April 12, 2022

How I Deal With Pain

After hearing about my health condition, one question people ask me is “wow how are you coping?”. My answer is usually short and straight to the point “I distract myself 24/7, 7days a week, and have been doing it for 5 years”

On first look, it sounds like a bad idea or like I’m not facing my problems. But, here’s the thing. When you are almost always in pain, there’s no “running away”.

Recently I stumbled on a book and found out there’s a neurological explanation for what I do and why it works. Incidentally, I do what I do to live with pain instinctively and was quite surprised to find out there’s a study around it. 

I thought to share because I have realized a lot of people around me are also going through physical or mental pain and I hope this would help. So here we go:

A science writer, Winifred Gallagher stumbled on a connection between attention and distraction after she was diagnosed with a fairly advanced kind of cancer.

After the diagnosis, on her way out of the hospital, she decided that since the disease wanted to monopolize her attention, as much as possible, she would focus on her life instead 

The treatment that followed was exhausting and terrible, but Gallagher noticed her commitment to focus on what’s good in her life, “movies, walks, and a 6:30 martini” worked surprisingly well.

Her life during her battle should have been filled with depression and pity, instead, she was often pleasant.

She decided to figure out/understand the role of attention – what we focus on what we ignore – plays in defining our quality of life.

What she found out was that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your existence.

Here’s the thing,

As humans, we tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or doesn’t happen) determines how we feel.

When you think of it this way, tiny details like how you spend your day aren’t important. Only large outcomes, like getting a promotion or getting that visa you have been applying for matter.

What Gallagher found out is that the brain constructs your worldview based on what you pay attention to. 

So, in her case, if she focuses on her cancer diagnosis, her life becomes bleak and unhappy but if she focuses on her 6:30 martini, her life feels more pleasant – even though the original problem remains either way.

As she says – “who you are, what you feel, and do, what you love – is the sum of what you focus on”.

What she realized draws a parallel line to what I decided when I got my initial diagnosis. 

When I first started the surgeries, I promised myself that my jovial disposition was not going to change and I would never become a cranky sick person which is what most people with physical ailment default to by using the excuse “you don’t know how I feel”.

After the 3rd surgery, I realized my life was changed forever. Instead of dwelling on that fact and dwelling on the thin line between depression or something worse, I decided to start working on filling my days with micro pleasures to distract myself.

So I cataloged the things that bring joy to me: movies, series, anime, chocolate, banana bread, games, and the occasional drink. And then I split my day into buckets where, if I am not actively working, I’m doing one of the things above.

E.g. I eat banana bread at night while watching a movie series or anime. Almost every day, no matter how bad the day goes, I know that my sweet moist banana bread is waiting for me.

Now, there’s a thin line between avoiding your problems and simply not letting the problems control your life.

I still get depressed quite a bit. But the very very few times I decided to focus on my health condition, I spiraled so hard and realized my quality of life could indeed get much worse if I don’t follow my system. 

Now, I’m not saying what works for me would work for everybody, but I believe that the use of these “bright spots” can indeed generate a significantly more positive outcome after a negative event.

One last thing.

Different people have different things they can potentially use as their “safe zone”. It can be something as basic as evening walks or a spa day every 2 weeks.

You just need to create bright spots in your life that you can focus on instead of only dwelling on things that are out of your control

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Hola, Damola here :D Good to have you here on my blog. Can't think of anything to write here so when I update this space, you would definitely see it. Stick around :)

  • This totally covers my current mindset. Recently had to move coz of my job and I kept focusing on moving back to my original location. I spent so much time thinking about relocating, how to go about it, who to talk to at work and hating the new location rather than trying to settle down as quickly as possible and enjoying the little pleasures to be found here. While praying one day, it fully dawned on me how unhappy I was…not that I didn’t know coz really I had been falling in and out of depression…..but it was like a new realisation. I made up my mind to just accept the situation and make the best out of it. It makes things so much easier. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks so much for sharing. I completely understand this. I’m really glad you were able to accept the situation and focus on bright spots in your life to overshadow the darkness

  • Everytime I realize how much you’ve gone through and how far you’ve come I’m left in awe. I love how you take life as easy as possible and try to focus on the pleasures of life even when there’s a lot going on. I legit want to see you get happier and happier because you’re the greatest friend anyone can ask for

  • Well-done Damola.
    You did it, so i can do it.

    December 2018, I and late hubby had a terrible accident that left me with multiple fractures (both thighs and an arm).

    Have had surgeries twice and currently planning on going for the 3rd one when I can raise the money. I can relate to what you went through though am still swimming in and out of depression but i gat it. I negotiate with it and pains and somehow i win because am used to it by now.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I hope I get to share my entire story some day just like you.


  • This is certainly a great way to navigate life issues, no matter how unhappy we feel about an aspect of our life there are a lot more other areas with brightness and colours that will help us win and keep winning. Pls keep being positive..You will surely outlast your situation.Have a great weekend Damola.

  • This is beautiful Damola, I can resonate to this even if I’m not going through a medical problem.

    But I get frustrated trying to grow in my business and I always feel like it’s not working.

    But then I shifted my focus to enjoying what I do and other hobbies like a stroll, movies and hanging out with friends.

    I stopped thinking and sulking, instead I began to enjoy every moments and try to be better without getting oppressed by others😁.

    I wish you success in all you do Damola. 👐👐

    • Love this! I’m glad you were able to link both of them. Not all “pain” is physical pain but the coping mechanisms tend to be quite alike.

  • Dear Damola,

    Thanks for sharing your story and insights into how you cope with pain.

    It’s really not about denying or escaping or avoiding the problem like you rightly stated. It’s instead a conscious choice to not give the pain control over the quality of our existence.

    So we can at least have our own version of “You Only Live Once”.

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