What doesn't kill you makes you _______.
February 18, 2014 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Looking for advice on coping mentally and emotionally with a long stretch of stress, boredom and pain — when these are things that I ordinarily find very hard to tolerate. (No need to worry about coping physically; the logistical details of preparation, pain management and aftercare have been taken care of.)

I will soon be spending two straight eight-hour days getting a procedure done that is both intensely painful and extremely boring. It's not a tattoo,* but I'm told it's at least as difficult as spending an equivalent amount of time getting tattooed someplace bony and sensitive.

All the logistics are taken care of. I've gotten good advice on pain management and aftercare from the team who will be doing the work. I'll be allowed to take short breaks if I need to. I'm bringing comfortable clothes, some books on tape to listen to, and a favorite stuffed animal. I'll be staying with people I love and trust while I recuperate.

I'm still absolutely terrified. I'm honestly just awful at coping mentally with boredom, exhaustion, stress, pain and discomfort. I'm afraid I will end up breaking down partway through and refusing to finish the procedure (which I've already put down a lot of money on) — and, even more than that, I'm afraid that if I do go through with it, it will be unbearable or even traumatizing.

Still, rather than give up, I'd like to have a shot at conquering these fears. I do know, rationally, that the pain will end eventually and won't kill me. But I doubt I'll find that very comforting halfway through an eight-hour day. How else do I prepare myself, mentally and emotionally, to face the pain while it's going on?

*Since someone is sure to ask: it's a marathon facial electrolysis session, under local but not general anesthesia. Everyone I know who has done this reports that the local anesthetic injections reduce the pain but do not eliminate it, and that it is still intensely uncomfortable. Also, like a tattoo, it involves sitting very still while the electrologists work.
posted by this is a thing to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am not usually one to recommend drugs just for a temporary fix to anxiety over a medical treatment like this, but - this somehow seems like something you could at least consider, some kind of a mild sedative to be given along with the local anesthetic. Sort of like twilight anesthesia.

Is this something you would consider?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:11 PM on February 18, 2014

Can you put on headphones and listen to something that will take at least some of your attention? I've found that a really funny podcast or an interesting book can have me drifting somewhere else more than TV or a book. (Wait...I see you have books on tape.) Can you call folks? Commiserating with people may be helpful, too.
posted by xingcat at 2:18 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is this something you would consider?

They are not set up to give any kind of general anesthesia.

I'm not sure if they've got a policy on prescription sedatives, but I don't have a prescription — and I'm not really interested in scoring any by other means.
posted by this is a thing at 2:22 PM on February 18, 2014

I'm not sure if they've got a policy on prescription sedatives, but I don't have a prescription — and I'm not really interested in scoring any by other means.

I don't have a regular prescription, but when I was afraid of flying my GP used to call in one or two Xanax for the flight. Might be worth checking out.
posted by lalex at 2:38 PM on February 18, 2014

Can you bring a friend? They could hold your hand, read a magazine or book to you, talk to you, hand you a drink with a straw...

Also bring a mp3 player full with music and podcasts, not just audiobooks for distraction. It is easier to focus on shorter, new things than to mentally follow a whole book in such a situation.

Tell the team before the procedure that you expect to break down partway through and might refuse to finish the procedure. If you do they will know it's probably just your anxiety. Maybe agree on a safeword.

Write a letter to yourself, explaining how much you want this, why you want this, how it will change your life, etc. When you feel you're about to break down, read it again.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:57 PM on February 18, 2014

When I was in high school, I was completely terrified to do some presentation in front of a class later on (but before lunch) and someone asked me if I wanted to get pizza for lunch that day. I was stunned at that moment with the realization that I would somehow make it through the horrid thing and GET PIZZA! I remember that feeling of relief vividly and I call it up every time I face something awful. The day would go on! I would humiliate myself and then it would all be over!

Now when I am faced with something terrifying or horrible, what helps me most is to remember that it will end and I will get to do something else. Then I plan something to look forward to after whatever it is, something wonderful.

Living in the moment is great and all, but sometimes the moment is more comfortably spent with pleasant thoughts of the future instead.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:01 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

From an anonymous mefite talking about their electrolysis experience:
I've only ever had 1 hour sessions at a time, but without the local. I took advil before and after. It's definitely painful, but I think the part I found the hardest was just lying still without fidgeting constantly. I tried to do meditative breathing (count each breath up to 10, starting over when you lose your place) but never audiobooks, so perhaps that will be good distraction. Good luck!
posted by this is a thing at 3:01 PM on February 18, 2014

And if you do the audiobook thing (I second this as a good distraction) get yourself something truly and completely absorbing. I listen to a few audiobooks a week and my recommendation is that you try your library for some, and make sure you put 3-4 on your player if possible, just in case one does not work out.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson is one I was unable to put down, if you go for that kind of thing (psychological thriller).
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:07 PM on February 18, 2014

I've sat for 6.5 hours at a time while getting a tattoo on a very uncomfortable spot. (Shoulder blades. Meaty and bony at the same time! Yay!)

