The Joy of Pain

Sorry if I had you going for a moment, thinking this post is going to deal with whips and chains and tight black leather. You may not want to read any further. It is, however, going to talk about pain in a way you may not have thought about—joyfully.

I am not a sadist or a masochist but since reading an article* called “Pain Pain Go Away” I’ve been thinking a lot about pain. The article included comments from Dr. Dean Tripp, associate professor in the departments of psychology, anaesthesia, and urology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. In their lab at the university for the past 10 years, Tripp and his colleagues have been studying the physical, mental, and emotional factors accompanying chronic pain, and better ways of managing it.

Everyone experiences pain, Tripp says, and so we might as well get used to it, and learn how to better live with it. If we can get past the mental block of “this hurts, so I can’t do anything,” then we can manage the pain before it manages us, he says. Tripp also notes that patients may have unrealistic expectations of being “cured” of their pain. It’s more than just “mind over matter” though, he adds. There are techniques and programs that were outlined in this article, which really had an impact on me.

I contacted Dr. Tripp and we had a great conversation about the research that he and others are doing to learn more about chronic pain management. I’m going to start looking at that research and writing about both the evidence-based findings, and the stories that people like to tell about what works—and doesn’t work—for them. I’ll also share anecdotes and “unscientific” research from health and fitness practitioners who have first-hand experience helping people to live healthier lives.

I’ll be writing about this on the blog, and for an upcoming book. My first book about forging a healthier future from an unhealthy past dealing with depression and alcoholism came out in 2001. Meeting Dr. Tripp tells me this is another book that I was meant to write, and he has been very encouraging.  It’s important to me to stay with the theme of “with humour and hope” that was in my first book, and on this blog, so I’ll be looking at the funny side of pain, or at least how having a sense of humour when dealing with pain, makes it all easier.

Do you have chronic pain? What helps to manage it, and what doesn’t? Join the conversation and keep coming back to see what’s new that may help you live with your pain—joyfully.

* Good. You followed the asterisk. The article that got me started on this path is published on a website for the medical business, 2Ascribe. Some of the health-related articles I’ve written have been republished here.

Climbing Korea

Now that we’re into 2011 I thought I’d better get back to writing more about our trip to Korea, which was in September 2010!

As I mentioned in Old Meets New we did a lot of climbing in Korea. We’d arrived very late at night on September 14, so we really didn’t get a sense of the topography. We learned the next morning that seeing Korea would involve climbing. Our first climb was to Jeremy’s apartment. He’d said that it was only a short walk, but neglected to say that it was mostly uphill! We soon figured out how to get there by bus.

There was more climbing that night when we visited Incheon’s Chinatown. I’m glad we got to see this at night. The artwork on the stairs would not have been as striking during the day, and the views from Jayu Park would not have been as impressive.


Stirway to Incheon's Chinatown
Stairway to Incheon’s Chinatown


Something about seeing a city lit up at night is just so magical, and the cities in Korea certainly are well lit—often in changing neon colours.

The bright lights of Incheon
The bright lights of Incheon

We soon got used to to the climbing, especially at subway stations. There are nine subway lines in Seoul and many layers of tracks to get down to, and up from. We’d just look at each other and laugh, or groan,—more stairs.

There were lots of hills too. Our first hotel stay in Seoul was about a kilometre from the subway station. Jim figured out a diagonal route to make it a shorter walk. What the map didn’t show, of course, was that it was pretty much uphill all the way. The second time we made the climb seemed so much easier without our heavy backpacks. We found cheaper accommodation after a few days, and consciously or not, made sure the second place was on flatter terrain.

Not to be missed was the Seoul Tower, which of course meant more stairs and hills.  As with other sights it was worth the climb especially when we  saw the tower with the moon behind it. The sights and lights seen from the observation deck were breathtaking.

By the end of our first week we were fairly comfortable travelling on the public transit system.  Sometimes we went on the bus, which saved some climbing, and let us see more of the city at ground level. With 25 million people to serve in the greater Seoul area the transit authorities have developed a very good system—one that cities here could learn from.

