Allodynia: Smell the Roses

Allodynia – a condition where pain is elicited by a stimulus that normally isn’t painful – is a secondary symptom of many chronic pain conditions, including migraine disease and fibromyalgia. Although it’s etiology is unknown, it is a sensory processing error, probably resulting from an overloaded nervous system.

Allodynia can be unbearable. It makes a gentle breath of wind grate like sandpaper and soft light blinding. During a flare, even normal bodily sensations like the movement of your hair can be unbearably painful. I clearly remember my son cringing from the sound of the cat walking across the floor – two rooms away.

Harnessing your superpower

I usually hate essays that tell you to look for the blessings of pain. Pain doesn’t have blessings. That’s why it’s called ‘pain’. As we say in our house: pain is bad.

Sensitivity, on the other hand, can have upsides. Sometimes, when properly managed, it can even can be harnessed.

Often when I experience allodynia, all my senses are heightened, but only some of them elicit pain (light, sound, and touch seem to be the worst).

One effective way of minimizing my experience of pain is to focus narrowly on another sensation. For me, smell and taste are rarely painful, even when everything else is overwhelming. Thus those hypersensitized sensation can become my superpower.

How can sensitivity help?

Attention has powerful effects on the perception of pain.

Focusing on that most evocative of senses – smell – can steal awareness from other, more painful sensations. Some people like smelling lavender or other essential oils, although I find I find them too much. Smelling the roses is a cliche.

Personally, I like warm tea the best. When I stick my nose in the cup and cradle the cup in my hands, it’s warm, steamy and has a lovely lovely scent. Closing my eyes, breathing deep, and I can lose myself in those gentler sensations.

Using one type of sensitivity to drown out another can be a powerful tool in your pain arsenal.

It combines well with breathing exercises too.

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