Living with chronic pain is a struggle every day; you have aches and pains but it seems like there’s no answers for you. While I can’t say that I’ve experienced chronic pain myself, my mother, Lisa, has been living with Crohn’s disease, Fibromyalgia, and chronic pain for most of her life.
This is what she had to say about living with chronic pain:
“Chronic pain affects every aspect of daily living. Most mornings I am so stiff it is hard to get out of bed; it takes over an hour to get moving normally. Everything you do is affected by the pain. I have frequent body aches and spasms – it’s exhausting to deal with. The fatigue takes over and most days I have to lay down and rest.”
Everyone’s experience with chronic pain is different, but in my experience the general idea is the same; dealing with constant pain and aches is exhausting and it truly does affect every single thing you do.
Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating, and even lead to symptoms of depression. Studies have found that those with multiple pain symptoms are three to five times more likely to experience depression than those without pain (Meshreki & Cosio, 2017).
While I can’t cure your chronic pain with extensive Psychotherapy or by having you read this blog, I hope that I can help provide you with some tips to be able to cope a little more easily with your pain.
Spend Time with Loved Ones
This is important for everyone; not just those who suffer from chronic pain. Spending time with loved ones can be beneficial because we receive love, compassion, and care from that that we may not be getting from ourselves.
Being grateful for the wonderful people in our lives can help to lift our spirits and remind us of how lucky we are. We can also benefit from helping those around us; helping others reminds us that we have purpose and meaning in our own lives and the lives of others.
Ask for Help
This is a big one, and one that I know a lot of people struggle with (even those without chronic pain). Asking for help is tough. It can make us feel weak and lead to feelings of ‘less than’. The reality is, we all need help from time to time. Whether or not we ask for it, we inevitably get help from others, whether it’s emotional, physical, financial, or otherwise.
If you have a good circle of people around you, they won’t mind if you ask for help. And asking for help when you need it can alleviate some of the pressure that you put on yourself to do things on your own.
Often, when we begin to ask others for help, it opens up for them to ask as well. Once we know that we have an opportunity to help someone that we’ve asked for help, it can make us feel more at peace with the process, as we’ve developed a sense of reciprocity in the relationship.
Remember: you don’t have to do this alone.
Embrace Your Body
It’s understandable that when you’re experiencing chronic pain, you may not have a lot of appreciation for your body, what it can do, how it looks, or how it feels. We feel like we have no control over how our body feels, so we can sometimes take that as we have no control over our bodies at all.
Lisa recently lost over 30 pounds by making some changes to her diet, and has begun going to the gym. While she doesn’t indicate that going to the gym improves her symptoms, her weight loss has done wonders for her confidence and her mental health.
“I push myself to work out and to keep my muscles working, but it is definitely a struggle.”
Knowing that you have some control over your body and being able to see that it can improve and do wonderful things (like lift heavy weights or increase your time doing cardio) can be truly empowering.
Work on Your Mental Health
As I mentioned earlier, the rates of depression in individuals with chronic pain are higher than the general population. While this may not come as a surprise to many, what may surprise you is that your mental health can actually impact your physical health.
The Medical Journal of Australia reports that chronic pain patients who struggle with depression report decreased function and have poorer responses to treatment (Holmes, Christelis, & Arnold, 2013). Not only that, but the link between mental and physical health has been widely recognize for quite some time, yet it is often overlooked by physicians.
If you notice that your mental health is suffering, there are some things you can do to help. You can speak with your doctor, turn to self-help books or mental health blogs, or seek out Psychotherapy. It’s okay to ask for help!
Do Things that you Love
Lisa didn’t mention this when we spoke, but she loves to do crafts. She does woodworking, painting, and other home décor-type projects. But doing these things is difficult for her as she experiences tingling and numbness in her hands and fingers at times. So how does she deal?
She takes her time, listens to her body, and takes frequent breaks. She will often spend more frequent, shorter periods of time working on her crafts instead of a full day to ensure she doesn’t overdo it.
There may be things you used to love to do that you can’t do anymore. Sometimes we have to be creative and really dig deep down to find something we will enjoy.
For example, let’s say you love to play soccer, but as your symptoms increase, you find you can no longer play. So what now? Well, I would encourage you to ask yourself what it was about soccer that you enjoyed.
If it’s being competitive, that’s great! There are lots of less physical or non-physical things that are competitive, so perhaps looking into those options. If it’s the team aspect, then maybe you look into a lower-impact team sport. And if it’s the physical work that you enjoy, getting a gym membership and doing what you can on your own time and at your own pace may be a great way to push yourself physically without overdoing it.
It’s difficult to look at some of these things because we often associate our hobbies and interests with our identities. It’s a hard thing to redefine who you are, but having chronic pain doesn’t make you less of a person; it may just make your life look a little different.
Sometimes we have to just ‘drop the rope’ and do nothing.
“The fatigue takes over and most days I am forced to lay down and rest. This helps relieve some of the exhaustion.”Lisa Stere
It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to listen to your body and give it a break. Having some self-compassion and allowing yourself to take care of you and your body is important.
We may have internal judgement for resting, or even external judgement from others. But at the end of the day if resting is what is going to help you live your best life, so that you can wake up from your nap and conquer the rest of the day – then you do that!
“I would love to wake up and feel rested and pain free, just for a few days. The pain is real but I try not to let it take over my life.”Lisa Stere
Chronic pain is real. It sucks and it is a struggle and it is hard. And you can get through it, because you’ve been getting through it. You can take back some control and keep moving forward the best that you can.
We can’t control everything, but when we focus on the things we can control, we become empowered, strong, and resilient, just like my mom, Lisa.
Thank you to Lisa Stere for speaking to me about her experiences. You’re truly an inspiration.