Here are 5 amazing stories from 4 people who have struggled with some form of a disability. Each of their stories is unique, and presents the challenges they faced and the different experiences they had in accepting and growing beyond them. Apart from their differences, it becomes clear that they each grew to have something in common; a desire to live their lives to their fullest potential, regardless of the circumstances they found themselves in. Please take some time and listen to their stories, which are both courageous and inspiring.
Nick Vujicic was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the lack of all four limbs. In this video Nick talks about his struggle with his disability until he was 17 years old, when he fully accepted his condition and started his non profit organization: Life Without Limbs. Nick now presents motivational speeches around the world, where he focuses on what is is like living with a disability, finding ones purpose and being hopeful throughout all of our challenges.
This video tracks the progress of Arthur Boorman - a disabled veteran from the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) on his quest to regain control of his life. When Arthur decided to take control of his life choices he was 297 lb., was using crutches, leg braces, needed to wear a back brace, and had sleep apnea as well as other symptoms of poor health. With a ton of hard work, mindful dietary decisions and support, in less then 6 months Arthur lost 100 lb. and gained back his strength. Watch Arthurs transformation which has inspired so many people to take control of their life - no matter what situation they find themselves in.
Phil Hansen talks about his difficult journey with art after he developed a tremor in his hand that limited his ability to use the pointillism technique which he loved, and used to depict his own artistic style. Hansen had to make a tough choice; abandon art or to embrace the shake and go beyond it.
Aimee Mullins who has broken records at the Paralympic Games in 1996, and now has created a career in the realm of acting, modeling and activism gives a talk about her experience wearing prosthetic legs - and the ways they have helped her make the many achievements she has.
There are three types of chronic pain problems:
Our bodies experience pain through a combination of chemical messengers, emotions and the thoughts that communicate through pain pathways.
Pain signals can change depending on how quickly or slowly the messages are being sent. There is also a possibility for pain signals to be fired after an individuals injury has been treated or removed. This means that the magnitude of the tissue damage may not be compatible with the experienced sense of pain. Some of the reasons healed tissue can remain sensitive (thus leading to chronic pain) may be due to: post surgical scar tissue, inflammation, nerve irritation and muscle spasms. There are also certain individuals who experience pain even if there is no tissue damage left due to a misfiring of a pain signal in the nervous system; this is due to the nervous system having been “conditioned” to continue sending pain signals (ex: phantom limb pain).
Gate Control Theory:
Pain is processed separately by the central nervous system (consisting of the brain and spinal cord), and the peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord). Our peripheral nerves detect pain, touch, vibration, and temperature. These detections are then send down a pathway through our spinal cord and then to our brain. The brain then tries to make sense of the messages in order to decide how to respond to the pain. However, before the messages get to the brain, the pass down the spinal cord which has “nerve gates”. These gates can either open which would allow the messages to move freely to the brain, or the gates can close, which would inhibit the impulse going to the brain. As you can imagine, if the impulse is inhibited and the gates close, the result would be a decrease in pain sensation. Just the same, if the gates are open and the messages flow to the brain, then a person will experience more pain.
Additionally, the emotions and thoughts that the brain attaches to the experience of a sensation will determine how the pain is processed and even experienced. If the brain chooses to pay a lot of attention to the pain, then it will send signals to the spinal cord to open the gates which will amplify the pain. If the brain decides to ignore the pain, then it will send signals to the spinal cord to close the gates which will result in the decrease of pain.
Which Factors Cause the Pain Gates to Open?
Sensory Factors: extent of injury and/or degenerative changes, extent of scarring and other physical reactions to the original injury even after healing (ex: inflammation), muscle tension, re-injury, inactivity/de-conditioning, long-term narcotic use, poor body mechanics, poor pacing of activities.
Cognitive Factors: degree of focus on the pain, boredom, beliefs and attitude about the meaning of pain (ex: heart attack vs indigestion), perceived lack of control over the pain, focusing on the pain, having no outside interests, worrying about the pain, thinking about all the bad things associated with the pain, negative beliefs about your future.
Emotional factors: depression, anger, anxiety, stress, frustration, sadness, hopelessness and helplessness.
*At times of anxiety or stress, the descending messages from the brain may actually amplify the pain signal and the nerve gates as it moves up the spinal cord.
Which Factors Cause the Pain Gates to Close?
Sensory Factors: increasing your activity, short-term use of pain medication relaxation training and meditation, and aerobic exercise.
Cognitive Factors: outside interests, thoughts that help you cope with pain, and distracting yourself from the pain.
