Pain Management, Weight Loss and the Mind-Body Connection: A Personal Account

Pain Management, Weight Loss and the Mind-Body Connection: A Personal Account

By Gretchen Fox Schempp

Eight years ago I was very overweight.  I fell on the scales of any body weight chart you could find as obese.  I didn’t think of myself as an obese person.  I had been working at a physically demanding job for 3 years, schlepping canoes and caring for a campground 40+ hours a week.  I felt like I was in decent shape.  Granted, I only worked this job during the summer months, so I tried to stay physically active in the off months by walking, biking and otherwise exercising in the comfort of my own home.  Somehow this often instead turned into a marathon of wine and cheese topped off with a little or maybe a lot of chocolate.  Okay, so maybe I wasn’t just overweight I was depressed.  When visiting my family in Minnesota one weekend, I found myself having some weird chest pains.  This completely freaked me out.  I didn’t know what was going on, but it scared the daylights out of me.  It turned out to be a severe case of heartburn, but it made me motivated to change.

I vowed that January day to drop the weight.  I had finally looked in the mirror and saw my old body trapped inside this larger one, and I hardly recognized myself.   I changed my diet from a free-for-all festival of drink and feed to a sugar free, low-carb regimen that went in phases 1, 2 and 3.  Phase 3  being a lifestyle rather than a diet.  This worked really well for me along with daily exercise.  In 3 months I had dropped 30 lbs, and in 8 months I had lost 70 pounds total.  I was elated with the new lighter me.  I thought, wow I’ve come such a long way changing my physical appearance and health, and I am happy right where I am.  I met my husband and we got married.

I happened to marry a man that suffers from chronic pain.  I didn’t understand this a bit.  Frankly, I was a bit irritated with his ability to hurt so much.  I worked long days outdoors and  came home tired and sore myself and found it hard to believe anyone could hurt so much and so often.

Five years passed.  My phase 3 “lifestyle” had gotten a little mucky.  Granted I didn’t gain much of the weight back, but I wasn’t feeling very good.  Mentally, I had realized that losing the weight didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t dealt with a bunch of “stuff.”  I had been to doctors and had mentioned feeling a little depressed and was offered some form of pharmaceutical to combat this.  I declined, always, thinking that it was just a bad week and this too would pass.  At a certain point, it didn’t pass.  I knew that I wanted to try something, anything else first before the drugs.  So I contacted a trusted therapist.  About three weeks after beginning this particular journey I “threw my back out” shoveling snow.  For a month and a half I suffered the kind of pain I likened to my beloved husband’s complaints.  I kept thinking it would eventually go away.  My back had hurt before, but it always cleared up enough to keep on.  Funny that this pain should get so debilitating just when I was opening up my proverbial “can of worms” at therapy.

Now, many might connect the depressed feeling with the pain. In the sense that being in pain can be very depressing.  Yeah, I get that.  I was beginning to think the other way around though.  Maybe the pain was the call I needed to dig deeper and go further into my healing.  I continued the therapy and the pain continued on.  I finally decided to see a doctor.   One of the first things the doctor told me after hearing my complaints was that if I could manage to get a little leaner, I might not feel so much pain.  Many people may have taken offense to this comment, especially after keeping 50 lbs off for 7 years.  I was elated though.  Thank you, thank you was all I could think and still think today.  All I had wanted was someone to tell me that I could feel better by changing something that I had control of.  And with that I believed that I could take control of my health.  After a few x-rays and a call from the Doctor, I found out that I had degenerative disk disease and arthritis in my lower back.

Initially, I took pain medication.  It was a step I chose to take to get the pain under control so that I could move forward.  I knew that this wasn’t a solution to the problem and set out to begin my healing.   I started right then and there at my quest to get that leaner body.  This time my motivation was not only to get healthy, but to beat a potential lifetime of pain.

To lose the weight and beat the pain this time was a whole new process.  Instead of doing it alone with just my willpower fueling me, I enlisted the help of therapists.  First, someone I could talk to and who would give me homework such as affirmations, writing, bathing in cleansing and detoxifying salts, walking, breathing, and most importantly being gentle with myself.  Second, someone who would offer physical therapy.  I picked a talented massage therapist who told me that his intention was to help me to heal myself.  I saw him 4 times.  I continue to do the stretches he taught me 6 days a week and he has helped bless me with flexibility.  And I quickly learned that if I don’t do my stretches, I am soon cursed with inflexibility.  Third was a new-found sense of self.  My gentle self, as I like to call it.  The one I lose every once in a while but am learning to reconnect with when I lose sight.  I know when this is happening by the tightness in my back and the shallowness in my breath.

I am certainly not the ideal picture of health.  My body isn’t a perfect “10” and my mind still gets mucky from time to time.  I am really trying hard though and in this I have learned to love my hard working mind and body as well as to be a lot gentler with myself.

The point of this story is that there is no magic bullet and no fixed answer that works for every person.  Good health, weight loss, and a clear mind are all hard work.  There are supplements you can take and unguents you can rub on which can certainly aid in the process.  But it’s your intention, along with the effort you put into it, that is going to allow these changes to show you lasting results.

Bless you on your journey to wellness.