In Busan our motel was right on the strip at Gangwalli Beach, which was nice and flat, but getting there involved climbing a few flights of stairs from the subway. When we visited Beomeosa Temple we appreciated going on the bus for the trip up but walked down to enjoy the view.

Walking down from the temple
The walk down from the temple

Jeju Island has several mountains but as it was raining much of the time we were there we saw most of them from the comfort of our rental car. We did one short trail for a better vantage point of the sea, but it wasn’t much of climb.

View down on Jeju Island


Our final city stop before heading back to Incheon was Mokpo. One of its fine attractions is Yudalsan Park.  San means mountain.  We asked if there was a bus, but alas, there wasn’t, so up we went. Once at the park, there were more stairs and hills to climb, but the view was worth the effort. I didn’t do the full climb, but Jim did, and was rewarded with a great panoramic view of the city and the harbour. I enjoyed the view, and some lovely music, from a lower perch.

View of Mokpo from Yuldasan Park
Mokpo from Yuldansan Park


In spite of, or perhaps because of, the hills, mountains, and stairs, South Korea is a beautiful country. The best way to see it is  on the trains, subways, and buses, or on foot —so be prepared to climb.

Old Meets New

The mountains. I was impressed by the architecture of the Gyeongbokgung Palace but it was really the mountains that I found awesome.

We’d been in Korea for a few days and I knew there was some steep terrain because we’d climbed more than a few hills. (More on that in my next post.) I wasn’t prepared though for the mountains, so I was awe-struck and needed to take that in for a few moments. Later on, we came to this spot where I could really take it all in.

Temple and Mountain

Walking through the gates of the palace, I felt transported from a very modern world to a very old one. It was amazing to see how the ancient palace grounds, where people seemed to be spread out and moving quietly, fit right in with the busy city and its crowds of people all moving quickly. Seoul is a growing, vibrant city, and there was almost a constant noise of new construction everywhere. It seemed weird to have this so close to this ancient palace, flanked by the mountains, yet located within walking distance of the subway and many new buildings.

Ancient Palace
Future Building

The Koreans still love their buildings to have angles.

South Koreans have a reverence for their past. They recognize the importance of sharing their history with residents and visitors, so they have preserved this ancient site, while building newer museums on its grounds. The museums depict the folk culture and art as well as the history of the country.

This 15th Century palace has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times over its history. Everything, from the dress of the palace guards to the furnishings in the halls, has been meticulously replicated. The hand-painted artwork, roof tiles, and stone walls may show their age, and have been replaced in parts of the palace, but the traditional building style has been preserved and respected.

Palace guards, Joseon era dress

After spending a couple of hours at the palace, we took a short walk to the Insa Dong Market, one of many markets we were to visit. It featured both modern and traditional, or traditional-looking, items. Clothing, house wares, food, and artwork are all here. We were at the market on a Saturday, likely one of the busiest days, and all of the activity was a sharp contrast to the tranquil settings of the palace—so close, yet so far away in time.

Say Kimchi

Ancient-looking stone sculptures greet visitors to the Insa Dong Market

Of all the things that we saw and did that day: at the palace and walking through the market, it is that first sight of the mountains that remains etched strongly in my mind.

Memories of Korea

My husband Jim and I visited South Korea from September 14 to October 4, 2010. Our visit was a chance to visit our son Jeremy who has been teaching English in an elementary school in Incheon, South Korea since October 2009, and is enjoying that experience very much. It was also a chance to visit a part of the world not previously on our holiday radar. The highlight of our trip was being able to spend time with Jeremy, his friends in Korea, and his co-teachers, who were all very kind and welcoming to us. There were many other memorable experiences, some of which I am sharing in these next few blog posts.


You can see our photos online here. Most of the photos were taken in South Korea, but there are a few depicting scenes from the Sonoma Coast and San Francisco, California,  where we spent a few days before returning home on October 8.

A New, Traditional Way of Eating

i eumsik maewoyo?” meaning “Is this dish spicy?” was a Korean phrase I quickly learned.  Much  Korean food is prepared with hot, and I mean HOT, red pepper sauce. (Scores of peppers are laid out on sidewalks or hung to dry in preparation for this.) Of course, spicy is relative.  I learned that, even if I was told “no”, the food was likely at least somewhat spicy, so I’d just order “no spice.” That meant it would be just right for me.  When it wasn’t, I’d just order extra rice to absorb the hot spicy food. Jim had a higher tolerance for the hot spice, so it was not as much of a problem for him.

In traditional Korean restaurants you remove your shoes upon entering. However, the floors are almost always gleaming, so no worries about dirty feet. Seating is on the floor, on a mat if you wish. It’s awkward at first, but you get used to it.

Just to make sure you’re hands are clean, you are given a facecloth or paper towel. Long chopsticks and a long-handled spoon are either brought to the table, or available in a nearby box or drawer. The long handles help in reaching  and eating from the pots or bowls in the middle of the table.

Dining out is a very social, communal event with everyone eating from a common bowl. For many, including Jeremy and his friends, it is easier and cheaper than cooking at home. Single diners are not common as most dishes are prepared for two or more. (The guide book mentioned this, and warned that you could wind up paying for a dish for two even if you are eating alone. Fortunately it was always at least the two of us, sometimes more sharing the food.)

At the Meet the Parents night, we chose a TGIFridays restaurant, which greatly pleased Jeremy’s friends, all who teach English in Incheon or Seoul, and occasionally get homesick for “western” food.  “Sometimes you just want a burger,” said Mason (foreground left. Clockwise from Mason, Justin, Jim, Christia, Alexandra, me, Jeremy, and Jeff (Ferg).)

With its vegetables—especially green onions— colourful blends of seasonings and spices, and various types of noodles—hot and cold, soft and crunchy—the colours, tastes, and textures of Korean food are notable. Rice and noodle dishes are prevalent and usually served with vegetables and meat or any and all kinds of seafood imaginable, sometimes raw, but often grilled, braised or fried.

Whether we were on a wide modern thoroughfare, or an older very narrow street, there was no shortage of restaurants; mostly Korean, but also some Japanese, Chinese, and western establishments. McDonald’s, Outback, and TGIFridays were common sights, especially in the cities.

McDelivery Scooters (Busan)

I wondered aloud how they could all stay in business, and Jeremy answered, “the density of the population” There are approximately 25 million people in the greater Seoul area and about 70 percent of South Korea’s population of 49 million lives within its seven major cities, according to the guide book.

No matter what we were in the mood to eat, we’d find it. Thankfully, most of the restaurants had menus with pictures so we could see what was available, and not have to rely on our limited knowledge of the language to order. We were happy when Jeremy could join us, not only to enjoy his company, but for his familiarity with placing orders (calling Yo Yo to the servers, for example, and knowing the phrasing.)

Small side dishes of various types of kimchi are brought to share. There are lots of varieties of kimchi, for example, using radish, cucumber, eggplant or leeks, usually fermented with the aforementioned hot peppers.  Most commonly, kimchi is made with cabbage. (By the end of our visit, there was news of damage to cabbage crops due to a recent typhoon. As a result cabbage prices had risen dramatically leading to a kimchi shortage. Instead of it being served routinely, it was now only available upon request.)

Depending on your order, there may also be dishes of sesame leaves or seaweed, and another type of  salad, and a hot or cold broth. Small bowls of steamed rice are usually served and meat or seafood is often cooked at the table. Everything is within reach.

Except perhaps in the “western” restaurants there are no “mega meals” or “super-sized” portions here. One report stated that health officials are concerned that obesity rates have risen to four percent of the population this year in Korea. Makes you cringe when you think about reports of 25-30 percent of our population considered overweight or obese.