Emotional Factors: having a positive attitude, decreasing depression, being reassured that the pain is not harmful, taking control of your pain and your life, and stress management.
Understanding the biology of pain as well as the mind-body connection, gives us an opportunity to gain perspective on the mechanisms that are happening inside of our body. Understanding the mechanisms that produce sensations such as pain, as well as the ones which help decrease it, can help us make mindful decisions about how we can respond to our bodies.
"We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever, and yet more elusive.”
-David K. Randall
We all know the difference a good nights sleep has on our mind and body; we are eager to start the day, our senses are awake, and things that usually stress us out seem to be less problematic. Even though someone who is asleep appears to be seemingly lazy, a shut-eyed-organism is surprisingly filled with trillions of cells working to restore, rejuvenate, detox, and heal the body. Simultaneously, sleep also aids the mind in storing and processing memories, consolidating newly learned information, and helping with focus, creativity and decision making skills when awake. It’s no wonder then that humans, and every single other animal, needs restful sleep.
In his book Dreamland, David K. Randall informs us of how our quantity and quality of sleep underlies all of the decisions we make throughout the day, sleep also significantly impacts our emotional intelligence. Randall emphasizes that if we don’t get enough sleep, our body will keep score of the debt, and feel emotionally and physically fatigued until we get proper rest we need. “Humans need roughly one hour of sleep for every two hours they are awake, and the body innately knows when this ratio becomes out of whack. Each hour of missed sleep one night will result in deeper sleep the next, until the body’s sleep debt is wiped clean.”
Sleep is mandatory for our well being, especially when we are suffering from chronic pain — unfortunately, pain is also one of the leading causes of insomnia. Studies have shown that two-thirds of the people who suffer from back pain have insomnia; studies have additionally shown that disrupted sleep also worsened back pain. Insomnia and pain clearly influence each other, when one is impacted it seems that the other is as well. Another finding from the NSF 1996 survey, showed that people who experience pain AND sleep problems scored significantly lower in general mood, physical health, ability to handle stress, ability to get up and go, and their ability to concentrate compared to people who didn’t experience pain and sleep problems. The good news is that we have some control over our sleep habits, but first we need to learn which habits promote sleep and which ones obstruct it.
Here is a list of bad habits that you may need to get rid in order to get a better nights rest:
- Do not consume any caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. Caffeine is found in coffee, certain teas, soft drinks, chocolate and cocoa. Furthermore, here is some medicine that may also include caffeine:
- allergy, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, nausea, thyroid medicine
- cold, cough and decongestants
- Do not consume any tobacco products which contain nicotine not only stimulate the body and promote wakefulness, but they are also bad for your health.
- Do not drink Alcohol before going to sleep because it interferes with feeling rest due to blocking your REM sleep.
- Do not eat before going to sleep, it can cause indigestion, acid reflux and overall decrease the quality of your rest because your digestive system will be hard at work.
- Do not exercise during the 3-4 hours before going to bed. Try exercising in the morning, afternoon or during the early evening.
Creating an optimal sleep environment will also help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Here are some tips for doing so:
- The temperature of your bedroom should be on cooler side, not cold and not hot.
- Your bedroom should be quiet. If you have noisy pets or a partner who snores, try using earplugs, downloading a noise app (I like using a free app called Rain, Rain), or getting a white-noise machine to help mask other sounds.
- Your bedroom should also be dark, try covering your bedroom windows with dark curtains. You could also try wearing a sleeping mask.
- One of the most important things to consider is the comfort of your mattress. If you
are experiencing pain, it is really important to buy a mattress that suits your needs.
Create soothing bedtime rituals to ease your mind and body at the end of every day. Here are some rituals and activities you can experiment with before you go to sleep:
- Try to meditate, journal, or read something that helps you unwind.
- Listen to soothing music or a podcast.
- Do not watch TV, eat, pay your bills, send emails etc. in your bed. Create an intention to use your bed as a sleep sanctuary. (Having sex in bed is also ok).
- Try to go to sleep at the same time every single night, make sure your schedule is consistently the same 7 days a week!
- Try using an essential oil diffuser, a few oils that are known to promote calming and soothing effects on the mind and body are lavender, cedar wood, chamomile and bergamot.
- Drink teas that promote sleepiness, such as chamomile, lemon balm, lavender or Sleepy-Time tea blends.
- Take a hot shower or a nice bath before going to bed. Add episome bath salts to help relax any muscle soreness.
Whatever you decide to do for your last bedtime activity, try to keep in mind that it should promote calmness. Invest your time in figuring out what activities your body responds well too— and stick to those habits, your body will thank you!
Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP