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What's the story?

One of my favorite concepts in my Communication and Interviewing Skills course is re-storying or interpretation. There are different names for the concept depending on the discipline or who you talk to, but basically, the concept is similar. The basic idea, if I understand it right, is to find ways of retelling the story the client presents.

A great example of this is from one of my blogging buddies, Isabella Mori. The post
Jack Walks Down The Street
shows how there are multiple ways of retelling Jack's story, based on how you look at what happens, and how you interpret Jack's experience.

This concept has always been fascinating to me, and I've even had others use it with me when I'm struggling with something. Here's an example which many readers will understand based on what I've written in the past: One of the hardest things for me to accept is that I need "as needed" and long acting opioids and a sleep medication to allow me to function, deal with the pain and get through my days and nights. My quality of life would be horrible without them, based on what I know from the days when I didn't have these medications. The problem is that I really, really did not want to need these medications. Anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, anti-inflammitories and anesthetic patches were all fine. Those medications have relatively less stigma, although depression itself carries an unfortunate stigma for many.

So when the surgery flared my RSD, I really didn't want to accept the medications like percocet and Ambien, even though I needed them. The story I told was something like this:

I'm not dealing with my pain well enough. I'm not sucking it up enough, and now I need this medication, which means I'm a whimp. I should do better at controlling this stuff, and the fact that I don't is bad. It's wrong to need these medication, and accepting them would be defeat.

I'm fortunate to have a wonderfully kind doctor, several actually, but this particular doctor has gone above and beyond. He helped me look at things differently. He helped me see that accepting these medications was a brave action because I was saying "My needs are important, and I deserve to feel better." We discussed why I felt it was a failure, and he helped me see the falacies in my thinking.

Of course, I still do struggle with this. I still sometimes try to tough things out longer than I should. The thing with RSD is that if the pain gets worse and you don't deal with it quicklly, it's easy to end up in a flare. And while it's important to learn ways to cope with the pain, it's generally unreasonable for me to think that I should deal with pain at an 8 or above. Much of how I've learned to accept needing medications has come from this blog and reading online. I have learned more about how pain works and about how those medications help me gain comfort and prevent flares.

Now when I tell my story, I have started to tell a story which sounds more like this:

Right now, I have a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. It's a very painful condition, and we're still looking for ways to make it better. Right now, part of trying to feel better is using medications which others believe are not good and dealing with the stigma around opioids and sleep medications.
Eventually, I hope, I won't need these medications, but until then, I'm doing the best job I can to take care of myself and stay comfortable. And by taking these medications, I'll hopefully feel better and be able to do more.

I am learning that I have the right to try to be comfortable and function well. Just because I have RSD/CRPS doesn't mean that I can't feel good. Since I'm not using these medications to harm myself or others, and they truly are used to try to feel comfortable, go to school, write and have a good quality of life, I am not doing anything wrong. Using these medications is like using a guide dog, both help me live my full life.

I should be able to control my pain better, and these medications allow me to do that. I'm proud of how I've learned to use these medications to help me with my pain and sleep.

That's my new story, and I'm sticking to it, whenever possible. What other stories would be good to retell? Do you have a request for me to share another retold story? Which one?

I also want to add a word of caussion. I'm not a licensed social worker, just someone who's trying to get to the point where I am one. My only advice to you is that if you want to do this, you should really consider getting the help of a social worker, counselor or psychologist. They can help you deal with any unexpected emotions, and can provide that needed feedback which I'm not qualified to provide. There's something known as scope of practice, which basically means that social workers shouldn't provide services they aren't qualified to provide. In other words, this is a personal post, not advice, so please don't take it as such.


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Jan. 4th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC)
pain meds and stories
Your new story is very similar to mine. I have struggled greatly with the fact that I am taking narcotics, sometimes for long stretches of time. I have questioned where the line is concerning tolerance and addiction a number of times, often because so many people are afraid that I will become addicted to Vicodin and need more and more of it or misuse it. So I looked up the info about it... And my story now goes:

I need these medications to control my pain because living with uncontrolled pain interfers with my ability to think clearly and communicate effectively. So in order to manage my pain as well as proper use of medications, I have a network of people whom I inform when and why I take pain meds so that they can help me track my usage. ...

This story helps me acknowledge both my need and other people's concerns--I think that both are very important.
Jan. 4th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
Re: pain meds and stories
Great story, I like how youa ddress concerns, while showing that the medications are necessary. I know it's because people do care, but I wish that the meds we need didn't have such a stigma. We'd never tell people that they shouldn't take antibiotics or a blood pressure medication, yet when it comes to pain, we suddenly "don't need them"? I'm looking forward to a day when neither of us have to answer those types of questions.
Jan. 4th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
telling stories and scope of practice
i feel honoured that you thought the "jack" story was useful.

what you say about scope of practice ... i know what you mean but i also think that we need to keep in mind that we are all story tellers. i'm not sure that we need an "authority" to tell us how to tell and reframe stories. unfortunately, many of us seem to need permission to go for it. and of course it is always useful to have someone around who can attentively listen to our story and, if need be, ask kind and intelligent questions about it.
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