I was terrified and helpless. I was anxious that I would never be healthy again, living the rest of my life in pain and agony.
However, I am truly grateful today that I have become healthy again and learned to control symptoms through gaining understanding of this mysterious condition and my body as a whole. This healing journey took almost 9 months for my body to become almost symptom-free, enjoying the normal activities that I used to do.
I deeply realized how important it is to maintain physical and mental health throughout the span of your life, which led me to develop a new passion to help people recover faster from their chronic illnesses and manage their physical and mental health for their lifetime. I found purpose in developing a remote patient monitoring product using wireless sensing technology as a software engineer at my current company. To this end, I would like to share my journey of recovering from a sudden pelvic pain that was thrown on me last year.
I have summarized the key lessons based on my favorite quotes from the book “headache in the pelvis”, which was the first and best book for me to learn about this special condition.
1. Listen to What Your Body is Telling You
A lot of things in life suddenly strike you out of the blue. However, we know that there are many things that happen for a reason as well, especially when it comes to health. Excluding the special conditions caused by genetic factors inherited from your family, we really need to look back into our lives and listen to our body when we start having health issues which persists.
Looking back, although looking quite successful and fulfilling in the eyes of others, my inner soul and spirit has been a complete mess for the past years. I have been studying extremely hard for years since I transitioned into computer science from a business major and came to America for a grad school to find a job. The transition itself was definitely challenging and highly stressful, but what made it worse was my attitude in the midst of that transition. I was overly obsessed with the American dream and I was anxious that I might not meet the expectations and goals that I have set too high for myself. I was impatient with the things that I could not figure out quickly and was not compassionate to myself and others around me. I was chronically stressed out despite the fact that I quite enjoyed studying my new discipline and I was getting closer to the dream job.
The worst times were when I was working on coursework and 3 research projects at the same time to prepare myself to apply for a phd program within 6 months. I knew I had too much on my plate, but I couldn’t stop it for fear of not succeeding here. Finally, one night in December, I suddenly felt a strong burning sensation after urination and lived with mysterious discomfort and pain for months and months, almost 24/7 if not relied on painkillers. The most frustrating thing was that even painkillers were not effective in masking the symptoms. It was so surreal to me that I was in a constant nightmare.
It took months for me to understand this unspoken condition and realize why I was suddenly experiencing this crazy flare-ups that wreak a havoc on my body. The condition was called chronic pelvic pain. The term ‘chronic’ terrified me that this nightmare would be the default state of my body. However, I was fortunate to find the book “A Headache in the Pelvis” and I would love to quote one of my favorite paragraphs in the book:
Pelvic pain usually does not occur in someone who feels balanced, relaxed, and happy. It tends to be the expression of what is out of balance, fearful, and out of sorts. Your pelvic pain and dysfunction, viewed this way, can be considered an intimate adviser about your life.
Okay. It is not a life-threatening cancer or something that you have to live with forever, but it’s a vital sign indicating your wellness. This helped me to escape from toxic thoughts like “why is this happening to me?” and “am I ever gonna get better?”. Instead, I felt the need to tune into the desperate signaling of my body to me to stop the way I have been living, take a break and pivot from there. To resolve pelvic pain, your life should have substantial periods of time when you are not anxious, which is why if you remember your prime moments in your life, you probably would not have felt any pelvic pain. It truly entails the skillful management of your life in this crazy modern world with wisdom and peace. There was a clear cause-and-effect in my case based on the fact that our body and mind are connected. Other than health issues, self-reflection and introspection help you find the root cause of your problem and a clear direction to solve that.
2. View Suffering as Grace
So, chronic pain made me to reflect back on my life, finding a handful of reasons why this happened to me in the first place. It also made me tune into how my body works and feels.
Having realized this, I have grown to view my condition as life-changing experience to truly transform my life. This profound discovery led me to start changing my old lifestyle and bad habits. I was determined to live my life more with health, relationship, purpose and compassion rather than money, career, recognition, and success.