In spite of the sometimes too-spicy-for me food,  we enjoyed this new, traditional way of eating. We’ve already had a dinner party where I served bibimbap. I plan to make gimbap and other Korean dishes from recipes in a cookbook I bought in Seoul. I’ll go easy on the red peppers though, so no one will have to ask, “i eumsik maewoyo?”

Anglicized pronunciation for “i eumsik maewoyo”:

ee oom shik ma waw yo

What Does Wellness Mean To You?

I was asked to write a column* that would be called “Wellness Words” so I started thinking about the meaning of the word wellness.  It’s not in my dictionary so I looked online and found “wellness” equated with “health”.  I’ve talked about some of this in one of my previous posts “Choices in Healthcare”.

To explore the idea further I spoke with two people who use the word wellness. Mora File, owner of the Wild Orchid Health and Wellness Centre on Centre Street in Napanee had this to say about wellness:  “It’s the integration of all aspects of the things that have an impact on our life including the work we do, the food we eat, and the things we do to keep things in balance. It’s also knowing when you need to take better care of a certain aspect of your life and how to access what you need to do that.”

Joanne Maclean, owner of Wellness in the Woods on Highway 2 east of Napanee said that she thinks of wellness as something that is “achieved from the inside out,” and “is a way of making yourself feel better.” She said her clients tell her they always feel better and more relaxed when they leave her salon, in its  lovely wooded setting, so it was easy coming up with its name.

Does wellness just mean health? It’s fortunate that while none of my health problems have been life-threatening, they have affected my quality of life, and they have led me to search outside the norm for answers to my problems. I have a family doctor who supports my belief that she is just one of many health professionals I can consult. I also have complementary care available including chiropractic, massage therapy, yoga, naturopathy, holistic nutritional counselling, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Thanks in part to this team of practitioners I maintain my wellness. I’ve referred to this in The Best of Both Worlds.

We have a hospital in my community and a number of doctors to care for us when we are not well. We also have a growing number of complementary and alternative care providers in the area. I’ve mentioned some here. Others may be introduced in upcoming posts.

Wellness is a state of being: having a healthy mind, body and spirit. It’s more than just being free of disease.  Achieving wellness requires active promotion of health and prevention of illness. While it’s good to have a team of people who can help us achieve optimum health, ultimately, it is up to us. We need to make the best choices we can and not always rely on someone else to take care of us. We need to work to achieve whatever wellness means to us. Heredity or just bad luck may give us some health challenges to deal with but if we keep wellness as the goal, and we have a range of choices, then meeting those challenges will become easier.

What does wellness mean to you? Please post a comment here on the blog and let me know.

*I won’t be writing that column because an agreement could not be reached on the contract. Certain writers’ rights were  requested that I would not license or waive. It was nice to be asked but there are other publishers who may be interested in this type of writing, and who are more willing to negotiate contracts.

Motherhood and Feminism

Monday, March 8, 2010

Twenty-six years ago feminism and motherhood had an interesting convergence for me. March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). It’s also our son Jeremy’s birthday. Actually, the realization of this convergence was more apparent the next day when flowers arrived with the card that read , “Another son born to a great feminist family.” I don’t know whether my husband and sons would call themselves feminists, but I do.

I’ve proudly called myself a feminist for many years. Before we knew the word “feminist” my mother was raising her daughters to believe in the principles of feminism: social, political, and economic equality between women and men. That’s it. That’s the principle, although many would have you believe that feminism is a whole group of other principles. That’s another discussion.

In 1983-84 I worked at the Sudbury Women’s Centre to bring together a network of child care providers and parents. We operated a child care registry, offered workshops, and produced a newsletter. I helped organize other Women’s Centre events, including of course, the annual IWD celebrations. Jeremy’s birth changed my plans to join the fun, although my friends did [jokingly] suggest they could sneak me out of the hospital and let the nurses take care of him while I went to the party. I didn’t mind having my own celebration. Being a mother did not prevent me from continuing to be a feminist, and IWD  is celebrated in many ways.

