Thursday, December 12, 2013

Creative Cursing for Chronic Pain Relief

When I first learned that cursing helps pain tolerance, I couldn't wait to tell my partner Brendan. While I keep my language appropriate for the company I'm keeping (ie, keeping it squeaky clean around children, elders, and strangers), I do enjoy a good expletive and have never been shy to use one to emphasize a point. Thus, I got a real kick out of discovering that my fondness for certain swear words might help relieve my chronic pain.

Brendan was similarly amused, but brought up an interesting question: Is it the actual curse words themselves that provide the benefit, or simply the act of exclamation itself? We chuckled over the idea of vehement outbursts of "Butterflies!!!", "Unicorns!!!", or "Rainbow!!!"--words with traditionally positive connotations. But once we'd stopped giggling, I started to think about this idea in earnest.

For one thing, it isn't practical to apply cursing (in its conventional form) as a pain-reduction technique precisely because of the audience concerns I raised above. It isn't socially acceptable to go around muttering expletives under one's breath (and as far as I'm concerned, this is a good thing!). But there are other problems, too. Recent studies show that the more one swears, the less the pain-relieving benefits. Beyond that, even someone as curse-friendly as I am has to admit that these words have a negative bent that I don't particularly want to reinforce in my life. But it can't be denied that these words do express anger, frustration, or pain better than words like "Mermen!!!" or "Cinnamon buns!!!"

Enter creative cursing. I began inventing my own "cusses," with all the satisfaction of the hard, explosive sounds most expletives contain, but without the negativity they connote. And as I did, they started to morph and change into new words. It became a game. These days, I am constantly coming up with new nonsense curses, much to the amusement of myself and those around me. After all, who can really keep a straight face after a string of curses like "Punkmonkey!!!", "Crunchbubbles!!!", or "Punchbucket!!!"?

So go ahead. Cuss up a blue streak. And by that I mean, start with "Periwinkle!!!" and run with it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

This Blog, It Is A-Changin'!

It's been over a year and a half since I've posted here. Indeed, until my return to Twitter about a month ago, it had been a year and a half since I posted on any public social media platform. This may seem bizarre given my career in online community management, but there are good reasons, both practical and personal. I suffer from constant, severe head pain (with migraine flares), which makes looking at a computer screen for any length of time pretty problematic. But beyond that hurdle lies another, bigger hangup: I have been living in shame.

I'm no stranger to this struggle. As an eating disorder and rape survivor, I have fought back my fair share of shame demons. As befits the woman my partner calls the Queen of Communication (that's me!), I dealt with these issues in large part by talking about them--not only to a therapist, to support groups, to my friends and family, but also to the public through performance, writing, and social media. My natural response to a socially taboo topic is to break the silence, loudly and repeatedly.

I've had this condition for over 3 1/2 years now. So why has it taken so long for me to break this silence? Perhaps it relates to the fear of drawing attention to one's physical ills that I mentioned in my latest piece for Adios Barbie on Gender Bias in Pain. Perhaps it's the daunting prospect of attempting to explain my illness that overwhelms me. There may be some fear of rejection; I would rather disappear quietly from people's news feeds, Twitter streams, and consciousness than face the fact that many of those people would quickly unfriend and unfollow me should I start representing my new self accurately. But more than anything else, I think, I have been ashamed that I am no longer the person I was before the pain. I have been afraid to admit publicly that my old life has completely fallen apart, and my new life is anything but glamorous. I don't want to admit it to the world, because I don't want to admit it to myself.

The 6th Annual Women in Pain Conference gave me the wake-up call that I needed. During the discussion of coping missteps and pitfalls, panelist Lynne Popadak (Co-Organizer, USC Quench the Fire Run) spoke movingly about the pressure to be strong and independent, to hold onto the person she was before pain and to continue to present that person to the world. Another panelist, Britt Johnson (aka The Hurt Blogger), talked about "putting [her] best face on," and the freeing power of honesty with friends and family. As the conference progressed, I started to hear a common refrain from many participants: social media (and the pain community therein) is a lifesaver when it comes to feeling connected and validated as a person living with chronic pain. And it hit me. If I wait until I'm "ready," until I feel secure, until I have it all figure out, I will never tweet, blog, or perform again. I will never be "ready." I have to start now.

Within a few days of returning from LA (an ordeal in itself), I unceremoniously started tweeting again. The rewards were almost instantaneous; Britt welcomed me with [virtual] open arms and I had positive interactions with several other WIP Conference speakers. And while many of my followers did unfollow me, I similarly unfollowed many of them. We simply had no common ground anymore. And that's ok. I found new tweeps with whom I share more, and having less industry news in my stream (reminding me of my lost career) proved extremely good for my mental health.

Encouraged, I am now slowly beginning the process of reforming my social media presence, creating more harmony between how I am represented online and who I am today. There are many things about me that remain the same: I love my family and the friends who've stuck by me as much as ever--if not more. I'm just as passionate about social justice. I still revel in edible gardening, cooking, writing, dogs, and roller derby. But I am no longer the energetic community manager who can work 60 hours a week on a Quantcast Top 100 site, and socialize 4 or 5 nights a week. I am a woman in (as yet) untreatable pain, mostly homebound, who saves her spoons all week for one carefully-planned outing. And as such, I still deserve a voice.

So there we have it. Welcome to my Ruud Awakenings.

Friday, October 25, 2013

On Adios Barbie: Gender Bias in Chronic Pain Treatment

Now live on
As a woman 3 ½ years into a constant, severe headache, I think, talk, and read a great deal about pain. I also think, talk, and read a great deal about gender. Strangely enough, it took me a long time to think and talk about the two issues together -- how they intersect, interact, and influence each other. Before I attended the 6th Annual Women In Pain Conference this September, most of the exchanges I had relating to the experience of being a woman in pain involved modestly deflecting offhand comments from (female) friends to the effect that my (male) partner probably wouldn’t be dealing with my chronic pain condition half as well as I am. But in the weeks both preparing for and following the conference, I made it my mission to discover just how large of a role gender plays in the experience, expression, and treatment of pain.
Read more on Adios Barbie...