Discovering Hope

8th post for #bloganuary (a WordPress event)


The Prompt: What do you like most about your writing?

Ok, this time I’m going to have to twist the prompt a bit. I’m not so inclined to write about what I like about my writing. For me the act of writing is much more important and interesting to me then the resulting work itself (that is not to say I don’t enjoy my finished works, but by comparison the writing itself is much more the point). So I’m going to change the prompt to: What do you like most about writing?


I’m glad you asked! The short answer is writing has saved my life. It’s hard not to like (appreciate) something that has saved your life, right? I’m not exaggerating. This isn’t hyperbole (I think…maybe I should recheck the definition). To explain, I think it would be helpful to first provide some background and context. Let’s look back at a personal essay I wrote last summer, ‘A Monster Named Me’.


A Monster Named Me

Originally published July 15, 2021 on Monty’s Scribbles.

All it took was the slightest sharpening of the sword in my eyeballs or the tiniest cinching of the vice upon my temples and I knew the Monster was arriving. There was no guessing involved. If the Monster peaked out from the closet then it was guaranteed to come out to terrorize me. The monster, a.k.a. my migraine, was a constant presence in my life. It was always there. Sometimes a low level threat hanging out in the closet. Other times, more so than not, a dangerous and angry force out for destruction.

My ability to predict the onslaught of pain was uncanny. It was like I had perfect clairvoyance, but only in this one aspect of my life. How could this be? The answer was simple. The monster was me. I wasn’t predicting its arrival. I was conjuring the monster from within me.

A Monster Named Me

What I had thought was a wild and uncontrollable force was in fact a well-trained and obedient pet doing my bidding. This was non-obvious to me though. I spent years, decades, feeling like I was at its mercy. I could try to placate it. Manage the intensity of its anger by avoiding certain triggers or curling up in a dark room, but these measures were of minimal effect. In fact, it seemed as if there were more and more triggers. More and more of life that I had to avoid if I wanted some peace. Instead of living life I was avoiding it. I felt hopeless.

There is a name for what I was doing. This “reading of the tea leaves” and predicting (i.e. calling) the onslaught of pain. It’s called “catastrophizing”, which is the mental process of constant negative thinking and emotional responses to pain that can lead to pain becoming worse in intensity and duration, i.e. chronic pain. Essentially, I was programming my brain that when I did something ”dangerous” (e.g. a trigger) the pain was inevitable. I was programming my brain that, if the pain started, it was unstoppable. That the pain would escalate in intensity until I needed to escape with sleep and medication.

Some people confuse this concept with meaning that the pain is somehow ”less real” or ”made-up”; “all-in-the-head”. Well, the reality is that all pain, whether it be from a broken bone or a mysterious migraine, is a mental process. Signals in the pain being interpreted as pain. So it makes sense that negative thinking and emotions can influence how we experience pain. And because our brain is amazing at learning, it starts to program itself. To learn that a specific cause (e.g. trigger) will lead to a certain result. That a specific experience (e.g. eye-pressure) will lead to a full-blown migraine. We essentially train our brain to experience chronic pain. But this pain is very real. No less real than the pain from a broken bone.

When I learned this, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I also thought that it was an absolute tragedy. The brilliance came in the form of realizing that if I’d programmed my brain for chronic pain then I could also, possibly, reprogram it to something more pleasant (like “not pain). Suddenly, I realized I had the potential to control this wild monster that had ravaged me for so many years. That’s where the tragedy came in. How did it take me 35 years of suffering to become aware of this? I’d taken hundreds of different medications and procedures to “manage my pain”, some to address emotional distress associated with the pain (e.g. anti-depressants), but none of my doctors ever let me know that the power was within my own hands (or brain, I guess I should say). The answer, of course, is that they didn’t know about it themselves. It’s not part of the main curriculum for pain management (at least in western medicine). Oh well, better late than never, right? But this is why I’m sharing my story. Perhaps there is someone out there suffering as I was that will read this and discover hope like me.

There are many mind-body tools and techniques for reprograming our brains for pain. Catastrophizing is just one of the many aspects that need to be addressed and everybody will have their own personal journey. And of course there is every possibility that there is an underlying physical/physiological cause for the pain that needs to be addressed medically. But there is hope. There are tools that can help us.

Today, after over three decades of suffering migraines, I’m pretty much pain-free. I have pressure in my head sometimes, actually quite often, but that pressure remains just pressure. In the old days I would have viewed that pressure as a bad omen and boom the pain would come. These days, if the pressure starts to intensify, I pause, acknowledge whats going on, perhaps do a breathing exercise, and get back to life. In essence, I’m cured of my chronic pain.

