When faced with acute pain, I can usually cope with that pain by taking comfort in knowing that it will be temporary. Being diagnosed with chronic pain felt like an immense defeat. The only way I had been getting through my pain until this point was by thinking it would soon go away. Suddenly, this comfort was ripped out from beneath me, and I had nothing left to stand on.
Finding a new way to cope with my pain was not a smooth transition for me. I had spent my whole life learning that pain was bad, and it meant something was wrong. I did not know how to ignore my instinct to keep trying to find a reason, and a way to make it all go away. So instead, I held onto the idea that once I found the “real” cause of my pain, I would recover. As a result, I had no patience for anyone who tried to convince me otherwise.
I resisted acceptance for a long time. I think mainly because I thought that accepting my diagnosis meant giving up all hope of things getting better. I was terrified of what my diagnosis could mean for my life, and I did not feel like anyone empathized with that. I was also in denial of the lack of options and support being offered to me. I was not prepared to accept that there was not a quick solution, nor could they promise me any relief, and that most of the treatment options required daily effort on my behalf. As I look back, I can see that no matter what anyone told me, I couldn’t accept the chronicity of my pain until I truly believed that there was no other explanation. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that fighting with my reality only blocked me from healing. That being said, I do not blame myself for holding on so tightly to my pain-free life, because at that time I really could not imagine myself ever being happy again if I still had pain.
It took time, but eventually I was able to accept what I was being told. To me, acceptance is freeing myself from trying to resist things I cannot change.
It does not mean not doing anything about it. Instead, it means focusing on the things I CAN do, and the step right in front of me. It means setting realistic expectations, doing what I can to get through each moment of pain, doing what I can to live the life I want to, and when pain does slow me down, finding a way to accept that.
I had to stop just waiting to get better, because this was not going to happen overnight, or possibly ever. I had to make my peace with this uncertainty. I had to accept that my pain was not going anywhere – at least for now. I did not have to give up all hope of my pain ever getting better or going away, but I did have to let go of my hope for a magic cure or a quick fix. The idea of my pain being completely gone, could not be my main coping thought anymore. Instead I had to find hope that I will still be able to do the things I want to with my life, and that if I keep trying, things will get better. I had to accept that if I wanted to get better, I was going to have to work for it – no one else could do it for me. I also had to accept that sometimes my efforts to get better may not be successful, or may take a long time to make a difference. Most importantly, I had to adopt what I’ll call an “acceptance mindset”, meaning each time my pain causes me disappointment, each time it steals pleasure from me, each time it gets in the way of my plans, I have to find a way to be okay with that. It is not easy, but it is necessary.
Being in pain used to constantly trigger unhappy emotions. Now, I can often simply notice my pain, feel frustrated about it, but then let that frustration go and continue to focus on the task at hand. Sometimes I can even let it pass by, without getting consumed by emotion at all. There are still days where it all just gets to me, or the days my pain cannot be ignored, but generally speaking, being in pain affects me less than it once did. It is encouraging and comforting to look back and see the progress I have made.
It has not been quick, or linear. I had setbacks and breakthroughs. Sometimes I even stood still. I took each step as I became ready. First I had to come to the realization that my pain was in fact chronic, and that there was simply not a clear answer as to why this was happening to me or what to do next. Then, I had to mourn, grieve, and acknowledge my suffering. Then, through my experience and trial and error, I began to build my own personal “Chronic Pain Toolkit” (more to come in the next post!), and I proved to myself that I was going to be okay. Over time, I have found myself being more and more accepting of my life, even though pain is part of it. These steps have happened slowly, and I usually only notice my progress in retrospect. Sometimes I have to revisit a step as a new challenge or difficult feeling arises. But I know now that I am capable of handling it, and this gives me strength.
I am looking forward to your comments, further ideas and suggestions: the survey will take less than 3 minutes.