Lesson #2: There is No Right Thing To Do.
Christie: We're not always dealing with the coronavirus but we are always dealing with questions. And they're generally related to pain, especially at the start of treatment. All patients, rightfully so, at the start of treatment want to know the right way to get out of pain. They've probably read a few books on the subject and are seeing a bunch of doctors and other providers. And now they're in front of me, and they're desperate to know what is the right thing to do.
But what I'm really offering patients is a framework rather than an instruction manual, which is really uncomfortable for people at first because they're scared. They just want to do everything right so they can feel better. But the reality is, learning to navigate some of those twists and turns and being the authority on the direction of your recovery is something that patients have to learn for themselves in order for recovery to even be possible. So there is no right thing to do.
I want to explain a little bit about why people crave that in the first place. Anxiety wants to tell us that there's a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. A lot of the time this is called “black and white thinking” or “all-or-nothing thinking,” and it's really common in people struggling with anxiety and chronic pain. The reason behind that goes back to the function of anxiety and pain: they are danger signals. They’re designed to keep us safe. They operate on a dichotomy - live or die - and that dichotomy is really useful when we are actually in the face of danger and our brains need that. We need that kind of live or die focus when we're trying to escape real threat.
But if you're just living your day-to-day life in a constant state of anxiety and worry, your brain is still going to process things through that same live or die lens. So you find yourself thinking of everything in those black or white, all or nothing, right or wrong terms. so that's why my patients so badly want to know the right thing to do for their pain. Mental rigidity is just a function of that danger switch being flipped on and your brain wanting so badly to know the best way to survive the situation.
Laura: When people come to Curable for the first time, they are in a very set habit of classifying treatment methods for their pain as right or wrong, because all they've known so far is failure. They come and they say, “I've tried surgery, I've tried chiropractic.” They list off all the different things that they've tried that have not helped them improve their symptoms, and have not gotten them to this finish line that doesn't exist where they never feel pain again in their entire lives. So to them, because they’ve had so many failures, the belief is that it is black or white. There is a right or wrong treatment for them.
I hear people everyday struggling with the idea that a certain tool might be able to help you improve your symptoms by 20% or 30%. It's this spectrum and it's going to be a little bit different for everyone. You're not really going to know what that's going to do for you until you give it a try. So it's not this binary 0% or 100% like it might be with a medication. It's a really different framework and way of looking at things.
Christie: Absolutely and you're bringing up such a good and valid point - patients have a reason to be scared. They’ve been turned around every way from Sunday. When they're starting a new approach, even if they found the approach that fits their situation like when they are diving into Curable and they're ready to go, they’re rightfully scared. It's a matter of shifting out of this right or wrong mentality and shifting into this safer or less safe, or safety and threat mentality.
I often tell patients that I am asking them to set their compass in the direction of safety. So which way you have to turn and what technique you have to practice in relation to your pain is all in relation to where you are on the map. And all of that depends on how turned around you got on any given day. On any given day helping yourself feel safer might mean meditating for 10-minutes, it might mean practicing somatic tracking, it might mean journaling, it might be taking a total break from your pain. All of those things are okay.
All of those things are “right” because they are right for you in that moment. Offer yourself that safety and flexibility to change your mind again and again and again depending on where you are on the map.
[this is an excerpt only - for the full episode, listen to the podcast above]