One of the major things I do to manage pain is restructure the context around how I view pain and its constraints. In 2006 I did some training and development courses at Landmark Education, a worldwide organisation that runs particularly good programs. At that point in my life I was very constrained by my health. Since pregnancy in 2003 I had developed a severe electrosensitivity, meaning in my case, I experienced almost immediate severe head, face and ear pain, when exposed to electro-magnetic fields – particularly TVs, phone (especially mobile and cordless, but all), fluorescent lights, heaters, computer etc. The only electric appliances that didn’t effect me were the fridge, toaster, kettle and surprisingly the microwave. Even being in a car, with the alternating current, gave me this pain. So by 2006 I had been living like a hermit for 3 years, trying quite unsuccessfully to avoid EMFs in my own home and in others’ (so I rarely visited anyone). Even taking the course at Landmark Education was a struggle health-wise as I was in pain within seconds due to the fluoro lights (3 and a half long days!).
So you can see life in 2006 was a painful struggle for me. But one of the many tools I got from the Landmark Forum was the ability to see “context is everything” for us human beings. Context is like the atmosphere we create around a certain topic, so if we judge something as being good we approach it differently than if we see it as bad. For example, if someone is made redundant at work, many people see that as “bad”, except the person who was hoping for a redundancy package because they hated their job. They see it as good. Of course, the context that surrounds an issue controls how we experience it.
In early 2006 I experienced my electrosensitivity as bad, restrictive, confining and overwhelming. There was a huge lack of power for me around my health. My context was that I couldn’t do many of the things I enjoyed/loved because of the headaches and pain. I couldn’t use a computer, I couldn’t watch my favourite TV show, I couldn’t listen to my favourite songs on my stereo, and I couldn’t call my friends and family for a phone chat.
But what I realised in the Landmark Forum was that I had way more control than I was acknowledging. My context had me as a victim of an electro-magnetic world. But I realised I could change the context, and by doing so I could get some control back. I could watch my favourite show on TV, it just gave me a bad headache. I could talk on the phone, it just gave me a bad headache. I could do all the things I thought I couldn’t, it’s just that the consequence was pain.
This change in context gave me back something I thought I’d lost – CHOICE! Previously I felt I had no choice. Television, computers, stereos, phones and all sorts of stuff had been taken away from me and I had no choice in the matter. Or so I thought. But suddenly, just by changing the way I thought about it, I had choice back. I mean almost every day I ended up with headaches anyway no matter how much I tried to avoid electric things. Someone would call me, I had to go to an appointment (fluoros, computers, TVs), I had to drive somewhere. I had the headaches anyway. So I started to experiment.
The first time I watched TV again, after three years of not having it, was an emotional experience. I sat with a kahlua and milk (yes, self-medication!) and watched a movie, turning the TV on and off in the ads. The headache was there (very bad!), but because I had chosen this activity and not resisted it, there was less anxiety around the pain. So there was pain, but emotionally I was calm and in control. No doubt I was concerned how well I’d recover the next day, but I knew I’d never know unless I tried it. Getting to the end of that movie, the first I’d watched in over three years, when I never thought I’d see a movie again on TV, was an incredible triumph. I sat and cried and cried – not from pain but from joy. And the next morning I awoke with most of the headache gone, so it didn’t do long-term damage (or none I know of!).
Now, 7 years later, my electrosensitivity is no different. The pain level has not altered. Just as many things give me a headache, so I have almost one long headache. But I live a full life, using computers when I need them (last year I finished a 200-page, 50,000 word book), watching TV when I want to (usually uplifting comedies or music shows), talk on the phone a lot to family, friends and colleagues, even use the mobile phone when I deem it necessary. The moral to all this is we can do a whole lot more than we often give ourselves credit for. That’s not just a positivity catchphrase, it is the truth. For me, the quality of life gained from changing the context has trumped living pain free.