The View from the Medicine Wheel

The Evolveability Newsletter for the Winter of 2005-2006
Volume 1 Number 1

by Dr. Phyllis Kasper, Licensed Psychologist
and Bob Blackwolf Jones, CADC-D

Our mission statement is, "We believe that the instinct and ability to be healthy, happy and capable lies within us all, waiting to be released, strengthened and directed." We begin the New Year with thanks for events and teachings that 2005 has brought us. The purpose of this newsletter is to report on some of the ways we are walking our talk by developing our abilities to be healthy, happy and capable and to share with you along the way. We begin with our editorials and our news.

PhyllisBlackwolf03 Blackwolf's Editorial on Winter

Winter is the time of reflection and renewal. It is the time to again find our inner-world identity based on our individual values and beliefs. As human beings, we can change our beliefs anytime we want. Our beliefs beget thoughts. Our thoughts beget our emotional responses, which beget our actions and behaviors. Winter now becomes time for our life renewal, which will take place in spring. Within the snow season, we need to look at who we are, where we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there, starting with brother and sister robins appearance.

Chief Winter, "Ogema-Beebuon" comes once a year, with his cold breath to slow us down, to make sure we take time to grow. Blackwolf

Dr. Kasper on Pain as a Teacher

Acute pain is like a smoke alarm. It's there to tell you that you have appendicitis, a broken tooth, splinter or that you are leaning against a hot stove. It brings your attention sharply to a problem so that you can take action to help or even save yourself. Very rarely, people are born without the ability to experience pain. They seldom live past their teens, because they don't have that warning system. One woman lived into her thirties, because both her parents were pediatricians and recognized the problem early enough to protect her and teach her survival skills.

Chronic pain is like that smoke alarm going off constantly. You can pull the battery out with medications and denial, or you can live in panic trying to find the fire.  You can sink into despair and give up. You can become addicted to self pity and the search for something, someone to blame and a magical total cure.

Another choice is to get on with your life, because it truly is YOUR life.

In 1966, I was soaring down a country road outside of Madison Wisconsin on my Suzuki 150 motorcycle. Without warning, that nice asphalt road turned into eight inches of gravel over mud in an S-curve diving sharply down hill. My first thought was to die with dignity and not shriek. My next was to downshift and see if I could make it. Just as I felt the spark of hope as I slowed down, the front wheel sunk into the mud up to the axle. Out of love for my machine, I tried to hold it up instead of rolling off. Now I was down with the handlebar bent around my left thigh. Two cars went past without stopping to help me. One would actually have run over my head if I hadn't had the awareness and strength to pull my upper body out of the way. The kids stared at me out of the rear window.

My leg turned black from the hip to the knee, with a bright yellow spot where the handlebar hit. I had just finished graduate school in Montreal and was in Madison on a post-doctoral fellowship. In other words, no insurance and no money.  This was the start of ten years of 24/7 pain of varying degrees.

Fast forward to 1976. I was working with heroin addicts on a detoxification unit in Menlo Park California and starting an internship at the Fort Miley VA in San Francisco. Driving 80-100 miles per day fed the pain, which included lower back, the entire leg and especially shooting/lightening pains (sciatic nerve) down into the foot, with burning and numbness in the foot. All that the doc suggested was Valium to relax muscles. Not an option when you work on a detox unit. Luckily, my internship included learning biofeedback and hypnosis for pain management and participation in the interdisciplinary pain clinic.

phyllisbiofeedback03Biofeedback teaches awareness and control of muscle tension (among other things). In using that awareness, I discovered a psychological element, in that I hurt more driving to work than driving home. I also discovered the key to my pain. When injured, the body tries to protect itself from further injury by tensing muscles to protect the injured areas. This is called "guarding" or "splinting". Through awareness of tension, I discovered that while I was driving, my left leg was slightly pulled up as if to defend and protect it. This put unnecessary tension on the lower back and the injured muscle , causing muscle pain and pressure on the sciatic nerve. When I retrained myself to relax in the car, 85% of the pain was gone. I was very lucky. Your pain may not be so understandable.

The key points I want to make are as follows:

  • You must be a detective regarding your pain. Do not wait for a doctor to solve the mystery. Empower yourself. Only you know what it feels like to be in your body.
  • Pain is never all physical/organic or all psychological and it affects people close to you. Don't be afraid to see a psychologist who specializes in pain on your own or with your family.
  • There might or might not be a "cure" for your pain, but you are responsible for managing it and healing yourself, just like a diabetic is responsible for diet and exercise.
  • The degree of chronic pain has little to do with the seriousness of the source. You can have tremendous pain from a minor muscle spasm, and no pain from a deadly cancer.
  • There is always hope.

