Emotionally Managing Chronic Pain
The thing about chronic pain, is that everyone is starting to talk about it. We are beginning to recognize that it exists. It belongs to the friend who was in a bad car accident, it belongs to your grandma, and it belongs to the child walking down the street. We all see the images on the internet boasting about how strong chronic pain sufferers are, and how it’s ok to feel all the feels, and how it’s ok to do what’s needed for you to get through your day, your week, your year.
But what does that even look like?
Let’s start with the feels, and the emotions that are there. There’s lots, and the list is not exhaustive (but you might be). Let’s start with Exhaustion! Then there’s the pain. The weepy feeling of almost crying but not feeling like there’s a real reason to, so you just keep trucking along, or the irritability, or maybe you might want to stab someone’s eyeball out if one more person asks “How you doing?” and you have to reply “Oh I’m good” because your other answer might send them running for the hills. I don’t even want to go too deep here and put words in your brain, because you know how you feel.
As a person who suffers chronic pain, there’s only my opinion on this topic.
There’s only my feelings and observations, as pain is purely subjective. There is no measure for it. Doctor’s try with pain scales and descriptors, and in many cases, they are useful. Pain scales help an outsider’s understanding of what might be a baseline and what might be progressing. Using descriptive words to paint a picture of the pain is important too, as it may help with understand the nature of the pain and how it can best be treated.
How can you manage your emotions though? You and your doctor or herbalist or local marijuana shop dealer, or alternative medicine practitioner etc. have the science part figured out (or figuring it out), but when was the last time your doctor referred you to a therapist for your physical pain? If you have that, girl you are the fortunate few. No one except the meme on Facebook you shared yesterday knows how you feel.
Here’s my list of coping strategies.
I can’t promise you they always work, because only two days ago I was crying on a step-stool in my kitchen, not sure if I was going to be able to get my kid to daycare so I could go to work, but we can try, right? We are really good at trying, us chronic pain sufferers.
- Chart your pain. I don’t care how you do this. Colour code a calendar, write a journal and add sticky note flags, add stickers for types of pain (remember those descriptive words like shooting/stabbing/heat) and always remember to chart the days you have less or no pain too. Those are the ones we are going to put a ton of focus into, because they are the ones that keep you going. The big part is to keep this visible to you when you need to look at it, so you can reference it easily.
- Chart your emotion. How do you feel today? A quick note or journal entry is handy here. Or a smiley face, colour dot, whatever floats your boat here.
- Find a support group. These people don’t have to share your condition. I often find them all too whiney and triggering myself, which I feel guilty for, because they matter too! But my ability to cope with their problems is not very good. Instead, my support group is a close group of friends from all walks of life, who all are in a messenger chat group. We literally talk about what’s for dinner, to the news, to what we are knitting or drawing today, and our woes. We all have our pom poms on, cheering each other on for whatever is required of the day. It is eternally satisfying to know that someone is ready to give you a heart emoji simply for a picture of your cat, or words of support when you describe how your kid puked eleventy billion times last night.
- Take the sick day. I hope you have paid sick time. If not, you may need to build up a little savings account to dip into if you need some time off. I realize this may not be possible, but if you can do that, please do.
- Let something go. Ever hear the spoon theory? It’s about starting your day with “20 spoons”. Or maybe they are units of energy. Or number of F*&%$. Sometimes it takes 1 spoon just to get out of bed and get your teeth brushed, and sometimes it takes 5. You only have 20 in the day, so you have to spend wisely. Maybe you just don’t need to attend the fundraiser, or you can avoid the grocery store just one more day. If you can let something go today because you are running out of energy, do it. Ask a friend or spouse to help you out. I don’t know how many times I have text my husband and said “dinner is now frozen pizza” and he graciously responds with “sounds delicious.”
- Talk about it. Remember the running for the hills comment earlier? Maybe it’s time to let people know that you really aren’t ok right now. You don’t have to go into gruesome detail, but if you are having a particularly bad spell and you aren’t coping, it might be time to send an email to your boss, or just let your co-worker know that you’re experiencing a rough patch with your pain at this time, and you need a little grace from them, or maybe some time off (see: sick days). Let your kids know too. Open communication with them, they DO understand if you allow them to. “I am feeling cranky today. My body is hurting a little more than usual right now, and I am not sure why. I need your help today; can you do a few things with me today to make it easier?” I have never gotten a bad response from my child when I have been honest.
I could write more, but then it gets all wordy and annoying and pretentious. You probably do lots of these things already. Sometimes you arrive at a blog like this because you are just so damn tired of it all, and want to know if you might be missing something. All I know is, I was put on this Earth to help people, and if this blog helps you find some comradery, connection, or gives you an idea to help yourself along the way, I am really happy I was here for you. Take care of yourself.
-Katie Blight is 34 years old and a mother to a seven year old and a wife. She has a passion for the outdoors and enjoys outdoor activities such as snowboarding, Canadian Ski Patrol, backroads camping and travel. Katie has lived with Chronic Pain since a young age, having deformities in both of her feet. Katie has been recently diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease and spinal stenosis.