My Strategy for Coping With Chronic Pain on a Daily Basis

547
547
4

One of my friends who fights chronic pain asked me how I cope with pain and illness on a daily basis, so I thought I should share in hope that it will help somebody else out.

I’ve built up my own techniques for dealing chronic illness over the years. When I’m at my worst (a lifeless, crying mess with pain being a nine to 10) I always close my eyes, just breathe and visualize myself on stage performing a lyrical dance with raw emotion and just dancing my heart out. It’s a massive distraction. I could do it for hours and hours, and even though it takes more energy out of me and I become a little weaker and more brain-fogged, I’ve found that it’s really helped me cope and not to focus or dwell on the pain.

Also, I visualize myself snorkeling in the underground river in Mexico. It keeps me calm and relaxed when things get scary (like when paramedics thought I was having a stroke), during months of paralysis or when I think bad thoughts about being so severely ill forever. Some people might find this bizarre, but I’ve found it to be the best strategy for coping with constant agony. When the pain is center stage, it helps me stay determined and focused on my dreams, recovery and goals keeps the pain out of the spotlight for a little while.

If you fight a chronic illness, maybe you could try these techniques, but using something personal, close to you and what you really love. This could be you visualizing yourself doing a hobby or even walking down the street soaking up the surroundings, from the comfort of your own home.

When things like pain get really bad, I believe we have to tell ourselves that nothing bad is going to happen (before I was diagnosed, I was scared, confused and thought I was dying — and I wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I am now). And although it’s not “normal,” it’s become our normal. We’ve got no choice but to accept it and fight it in order to move on. Accepting it doesn’t mean you’re being negative and going to be like this for the rest of your life — it’s just part if the process you need to do, otherwise you’ll be running in circles for a long time pretending it’s not real when it’s the realest part of your life.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES
via For Grace

You’ve got to stay true to yourself.

A collage of photos of Chloe

Follow this journey on The Chronicals of Chronic Illness.

Editor’s note: This is based on one person’s opinion and experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice.

547
547
4

RELATED VIDEOS

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What I Sometimes Wish People Knew About Chronic Pain

854
854
0

It’s been years since chronic pain ruled my life. Doctor’s appointments, prescription refills, medical tests, procedures and fear about what was next all used to demand my full attention. But now I’m sometimes amazed to find I have made it through nearly an entire day without my chronic pain crossing my mind. It’s an achievement I would never have believed possible four years ago.

But even with the progress I have made, I sometimes wish people knew what a feat it was for me to even show up for work on some days. That they would understand what an accomplishment it was for me to get through an entire workday, then a workweek, even when I felt like taking those days just five minutes at a time.

See, I made a deal with myself years ago not to be the person who would always talk about pain. It had invaded my life and integrated itself with me, but it didn’t have to become my life. Making that realization made a huge difference in the quality of life I led and helped me change my mindset and accomplish things I never thought would be possible for me again.

This being said, there were times when I just wanted people to understand. There’s an old joke I once heard about a woman in labor. Her husband is offered the chance to be connected to a new machine that transfers a percentage of the pain of child labor to the father of the baby. He manages 10 percent, then 25 percent and then 50 percent without any pain. The doctors crank the machine up to 100 percent, and both man and wife go through a completely pain-free delivery. After the baby is born, the doctors are astonished at his tolerance because most men never make it over 20 percent. When they arrive home with their newborn, the mailman is dead on the front step.

Sometimes, I kind of wish this pain machine were real. For the doctors who don’t believe. For the people who don’t understand. For those who judge because they can’t see. And often, it isn’t something you could ever see. Instead, habits and behaviors are born from it.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES
via For Grace

For me, even without my pain being what it used to, I can still see the signs when I look for them. How I can’t sit still for more than a minute or two at most without shifting. Constant stretching. The stash of emergency medication I never leave home without just in case one of my killer migraines show up. The additional stash of OTC meds and pain patches I keep on hand to help pain from taking control. How I go to sleep every night with special pillows for neck, back and knee support, as well as a heating pad for my lower back and an ice pack on my neck and shoulders.

