Rewiring the Brain: Taking a Fresh Look at Chronic Pain

Rewiring the Brain: Taking a Fresh Look at Chronic Pain
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For 15 years, I have been a failure at managing my chronic pain. I was prescribed oxycodone with gabapentin, and after my Parkinson’s diagnosis, I was put on levodopa. This decreased my pain to the point where oxycodone was no longer needed.

I also tried alcohol and marijuana in a rigorous attempt to make the pain vanish, replacing it with “feel-goods.” I know that chasing after “feel-goods” is not the right approach for me, so I stopped all the pain medications except levodopa.

At this juncture, I wish to be clear that I am not recommending anyone stop their medications. This is my personal journey, and I made decisions in consultation with my healthcare providers. For me, the risk of opioid treatment far outweighed the benefits.

Gabapentin in my system dulled my brain to the point that my cognitive abilities (or lack thereof) adversely affected my quality of life. Only in the last few months have all the pieces finally fallen into place to reveal a fresh approach to chronic pain management.

Chronic pain management is not just about popping a pill and hoping to be pain-free. No matter what I do, I will always have chronic pain from Parkinson’s every day. The goal is to live better. Medications that seek to disguise this reality within the gaudy attire of society’s “feel-good” addictions always send up big, red warning flags for me.

The brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself so it can function better, even with chronic pain. If I am putting chemicals in my brain or using a set of addictive thoughts or feelings that interfere with that rehabilitative rewiring, then I must change or give up. Giving up and showing up are just a breath and a step apart.

The Parkinson’s chronic pain management program I use incorporates many of these small changes to help me live better. Here is my list:

This list reflects some of the information available to the public on chronic pain management. Each small change supports a small increase in the space between chronic pain and the thought or feeling in reaction to that pain. Each small change strengthens the stability of the pause.

With a long enough pause, it is possible to call on the conductor, who can then reroute the brain’s response to pain and surges of exaggerated mood (SEM) attacks. Once the conductor is called upon, one can discover something more — a fresh new look at chronic pain management.

The old ways of coping with pain were not working because SEM attacks were causing an exaggeration of the pain signal and emotions. In our search to live better with this, we discovered a new exercise approach, and along the way, a few gems of wisdom, including:

  • Intense emotional experiences can exacerbate chronic pain.
  • Uncontrolled actions connected to intense emotional experiences can also increase pain.
  • Skilled meditators experience intense emotions differently than the average person.
  • People with highly skilled conductors will experience intense emotion differently. Seeing the intense emotional experiences, along with pain, from the viewpoint of the conductor is not the same as the original emotional/pain experience.
  • Marijuana used in a sacred way can help to hold open the viewing window for the conductor.

With patience and perseverance, I sat at the conductor’s viewing window every day for more than four months. Many of the discoveries from this view are chronicled in my columns.

Connected to SEM attacks is the idea of anxiety or sad emotion surges that are not tied to context. Many of the emotional surges were purely abnormal Parkinson’s biochemicals with no environmental or conscious antecedent — just a surge of emotion due to brain chemistry.

Given this to be true, and my history using a well-trained conductor, I passionately believed a new brain path would be found. At the time, I was just using the conductor’s window to find a way to tone down the SEM attacks. What I discovered was a lot more, and yet so simple.

The need to fight, flee, or act in a way to seek nurturing is an automatic, often instinctual response to pain signals. If those pain signals are exaggerated, the response can be, too. In my case, it is all based on illusion caused by an organic malfunction. There is no external threat that requires a fight/flight/nurture-seeking response. As Neo said in “The Matrix” sci-fi movie, “There is no spoon.”

This perception of the difference between a thought/feeling and an observed thought/feeling isn’t just an idea for me, but rather an experienced phenomenon connected to the vision of a better life. At the conductor’s window, I sat and watched the exaggerated illusionary signal, I watched the pain and emotions approach, and I saw them redirected down a new track leaving no consequence visible to others. I felt no fanfare, no bliss, no awe. Just a soft, everyday calmness and a sense that I can do this conductor rerouting.

In a prominent place in the home, I put up a calendar to document success. At the end of each day, I share with a family member the placing of a big, red check mark for every day the conductor successfully reroutes the reaction to pain and SEM attacks.

