unpleasant living conditions with cold weather entering their meek dwellings, with light supplied only by the sun and stars, and in continuous solitude, the practitioner of pain meditation cannot begrudge his hardship but welcome it and seek it out. This practitioner’s dukkha becomes a guide toward enlightenment as it emerges as an ever-present thought in the mind. The monk Nanyue is described as living in a harsh environment for fifteen years without a single text to study, and this path was found to lead him to enlightenment: “Not having one piece of knowledge or half of understanding, he reached the place of no effort, going beyond study” (131). While the practitioner of pain meditation might study the reasons for her pain and see doctors claiming to be experts, essentially seek out a cure for her pain, she might better serve herself in her quest for the Way by welcoming the ache as these monks have welcomed and sought out harsh living conditions. By living with this ever-present unpleasant condition, she is perhaps lucky in being able to attain the environment that these monks seek bound within the flesh of her own body, aiding her in the attempt to achieve continuous practice as well.

Kosho Sensei, in his lesson to the Advanced Buddhist Philosophy class on April 20th, spoke of the unpleasant conditions under which he worked on one particular night. As the only member of his temple who possessed technical skills and understood word processing, Kosho Sensei was asked to complete a series of documents and given a strict deadline. In order to complete his work on time, Kosho Sensei stayed up all night working, hunched over a computer in what assuredly became a painful position, with the additional unpleasantries of excessive tiredness and anxiety. After completing his work in the early morning, Kosho Sensei went to “take a shit,” and on his return to the temple, saw a beautiful flower that somehow seemed especially beautiful. The experience of unpleasant things and conditions thus seems to make it simpler for the practitioner to be mindful, and, therefore, a sustained unpleasantry must be helpful for the Way-seeking person.

Sitting in meditation on pain additionally can lead one to the experience of the Zen Great Doubt, which Nishitani describes in Religion and Nothingness as following from the breakthrough question “For what purpose do I myself exist?” (2). Nishitani describes terrible situations in which a loved one may be lost or one is presented with the reality of her eventual death, situations which give cause for despair. From physical pain, emotional pain can often spring forth, and, if intense enough, will assuredly result in a despairing subject. In this case as well, however, the pain, even unbearable, can prove a means by which the Way-seeking mind may approach revelation. While the great pain can be eradicated through the use of narcotic analgesics, such as Vicodin, it might also be used by one who meditates on pain toward experiencing the Great Doubt, or, more accurately, allowing this experience to manifest.

The practice of meditating on extreme pain seems ultimately to proceed in one similar fashion that is driven by the reality that to sit stiffly in meditation brings about, in the chronic pain sufferer, a level of pain such that cannot be differentiated from the despair explained by Nishitani. As the sitter sits meditating on acute pain, the questions proceed from self-pitying questions, such as (1) Why am I the one who must now suffer?, (2) Is there a greater purpose for this pain that I simply cannot see?, (3) Why has God made me to suffer?, and (4) What have I done to deserve this infliction?, to less self-oriented questions that nonetheless continue to address the self. These questions may be (5) What kind of God would allow a decent human being to incessantly suffer?, (6) Can there be a God if there exists extreme suffering in the absence of sin?, and (7) Can a human being consistently experiencing pain be differentiated from her experience of pain?, proceeding to the subject-less, object-less expression that simply asks why?. Finally, all that remains is a wordless question, what Nishitani refers to as a “single great question mark” (17), essentially that which immediately proceeds the Great Doubt, wherein the conscious no longer experiences the continuous pain because the conscious is the continuous pain and the continuous pain is the conscious. Likewise, in this ineffable experience that manifests itself, there is no “I” to experience the pain nor is there any pain to manifest itself in the “I.” The within and the without have been realized to be identical by both the subject and object that are, in actuality, inseparable and indistinguishable.