As you know, no such pain transfer machine exists, nor will it likely ever exist. We have our families, trusted doctors and friends who can see it, and that is usually enough. If you are struggling with pain, take pride in the accomplishments you make every day. No one else may realize what landmark you may have achieved — but you know. That is what matters.

Follow this journey on Alyce’s blog.

854
854
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

16 ‘Gifts’ a Person With Chronic Pain Really Wants for Christmas

4k
4k
17

This morning, on his way out the door to Oxford Circus, my husband asked me the loaded question: “What do you want for Christmas?”

I thought about it for about 0.005 seconds and replied, “No more pain.” I’ve suffered chronic pain for over three years now after a surgery that went awry. No one can tell me if it will ever go away; no one has a cure. My pain suddenly disappearing would be nothing short of a Christmas miracle. But it’s unrealistic. So I decided to expand my Christmas wish list.

I have all the stuff I need. No jewelry or gadgets under the tree for this girl. I’ve also got a loving husband who understands me and supports me and two amazing daughters who will one day conquer the world. All I need are things that money can’t buy. But here they are anyway.

1. No more pain.

2. OK, something more realistic: less pain. Especially in the mornings when I’m trying to get the kids off to school. Or at 3 a.m. when I’m trying to sleep.

3. How about just a short break from pain? Like a holiday? Just a short hiatus (preferably in the Caribbean) so I can remember what it’s like to feel normal.

4. No more drugs.

5. Or, more realistically, better drugs. Drugs that don’t make me sleepy, nauseated, grumpy or have weird bursts of energy at inopportune times (like at 3 a.m., when I’m trying to sleep). Drugs that don’t make the pharmacist treat me like an addict.

6. Pharmacists who don’t treat me like an addict. I have enough going on, thank you very much, to be given the third degree by someone who doesn’t even know one tiny part of my story. I am not the drugs I take. I am a patient, just like anyone else. Just because you can’t see my pain doesn’t make it any less real.

7. Energy.

8. More realistically (maybe?), a clone of me. The science is up to par in our grandly technological world, right? So let’s make a clone of me. One who doesn’t have pain and can toss her kids in the air, play soccer with them, cook amazing, healthy meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and doesn’t tire. One who has the energy to talk through her day with her husband at 9 p.m. instead of flopping into bed and watching Netflix. And can we make clone-Jenny’s hair a little less frizzy, please?

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES
via For Grace

9. Friends who understand what I’m going through. When I say “I’m in pain,” I don’t want a recap of the latest study about yoga reducing inflammation or that you have a great naturopath. I want to hear, “That sucks. That just really f*cking sucks, my friend.” I want a friend who will watch TV with me when I can’t bring myself to leave the couch. I want a friend who will understand when I cancel for the umpteenth time because I don’t feel well. I want that friend to stop by with chocolate chip cookies and tell me that everything will be OK. Even when everything is far, far from OK.

10. Chocolate chip cookies. Because they’re freaking delicious.

11. A village, i.e. “it takes a village.” I live far away from my village — across the ocean, to be exact — and I haven’t found a new one yet. It’s really hard to create a village when you live thousands of miles away from your nearest and dearest. I want someone I can call when I’m feeling like sh*t and need some help collecting the kids from school. Someone who can pop by, play a game with them and let me have a nap. Babysitters are great, but I miss my village. My people. My mom and dad, aunts and uncles, brother and cousins. The people who know you inside and out, backwards and forwards. I miss my best friend bringing me chocolate chip cookies and telling me everything will be OK. Even when it won’t.

12. Chocolate chip cookies. Because you can never have enough.

13. A doctor who can cure me.

14. Except we live in the real world in 2015. So how about a doctor who doesn’t take one look at my file and say, “We’ve got to get you off these drugs”? Assume I’ve tried everything else (I have). The drugs get me through the day without curling into a ball of pain on the bathroom floor (and even with them it sometimes happens). Assume I need them — because I do — and don’t pressure me to get off them. Because without painkillers, there would be pain. So. Much. Pain. If I could re-wire my brain, I would. But I can’t. That’s where you come in, Doc. Help me through this. But don’t assume, like that cranky pharmacist, that I’m a drug-seeker. Believe me, it’s the last thing I want to be taking. But here we are, Doc. You and me. Let’s figure this out together, with my input and yours, and figure out a plan that’s workable and doesn’t make anything worse.

