Health: Woman who takes the strain out of pain
Thousands of sufferers have reason to be grateful that Marie Langley refused to heed doctor's orders. By Heather Welford
Tuesday 01 September 1998
The "it" Mrs Langley had to live with was constant, grinding pain, the legacy of a bad fall almost five years before. She had slipped on a highly polished floor at the primary school where she was a teacher. She was left facing permanent physical disablement and life in a wheelchair. "After three years I went back to work - but I couldn't manage. It wasn't anything to do with the wheelchair. It was the pain."
Looking at Mrs Langley now, wheelchair-bound but confident, lively and smiling, it is hard to believe that she was ever ground down by depression, anxiety and pain. But hearing the consultant dismiss any shred of hope triggered an overwhelming depression that led to suicidal feelings.
"I know now that the emotional pain of despair makes physical pain even worse," she says. "Keeping up the facade, hiding the pain and depression from other people, is exhausting. I have found that tackling that emotional pain can be the first step to coping with the physical sort."
Now Mrs Langley, 65, runs Unwind, a non-profit-making international network of support for pain and stress, publishing tapes and books used by thousands of people, and their medical advisers. She is in daily contact with sufferers through her helpline, with other support groups and with physicians and surgeons all over the world.
Mrs Langley's work developed out of her own struggle to find a way out of her pain, knowing that the medical route was closed. With the constant support of her family, she read about some of the mainly American techniques of pain management. She learnt about relaxation techniques to cope with stress and anxiety and researched whole areas of complementary medicine and self-help systems.
The list of therapies she draws from is vast. She uses, among others, aromatherapy, reflexology, massage, visualisation and colour therapy. "The crucial one is relaxation. I use it all the time, literally. I don't have to think about it. It has become second nature."
She stresses that, while she no longer needs painkillers, she's not against drugs. "Unwind works with doctors, hand in hand with drug therapy, when it's needed. But the crucial thing is that self-help can put the sufferer in control of the pain, and not the other way round."
She explains: "What works for one person may not work for another person. And when you're in any sort of pain, you can suffer setbacks; you can feel nothing anyone can say to you is any good. You've tried everything, and nothing helps. Giving someone a way out of hopelessness can be the first step."
Mrs Langley's background in teaching at primary school has helped her develop her materials. A four-part series of Break Free books, each focusing on one aspect (depression, anxiety, pain and negative thoughts), gives sufferers a highly practical step-by-step strategy. "Sometimes, you need to tunnel your way through the pain, but you can only do it in tiny stages," says Mrs Langley. "Sometimes, people just aren't ready to do it. I can sometimes tell in their voice, if they are on the phone, that the time isn't right for them. But we keep in touch, and it may happen later."
Mrs Langley's aim is that doctors will recommend other treatments to patients rather than sending them away without hope. "Things have really changed in the last 10 years, but people still end up thinking there's no way out. I'd like to see more doctors give patients a list of resources where they can get help for themselves. Why can't they say: `I'm really sorry we can't take this any further, but here's something you can do for yourself.' "
For Unwind's self-help programmes, send an A5 sae to 3 Alderlea Close, Gilesgate, Durham DH1 1DS
Threat of 'catastrophic cascade of collisions' must be averted, warn scientists
Arts & Ents blogs
Dennis Hopper's lost sixties photo album found
What are the best first lines in fiction?
EDL Girls: Don't Call Me Racist, BBC3 - TV review: EDL Angel gets into a right muddle
Russell Crowe's Noah banned in three Arab countries before worldwide premiere
Call The Midwife: Jessica Raine leaves in series three finale
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
- 2 Family forced to flee home after discovering 'terrifying' nest of spiders in bananas
- 3 First Kiss: Filmmaker gets 20 strangers to make out on YouTube with awkward results
- 4 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 5 Bob Crow death: 'Admired by his members, feared by employers' - Tributes pour in for RMT union leader and 'working class hero' Bob Crow