Biofeedback: A Journey for the Mind and Body (Part 1)
I'm here to tell you more about how I am doing with biofeedback. This report isn't going to be as clearly defined by lesson, but is rather a compilation of thoughts about my experience.<
After about the 6th lesson, I took about a month-long break or so to allow me to receive medication for my anxiety, practice the skills I'd already learned and give us a better idea about what I needed to learn more about or areas where my skills were lacking. During that time, I received benefits from better understanding my anxiety from a chemical perspective and from the perspective of the anxiety/pain paradigm. I learned more about how anxiety can increase my pain but also that anxiety can be increased or even caused by pain. I also had a diagnosis and, for the first time since things spiraled south into the flare from hell and flare from hell II, I have a more clear picture of what's going on and how most of my treatments work and why. i've added members to my medical and support teams which is so vital. I have to admit that, this semester was very hard for me, It's good to know I have so many wonderful people who have wonderful skills and are helping me to help find healing and wellness, even if cure is not in the cards. That said, I am certainly not where I want to be yet. I have to admit that I sometimes have "Is life really worth it" thought occasionally, but there is always something to pull me back to wanting to live even with all of it. It would be nice, though, to be able to put a bit more room between me and the edge, if you know what I mean. I still see reasons for joy and hope. I think I needed this conceptual stuff, the time to talk to my doctors, counselors and nurse practitioners and see what options are available to me.
So when I went back to biofeedback, I was ready. Our first session was tricky, some because we briefly ended up working on temperature training and I felt I failed miserably. Next, I started working with muscle tension, which is hard, at first, but I love it when I'm in the biofeedback zone and able to tune into what my body and the machines are telling me. I got a much better feel of how I guard and what things could help me guard less or manage a spasm. Finally, we got to a poioint where I felt like I was playing a game of getting rid of the tension. "lLook at me as I place my thoughts, breath and hands in was which break up a mild spasm," The tension fights back, but I breath deeply, and when I'm too focused, I let my thoughts rest on a pretty image. Sometimes that is how I break up some other tensions.
Next, we have temperature training. I can't tell you how long we've worked with temperature, trying to get ANY appendage to increase in temperature. The long-term goal for me is the goal of being able to use the temperature training to allow me to control temperature in my foot and basically increase circulation to it. This could be beneficial, since it's hard to get the oxygen into the RSD/CRPS area, cold increases pain and there are tons of great reasons for teaching the body this. It's also helpful for me to mention that getting blood flow down to your feet or hands is another way of activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the one which allows us to relax, it's the oposite to the sympathetic nervous system which plays some type of role in the disease of RSDS/CRPS (Note, I don't have time to search through a bunch of articles and read them right now, and since there's a great deal of controversy about how much the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for what happens in RSDS/CRPS, I recommend that you read it yourself if you're curious. My simplification (there's some, but it's definitely much less of a factor than was originally thought and my sympathetic nervous system doesn't seem to be all that's going on in my case. However, no one can dispute that if used well, biofeedback has a lot of helpful tools for someone with RSDS/CRPS and I think that warming the extremities is a good one. It's a challenging skill to do and I haven't totally mastered it. This is probably the hardest thing to change, especially in a body-gone-haywire where it's a state of normalty to sometimes notice that my left, bad, foot is around five degrees and nothing I can do helps. I have a few treatments available, I can use heat, a patch which is usually taken for its effects on the blood pressure is a treatment we're trying now,, I stick it to my leg and it is supposed to help with pain, which I don't think it does, but the effects it has on the skin are not good. So anyway, the more I can keep or increase the circulation down in that foot, the warmer it stays, the better I will tollerate the winters. It's very helpful to be able to do this, but how do we get me to be there. In other words, how do we get my mind to unlock the secret or learn the secret.
One thing I finally learned is that it takes purposeful work and relaxation to make any change in the temperature of anything in my body through the use of my mind. I can, for example, warm my foot up quickly using a heating pad, though it's harder to do this with RSD for some unknown reason, maybe just because of the effects it has on temperature and circulation. If I want to warm it up using my brain, I have to work with several images, techniques and ideas to have any influence on my foot or hand temperature. Sometimes, we'd work with a long relaxation which my therapist would improvise based upon images she knew I liked, usually this involved the beach. We'd work with a body scan, the warmth of the sun, the warmth of the sun and the warmth of the water. I'd breathe in rhythm with the ocean waves and I'd feel each part of me get warm, loose and limp. We discovered that I need to start from the head down with feeling the warmth and we had to feel this several times. My therapist would use each image multiple times throughout the session. I'd experience the beach fully: the texture of the sand, the warmth of the sun and its yellow and red hew, the beautiful bright blue sky, the waves, the turquoise water and the smell of the beach. The longer we "worked" with it, the better results I got. The first time we met after the month-long break we saw a pretty big temperature difference between feet, close to five cdegrees. Now that it's colder, this difference seems to hold. That first session, both feet decreased in temperature, the left foot more than the right. The next week, I increased my right foot's temperature by about a degree and maintained the left foot's temperature, in other words, it dropped in temperature but came back up to what it was by the end of the session. The next session is the last one I can report on right now, I still have more sessions to go though so there will be another report. In that session, I increased my right foot by around four degrees and again maintained the temp of my left foot.
You might be asking why maintaining the temperature is such a big deal. This is important because if we did nothing to intervene, my feet would drop in temperature over the session (about 50 minutes), because they were out of shoes and socks and exposed to the air. Maintaining the temperature is actually a big accomplishment and increasing it in the right side is definitely promising. It's always harder to increase the temperature of my RSD/CRPS affected foot and this is a common problem.
I'm excited to continue learning about my mind and my body and how they can work together. I really don't know if biofeedback will decrease my pain, so far, it does not. It does calm my body down when I'm in a flare and give it a break from the constant tension I experience because of my body's reaction to the pain. I feel fortunate to get to experience this journey and gain greater understanding of what's going on in my body. Biofeedback fits in nicely with the treatments I receive and it makes me feel like I'm actually doing something to help my situation. I would still recommend the experience; if you're considering it orr just interested based upon what you've read, talk with your doctor. What you learn may make a huge difference in how you approach your health.