Pain is invisible. It doesn't show up on an X-ray or MRI. Broken bones, tumors, cysts, damaged discs, arthritis and many conditions that can cause pain show up on these and other tests. We know very little about how acute pain turns into chronic pain. If you have acute pain from injury or illness, do not try to tough it out, rest your body and use pain medications carefully to prevent your body from learning pain. Yes, your body learns pain just like it learns to salivate when you think about biting into a lemon. If someone says that you "should" be over it by now, they are talking statistics at best, and ignorant, manipulative, demeaning prejudice at worst.

Yes, your body learns pain and that's where psychologists, physical therapists and other specialists come in to help you retrain your mind and body. Your body also "forgets" things, like how to relax. Biofeedback is a great way to re-learn relaxation. Hypnosis and meditation can also help.

Pain is a perception that takes place in the brain.  No matter where the injury or illness is located , the information is interpreted by the brain and it's the brain that can turn the volume up or down.  That's why hypnosis can work no matter what is causing the pain. The only exception is damage to the part of the brain (Thalamus) that's in charge of the volume control. Depression and anxiety increase pain through the volume control and also by muscle tension, hormones and derailing the body's natural healing mechanisms. Pain also creates depression and anxiety, sleep problems, irritability and other problems for individuals and the people around them. It can stop you from enjoying sports, hobbies, exercise, sexual intimacy, work and life in general. It attacks your self-esteem, especially if people around you don't understand. It steals hope and joy. It can confuse you spiritually, with questions such as "why me", "am I being punished", am I abandoned", "am I undeserving", "do I lack faith". Speaking of faith, Dr. Larry Dossey and his wife Barbara have published books about the significant research showing that prayer gets results http://www.dosseydossey.com. This includes prayer for the health, skill and well-being of healthcare providers.

The answer to one pain problem doesn't necessarily apply to the next. In 1980 I did a lot of energetic high back kicks in Tae Kwon Do class. Everything was fine, until I tried to get out of bed in the morning. That pain was like being cut in half by a sword and was terrifying. The advice of my physician on the phone was to "stay in bed for three days and come in if it still hurts". He had no advice on how to get myself to the bathroom. The chiropractor explained what was going on in my back and told me to have my husband yank me out of bed no matter how it hurt. He promised that it wouldn't hurt when standing, sitting or lying flat and he was right. He worked on me for 45 -minutes and prescribed ice. I slept on the floor so I could roll onto my knees to get up (this doesn't work in a waterbed). It took about three months to completely heal. The intense pain was caused by inflammation. Intense pain, and nothing broken or permanently damaged. The "cure" took ice, chiropractic and time.

Shortly after that, fatigue and burning muscle pain started. This got much worse when I started a new job in La Crosse. It got so bad that just walking up a flight of stairs at home put me face down on the floor crying and feeling like my whole body had been blowtorched. Memory, concentration and alertness were also impaired. People get annoyed when their psychologist falls asleep as they are telling their story. Luckily Dr. Kroker at Allergy Associates www.allergychoices.com diagnosed and treated my food and mold allergies. Avoiding allergens and desensitizing with sublingual (under the tongue) drops plus extra magnesium and thyroid got me functioning again. The allergies and fibromyalgia are managed, not cured.

Does getting older mean more aches and pains? Perhaps, but mine are much milder now than they were early in 1982.

Having hope and being your own detective can help you find the help you need to "cure" or at least manage your pain. It is possible to have a happy productive life even with pain. Jon Kabat -Zinn developed an excellent program for reducing the stress associated with pain. His books and tapes can be found at www.mindfulnesstapes.com. See if you can get an evaluation by a physiatrist. They are rehabilitation specialists and their work begins when your other doctors have done what they can for you.

There is always hope.  Phyllis Kasper

Our 2005 news

Dr. Kasper received her name "Green Cedar Woman" in the Ute tradition from healer Joseph Many Horses. She did a presentation on cultural diversity entitled "The View from the Medicine Wheel at the annual spring conference of the Wisconsin Psychological Association. She got authorized to use Dr. Palsson's hypnotic protocol to treat irritable bowel syndromes and is listed on his website at www.ibshypnosis.com. Dr. Kasper is available at (920) 683-9500 and phyllis.kasper@aurora.org. You can write to her at Aurora Behavioral Health Center, 1425 Memorial Drive , P. O. Box 400, Manitowoc, WI 54221-0400.

Together Dr. Kasper and Blackwolf created a new 36-minute hypnotic CD entitled Medicine Wheel Turning. It is intended to provide experiences of healing and Ojibwe cultural values. It will be available for purchase soon and we will post a 3-minute sample on our homepage.  It was a great experience recording at Tom Washatka's studio in Oshkosh.


Tom Washatka at Steel Moon Recording Studio,
405 North Main St., Oshkosh, WI 54901
(920) 966-1210


Blackwolf after recording our CD CD entitled Medicine Wheel Turning
in April 2005.

We wish you a wonderful journey on the Wheel of Life.

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