***

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

I am a retired professor and research scientist along with being an artist, philosopher, writer, therapist and mystic. I am also a husband, father, grandfather, master gardener and Vietnam Vet. All of these roles influence how PD interacts with my life’s journey.
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I am a retired professor and research scientist along with being an artist, philosopher, writer, therapist and mystic. I am also a husband, father, grandfather, master gardener and Vietnam Vet. All of these roles influence how PD interacts with my life’s journey.
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26 comments

  1. Garrett J. says:

    Dr. C,
    I am doing the mindfulness meditation series by Jon Kabat-Zinn and find that very important in terms of managing chronic pain and discomfort. I learn to breathe into my discomfort my tremor for example and is continuing to hope he has good results do you know about that

  2. Sheryl Ann Wilson says:

    I want to know how the same is Parkinson’s pain to chronic pain ie.Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis, Broken off tailbone? I had been on morphine for 10.5yrs prior to Canada’s opioid takedown. Then placed on oxycodone and now gabapentin. Those meds leave me in 30% of my pain not covered. Thus not long ago they approved Emtech, but continuous paper on Opioid Addiction, which drives me crazy. I’d like for some of these medical people to live just one of my worst days.

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Sheryl ~ Your struggle with the medicines that are often prescribed for chronic pain is similar to millions of people with chronic pain. I have often thought the same thing about the lack of empathy or real understanding by some medical providers. Don’t give up! The brain is a marvelous instrument and can be called upon to help out. I appreciate your checking in on BioNews and reading my columns. I am expanding the series on chronic pain so perhaps there will be some additional information or insight you can use.
      Dr. C.

  3. I have been starting to live with neuropathy chronic pain for 4 years now. And the most frustrating part of the whole thing is that no one really understands the situation you are in. Doctors don’t do much if they don’t find something specific in one of the DOCENS test they put you through. And even though they know and agree that it doesn’t mean that you don’t have really going through a lot of pain because is hard to prove in any test specific neurological problems. They always prefer to take the route of treating you like if you should just have to learn to live with it. And that also those close around you because they can’t see any specific diagnosis from that came from a test and supported by a Doctor they sadly don’t treat you like if you have any pain really or that it should not be that bad. As anyone we humans are educated to not trust anything a 100% until there is real proof. And the problem is that there is still no way possible to prove 100% any neuropathy neurological related diagnosis and knowledge of how to treat it.

    So, like Parkinson’s cases that have to live with chronic pain and because there’s not enough knowledge about how to treat it. People with it have to live under a regimen of pills that simply destroy your life even more.

    That’s why I have also have been trying to look how to find to solve this problem myself. And for now I have agreed to that the start point of everything is in the brain and how much control a person have over it. Like exactly says “rewiring” it is the possible way of finding a relief of some kind working with discipline and patience every day on it.

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Rodolfo ~ I really like your comment. It seems that you are on the right track. Rewiring the brain does take patience and discipline. It can take some time to establish new brain connections. Keep posting and tell us about your journey. The information will be helpful to others. Thanks for checking in with BioNews and reading my columns. I will be expanding the series on chronic pain. Sharing our journeys, trials and tribulations, and hopefully successes, will encourage others to share their stories.
      Dr. C.

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Chris ~ Chronic pain and Parkinson’s and back pain are often intertwined. I encourage you to look into more thoughts and suggestions from the BioNews site. I will be continuing my series on chronic pain and hopefully some additional encouragement and suggestions to help you manage your pain. Thanks for taking the time to read my columns.
      Dr. C.

  4. J. Robert Moore says:

    All fine except if you are 1. Have autonomic disorder, 2. Are allergic to pot, 3. Don’t metabolize most medicines normally, and 4. Have complex and numerous systemic medical problems such as esophageal strictures, kidney stones, a completely herniated cervical and lumbar spine with stenosis and forminal narrowing, and other documented problems from head to toe. I am a conundrum to most MDs who deal with it by ” do no harm “, do they don’t….

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi ~ J. Robert and thanks for sharing your comment. In dealing with chronic pain there is no single solution that fits everyone. I can see from your description that your life is full of challenges and you are disappointed with the solutions that have been presented to you thus far. Don’t give up! If I can be of any help outside of providing medical advice, which I don’t do, please send me a comment. Thanks for checking in with BioNews and reading my thoughts on chronic pain management.
      Dr. C.

  5. Bob Washick says:

    Kent Jackson standard speaker newspaper commented about three people I work with. A 78-year-old. A seven year old. A 23 year old. He named it: Rewiring the Brain. The 78-year-old great looking guy. Could not read. He collected cars. For the first time he came across the street and said Bob, look I can circle a car!! Signs of dementia. I use visual designs that I use on my clients. By the way all 3 improved in nine hours. Dr Bob Washick Conyngham Pennsylvania Pennsylvania

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Dr. Bob, I would be interested in seeing the article you mention “Rewiring the Brain”. Can you send the link in a comment through BioNews?
      Thanks,
      Dr. C.

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi ~ Thanks for the comment. I write to share my personal journey, professional rehabilitation experience and I hope that the information in the columns will allow people to explore different methods while having some discussion about those methods. Keep checking in with BioNews and I appreciate your reading my columns.
      Dr. C.

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Keith ~ Thanks for your comment. I am sorry for the pain you endure. I deal with chronic pain and there is some evidence that chronic back pain and Parkinson’s are linked together in some cases. I am not a medical doctor so I cannot provide treatment options to you within this format. My focus is on rehabilitation and my columns reflect my personal journey and academic/research/scientific literature. I encourage you to keep checking in with BioNews and the columnists who address various issues in managing disease.
      Dr. C.

  6. Kurt says:

    Tired of hearing this rewiring the brain. Due to the CDC and DEA we pain sufferers have to suffer with chronic pain and no help. Its a personal choice to take an opioid and we all know the circumstances.

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Kurt ~ Thanks for your comment. I am constantly working on my brain to rewire it which is really hard work. And, also in my humble opinion, there are few who know how to apply the science of rehabilitation to helping people with Parkinson’s disease. The result is ineffective information to guide people on their brain rewiring journey. If you have any questions about this challenging but extremely rewarding path of brain rewiring, please do not hesitate to send me a comment. I wish you all the best.
      Dr. C.

    • Dr. C says:

      Dear Ramesh ~ Thanks for checking in to the BioNews website and reading my column. Keep checking back with us for more brain news I hope to share.
      Dr. C.

  7. Rich says:

    I am curious, you brain for constant pain pertaining to Parkinson’s disease. Have you done any studies or have you uncovered any information that would lead to chronic pain treatment for reasons other than Parkinson’s?

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Rick ~ There is literature out there that talks about designing pain treatment outcome studies with people that have Parkinson’s because there are often other ailments and/or older age that contribute to chronic pain. There are also problems with outcome study design that are tied to appropriate and sufficient training of human service personnel on the intricacies of treating Parkinson’s disease. I haven’t done any studies myself. My columns reflect my personal journey although I do try to reference academic or scientific research whenever possible. Thank you for checking in on my columns and the entire BioNews website. There are other disease processes that BioNews columnists address and perhaps some of them might offer another insight.
      Dr. C.

  8. Garrett McAuliffe says:

    Dr. C – Your piece on chronic pain resonated with me.I have been practicing mindfulness based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Miindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief audio guide for some time. It is a practice that requires discipline. It also paradoxically requires that you experience the pain or discomfort directly rather than running away from it and adding to it with other emotions or thoughts. Thank you for sharing. It enhances my resolve to continue this practice. Dr. G 🙂 (an almost retired professor), Garrett McAuliffe

    • Dr. C says:

      Hello fellow professorial almost-retired “Gray Beard” Dr. G. I appreciate your comments, and recall you have shared some insights on previous columns of mine. I agree totally that the hard part is sitting with the pain long enough to be able to understand it and apply mindfulness. I like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work also but find it somewhat limiting when it comes to Parkinson’s disease and the important role of the Conductor I have expressed in other columns. I look forward to our continued dialog and friendship.
      Dr. C.

  9. Ann says:

    Very much food for thought
    I have been wanting to start documenting my parkinson pain and journey for a while now and see the journey from behind and ahead. So many changes been and coming.
    This has given me the urge to put my thoughts and actions down.
    Thank you

    • Dr. C says:

      Hello Ann ~ Or I should say, “G-day, Mate”! Thanks for your comment. Parkinson’s is often thought of as a “shaking muscle” disease. There are a lot of cerebral involvement and if we can understand that perhaps we can rewire our brains to deal more effectively with the disease. I found that keeping a diary of symptoms was very helpful to give me a visual on the timing and intensity and to also bring to my providers to share with them. My wife even took the data and put it in an Excel graph (she’s an overachiever LOL). I’m glad that the column proved to be helpful. Appreciate you following my writing and checking in with the BioNews website for additional information and inspiration.
      Dr. C.

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