Illness the New Normal

In 2013 a study by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) found that over 95% of the world’s population has health problems. Lower back pain and major depression ranked among the top ten greatest contributors to disability, causing more health loss than diabetes, chronic lung disease, and asthma combined.

This is a bleak picture, one where illness is more normal than wellness. I’m curious if statistics like these are part of the cause of what, to me, looks like a dis-ease pandemic.

My instinct tells me to focus on solutions and with the 69th World Health Day on April 7, what better time to raise the questions;

What’s the Pain and Where’s the Gain?

Since my teens, I’ve had aches and pains along the sciatica (lower back) nerve. I’ve never thought it serious enough to bring it up with my doctor. I tend to contribute it to either lack off, or to vigorous exercise. If the ache gets too much I pop a painkiller or rub on an ointment. Stretching relieves it for a while, but the fact remains, my aches and pains have become normal and I wonder, -am I part of the 95% GBD statistic?

Pain – The New Normal

A quick search online for how to ease sciatica pain, gives a brief mention of gentle exercise and heat/cold compresses, before bombarding me with over-the-counter medication and prescription drugs like anti-inflammatories with side-effects including increased risk of ulcers, heart attack, and kidney disease. Even anti-seizure drugs, like gabapentin, is recommended. The list of side-effects alone makes me nauseous.

Then comes the epidural, and now I’m nearly going into shock. I turned down the epidural before, in the labor ward, surely this advice can’t be right? According to both Spine Health and WebDM it is.

As I gape in astonishment at the pharmaceutical options open to me, I wonder; -if I decided to go down the drug route, will it get rid off my aches and pains in a few weeks, for them never to return?

Very unlikely, says the advice from Spine Health, in fact, they recommend that ‘Patients who have sciatica are best served by a treatment plan that is individualized based on the patient’s symptoms, diagnosis and response to various treatments.’ Spine Health also warns that pain and inflammatory medication is only for short term use and if the pain persists, surgery might be an option.

Wait, -what? Surgery? I qualify for surgery? I suppose, after 35 years of feeling the ache come and go, -maybe do.

Over informed, Overwhelmed and Over Medicated

So am I really sick? Is this much more serious than I thought? Do I need to tell my doctor about it? If I do nothing, will I end up on the operating table? All this information is starting to making me feel like a patient. I notice my breath has shortened and I feel tense all over.

Destress, Detox, Debrief

Thankfully, the advice moves on to alternative options like getting a massage or working with a physical therapist. I give myself two ticks – done that. It was nice. After the initial intense pain on the table, it gave release for days, even weeks before the ache returned.

Yoga helps, as long as I do regularly. I haven’t tried acupuncture, which comes highly recommended by WedDM, who says that some research shows it may work better than traditional treatment for back pain. I add this to my list to try. But it is the final recommendation that intrigues me most:

Take Charge of Stress

‘Your emotions’ the article suggests, ‘can play a role [in] causing your muscles to tense up and make the pain seem worse.’ This is something I’m familiar with, especially how conscious breathing and trusting the body’s natural ability relieved the fear of labor pains while giving birth.

‘You could also try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)’ the article continues. According to the NHS in the UK, CBT can help manage problems by changing the way we think and behave. It looks for practical ways to improve our state of mind on a daily basis.

So what is my thinking around my sciatica, and how can my thoughts help heal the pain?

I admit that one of my limiting beliefs is that sciatica always comes back. But can sciatica be stress related?

Well, if it’s inflammation, as the medical profession agrees on, it most likely relates to some form of stress or toxins in the body. Even though I find no mention of it in any of the researched I’ve amassed, I know for a fact that sauna and Epsom Salt baths, both highly detoxifying, works wonders to soothe my symptoms.

What can we gain from pain?

So what kind of stress are we talking about? I pull out an old copy of Louise Hay’s book ‘You Can Heal Your Life,’ where she says; ‘If we are willing to do the mental work, almost anything can be healed.’ Towards the back of the book, she offers The List.’ A breaks down of symptoms against probable mental causes. These are often stressors from unresolved past (childhood) ‘trauma.’ I look up her probable cause for sciatica: ‘Being hypocritical. Fear of money and the future.’

While limiting beliefs around money and fear of the future are universal themes, the ‘hypocritical’ part stings. No one wants to admit to being hypocritical, but I did grow up in a hypocritical environment where being right was off utmost importance, so I’m not discarding the idea that its part of my genetic makeup. Having this insight gives me an indicator of what thoughts and behaviors to look for. In my case, that would be getting down from my proverbial high horse.

What I do know is that I don’t want to be part of the 95% of people in the GBD survey, nor will I go under the knife or risk ulcers, heart attack and kidney disease to relieve my sciatica. What I will do is give acupuncture a try and, when the pain is bad, I’ll swap tea and coffee for extra glasses of water, do my yoga, detox in the sauna or submerge myself in an Epsom Salt bath.

Then I shall breathe deeply as I ride into the sunset on my proverbial high horse.

Much Love and Light

Vig ❤️

This article was written for Maadi Messenger Issue April 2019.

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