I’m currently writing my full length recovery story which I will be sharing as soon as it’s ready. It’s called “Discovering Hope”. I’m pretty excited about sharing my story and sharing my hope.

Work-In-Progress (estimated arrival in December 2021)Work-In-Progress (estimated arrival in December 2022)

Briefly, I used self-help techniques including cognitive-behavior, mindfulness, and expressive writing exercises. The specific program I used is called CURABLE(R) (CurableHealth.com). It’s an online, digital health program and available as an app on your smart phone. If you experience chronic pain then I encourage you to check it out [this is not an advertisement, I’m just sharing what worked for me]. Your also more then welcome to reach out to me with any questions about my personal recovery journey. There is hope, and I’m happy to share it.


Well, that was a quite a long write-up on background, but I think it was important. Now let’s get back to the question at hand. What do you like most about writing?

As mentioned in The Monster Is Me, part of my recovery journey was expressive writing. It’s a mind-body technique that helps with working through unresolved emotional issues. Although most of those expressive writing sessions resulted in torn up scraps, they planted a creative seed within me to explore my life-experiences through the written word. Making sense of my life through writing, and later drawing, has been a running theme throughout my work. Sometimes seriously. Sometimes with a much-needed sense of humor. Writing has continued to be a self-care practice for me and the main driver for me even writing this piece.

Along the journey I’ve found my words and my people. Check out my About Me page for more explanation including links to all my major (self) published works.

Be well,

Monty


An Inspired Post

6th post for #bloganuary (a WordPress event)


The Prompt: Who is someone that inspires you and why?


Oooooooh! I really set myself up with the title of this post didn’t I? Nothing like setting expectations high and then crashing and burning. Haha. But seriously, lower your expectations. It’s just a play on words. Or is it?

First, a small observation. This is the first prompt in the series that adds the “and why”. I honestly assumed that some type of explanation is required for all of these prompts to generate any interesting content. After all, it’s the why behind our hopes and desires, thoughts and feelings, and crazy behaviors that is most interesting, isn’t it? In fact, figuring out the “why” for myself is my biggest motivation for writing in the first place.

I think that there are many people, both the publicly well known and those in my private life that have inspiring accomplishments. Almost everyone has some attributes about them that are potentially inspiring to others. But the key to this question, I think, is whom has actually inspired me to action. After all, without any action how inspired were we really?

Many of the things that I’m most proud of in my recent life I can trace back to personal motivation. The idea may have come from someone or somewhere, but the action and follow through came from within. Over the past 18 months, starting in my 47th year, I’ve self-published five books (after never having written creatively before besides school). Each of these books were self-illustrated (after never having created art before besides school or playing as a child). I’ve done all of this while working in a demanding job and trying to be a good husband, father, son, brother. I may sound like I’m bragging. I guess I am. I’m proud of these accomplishments. To be honest, these accomplishments inspire me to do even more creatively. I’m still writing and illustrating. I’m now also personally blogging. I’m feeling good about myself (and that is not my natural emotional set-point).

In the past several years, I’ve also been on a journey of recovery from four decades of chronic pain (migraines) while also living with major depressive disorder. I’ve learned self-care using mind-body techniques. I’ve learned and made a habit of meditation and yoga. I’ve transformed chronic pain into periodic discomfort. I’ve learned to be happy while being chemically wired for sadness. It hasn’t been easy. Of this journey, I’m also proud.

So the answer to the question of who inspires me is…me? No. Well, yes, but not for this post’s purpose. I’d like to live into the intent of the prompt and share about how and why I’ve been inspired by others in my life. The nominations are:

1. My Mom for inspiring me (granted with some positional power) to get my act together as a teenager. I was out of control and she provided the tough love I needed at the time to make a change and a life-time of unconditional love to support me along the way. Thanks Mom.

2. My Wife for inspiring me to be my best self for the family. She believed in a better me than I’ve ever believed in. She encouraged me to take chances at work that directly led to my career success. She acknowledged my illness, but didn’t allow me to define myself by it. She encouraged me to be present and involved as a father, husband, son. She taught me that by always putting family first we can keep our family together (even through times when we’re not so sure we wanted to). Thanks love.

3. My Children for inspiring me to own up to my failures. When I did let them and my family down they held me accountable. In each of their own ways they have been (rightfully) tough on me for letting them down. They said I’d been their roll-model. They looked up to me. I was the “best” father they could imagine. When I failed them I shattered their world. But we’ve talked about it. We’ve worked and continue to work through our feelings. It’s that ongoing conversation that they are gifting me. Through these conversations with my children I’ve learned to live with regret without feeling constant punishing guilt. Thanks loves.

And the winner is…A THREE-WAY TIE. How extraordinary.

Be well,

Monty