Chronic pain impacts over 100 million people in the United States. The main issue with this population is that there are very few answers or cures to help them improve their situation. After countless trips to the doctor that either result in emotional attacks, due to disbelief in one’s pain can cause depression and discouragement. Unfortunately, the most common answer “there is nothing we can do to help.”
Mental Health and Chronic Pain
The mental health of chronic pain suffers is often overlooked. Chronic pain can lead to depression and anxiety. The despair and loneliness that comes with this life can be very hard to overcome, but so many choose to suffer in silence or isolate themselves with continual anger and complaining. Though there may not be a cure, there are ways to decrease pain.
I have spent the last 18 years in a battle with chronic pain. My fight began with two spinal fusions. I was a college athlete desperate to return to the field and the only way possible was surgery. By the time I went under the knife, it wasn’t playing I was pursuing, it was daily function. My first fusion failed and 8 months later I went back into the hospital for round two. The pain I was trying to alleviate did not disappear until after 5 years of chasing doctors all over the country. The quest for answers only lead me down a darker path into auto immune diseases. My main battle through my adult life has been fibromyalgia. Most likely the cause is all the physical trauma throughoutt my life leading to my nervous system failing to turn off.
Hope and Joy Are Possible
No one ever envisions their life with chronic pain. It’s not the dream, but it doesn’t mean that any hope of joy is impossible. What needs to come into focus is a new dream. Before I started my injury journey I had dreams of coaching at the highest level. Marriage and family was not overly important to me since I knew meshing the two would be impossible. After living my “new” life I have realized that God has put these speed bumps in my way to redirect me to a different dream, a dream that is showing to have a greater positive impact on others.
Keys to Improving Quality of Life
There are a few crucial things to focus on to help improve quality of life for chronic pain suffers. The most important is stress management. Stress is the #1 fueler of pain. Managing stress while suffering from pain seems impossible. There are several avenues. Talk therapy can be very beneficial. It is helpful to have an unbiased person to help process the struggles of life. This ability to deflate can drop the level of pain just by being able to unload some emotional stress. It is also important to find activities that are stress reducing. This can include hobbies like knitting, art, music and even Legos (my personal favorite). These positive distractions can occupy the mind instead of pain being the biggest invader. This also allows pain suffers to have activities to do with loved ones to help keep them connected.
Another key component is visualization and body relaxation techniques. It is amazing how powerful breathing can be. By controlling one’s breath, it can lower the heart rate and allow the body to relax. It is important to take time and be mindful about the tension and pain in one’s body. Imagery of water running over a burning section of the body can be soothing. Sometimes it is hard to always visualize laying on a beach to relax. Pick the most comfortable place that is relatable. It may be lying in bed covered in cozy blankets. This helps calm the entire body, especially the mind. It is crucial to stay present in the visualization.
Self-Care is Non-Negotiable
The most overlooked aspect, but still very important is self-care. One of the common patterns for people that struggle with chronic pain is the dance of pain and compensation. Often people are forced to rest more than the average person or in most cases squeeze through the pain of each day in hopes that the planets will realign the following day and give them relief. The major issues are overdoing it when you start to feel better instead of creating balance. People clean, run errands, work and fill in all the holes they left earlier in the week. So, what’s wrong with playing catch up? The main issue is that they never get to enjoy pain free days. The stress of what hasn’t been done builds and the guilt that drives them to play catch up leads them back into the same pain cycle. It is important to find joy in pain free days. It is also important not to push through pain simply because there is guilt about not doing the laundry. The expectations of a chronic pain sufferer must change to meet what is feasible in their life. Sleep, nutrition, and community always need to stay a priority.
There are many other ways to help improve the quality of life for a chronic pain suffer. The main goal is to keep an open mind, communicate with others and stay as positive as possible. Even though on the worst days it seems like God is not there or simply not listening, God is always there. We just need to pray and stay open to the messages he is wanting us to hear. We don’t need to ask the question “Why me?” we need to be open to the truth that God always has a greater plan and though it may be hard to see how pain leads to great things, it is in trusting God that we will find the answer.
Question and Action Steps:
How do you fight chronic pain? What are your most effective go-to ways of facing this difficult journey? We’d love to hear from you. Comment below.
Are you facing chronic pain? You are not alone. If you live in the Vancouver, WA are Carrie and Justin Farrell are starting a couple’s chronic pain group. Email for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org