Facing Pain (or, Electrolysis Really Hurts)

18 weeks ago, I started the long process of facial hair removal by electrolysis. By “long process,” I mean it’s something that takes from one to two years to complete, doing one-hour sessions every week.

I don’t want to get too deep into the details of how it works, but trust me when I say that it’s the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. Which is good in a way because now I feel like there’s nothing anyone can do to me to hurt me. 🙂 I have known the ultimate pain!

Which isn’t true, I’m sure, that it’s the ultimate pain, but it has to rank up there. It doesn’t help that I asked to begin with the most difficult, painful part first, which turns out to be the upper lip.

I was traumatized the first few weeks, thinking about voluntarily going through that for an hour every week for possibly two years. It was a daunting thought, and I came home a few times and told my partner I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to go through a year or more of the treatments.

So I began trying different things. First was a numbing gel, which actually works very well to numb the surface of your skin, but unfortunately, electrolysis doesn’t happen on the surface. I tried various combinations of off-the-shelf (and not off-the-shelf) pain relievers. I tried visualization; I tried everything I could think of or read about. It was still an hour of torture every week.

Was. Past tense.

Because I believe I’ve hit on the recipe to make the process bearable. My last two sessions have gone very well, and if my next session goes the same, I’ll know I have it licked.

I still use the numbing gel (as I said, it’s not super-effective, but I’m kind of afraid to stop using it at this point) and take an ibuprofen/acetaminophen blend that’s very effective in reducing pain.

So what’s different?

First, I started deep breathing.

I know what you’re thinking, I’m about to talk about homeopathy or voodoo or candles that smell like Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina, but I’m not. I am just talking about consciousness. Being aware of my breathing and keeping it deep and steady.

That might seem obvious, but pain tends to interrupt your breathing rhythm. So the deep breathing helps, and as a bonus, it provides something of a distraction, consciously controlling your breathing.

Secondly, I force myself to relax.

Which also sounds kind of obvious, but I was extremely tense during the treatments for a few months. The way your body gets when it anticipates pain. It’s a natural response. After being ridiculously tense for an hour, I would come home from the sessions exhausted. Now, when I feel the urge to tense up, I consciously relax my entire body.

That’s it.

Those two simple things have made a previously intolerable process tolerable. It has not lessened the pain, but it has made the pain more bearable, which is fascinating to me. It’s really verging on magic, and it may end up being what gets me through the lengthy process.

None of this should be a surprise, since I believe very strongly in the mind/body connection.

About 30 years ago, I fell fifteen feet onto my back. All of the ribs on one side of my body separated, and my kidneys were damaged. For a few years after that, I lived with back pain that would occasionally send me to bed for days.

That all stopped within a few days of reading a book called Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, written by doctor John Sarno. The book literally changed my life and completely rid me of chronic back pain.

See, now I sound like I’m talking voodoo. 🙂 But it’s not. Traditional medicine treats the body without taking the mind into account, and I know from personal experience, that’s not the way to go.

Anyway, this has gone on a bit, hasn’t it? I just wanted to talk about how I believe I’ve gained control over something that’s extremely unpleasant but necessary for me, and I feel pretty good about that.

day 16


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