Living with Chronic Pain
– interviewed by Instructor Lis
living with pain. Erica does – constant pain in her knee from
The symptoms began about seven years ago and increased to
the point where she had to seek help. It was a worrying and frightening
diagnosis for Erica. Her mother suffers from the same condition, as
well as rheumatoid arthritis. Having seen the crippling results and the
ensuing depression from living with chronic pain, she was determined not
to be beaten down by the same thing.
Erica’s husband, two teenage daughters and an ailing
mother and mother-in-law all need her attention and support. She is
acting deputy principal of a government primary school and has just
completed a post-graduate degree from the University of New South Wales
which involved periods of residency interstate. Her life is overloaded
and stressful at the best of times although her husband takes care of
much of the housework. The last thing she needs is a chronic,
degenerative painful condition in her knee.
The anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed for pain relief
caused stomach upsets so she had to find an alternative. Overweight and
with high cholesterol, Erica discovered with shock after a thorough
medical examination that at some point, she had had a heart attack.
There was no alternative, she had to become fitter and lose the excess
weight. She tried many different approaches.
She took up walking with a friend but after a short
period, the friend who also led a stressful life had to stop. Dieting
to have any effect and in desperation Erica even hired a personal
trainer. However, this too proved unsuccessful as the first left
Canberra and the second although genuinely keen to help didn’t have
enough experience or knowledge.
Yoga was next but the positions put too much strain
knee and left her in agony. Getting out of bed in the mornings made
feel as though she was in her seventies, hobbling to the bathroom
like a geriatric.
As a child, Erica had trained hard at gymnastics.
She feels some of the pain she is experiencing now has been increased by
the looseness of her tendons and the flexibility of her joints, which
allow excessive movement without strength in the structure. A heavy
fall when ice-skating as an adult jarred her hip and spine and she
thinks this may have
been a triggering factor for the complaint.
In October 2001, Erica and a friend decided to try Tai
Chi. Erica’s husband had learned many years ago at the YMCA so she knew
what was involved. She needed a gentle exercise system that would
gradually improve her body without too much strain. Also when she
started Tai Chi classes, Erica adopted a new diet and swiftly shed 15
Tai Chi has brought about a heightened awareness of her
body so that, when practising, Erica finds she can think about how she
moves. She has learned to hold the joints (ankles and knee) still and
move the leg as a whole unit. Muscles are working harder and there is a
stronger support system.
Although she suffers pain when she practises, Erica loves
her Tai Chi and can’t imagine life without it. She likes the way the
movements are slow and focussed enough for her to feel the effects as
they occur. She heeds the instructor’s reminders to “practise but don’t
over do it, work within your own limitations.” The most difficult
aspect of Tai Chi for her is remembering the sequence of movements. Her
co-ordination was good from the early gymnastics training but she
becomes so absorbed in the wonderful feeling and flow of the form that
she forgets what comes next.
Erica had previously practised Transcendental Meditation
(TM) so she was familiar with the concept of meditation before learning
Qigong. TM, she says, is much more a mental discipline whereas the Fa
Soong Gong we teach combines physical relaxation with the mental. The
circular movements help her to relax. They also generate strong
internal energy. It’s this feeling of energy that she particularly
enjoys. If her body is not relaxed enough, it is too difficult for her
to separate mentally from the pain in her knee.
Would Erica practise Tai Chi if she didn’t have the
incentive of a degenerative health condition?
“Absolutely yes,” she said. “Tai Chi creates a
humility. It keeps you balanced because there’s always the feeling
there is more to learn; there’s always a striving aspect. You can’t get
away with anything because you have to be right there in the moment,
doing it without any trappings and with no support. You can’t fake it.
It strips away all the external rubbish of modern life. Tai Chi keeps
Last year Erica attended a workshop by Fei Wang for the
advanced students. She was amazed by the way Fei moved, the
connectedness and relaxed force in his body. She realised there was a
lot more going on in Tai Chi than she had been aware and that there was
much more she could learn and develop.
When she practises Tai Chi now, the pain is tolerable
although she does take a new form of pain management pill that is kinder
to her system. In her daily life, her knee is not as painful as it was
and the condition is not deteriorating the way she initially feared it
would. Any bending of the knee hurts but the recovery time is faster.
She can get straight out of bed and walk about without hobbling.
Erica says it is impossible to say how much credit she
can specifically give Tai Chi for her improved physical situation.
However, it has given her a way to cope with the stresses in her life, a
way which nurtures and calms her inner self. It is something she can
continue to practise and improve upon for the rest for her life.
(This is an actual
interview, but the name
been changed for reasons of