Are you in pain?
Not just the emotional or relational or physiological or existential pain that most of us will feel sometime in our lives. But the purely physical stuff – especially the chronic, ongoing kind that can accompany you for many years.
It can be such a challenge to live with. The constant nagging of your nerves or muscles can really get you down. It can strip your life of joy. It can transform you from who you once were to someone you no longer recognise. It can leave you feeling empty and pointless. Or angry and alone.
But there is hope.
Even if there are no physical or pharmacological solutions left to you. Even if you may have to live with some degree of pain for the rest of your life. Even if it’s been the hardest road you’ve ever walked down. Or crawled… There is hope.
For there are a number of therapeutic approaches that can really help you through this. They can help you make all the difference. And invite some of the beauty, some of the life, back into your days.
So let’s take a look at a few…
Of course, it’s vital to get all of your physical pain and symptoms thoroughly checked-out, so you can do whatever’s possible on the medical front. So you know what you’re dealing with, and you’re getting the medical support and treatment you need. So get that sorted out first.
And then, if you’re still left with lingering pain, here are some ideas that are worth trying. Because if, after all that’s medically possible, you’re still left with this silent companion, you’re going to need to find a way to get along with it. Maybe even to make peace with it in some way.
Sound hard? It can be. But it’s worth it. (You’re worth it).
To start with, monitoring your thoughts about the pain is vital. What do you find yourself telling yourself about your pain? Maybe you worry about it. Or wish it wasn’t there. Or despise it. (Or despise your body for housing it).
Maybe you catch yourself thinking things like:
- “It’s back again.”
- “My body’s broken.”
- “Why won’t the pain ever leave me alone?”
- “There’s no point even trying – I won’t be able to do that anymore.”
- “What does the pain mean? Is it damaging me?”
- “It’s not fair. No-one else I know has to live with this.”
- “It can only get worse from here.”
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a useful first line of defence here. It can throw some wonderful light on these dark thoughts by simply looking at them and questioning them. Of highlighting the kind of self-talk that might be happening. Or digging beneath the thoughts down to the beliefs below them, and then working with those.
So next time you find yourself having a “negative” thought about your pain, see if you can stop that thought in its tracks for a moment. Just pause it and have a good look at it. And see if it actually stands up to scrutiny.
And then, even if it does, see what happens if you ask yourself, “Is this thought helping me?” If some level of the pain might be here to stay, do you really want to be at the behest of thoughts that just make it all the harder to live with?
This might all seem like a bit of academic word play – until you try it… So try it and see what happens for you.
By questioning the thoughts like this, you might find yourself remembering you’re not the thoughts. And you’re not the pain… You’re something beyond both of those things.
Similarly, monitoring your actions can also help. For instance, maybe you’ve been limiting the things you do, or the way you live, to try to appease the pain and keep it at bay. Literally offering it up some sacrifices in your life. Sacrificing what you love in the hope that it will buy you some relief. And your life might start to be trapped in ever-tighter boundaries, where you feel you can do less and less without risking a flare-up.
Unfortunately, sometimes this also means that you’ve stripped your life of a sense of meaning and joy. You may have stopped the very things that feel like part of the point of living. And so it’s important to really look at this stuff under a mental microscope and ask yourself, “Has that actually helped?”
Has robbing yourself of certain experiences stopped the pain enough to make it worth that sacrifice? Or is a similar level of the pain still with you anyway? And if it is, then how might it be to start doing some of those things you love again – just starting out gently and pacing yourself, and slowly but surely revitalising and reliving your life…
And pacing is a key word here. Pacing holds power. For by pacing yourself, and doing only a small amount at a time, you can achieve a lot. And you don’t have to hurt yourself to do it…
In Part 2 of this post, we’ll explore the idea of pacing in more detail, and unearth the wonderful potential it holds for you. We’ll check out what acceptance and commitment therapy has to say about managing pain. And we’ll look at how mindfulness meditation is also breaking new ground in the management of chronic pain – and how you can harness that to help your life.