15. A do-over. Let’s wipe the slate clean, go back in time and take back the one surgery that made this all happen. Let’s borrow Dr. Who’s TARDIS. That’s not too much to ask, is it, Santa? David Tennant lives around the corner; I bet he has an extra we can borrow.

16. My final wish is for no one to ever, ever have to deal with chronic illness. Someday we’ll get there with science, with medicine, with miracles, with blood and tears and sweat. With whatever it takes.

But until then, I wish each and every one of you the gift of being seen. Seen for what you are, for who you are and for all of your extraordinary strength. I see you. And I think you are doing a kick-ass job.

Follow this journey at Rainy Day Gal.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story about the holiday season related to disability, disease or mental illness. It can be lighthearted or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include an intro for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

4k
4k
17
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To the Person Trying to Accept Chronic Pain and Get on With Life

471
471
0

I received an email today from a very strong girl who I will call A. She is in the process of doing the bravest thing she will ever do but also the most difficult and confusing. Her email was as follows:

“Dear Jessica,

I just wanted to know how you accepted the pain and got on with life?  I am spending half of my time crying and the rest of the time just whizzing around trying to forget about the pain.  It’s hard, isn’t it?

— A”

“Hard” is not a big enough word for how difficult the journey of accepting chronic pain and learning how to prevent the illness from getting in the way of living. The first year for me was the most difficult and it took tons of practice. Practice never makes perfect, but it does make permanence. I took a few months off from college and practiced a routine to manage chronic pain without medication or treatment and have been practicing the same routine ever since — 14 years now!

I used to cry all the time after I left the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. While in the pain rehab center, I was with 15 other people who knew exactly how I felt, and I was given the same routine every day for a month. Then, bam, I was home alone, and it took so much strength to keep to that routine and not fall back into behaviors that I knew would ruin all the progress I had made since my acceptance of chronic pain. I had to write out my routine every day for almost a year — a list of things people without chronic pain never have to think about.

Acceptance is the hardest part, so my reader is much further along than she believes. I love what Michael J. Fox says: “Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. It means understanding that something is what it is and that there has to be a way through it.” I have adored Michael J. Fox since his days on “Family Ties” and his hit movie “Back to the Future.” He has accepted his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, and although his disease is always there, he has found a way through — not out, but through.

You do not forget you have a disease such as chronic pain or Parkinson’s disease — that is the practice of non-resistance and the opposite of acceptance. There is a big difference between forgetting and distracting and that must be clear. If you go into chronic pain with an outcome in mind or with the idea that you will one day forget you have pain, you will most likely prolong the process of living as opposed to surviving.

I live with chronic pain every day of my life. I made some room for it in my daily life so it doesn’t get in the way of my dreams and my desire to live. I have made changes in my life and I live a certain way in order to manage pain so that it does not manage me. Everyone needs to give themselves a break and slow down their expectations. You must allow yourself to cry and to feel the feelings you feel. I promise what you are feeling is normal, and I am living proof that life gets better.

But this is a journey, and it can be long, with many ups and downs. That is OK. I do not know how I got here and how I accepted pain as this disease stole so much of my life but I know I did it. I also know all of you can do the same. You are not alone. All your feelings are validated, normal, and with time and patience will pass.

Follow this journey on No One Gets Flowers For Chronic Pain.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

471
471
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

6 Ways to Be Supportive When Your Partner Has Chronic Pain

1k
1k
2

Many people don’t have to worry about things like chronic pain and illness, especially at my age. I’m in my early 20s with a child I’m thankful for and a partner I’m thankful for, but every day is a struggle for us. We’ve been in love since we were 17-year-old punks getting in trouble with our whole lives ahead of us. I always thought any bumps along the way would be because of my bipolar disorder. But I’ve been proven wrong.

Migraines. Not a headache. Migraines. The love of my life spends every day in pain. It wasn’t always so bad. He would get  two a week. But then it turned into two to five migraines a day. He couldn’t get out of bed due to pain and related depression. He couldn’t enjoy the day with us. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. We weren’t living the same lives.