I've never had electrolysis, but if it is indeed a lot like getting a tattoo, I honestly doubt it will traumatize you.

Try these ideas:

1. Ask about their sedative policy, ask for a prescription (not possible for my tattoo, but hey)

2. Listen to a BUNCH of podcasts - not just an audio book, because one or two audio books will seem to drag the time on. If you do 8 hour-long podcasts, that doesn't seem so bad, huh?

3. Ask your practitioners for breaks - as often as you want. You're the customer, here

4. Bring a friend, or make them come in shifts

5. Drink juice

6. Give yourself a BIG FUN THING at the four hour mark - guilty pleasure McDonalds fries? Done. 15 minutes of yoga? Sure

7. If it is like a tattoo, past the first little bit and a few bits in the middle it goes from "OW THAT HURTS" to "GOD THAT'S ANNOYING." You get used to it for a while. Again, assuming this is similar in feeling to a tattoo.

8. Remind yourself that you're getting it over with! You don't have to come back 8 times.

Good luck! You can totally do this. If I can sit pretty much still for 6.5 hours, you can beat me by an hour and a half. I believe it.
posted by ulfberht at 3:08 PM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agreed that you should call up the doctor and ask for a sedative - some valium will do wonders for just putting you into a hazy happy sleepy place. If you can't get a prescription, maybe try some melatonin or benadryl as they are OTC?
posted by joan_holloway at 3:26 PM on February 18, 2014

I agree with the poster(s) who suggested taking breaks. That kind of very short, but sometimes very hot pain can add up and become incredibly annoying, and, well, painful! The machines are adjustable, as far as current output, so say something if it's really painful. They might need to adjust the machine. Also, if I may ask, why are you scheduling your sessions this way? Electrolysis is elective so it is very much your choice as to how you schedule the treatments. Why not just space it out and go for much shorter treatments over a longer period of time?
That said, one way to handle it might be to pre-arrange with the technicians regular breaks. Every hour for ten minutes, for example. Set your phone's timer. Ask them if they have ice packs available for you to use intermittently. They'll help with the burning and discomfort. And it's not all burning and discomfort. Some areas won't hurt at all. The lip area is going to be the worst, I think. Bringing a "you did it!" item or food as a reward is also a good idea. I wouldn't recommend funny audio stuff, as you really don't want to move when they're working. Maybe bring a friend to give you a pedicure/paint your toes (not sure of your gender, but, regardless, if you like painted toes, get painted toes!) If that's not your thing, maybe a foot massage? Might take your mind off of your face if you have another (pleasant) physical sensation to focus on. Make sure to bring lunch or schedule a lunch break to refuel. A sedative would be great if your doc can prescribe one. Half a milligram of ativan (lorazepam) should make you nice and chill. However, you might want to arrange a ride home after.
posted by msbadcrumble at 5:33 PM on February 18, 2014

I don't think this would work for the entire 8 hours, but you could try bursts of mindfulness and focusing on your breathing. I do this when I'm getting a massage and am really tense/sore/the masseur is really digging into tender bits. It oddly helps to focus on the breath (try the belly rather than the lungs or nose) and the eternity of it - even as it hurts, the breath continues, life continues.

I actually quite like getting tattoos, though admittedly I haven't had them in really bony places. Initially it's such a shock but then I find I just zone into the physical sensation, which is kind of painful but kind of not. It sends my head into a kind of temporarily suspended state which is rather refreshing. I hope you discover something similar with your procedure!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:25 PM on February 18, 2014

Also, if I may ask, why are you scheduling your sessions this way? Electrolysis is elective so it is very much your choice as to how you schedule the treatments. Why not just space it out and go for much shorter treatments over a longer period of time?

It's complicated. I'm a trans woman, and I have a full adult "male" beard. (In fact, I've got more beard coverage and a thicker beard than most adult cis men. Bad genetic luck.)

Getting it removed will almost certainly take at least 100 hours of electrolysis, and could easily take three or four times that much. For various reasons that aren't relevant to this post, electrolysis is my only plausible hair removal option. Just trust me — I've done my research on this, I promise.

If I can tolerate this sort of marathon session, it will make the logistics of the whole process a lot easier for me. So I've decided I want to at least give it a try, even though I'm scared.

posted by this is a thing at 8:46 PM on February 18, 2014

This reminds me of an intercontinental plane flight: you have to mentally prepare for a half day's intense discomfort (claustrophobic child-size middle seat/electrolysis pain). I deal by lining up a couple of non-fiction ebooks to lose myself in. It takes about 3 hours for the mind to shift out of minute-to-minute to hour-by-hour mode, but when that happen it's magical. Audiobooks do the same thing.

My tattoo experiences are shorter, but there the endorphins kick in and help you stay engaged and mindful yet able to concentrate on your distractions. Use that as much as you can - there will be good feelings in this process. Take breaks, too - the power to do that will make you feel better about the rough moments.
posted by SakuraK at 12:15 AM on February 19, 2014

I had to stay still for about 45 minutes for a proceedure, with pain/fear issues. What got me through that without moving was to hum/sing the 12 days of Christmas song absolutely word perfect. If I made the slightest pause or error, I went back to the first day and started again. I didn't ever get all the way to the twelve drummers. Concentrating on that made a huge difference. You won't have the same ability to vocalise if your face is being worked on, but if there is a mental excercise like memorizing a poem perfectly, reciting all the lines from a favourite movie, etc, that can be something challenging enough to distract you.

I have also knitted (garter stitch) while having my teeth done to calm myself, with a dentist who was willing to work around that. I know some dentists let you have those video-goggles to watch movies (like this) - I had videos on an iphone that I played to distract a panicking child during medical stuff, and if you got one of those flexible grip things (gorilla grip?) you could have your phone mounted so you could see it from the treatment table but it was out of the way of the people working on you.

Breaks sound like a really good idea. I always have a deal with painful procedures at my dentist, that if I raise one hand, he needs to slow down to a stop, two hands means he has to stop now because it hurts so bad. The equivalent of a safe word. He also tells me roughly how long it will take and says accurately "two more minutes and we'll be done", hugely helpful when you're trying to last through pain. Get the nurse/practitioners to agree to do this.

A friend helps too. Check if you can laugh though during the procedure. My husband helped me through the worst pain ever when I couldn't get any painkillers for a few hours, just by being there and counting up and down from a hundred and chatting about random things. Unfortunately, I'd had a c-section and we quickly painfully learned he couldn't make any jokes because it hurt so much. But having a friend who has physical contact with you is just a huge difference. I always sat at the foot of the table and put my hand on my kids' ankles when they had procedures, so I didn't get in the way of medical staff, but I was there.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:41 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

With respect to listening materials, try bringing a variety of things: different kinds of music, comedy and suspense, things being read aloud versus live conversations, audiotracks to movies you know and love, etc. If you're not a big audiobook/podcast/etc. listener in the first place, you might want to spend a little time beforehand trying out a few sources to see what you think of them. Also, think about whether it would help you to have a playlist in which periodically you get reminders that half an hour has passed, for example.

I would try to come up with a variety of mental responses to pain or frustration worked out in advance: ways to calm down, like breathing; imagining the future; daydreaming about pleasant things; daydreaming about being in some action movie scenario; using your anger to get you through it; etc. The reason it can help to have things worked out in advance is that sometimes it's really hard to focus enough to come up with a strategy when you're already in pain.

Also, talk with the people involved in the procedure about how to go about ending the session early if you need to, and possibly how they might go about hair removal in such a way that it wouldn't look noticeable if you stopped in the middle (assuming that's a thing). Not that you'd necessarily do it, but really having the option and mapping it all out in advance can make things less terrifying. And I think you need to decide not to feel bad about doing it if you need to; you tried, you learned, maybe you lost a bunch of money. It's still okay.

When you mention stress, what kind of stress do you mean? The boredom and pain are inevitable, but do you mean the stress that's a byproduct of physical discomfort, or the stress that you might have for lots of external reasons, like wondering if you're doing the wrong thing or if you won't be able to go through with it and so forth? If the latter, then I think the best (and really only) thing to do is to fully accept that you're doing this, once you've started; you can end it early, but regardless it's a certain path you've committed to trying, and it's the right thing to do, and whether or not you can do the whole thing it's still a step forward in the direction that you want to go. Basically don't second-guess yourself.

Finally, regarding meditation and breathing exercises: these could help a lot, but sometimes you need to have had a bunch of practice before the benefits start to take effect. So if you haven't done much of this before, it's a good idea to start now, before the electrolysis. If you don't have much time it might not be all that helpful for the first two rounds, but by the time you have another session you might have gotten to the point where just taking a deep breath can calm you down a fair amount.
posted by egg drop at 2:53 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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