I know it is especially difficult to pull yourself into this mindset when you are in the midst of grave suffering. However, once you accept it and forward yourself into a better future, suffering will turn into a gift at the end of the day. Another quote from the book supports this:
The deep suffering of pelvic pain is what prompts people to do the demanding routine to healing. Accepting that you have pelvic pain; working to resolve it with kindness and patience makes recovery easier. Usually this awareness that suffering can be seen as grace is perceived after the suffering has resolved itself. Nevertheless, many people who activately have an interest in their inner life inquire as to how their suffering can help them grow and benefit their life.
The earlier you realize this, the better for your recovery as this awareness speeds up the process. In the beginning, it was very difficult for me to accept it, too. I only thought of it as a distraction from my life and I just wanted to get out of this as soon as possible because I was in the flow of working harder to keep achieving more and hitting all the goals that I want to.
However, I would have never changed if I had not encountered this pelvic pain that forced me to take a break. My changed attitude prompted me to actively take responsibility for what I was going through and this was when miracles began to kick in. No matter how painful it was, I was confident that it will teach me something that will benefit me throughout the rest of my life only if I could persevere this.
As with all things, positivity gives us resilience against hardships. I am not saying that it’s good to suffer all the time, but rather it’s a way of dealing with the suffering more effectively. It is also tied with the next lesson ‘take it easy and let it go’ as this change in perspective makes your life easier and more relaxed.
3. Take it Easy and Let it Go
Ever since I was a child, my father had always told me to ‘take it easy’ whenever I had something important coming up. I have always wondered what it means to ‘take it easy’ as the phrase sounded a bit vague to me. Now that I realize it implies relaxing your body and mind even when things get tough.
Modern life is inherently stressful that stress management became a critical life skill and is intimately connected to both physical and mental health. Most of the times stressors are so difficult to control that the only thing you can control is your response to them. I know it’s always one of those saying easier said than done, but it is one of the profound principles of navigating life; otherwise you would be living in a chronic state of anxiety which will break you down with some debiliating symptoms at some point of your life.
For me, taking things too seriously with perfectionism has triggered this debilitating chronic pelvic pain. I was chronically anxious all the time focused on the past and the future and I started feeling depressed and have built up many unhealthy compensation habits to mask the root causes. The book describes key treatments as follows:
It’s a three-part system: release of pelvic floor related trigger point sand stretching the tissue that has been constricted over the years, and Extended Paradoxical Relaxation(EPR) which regularly reduces anxiety and nervous system arousal.
All the key treatments have one thing in common: relax. If I could pick just one thing I sucked at the most, it was knowing when and how to relax. If you think of the term ‘paradoxical’ in the treatment, it also enlightens us. If you are in pain, you should not defend yourself and accept to feel the sensation of the pain. See how your body feels with kindness and curiosity. You’re gonna be okay. It’s not a life-threatening illness or anything. You just need to relax to be healed.
Extending the idea of paradox to other facets in life, if you want to be successful, you need to first find something that you really love instead of looking for ways of being successful. If you want to be loved by people, you need to cut that desire to be recognized and first learn to give love to others without any reward or intention.
I started turning on instrumental music as a background music at home and work, mediating when taking breaks, stretching before going to bed, singing while walking in the woods, working only up to dinner. These may seem trivial at first, but once it became a habit, this was a game-changer for me. Ever since I started practicing these lessons, I feel a sense of undescribable feeling of freedom. I was more in love, peace, and gratitude than anxiety and fight-or-flight state.
At the beginning of the course of transition, I was worried that I will achieve less and I will become dissatisfied with my life from now on. However, my body and mind feels much healthier and the satisfaction and gratitude toward my life became greater than ever.
4. Keep Being Mindful of How You Live
Everyone wants to change their lives in a better way, but the challenge is how. The biggest skill I learned while changing my lifestyle was to becoming more mindful of my body and thoughts everyday. Mindfulness is the only way that get out of the negative feedback loop and start creating a positive one.
Through contemplation, you are likely to have found your habits that have broken your body down. This awareness is critical in saving you from the downward spiral and put you back into the right direction.