I’d spend my days taking care of a baby and a patient. Then the painkillers and muscle relaxers came into play. I didn’t realize how much he abused the pills to escape the pain, along with excessive alcohol, until it was too late. When I found him unresponsive one week before our daughters 4th birthday, my world shattered. 50 painkillers, 50 muscle relaxers and three mixed drinks. That was my glimpse into the mindset of someone at his breaking point with pain and depression. I thought I had lost him forever. What if I hadn’t found him? Thankfully he was OK, and things are night and day compared to that day.

Now we have better communication with pain levels and medication. We have a pain scale and he has quit taking painkillers. We’ve been finding other ways to manage his chronic pain.

Being the partner of a chronic pain sufferer may leave you feeling hopeless, but there are things you can do to ease those feelings. Even something that seems small and insignificant to you can mean the world to your partner. The absolutely most important way to support you partner is to try to understand their pain. I believe these are some of the best ways to do that:

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES
via For Grace

1. Learn about their medication.

This includes knowing the generic and brand names for each medication. Research the side effects and potential drug interactions. Talk to doctors and get familiar with each one.

2. Be open about the pain.

We have a 1-10 scale for pain that really helps me understand just how badly he hurts on any given day. Being open about the pain helps with being open about the medicine. This openness creates a communication to figure out the best course of action for the day because chronic pain can be a day-to-day way of life.  There are days when his pain is at a 3, so he wants a relaxing shower and a head massage. Then there are days when the pain is at a 7 almost 8, and these days call for all hands on deck. We go through massages, caffeine, showers, and a heat compress, and if we cannot figure out a way to ease the pain otherwise, we look into pain medication or a doctor’s visit.

3. Do any and all research about the pain and treatments.

This helps me not feel as helpless because I understand the medical reasoning behind his pain. I can also bring ideas to the table that perhaps he hasn’t thought of yet.

4. Don’t forget about physical contact and laughter.

Physical contact can be a little tricky. Migraines and any other chronic pain can cause skin sensitivity or anxiety about being touched, but humans do need skin-to-skin contact; it can make us feel happier. I find myself being a human pillow a few times a day between my partner and daughter. Trying to keep up everyone’s spirits is also something I find useful. Even on days where the pain is an 8 for my partner, laughter helps us keep our heads above water. When we watch TV, it’s a comedy; when we play games, they’re silly; when we spend time together, we’re always trying to make each other giggle. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

5. Accept things as they are.

This is perhaps one of the hardest things for a supporter to do. I know it was for me. I’m a natural nurturer. So when someone is sick, hungry, sad or hurt, I feel this drive to take care of them. But there are a lot of times when I can’t help my partner’s pain. I can’t change or fix it either. Chronic pain can weigh on a relationship and the mind. Our life is day-to-day, and planning things and invitations are always a maybe. But that’s OK.

6. As a supporter, find a good support system for yourself.

Just because you’re not the one in pain doesn’t mean you’re not hurting. By this I mean, exhausting all your efforts supporting your partner leaves you feeling just that: exhausted, especially emotionally. I couldn’t help feeling alone but also felt guilt for feeling that way and even felt guilt for being well or sick.

I found strength I didn’t know I had and actually no one else knew I had until they saw my daily struggle keeping my family afloat emotionally. It wasn’t until I opened up to family and friend that I realized this strength and just how exhausted I was. I know now that my feelings matter and I shouldn’t feel guilty, especially about being well. He didn’t blame me for him being in pain, and it made him happy knowing I wasn’t in pain or even if I was in pain. It’s phenomenal what having a support system for yourself can do.

[Editor’s note: This advice is based on the opinion of one person and should not be taken as medical advice from a professional. Please consult a doctor for any health questions you might have.]

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

1k
1k
2
TOPICS
, Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

15 Things No One Tells You About Chronic Pain as a 20-Something

2k
2k
4

1. Sometimes you feel like a lab rat/medical experiment gone awry.

House M.D.” doesn’t even begin to cover all the weird treatments and experiments you’ve undergone to aid your health. Your “medical team” becomes the people you know and hear from most.

