‘I live in physical agony. The sea welcomed me into her icy embrace. The first touch of water began to lick my pain away.’: Chronic illness warrior finds pain relief, ‘The tools are within us’

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“If the ocean can calm itself, then so can you. You are both saltwater mixed with air. Breathe.

I’ve been doing this for 2 months. Jumping into ice-cold water once a day after utilizing the Wim Hof Method breathwork and meditation. I do this as a method of pain relief. I suffer (and I mean, SUFFER) from chronic pain and fatigue associated with Fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (an affliction that weakens all of my connective tissue), and continuing chronic musculoskeletal injuries from a nasty car crash a few years back.

Courtesy of Caren A W

These conditions make my life very difficult. I can walk 10 to 200 steps a day on average, sleep is seldom and rough, I remain unable to work after losing my job in July, and the pain is constant, a background soreness and ache interspersed with sharp spasms, stinging sprains, nauseating twinges, stabbing burns, overall tenderness, and a constant feeling of strained muscles and ligaments. My favorite method of pain reduction: open water ice swimming. The cold water works wonders. I’m essentially icing my entire system and calming down all those poor, constantly-firing nerves. After each swim, I experience hours of pain relief, as well as increases in my mobility, strength, and physical energy, not to mention my mood.

Courtesy of Carin A-W

The benefits are endless, and I am addicted. It’s an incredible experience and an experiment. Swimming daily provides you with unique expertise in the condition around each swim: the air and water temps, the weather, location, water current, type of body of water, how prepared you are for getting out of wet into dry things after the swim. And yet, you begin to realize how nothing really mattered but your mind, your focus, your control. I’ve been in 33°F creek water with 28°F air temperature and held my focus and my core temperature, and then I’ve found 40°F calm river water on a much warmer day when I wasn’t as focused can chill me to the bone. It’s all in your mind. You have to crave it, to need it. It has to be the thing that you can’t not do. Then it is within your power.

As I was just beginning this journey into icy waters, I began to notice there’s always a moment when your ego gives up. You feel as if you are out of your depth, you are too cold, and the numbness in your fingers or toes frightens you. Your reaction is to retreat from the cold, find a place of comfort and warmth, and to search for external help. ‘I could get gloves, boots, a wetsuit, have more layers when I get out.’ Going to these things for help is the way in which your comfort-oriented brain is conditioned.

Even my outdoorsy, nature-loving upbringing taught me, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation.’ Be prepared, have warm layers and ample towels, something warm to drink, thick socks, and blah blah blah. These are external comforts, nothing more. If you are searching externally, you will only be removing yourself from the elements, protecting your comfort, and missing out on the whole point.

Courtesy of Carin A-W

Be wet and enjoy it. Be uncomfortable and recognize you alone are responsible for how that discomfort affects you. When you search internally, within the power of your mind, breath, and body, then you engage with yourself and engage with the cold and find true power.

After months of creeks, rivers, brooks, and lakes, the sea welcomed me into her icy embrace like an ancient lover. I’d been craving her, you see, aching to lay in her waves and dive into her swells. No reservations or nerves playing on my mind, I was utterly ready to devour the experience: my first ever winter ocean swim, and on New Year’s Eve, no less. I tasted the salted air and strode into the ocean as the first touch of water began to lick my pain away.

Here is my true comfort, my salvation. Smooth ridges of sand beneath my feet softened under each step and soon, I was lifted high and held for a moment at the crest of a wave before she set me down again. She played with my body as she plays with seaweed and driftwood, tugging and pulling this way and that, playfully, longing as if she wants you to give in and dive into her churning depths forever. My mind cleared, my heart soared, my body realized. Until next time, my love. I will be back.

Courtesy of Carin A-W

The cold is meant to stressful, and it has the unique effect of bringing up another stress in order for you to deal with it. It’s like pulling the pin out of the tightly-wound stress ball of modern life, which is a comforting life. It teaches you, if you are willing to learn, to handle and control one stress —indeed the greatest stress of all, one you cannot put out of your mind—is the tool to handle and control them all.

Cold water, especially wild, moving, natural icy cold water, is interacting with every cell in your body. It takes hyper-focus, hyper-control because it is a stress to your entire physical self. Where does financial stress occur? What about the anguish from the fight you had with a friend? Or the terror of getting sick? Relationship stress? Job performance pressures? These stresses are an anchor in the mind and have control because we have not given ourselves the right tools to control them. But those tools are within us, and therefore within our reach.

Of course, my life is not comfortable. I live in physical agony, and I feel like I have been given the secret to true pain relief. I’m talking, walking into the water limping, crying, hurting, and emerging fresh, pain gone for however many precious moments it lasts, feeling strong, alive, my mind eased from a day of aching. This is beyond measure. Breathe. Meditate. Go into the cold, go into your mind. Control your breathing, control your mind, control your stress.

Courtesy of Carin A-W

This is spirituality at its core. The utter certainty of something greater, and the feeling of belonging to it. I am a woman of this earth, a daughter to this mother. To be connected to the entire earthly experience is the key. This world was not meant to be experienced only half the time. Why do we shut ourselves indoors for the dark months, making our lives all the darker? We are conditioned to feel the cold as threatening, dangerous, that it can make you ill, that it can make you weak.

No! This is wrong. Conflict and discomfort are as natural as sunshine and rainbows. Where there is beauty, there is suffering, and where there is suffering, there is strength. To be spiritual, connected, and self-aware in this way is to understand the entirety of humankind’s detriment on the natural systems of this world, and how corrupted and polluted our own internal natural systems are because of the comfort-oriented lifestyle. Spirituality takes pain, self-awareness hurts, connection takes sacrifice, and the rewards are tenfold.

Go outside. Do the breathing. Go into the water. Feel the true power of nature and recognize it’s a reflection of the power within your own mind.”

Courtesy of Carin A-W

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Carin A-W from Massachusetts. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from the chronic illness community:

‘We’re letting you go.’ I was too sick to work. They bullied me for months and couldn’t handle my illness.’: Woman fights for mystery illness diagnosis, ‘I am chronically strong’

‘So she’ll always be sick?’ I leave the office with an answer but no cure. ‘I’m not dying. I’m just 16 and past my prime.’: Chronic illness warrior battles lupus and fibromyalgia

‘Ma’am, have a seat.’ I wanted to scream, ‘Look at the scar down my chest, I’m not making this up!’ but it was too late. They didn’t believe me.’: Woman finally diagnosed with invisible illness Myasthenia Gravis after 6-year battle

‘My doctor said, ‘It’s just part of being a woman. You have a lower pain tolerance.’ I was nicknamed ‘drama queen.’: Young woman diagnosed with endometriosis after 7 years of pain

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