Can you thrive with chronic pain?
Millions of people all over the world are living with daily, unrelenting pain. Have you ever wondered how they do it? Maybe you think, “I could never do that!”
You do what you have to.
#1 – Maintain a good doctor-patient partnership
I can’t impress on you how important this is. You must take an active role in your healthcare. That means a whole lot more than simply doing what your doctor says to do. In fact, sometimes that means refusing to follow his/her recommendations. It is critical to find a doctor who values your input and will listen to your concerns and answer your questions. The days of paternalistic doctors are over. If your doctor likes to be in charge and won’t involve you in collaborative decision-making about your own healthcare options, then you need to fire that doctor and get a new one.
#2 – Be prepared at all times.
In order to really thrive with chronic pain, you can’t stay inside your home all the time. Eventually, you need to get out and experience the world. It’s tricky though. Pain storms can happen without warning, so it’s best to be prepared. To start out, you’ll need a durable bag (canvas is great). Next you will choose just the right items that help you be more comfortable when pain is high.
#3 – Pace yourself.
This has been the most difficult skill I’ve had to learn in order to thrive with chronic pain. Naturally, I’m a Type-A, hard-charging, don’t-quit-until-it’s-done kind of gal. I can still be that way sometimes. Why do you think I’ve written over 300 blog posts? I must have something to do when my body decides to quit before I’m done. As challenging as it may be, learning to pace yourself is essential. You will have good days and bad ones. Either way, living with chronic pain means you have limits.
#4 – Listen to your body.
We all get a twinge of pain or sore muscles from time to time. Most of us blow it off and recover just fine. When you have chronic pain, those little signals are your body’s way of telling you to slow down. If you ignore the warning, you could face a nasty pain storm that leaves you unable to work or do anything for several days.
While chronic pain patients are rarely pain-free, it’s not good to have uncontrolled pain. That situation puts your body into fight or flight, releasing high levels of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones. If that happens too often, the long-term effects of poor stress management can take its toll in the form of high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, stroke, heart attack, etc. So listen to your body. It just might save your life.
#5 – Be open to trying new things.
Your doctor might recommend a treatment with which you have misgivings due to potential side effects. He or she might also suggest that you try complementary or unconventional treatments. There is also a good chance you will become frustrated with the lack of progress and decide to take matters into your own hands. However the opportunity presents itself, be smart about it. Do your own research to see what treatments have the best chance of helping you. With tough cases, it is often necessary to travel some distance to see a specialist in order to get relief.
Mental Health Counseling
It never fails. At some point your doctor is going to recommend mental health counseling. When that happens, please don’t assume he or she thinks you are “crazy.” Living with a chronic health problem is stressful. Talking to someone who specializes in behavioral therapy for pain management can go a long way toward helping to relieve some of that stress, give you new ways to cope, and even teach you how to think differently about your pain. All of that can actually increase your pain tolerance, reduce the time spent worrying about the pain, and reduce the intensity and frequency of pain. I know it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but it does help. It won’t make your pain go away. It just helps you handle it better.
Finding new joy in life
There’s another side to trying new things. Our natural response to pain is to stop. When faced with chronic pain, you can’t just stop everything. Life goes on. Sure, you will have new limitations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn new ways of being active and enjoying your life. Being prepared for pain increases your confidence and improves your willingness to get out of the house to enjoy the world. It won’t be the same as before you became ill. It will be different. In some ways, you may even find new and better ways of living.
People always ask me how I can be happy and cope with so much pain. Honestly, you will never see me on my bad days. However, I do try to practice these five proven strategies. I don’t always get it right, so it’s a good thing that chronic pain will give me another chance to get it right tomorrow.