Learning to live with chronic pain
If you have recently been diagnosed with chronic pain then you will have suffered from pain for at least six months with thirty or more of those days with pain. It is likely that the diagnosis of chronic pain took a lot longer than this timeframe.
Unfortunately, there is no instruction manual for living a life with chronic illness and for facing the limitations and challenges ahead. For most people, their past experience of illness, surgery or injury has been that pain has faded away once they have recovered from the illness or the wound healed. For other individuals, there has been no preceding disease or injury leading to chronic pain. The pain has just appeared and is ongoing. Living with pain, like other chronic health conditions requires an active personal engagement to reduce the pain and gradually increase physical activity to get things done. It will usually involve a combination of physical and psychological techniques as well as medical treatment. Putting together a medical team that can provide treatment as well as guide you towards self management of this complex disease is important.
It is quite normal to have feelings of anger, frustration, sadness and loss following the diagnosis. These feelings can be associated with the loss of the old self and contemplating the new self with constant pain. For some, the biggest test is not knowing what sort of day it'll be - making it difficult to plan to go shopping or to see friends. Sometimes, the pain can make it hard to look forward to arranging a holiday because of feelings that the pain will follow you there.
At this point take some time to look for people that will take your condition seriously, can support you and that you can talk to honestly about how you are feeling and going to manage – it might be a family member or friend; GP or health centre nurse; Pain Link peer support 1300 340 357 or sharing email contact via [email protected] . Each state has pain management clinics(pmc's) and services. Some are attached to hospitals while others are community based. PMC's present opportunities for meeting other individuals in pain and participating in one of the courses can assist you to develop the skill set to better manage your own pain and different ways of simplifying everyday tasks to improve your lifestyle.
To date, it is likely that chronic pain has severely restricted your physical functioning and impacted on your lifestyle. However, chronic pain can be managed and, over time you will be able to increase the amount and quality of things you can do. In the future, the work and leisure pursuits you embark on may be different from the ones you had before chronic pain but your life can be full of meaning, beauty and interest. Whilst we may still hope for a cure for chronic pain, we can't put life on hold waiting for this to happen. It's not necessary to be 'pain free' to have an enjoyable and worthwhile existence.
Accepting pain is not giving in to it
As a person you are more than your pain. Your physical state of health might seem like you are living out in the elements – large storm clouds brewing, swamping you in the deluge on many days but at other times there will be blue skies when you can feel at peace. Over time we can learn to change the focus of our health by concentrating on the moment at hand and connecting with people and activities that are uplifting for us. The pain will still be there but we feel it less. It is important to conjure up some of the moments in life when we felt totally absorbed – hugging a baby, swimming in the ocean or immersed in a movie. Find as many of these moments to immerse yourself in each day – a beautiful flower, music, views, or the touch of timber. The pain will still be there but you will feel it less.
No one chooses to have chronic pain. Having to accept physical limitations is not easy to do. It is difficult to accept a body that is not functioning as it should. Despite the frustrations and grieving for the old self, many people eventually learn to lead a new, although different life with persistent pain.
Learning to live again
Many individuals try to fight the pain to make it go away by using "mind over matter", to "break through the pain barrier." As a result they aggravate the pain more and end up even more worn out. Pain is exhausting in itself and willpower won't make it go away. Some other individuals refuse to recognize the pain, never speak about it or allow themselves the luxury of rest periods in a bid to deny it exists. Managing chronic pain long term will require learning to do things differently, within the parameters of a chronic condition. Living with chronic pain means at some point in time coming to terms that you've had the pain for a considerable point in time and that despite the best efforts of the medical profession it is unlikely that the pain will disappear or be cured in the foreseeable future.
People who live with chronic/persistent pain often learn to prioritise, plan, and then perform. Prioritise what is important in your day and then break the task down into its component parts so that it can be performed in small bites. At first this might be as simple as making a meal and it may take much of the day to complete. Let other things wait. Much of what we want to get done can be delayed. Try and achieve one thing a day which is important. During the evening recognize and celebrate each accomplished task, no matter how small. The amount you achieve will grow over the coming months and years and you may feel justifiably proud of how much you have learned and come.