There’s a change in the air. The tropical, coconut lemony smell of summer has faded. The air is thinner, clearer. Last week, the air was thick enough to wrap around us like a blanket – now it’s more like a filmy sheer curtain, with a window behind it letting in an uncomfortable draught. Most days are still warm enough for bare feet and sandals – at least after 10.am or so – and a thin cardigan or sweater over a t-shirt, but my shorts are back in the wardrobe. And by four p.m, there is a sharp edge to the air, like a freshly-sharpened knife.
Yep, it’s Autumn in my hemisphere. Halfway to winter really – our crop of feijoas and passionfruit are over, it’s dark by 6pm, our heatpump unit has been switched from air-conditioning to heating again, and the need to replace the dodgy, ten-year old electric blanket is getting urgent.
Like a smoke-alarm reacting to a fire in the house, my face detects the change in the air, and lets me know about it with as much vehemence as the smoke alarm. Autumn temperatures trigger the ever-sensitive trigeminal nerve and it reacts with a constant heavy ache along my upper and lower jaw and across my eye brow. It’s an early reminder to wear scarves to protect my face when I go outside, and to prepare for days when the southerly winds blows Antarctic chill right into our back yard.
It’s not that it gets particularly wintry here – we rarely get frosts where we live, and snow stays on the top 50 metres or so of the 500m high hills behind us. But my trigeminal nerve doesn’t care about physical manifestations of winter like snow and ice. It’s hypersensitive to any temperature fluctuation outside the range of 15 – 23/4 degrees centigrade, and hyper-hypersensitive to any temperature below 15C, and any stirring of air stronger than the gentle lick of a summer breeze.
With the exception of particularly sunshiney, wind-still days, late autumn and winter climate is crap for my face. I’ve written before about the kinds of self-help techniques people can learn for managing pain.
But one of the best ways I know of managing pain doesn’t involve any special tricks or techniques. It’s just about… your hobbies.
How can hobbies help?
Distraction. Pain thrives when we think about it. Focussing our mind elsewhere deprives the pain of attention and consequently it hurts less. The science behind why this works is more complex than I’ve described here, but in a nutshell, we need to distract ourselves from our pain. What better way of distracting yourself than doing something you love?
I’m not suggesting that if you love going for walks but wind triggers worse pain that when you are in the midst of both a pain attack and an icy, howling gale you should go for a long walk.
But if you’re in the midst of a pain attack and curled up crying on your sofa or in your bed, even just count stripes in your wallpaper (or if you’re as bad at cleaning house as I am, count the spiders in the cobwebs on the ceiling!) to divert your mind from the pain.
Like anything worth learning, distraction techniques take time to develop and become effective. Test yourself – put on a timer for a minute, and read a book, draw a picture, whatever, just DO NOT think of your pain for the whole 60 seconds. Easy? Then increase the timer to 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10, 20 – keep going until you don’t even need the timer any more.
It’s worth putting the effort in. Who wouldn’t want less pain?
And you know the best thing? There are no downsides, no nasty side effects. No risks.
Just time focussed on doing things you love. With less pain.
Five of My Go-To Hobbies
I’ve been writing stories and poems pretty much since I could hold a pen. I thrive on crafting and creating something meaningful from those little kernels of ideas that slide into my mind like a curl of grey smoke. Creating characters with their own problems and concerns certainly takes my mind off mine!
Writing is versatile. I get as much pleasure writing my blog posts, which are essentially information and/or opinion pieces, as I do writing fiction.
There’s therepeutic writing too. Writing a list of your fears, for example, or a letter you’ll never mail to express something you know you could never really say to someone is a powerful way of dealing with negative emotions.
Or writing just to communicate with friends you don’t see very often anymore. I’ve friends in the UK I haven’t seen for years, but we keep in touch via daft e-mails and letters.
I’m quite possibly the worst ever painter when it comes to using oils, but watching oil-painting videos on you-tube and then having a go myself keeps me happy. I love trying different media, like charcoal, pen and ink, water-colours, mosaic.
And even if I don’t have a more creative project on the go, just the mindless act of slapping a coat of coloured paint on an old tyre to make raised beds for the garden is an effective distraction from pain.
Even if, like me, you don’t play an instrument, putting on a CD (oops – showing my age) and listening to your favourite music is perfect distraction. TV and radio shows do the same job.
I’ve been hanging out for the latest Joanne Harris book, The Strawberry Thief. Picked it up from the library two days ago and am halfway through already. I always have a pile of books to hand, and I’ve got a library-full on my Kindle. Like writing, reading lets you get immersed in lives other than your own for a time. And if reading is physically difficult, try audio-books.
We have a bit of a ritual around breakfast in our household. Our neighbour always passes on the daily newspaper to us when she’s finished it. We get our news off the internet, but we love doing the cryptic crossword and/or the kenken puzzles together over breakfast. I save the sudoku for me for later.
These are just some of the things I can do without leaving home, or even straying far from an armchair. I haven’t included physical activities here, but excercise, even a gentle stroll around your own garden, is just as effective. Probably more – happy hormones, and all that.
You’ll have your own hobbies you can use as a distraction.
What would be your top five?