In sooth, all that remains is the question which is not so much a thing in one moment of linear time as an essence of being that coexists as both noun and verb, something that somethings. Yet, even the world “something” falls short of this question mark essence, so perhaps it can more clearly be articulated as die sache or あと物 (atomono), the unifying non-thing, the source of thinking manifesting itself as a perception that is not perceived by anything but instead perceives itself as perceives or wills itself to be perceived. Pain is gone because there exists nothing to receive the pain that is not part or entirely pain itself; pain cannot ache pain in the same manner that I cannot I I. This experience is what is referred to as the Great Death, defined also by Nishida as a “radical doubt” (21).

Through studying Buddhist philosophers such as Dōgen, Kosho Sensei, and Nishitani, it becomes apparent that continuous and excessive pain is a gift for the Way-seeker on her journey toward enlightenment. Not only does it allow one a great opportunity to gain insight into continuous practice and the harshness of circumstances that aids one in her practice, but it additionally grants greater understanding to the phrase “life is suffering” and the Four Noble Truths in general. Dukkha is a characteristic of samsara but it does not have the negative connotations that are so often associated with the idea of suffering. While the other Noble Truths are not addressed through these exercises as explained in this paper, based on the benefits of meditation on pain and extreme pain, it is certain that this particular type of disquietude is amazingly useful to one who seeks the Way.

Works Cited
Dōgen, Eihei. Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dōgen. Ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.
---. “Tenzo kyokun: Instructions for the Tenzo.” Trans. Yasuda Joshu Dainen Roshi and Anzan Hoshin Roshi. White Wind Zen Community. 2004. 10 Apr. 2009 .
Kosho Sensei. “Soto Zen Tradition.” Advanced Buddhist Philosophy Lecture. Seattle University, Seattle, WA. 20 Apr. 2009.
Nishitani, Keiji. Religion and Nothingness. Trans. Jan Van Bragt. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of CA P, 1982.

Going on Vacation

Going on vacation should be something you look forward to and get to enjoy, darn it, but my neck and back ached the whole time from traveling in the car. We only went from Seattle to Vancouver BC, three hours-ish, but the rumbling of the car aggravated everything, to the point where the pain radiated to my lower back and down my hands. I hate it the most when it goes down the hands, because they go numb eventually and I have to stretch and crack everything to regain feeling.

Maybe the answer lies in religion. Just not the one I have now, not that I have it much. Being raised a religion doesn't make you belong to it or it to you, but it is convenient to stay the same. I enjoyed going to reformed Jewish services with L, but I don't think I could go alone; I was raised Catholic and would feel like I was sneaking in as a gawker. I'm sure everyone would be kind, but I'd feel so awkward, and I don't speak any Hebrew and very little Yiddish (next to bupkis). I enjoyed studying Buddhism, but the beliefs have so few similarities to Catholicism, I'd feel like I wasn't practicing a religion, so much as philosophizing. Zen Buddhism offered me the most solace with its philosophy, while Jodo Shinshu seemed the most welcoming and Theravada the closest to Christianity (Ten Precepts, Ten Commandments- some overlap, huzzah), but philosophy is not faith. I know that I'm looking at it wrong, from an academic perspective, but it's just how I feel. I'll include the paper on Buddhist Philosophy and pain in a separate post.

At least in Christianity, it feels like I'm being punished, because that's often why bad things happen, right? Maybe for being too gay or too liberal or practicing self love too often. Maybe because I've hated someone for a long time. Suddenly, I'm reminded of The Lion King:

Timon- Look, kid. Bad things happen, and you can't do anything about it, right?

Simba- Right.

Timon- Wrong! When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world!

I don't know why that suddenly came to mind; I guess I just watched the film too many times as a kid. I know that bad things happen to good people for no reason, but I can't help thinking that I must've done something wrong. Catholic guilt. I hate it, so I need something new. I can't believe so many things in Catholicism, so I can't ascribe to it, right? I looked at the United Church of Christ- because they are the most religious Christian sect, but I'm too scared to attend.