To cultivate all the points I have mentioned above, You must be constantly mindful that whether you are relaxing enough throughout the day or you are tensing yourself up too much. Also you need to evaluate how much portion of negative thoughts account for your whole mind. Try to instill more positive thoughts to your self, for instance, like thinking that this suffering will be a grace rather than a curse. To listen to your body, you need to be mindful of how your body is feeling and how the pain arises.
It is necessary to change your bad habits and lifestyle as well. For me, chronic pain probably occurred to me because I was having muscularskeletal problems for a long time, especially muscle imbalances and pelvis in turn. That gradually affected my whole posture, how I sit, stand, walk and sleeping.
I started pilates to learn and this gave me the biggest progress in recovery. I highly recommend pilates if you want to learn how to listen to and understand your body and correct your posture.
5. Take a Long View of Life as a Marathon
Based on what I’ve said so far, we all know they are good stuff, but quite overwhelming as this is a matter of not just changing a single habit, but transforming your entire life by changing an array of habits.
We cannot be perfect at these things right away, but we can start relaxing some of our unrealistic expectations that have been increasing our suffering and making us anxious and unfulfilled and focus on practice rather than short-term performance. We could live our lives much easier and happier by taking on these changes slowly as if we are running a marathon.
In the midst of deep and dark times, it occurred to me many times that I thought why healing is much slower than my expectations and actually feel like getting worse. Again, a quote from the book enlightened me:
Just as the pelvic pain symptoms don’t spontaneously appear, neither do they disappear overnight. Even with our most successful patients, symptoms take a significant amount of time to resolve. We suggest that patients should give themselves at least one year in which to practice it before expecting symptoms to become reliably better.
Wait, are you kidding me? Even a couple of months of pain is ruining my life and I have to expect this for almost a year? Well, this was the moment when I truly came to realize that it’s gonna be a long battle and you need to be patient and perservere this if I really wanted to completely heal from it.
It might take months or even years since pelvic floor muscles are almost always active in our daily activities, including urination, defecation, supporting and balancing your body, lifting, walking, and sitting. It’s like renovating your house while you are still living in it. If our life was only full of good night sleep, hot baths and stress-free times, symptoms would have never occurred in the first place. Hence, a delicate juggling act to deal with both the need for rest and healing and the demand on the pelvic muscles is required. This is something that we can never learn in such a short time. It takes practice, practice, and practice.
If we take this finding to a broader perspective, nothing is easy and everything takes time. In retrospect, I have always wanted to stay ahead of the game and felt frustrated and anxious when the results were below my expectations. No wonder constant demand on myself would have contributed to my symptoms.
Coping with your expectations and being patient is something that I would highly suggest people should train themselves since expectations always play a key role in the satisfaction of our lives. Most of the times, progress is made through incremental steps, for example, three steps forward and two steps back. Setbacks are your companion. Even though we hate to face them, we have to live with it. View it as a learning opportunity and hope that improvement and progress will follow it.
There are times when we feel like we are tired of pushing ourselves without seeing any success or outlook, take it easy by thinking our time has not come and there is no alternative than to keep hustling. This act of pulling yourself together might eventually take you to achieving what you want. Regardless of the outcome, we all know that there is no sneak peak to get around this.
Enjoy your journey itself rather than focusing on the achievements that you make on the way. Our life is not a race and and comparing with others causes us to be more greedy and competitive and is not a healthy attitude. As long as you are making progress, no matter how trivial, and becoming a better person, then it is good enough to give us satisfaction and gratitude.
Although I never want to go through this again, being in pain for quite a long time made me to reflect on my life, slow down the pace, and be more mindful and focused on the most important things I have been overlooking. I am still ambitious, and yet, much happier than before as I learned to balance work and life and to set more realistic and laid-back timeline to achieve something.
I know that it is very difficult for people to get enough motivation to incorporate these habits and thoughts until they go through a life-changing experience to truly feel the need for a change. Nevertheless, I do hope that less people learn the hard way and start changing their lives by reflecting on the ideas in this post.
If you want to learn more about my journey of overcoming pelvic pain from more of a medical perspective, click this Reddit post that I wrote. Thank you for reading this. Feel free to DM me on Reddit if you have any questions.