When I was seventeen and working the crappiest food-service job of my life, I had an accident. I fell and somehow my tailbone slipped out of place. It didn’t bother me for fifteen years until one day, out of the blue, it flared up. And I have been living with chronic pain ever since.
Chronic pain is something that lasts for more than three months. It can be intermittent or get progressively worse. Mine is permanent; I have good and bad days. As someone living with chronic pain and depression, it is so easy to feel sorry for myself and allow despair to win. It’s also easy to be depressed knowing this is a reality of aging.
I may not be able to control my pain, but I sure as hell can control how I react to it. Below are four things you should never say to yourself if you live in chronic pain. These are all based on personal experience, and it is my sincere hope that if you also live with chromic or even just occasional pain, it will give you hope that you can control your thoughts and improve your outlook.
“No one knows how I feel.” This is absolutely false. One hundred million Americans live with some form of chronic pain, according to the Institute of Medicine, in a report commissioned by Congress. That means that about out of every three Americans knows exactly how you feel, so you are definitely not alone.
One day not too long ago I was having a pity party. I put it out on Facebook that I was having back pain and it never seemed I would ever get better. It was then I found out friends of mine also had crippling back pain to the point of getting surgery, lived with constant migraines, or had even been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
I’m not saying that to scare you. I am saying that to let you know you are less alone than you think. A lot of people who care about you understand the frustration, and they are there to link arms with you.
“I’ll never be able to do ‘X’ again.” As someone who loves to jog, this is probably the hardest thing to face. I couldn’t take my beloved early morning jogs without paying for it in agonizing pain for days after.
So I had to adjust. I looked at exercise options I could do instead of running: biking, swimming, walking, and yoga. Since I don’t like to bike or swim much, I started walking (slowly, and only for 15-20 minutes) and going to yoga class. It gives me a sense of accomplishment I am doing some exercise instead of none, and the yoga is helping strengthen my back.
My goal is to be strong enough to run again, but I literally have to walk before I can run. I have to adjust to where I am now, and I refuse to allow myself to feel sad about it.
“There is no hope/treatment for my pain.” I saw my general practitioner to discuss the pain. All she gave me were meds I can’t even take because of my anti-depressants.
I saw a chiropractor whose treatment actually made me feel even worse and who wouldn’t give me strengthening exercises to do at home, even though I repeatedly asked him.
So now I am taking matters into my own hands. I am going to a clinic specializing in back pain to see if cortisone injections or something similar will help with the pain. I am also open to acupuncture or going to physical therapy. All this is to say I am getting second and third opinions. I am not accepting substandard care and will continue to look for ways to treat pain.
“I can’t.” Just like my inability to jog, I found myself saying “I can’t” to a lot of different little situations: taking the stairs at work, bending down to pick stuff off the floor, getting on my hands and knees to scrub my bathroom, etc. My thought is, My back hurts, so why bother?
That’s not the case. I do have good days. So I need to ban the I can’t mentality and trade it for Let me see how I feel right now. If I’m having a good day, I need to take advantage and climb those stairs. Maybe I’m having a bad day, but I can get on my hands and knees to scrub if I am careful.
The victory here is I am re-programming my thoughts to align with how I feel. I am cognizant of the bad days and don’t overdo it. On the good days, I do more, but I don’t go nuts. It’s about being in tune with your body and refusing to allow the negativity to win.
Don’t allow yourself to become a hostage to your pain. You do have to adjust your life to live with it, but that is a sign of strength, not weakness. You control how you live with your pain – it doesn’t control you!
Is there something I missed in this list? Comment below!