I also looked to support groups, but I don't think people in pain want a baby crying around them, adding to everything, so I haven't attended a meeting yet. Maybe I won't have Baby A on Thursdays (meeting day) after school starts. Maybe the group leader will finally e-mail me back and let me know if I can go anyway. Because I don't think there are any other support groups, and this one is for fibromyalgia, as is.

Ugh, my back and neck hurt terribly tonight but I drank some wine, so no Vicodin dreams. I'll just try to go to sleep, and try to come up with some prettier words for you in the future.

P: 9
Mood: 4

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tai Chi- More musings

Maybe it is all in my head, but I'm starting to think it helps my neck to feel a little better. Maybe it's just the nice atmosphere- such nice people and so relaxing. Also, I must admit the Avatar connection makes me happy in a nerd way (Katara and the water benders' styles are generally based on Tai Chi). I want to become good or at least good enough not to be so embarrassed, but I think I need to go multiple times a week, and would love to be able to go three times or more per week. But it is confusing because I'm not sure how that would work, payment-wise, for the lawsuit. Maybe it isn't so expensive? I should at least research other places to learn Tai Chi in the area.

Hrm, they have classes at Shoreline CC, at the Lake Forest Park campus, but only once a week. Maybe twice a week at the Y is the best I can hope for, and it is free with gym membership as a bonus. I wonder what other sorts of activities are supposed to be good for chronic pain, apart from the dreaded water aerobics (never will wear a swimsuit again!).

I need to make an appointment with the Disability Support Services at my new U. They've been closed up 'til today, and I completely forgot to call them. Just in case I have a "pain episode" (aka, it suddenly gets so bad that I cannot leave my bed/the floor)- and to make sure I can get up and walk around- pretending to use the bathroom in my 4.25 hr night class (sooooo long- if I sat that long, my back would explode). Also, so as to make the professor aware that I might miss more class days than the average student- though I can make things up very well, I promise (why am I pleading with you??)!

Looking for PhD/other MA/MFA programs is the pits too, because almost everyone wants a GRE score. That test was the most terrible experience of my life. Well, not really, but one must exaggerate to get one's point across, eh? It was awful, for sure, four hours-ish of sitting there leaning over a computer desk as my neck grew more and more pained and I started to go all pain-loopy. Also couldn't sleep the night before, on account of stress. Anyway, good math score, average English, and average ain't good enough- sigh! I can't handle the idea of taking that test again, so will need to find programs that don't need that dreaded test and her awful results.

Anyway, a massage is coming up as well as my back dr. appt. He has apparently moved- but where? I'll need to find that slippery fellow. Make him re-write my acupuncture referral and hopefully get some more massages out of it as well- let's see if they help this time! Maybe he knows other exercises that are meant to help- weight lifting was not so successful for things as he suggested though...

Also, if I do manage to finance a trip this summer (to Chile, the mother land!), then I will need to once again procure paperwork for taking Vicodin abroad- a huge pain in the rear. When I went to Japan before, the paperwork took me days- it was like an inch thick, and going through customs took forever as well! Though, it was necessary. I used the Vicodin on more than a few occasions, I'm sorry to say.

Sometimes, drinking wine helps me sleep, if I don't want to take the Vicodin and I ache. But I hear this is a trend that leads to alcoholism- is this true??? But shouldn't a bit of wine be far better on the body than the hammer to the head that is a prescribed narcotic drug? That's how it seems to me, but I worry nonetheless. Though it may secretly be my mother's worries playing off in my head... hm.

Too much pain to sleep, I think, but I must get up at a reasonable hour to take the kitty to the vet. Good night, all! (though I may be speaking just to myself).

Pain: 9
Emotions: 9 (which is good, in case you forgot... what a lame scale- what is a bad sign pain-wise is a good one emotion-wise. Maybe I should rethink this silly thing.)