2. The idea of going out and maintaining a normal 20-something social life is laughable.

anna-kendrick-staying-home

GIF source: The Campus Crop

Think you’re going out for a few drinks tonight? Oh wait, you can’t because of your specific diet, medications you’re on, etc. Friends may be disappointed. You may be bored (really bored). Netflix will be your bestie, don’t worry.

3. Some people are really open and kind about your chronic pain. Some are just the worst.

Explaining your chronic illness truly becomes an art. You read their body language and take their past experience and personality into consideration before divulging your illness. Then, usually, it’s a game of 21 questions.

4. There are good days and bad days.

katniss-you-can-do-this

GIF source: Cosmopolitan

Good days and bad days depend on a lot of the perpetuating factors you may have. Some days, I’m good enough to take a day trip to go shopping and other days, showering is a legitimate goal if you can make it out of bed.

5. You become your own doctor/pharmacist/advocate.

Doctors can make mistakes sometimes. I double-check all of the interactions of my drugs when I’m prescribed new drugs to make sure I’m not going to accidentally kill myself. Do your research. Many of the things that work for me now consisted of a series of trial-and-error combinations of medicine and therapies.

6. With chronic pain comes new and different priorities and limitations.

The way I best describe any given day is that my life is like an iPhone battery, and I’m on energy-saving mode. Everything from cooking, to getting dressed, to going out to eat, to working take a little (or a lot) of battery. Some things I used to love to do are just not worth it anymore.

7. Chronic pain is a full-time job.

rabbit-falls-asleep

GIF source: Hilarious GIFs

I’m not kidding. If I could show you my calendar, between all my specialists, I have on average about four doctor’s appointments weekly. Half of them are usually out of town — meaning they’re out of state. I also, on a monthly basis, get acupuncture, chiropractic work, Reiki, massage, trigger point injections and see a personal trainer (who specializes in chronic pain) twice a week to weight train. If something pops up out of nowhere and everything needs to be rescheduled, I’m on the phone for sometimes hours rearranging appointments.

8. Certain foods become your best friends.

When my pain was at its worst about a year ago and I had no medication to help my pain, all that could comfort me was mashed potatoes and ice cream. Turns out, mashed potatoes and ice cream are not a cute look for my body and with my physical limitations, cooking healthy food for myself and exercising is much more challenging.

9. Sleep, above all, is key.

Seriously, if I get no sleep the night before, my whole day and body goes to sh**. Getting enough sleep is worth it.

10. Maintaining a love life? LOL.

phyllis-meredith-valentines-office

GIF source: Giphy

I haven’t even begun to crack the chronic pain code on this one. I have no answers here.

11. Get a pain guru.

Having someone close who’s been through the ringer with everything you’re dealing with is so helpful. Anytime I call her frustrated about something, she has five to 10 different solutions I never thought of. My pain guru happens to breed puppies. Speaking of which, puppies are just about the best therapy you can have, so get those, too. Nothing feels better than lying in a pile of puppies.

12. You will have haters.

Send donations in their honor to your favorite chronic pain charity.

13. A few people will be inspired by you, a few people may feel too sad to even be around you and a few people may slit your tires when they see you in handicapped parking with a handicapped tag.

andy-the-office

GIF source: Giphy

The tire thing didn’t personally happen to me, but it did happen to someone I know. Don’t forget, just because you can’t see an illness doesn’t mean it’s not there! Don’t be those people.

14. Silver lining: you get to watch every show you ever missed out on and try a lot of hobbies you never thought you’d have time for.

Hobbies I’ve started since medical leave: learning French on Rosetta Stone, writing, flower arranging, pottery, painting/sketching, jewelry design, puppy socializing, volunteering at a pit bull rescue, cooking, baking and reading.

15. Chronic pain has forced me to see the world in a different way. It has forced me to embrace all of my vulnerabilities and genuinely be a better person. Ironically, because of my chronic pain, I am now finally able to do exactly what I always dreamed of.

will-smith-pursuit-happiness

GIF source: Picmonicblr

Follow Erica’s journey on Slightly Distressed Damsel.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

2k
2k
4
TOPICS
, , Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.