Why Pain Affects the Perception of our Future
I used to have a very clear picture of my future. I saw myself in a nice house, accomplished in my job as a therapist and an author. I saw a couple children, saw myself running around after them and laughing. I saw a healthy, fun life, full of laughter and smiles. Two years ago that picture became fuzzy and, ultimately, disappeared. I am not trying to be over-dramatic and suggesting I don’t have a future anymore, but the truth is, for many people living with chronic pain, the future is very fuzzy, if it can be seen at all. I feel like the longer I go without a reason for my pain, the dimmer the picture gets. The house is blurry, the job is very blurry and the children have disappeared from the picture altogether.
I think part of the reason for this phenomenon is that, even on a day to day basis our lives are a giant question mark. Will I have the energy to do x? Will my pain meds help me or just knock me out? Can I get to the gym today? Will my mood be happy? Sad? Irritated? A lot of people think that everything is dependent on physical pain, but the truth is the emotional pain can sometimes be more overwhelming and devastating than even the physical. When you live with constant disappointment, your mood suffers.
Sometimes just the fact that I have little to do is enough to make me, well, pissed. It is the reason that I try to get to acting class so that I can do something and feel like I am participating in life. As someone living with a disability, I often feel like life is passing me by while I do little more than watch and fast forward through the commercials.
What is even more sad is I have plenty of time to do things, like my freelance writing, but the difficulty comes not only in being able to sit to do my work, but getting my energy up to do that. As I am sitting here writing this I am bleary-eyed from exhaustion. What did I do today? I went to the pharmacy, went to get lunch for my nephew and wrote for maybe half an hour. Oh, and I straightened my hair. The littlest things literally zap my energy. What’s harder to accept is the less I do the less I want to do. My brain keeps telling me I should be writing the next great American novel, but my body fights with me when I have to do the simplest thing (well, the novel part is not that simple).
So, the question becomes, what do we do about this? The serenity prayer says “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I CANNOT change, the courage to change the things I CAN and the wisdom to know the difference.” The difficulty comes in accepting the things we cannot change and knowing the difference. Try as I might, I cannot seem to change the fact that I am limited in what I can do, however, accepting it is difficult because I continue to want to CHANGE it.
What can we change? Besides our attitudes, there is not much we can change. I mean, we can keep seeing our doctors and hoping for new answers and better procedures and medications, but I can’t change the fact that I am in pain, nor the ability to do more than a few hours of activity at a time. The only thing I can change is my response to this, which is generally negative. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done because the voice in my head still continues to say “But people don’t believe you” or worse yet, “But you SHOULD be able to…”
I believe it was in an episode of Sex and the City that Carrie wrote “Why are we should-ing all over ourselves?” It’s a good question…for another time.
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). Why Pain Affects the Perception of our Future. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 5, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/chronic-pain/2013/05/why-pain-affects-the-perception-of-our-future/