Fond Farewell

Sheila (holding Jeremy), Jennifer, Jan, and Joan during our last visit to the centre before moving to Prescott in June 1984.

On the surface, it may have appeared that my home life didn’t match my feminism at all. I stayed home to care for the boys while my husband Jim earned the money to support the family. Hello June Cleaver? Hardly. Equality and choice were alive and well. I’d left my  paid work as an early childhood educator when our son Eric was born telling people that I was just changing careers. The job of being a mother doesn’t pay, but the benefits are immeasurable.  My staying home was the best choice for our family, and it was an equal partnership. Responsibilities for the “house and kid stuff” were shared according to time available, not gender. Throughout the years our sons learned that their father and I may not have had financial equality, but we certainly had social and political equality. They also learned to be self-sufficient, which served them well when they left home.

I’ve had part-time paid work in addition to my mothering work. In 1999 my business card, “Mother, Writer, Editor”, showed that my unpaid work of being a mother was equally as important to me as any paid work I might do. I simply listed the work in order of importance to me. Someone asked why I didn’t put “daughter” or “wife” on the card. I explained that I was listing the work that I did, not my roles in life.  One editor was so impressed that he said he was going to change his business card to read “Father and Editor.”  I’ve learned that I inspired others to change the way they thought about being a mother or father.

When I joined the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) in 1998, I learned about women around the world doing research and working hard to earn much-needed respect for the institution, role, and work of motherhood.  Why is this association important? As Founding President of ARM, Andrea O’Reilly loves to tell people, “There are numerous courses, books, papers, films, and other mediums showing how much we love to study the institution and practice of war. Doesn’t motherhood deserve the same”? I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist of her message.

This year, ARM is in trouble, and many, not just mothers and women, are upset. But mostly it’s the mothers who are upset. “Hell hath no fury like a pissed off mama.” (That’s a direct quote from Andrea.)

Now  motherhood and  feminism is converging again. I no longer need to be the caregiver/mother, but I am still a mother, and I still support this valuable international feminist organization. It has helped me to define, defend, and support my motherhood work literally and figuratively. This organization doesn’t appear to have the same social, political, or economical equality as other research centres at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where ARM is located. University administrators are saying they support ARM in principle, and respect the work done to date, but they can no longer do so financially. That level of financial and other support is being brought into question, and is debatable. ARM needs us, and we need ARM. Details on how you can support this are on the ARM website.

Over the years, I haven’t participated in very many International Women’s Day events. I was happily busy with Jeremy’s birthday celebrations. I mark the day in my own way, the best being by celebrating being a mom. Happy Birthday, Jeremy, and Happy International Women’s Day to everyone else.

Choices in Health Care

In my last post, The Best of Both Worlds I referred to the different health practitioners that I’ve been fortunate to work with. I’m glad to have so many choices. I just wish that they weren’t [at least in part] dictated by cost.

There should be more choice as to how health care dollars are spent. What if there were a system offering “flex dollars” where we would have money to spend with health care practitioners as we choose? Family doctors, specialists, hospitals, and other “Western medicine” services would have to be set up with a different fee structure than what exists now. Essentially, there would be no “free” health care. It isn’t really free anyhow. It is paid for from our tax dollars including  premiums deducted from paycheques, or paid by employee or pensioner benefit plans.

That is the basic flaw in the current system. We don’t have a health-care system. We have a sick-care system, as we only tend to access it when we are sick. Except perhaps for dental care. Many, if not most of us, go to a dentist for a check-up on a regular basis. Yet we don’t do that with other aspects of our health. Why not? There are likely a myriad of reasons, but perhaps it is just the way the system is set up– to be there when we are sick, and not so much to make sure we are staying well. That takes more time.

Eastern, naturopathic, homeopathic and complementary medicine (in which I include chiropractic, osteopathy, and holistic nutrition among other practices) offer a different approach. They take more time. Initial consultations may take up to two hours, and then a treatment plan is worked out between the practitioner and the patient/client. Follow-up sessions may be only 10-15 minutes, or they may take more than an hour. When was the last time you spent that much time with your doctor?

