Go The Distance - 2022
A few days ago, for the first time in my grown-up life, I snuck a quick nap under my desk at work. It was mid afternoon and I had a 20 minute window between meetings. I curled up, right in the corner so that I could not be spotted by people walking past my office. I set my alarm for 18 minutes. I closed my eyes. What seemed like a nanosecond later, my alarm went off, waking me from a deep slumber, and I whacked my head on the railing under my desk.
I am tired because I am riding my bike the equivalent of Adelaide to Sydney during the month of October and fitting it around the usual demands of my life. This has meant very early wake-ups. It has meant asking for company - asking a mate to put themselves out for me - when the solo plod feels a bit much. It has meant my family bending their own lives a bit to accommodate my schedule and tiredness. It has meant a very sore and somewhat raw butt (well it is not really my butt - my ‘saddle area’ - what those in the know call my ’taint'). It has meant explaining to dinner guests that I love their guts but I really need to go to bed and would they mind leaving.
These are all things that go against my natural preferences. But I must confess, I LOVE this Go the Distance challenge. I love it because it is a great metaphor for the personal journeys that Pain Revolution is aiming to facilitate, all over Australia. Go the Distance involves taking on a significant and daunting physical and psychological challenge and fitting it around your usual life. When someone challenged by chronic pain decides to take on a journey of re-thinking, re-engaging and re-training their brain and body, this is exactly what they need to do - fit all that that entails around the usual demands of life. Perhaps with the exception of being a professional athlete, you can’t just drop everything to focus 100% on nothing but recovery. Most people can’t just stop parenting, stop their paid or unpaid duties, gather a dedicated support team and put normal life on hold while they recover. They need to fit all the hard work, the psychological roller coaster,
the re-adjustment of relationships, the altered plans, the explaining to people who think
it should be easy, around ‘The Things They Just Gotta Do’.
And how hard is it? Well it is WAY harder than riding Adelaide to Sydney in a month. And it takes WAY longer. Unless you have been there, or walked alongside someone who has, you might not realise the courage, the patience, the persistence and dedication that is required to retrain your body and brain away from pain. You might not realise how long a journey this can be. You might not realise how many people in your orbit don’t quite believe your problem is every bit as real as diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease or cancer. You might not realise that the evidence - that chronic pain is associated with measurable biological, neurological, immunological and psychological changes - is every bit as compelling as any of those other significant health challenges. You might not realise that there is no ‘One Formula Fits All’, so you can’t just play someone else’s rule book. You can’t take a pill. Get an injection. Get your pain cut out.
You might not realise you just can’t dodge the hard work. You might not realise that there is precious little funded support from our health system. You might not realise that chronic pain is the most common reason for retiring early from work and that those who do so have, on average, less than 20% of the retirement savings of their pain-free counterparts.
Make no mistake, people with chronic pain are taking on a challenge that deserves our deepest respect and doing what we can to support them, enable and empower them is in all our interests. And what makes this area of health so exciting is that the right support can truly transform lives. And effective education is key. Education of both health care professionals and patients. A published audit of 800 people with chronic pain demonstrated that those who received great education and flipped their understanding of how pain works, how chronic pain messes with your biology, and how you can slowly retrain brain and body towards less pain and a better life, showed great improvements in pain and disability a year later. Those patients whose understanding was not changed, showed little improvement.
What a remarkable opportunity we have. Top Notch Pain Education is clearly a potential game changer and I reckon we ought to stop waiting for our health system and policy makers to embed it. That’s why Pain Revolution started. And that’s why we need your support. And money.
It’s not too late to get involved in Go the Distance. Sign up to do your bit - take on a small but significant challenge. Fit it around your usual life. Tell people why that matters. Throw in ten bucks. Every little bit helps.