Practitioners often work as a team in the same location. I go to the Kingston Integrated Health Care clinic ( There are now seven practitioners offering a variety of service all for a fee. I don’t begrudge these fees as I know they reflect the years of training that each practitioner has undergone, the time they take to see each patient, and their research making sure the right treatment is prescribed. I just wish I could afford to use more of the services available.

If we are going to really have a health care system, then it needs to be about health, not sickness. Individually, and collectively we need to do more health promotion and practice more prevention, and we need to do it without worrying about whether we can afford it.

Although many will think this new system of “flex health dollars” as too expensive it may not wind up costing any more than is spent now by government health care ministries. Money will just be spent differently according to how people choose to take care of themselves.

Clearly what we have in place now doesn’t work as well as it was intended. We  need a way to credit people for living healthier lifestyles, and give people more choices. There may be difficulties making sure there are no abuses of this new system by either practitioners or patients, and it will take some organization to make sure that it is truly fair to everyone and accessible to all who need it. The system needs to be set up to make sure it only covers those who are part of regulated health care professions.  It’s time to look at other options for paying for a truly public health care system. It’s a discussion worth having.  Our health depends on it.

The Best of Both Worlds

Should Eastern, or other complementary health care be publicly funded in the same way that Western medicine is–through government-run health insurance plans (here it’s called OHIP–Ontario Health Insurance Plan), supplemented by group insurance plans?  Should there be a system where money is allocated to each individual or family at the beginning of each year for them to spend on their health care they way they see fit? Could we have the best of both worlds of medicine under one system? These are questions I’ve been asking myself, and discussing with others lately.

Our Western health care system in Canada is very good in that anyone can access it regardless of socio-economic status.  Yet this publicly-funded system is deeply flawed, and economics do enter into it. Western doctors are divided into two camps–general medicine (also called family medicine) and specialist medicine. There are fewer specialists than there are general practitioners (GPs), so we wait weeks, months, or sometimes years to see the specialists. If we live in a rural or isolated part of the country we may not even have easy access to the specialists who tend to practice in larger urban centres. Both the generalist’s and the specialist’s services are covered by government insurance plans. Yet there are some who request a fee for services not covered by the plans. There are others who set up their own clinics and request a fee for you to be registered with their practice. Some doctors own or have some connection with pharmacies, labs, and other services. Pharmacies charge dispensing fees for medications on top of the cost of the medication.  Many labs for blood work and other diagnostic tests are run by private corporations even though the facility may be located within the publicly funded hospital. This is our Western medicine system, and whether you want to admit it or not, it’s two-tiered.  If you live in an area well serviced by doctors, and you have money for the medications they prescribe, or you have a group insurance plan that will pay for the medicines, you have good health care. If that is not your reality, this system doesn’t serve you well. I’ve been fortunate to have received excellent care within this system, but I’ve also had to look outside of it when the care I was receiving wasn’t offering the solutions or pain relief I needed, or when the wait time was too long.

In my last post, I mentioned that I’ve had a few health problems.  Fortunately none have been life-threatening but they have affected my quality of life.  Numerous visits to my family doctor, and visits to  specialists and a psychiatrist were all covered by OHIP, and the medication they prescribed was covered by insurance. When the Western medicine no longer offered relief, other complementary care did, starting with chiropractic care and massage therapy, and now including naturopathy, holistic nutritional counselling, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

OHIP covers none of the counselling, treatments, and medications, as it does all of the Western medicine. Some of the complementary medicine has been partially covered by insurance.   Yet all of these practitioners, just like the Western doctors, have trained for years with accredited institutions. Their professions are or soon be will be regulated with strict guidelines governing the practice.

I propose a system that would cover it all. I think it would cost us less than we are paying for our health care system now through our taxes, and we’d be healthier.  Stay tuned.