The Losses I Grieved When I Was Diagnosed With Chronic Pain
The things in my life I feel I have lost are difficult for me to face at times. However, when I look at the picture below just taken this past Friday, Earth Day, I am reminded that I survived the biggest “loss” I thought I could ever lose: myself. I will be 35 in June, and this past Friday was my dad’s birthday and he turned 60. It was the first time age actually scared me and yet at the same time helped me to count my blessings. I started thinking back to when I was in my young 20s and on the verge of ending my own life because of chronic pain. Had I not faced the grieving process (the chronic pain grieving process) the beautiful child below would probably not be here, my dad may have spent such a beautiful birthday without his only daughter, and the smile seen in this picture would have been as fake as plastic surgery.
The first step I took in the chronic pain grieving process was feeling loss. When most people think of the grieving process, they think of a loss of a loved one or even the loss of a marriage/relationship. I thought of six things I felt I had lost when I was first diagnosed with chronic pain and entered the Pain Rehab Center at the Mayo Clinic. I will share them with you now:
1. Loss of health. I was in pain 24/7 and spent every second either thinking about pain or taking the next medication or sitting in the next doctor’s office. I was drinking profusely, smoking tons of cigarettes, and I did not even recognize myself.
2. Loss of trust in doctors. I felt that all the doctors I saw thought I was making up this pain even though I had brain surgery. I felt they did not believe me because my scars are not longer visible. Doctors kept telling me, “This medication will take the pain away” or “Ten sessions of chiropractic work will relieve so much of your pain,” etc. When what doctors or specialists did to “make me better” did not work, I felt like they did not believe me.
3. Loss of social contacts. I lost so many friends and family members and thought I could only really hang out with friends if we were drinking because if not, I was 100 percent focused on the physical pain. If I went out with friends or family and my pain flared up, I was miserable and felt I ruined everyone’s time. Who wants to hang out with someone who is in pain all the time? I did not even like to be around myself.
4. Loss of family. I thought I had put my family through enough. They deserve the happy, healthy Jessica they had before chronic pain entered into my life full speed, I thought. My dad had already done so much for me — how could I ask him for more help? I was too embarrassed to tell the rest of my family and I wanted them to think I am OK. I missed my family.
5. Loss of fun. I used to love reading, writing, laughing with friends, going to the movies, bowling, or just walking around the lake. I thought had none of that anymore. Gone. All my passions lost.
6. Loss of my dreams. I never wanted anything big. I truly just wanted to be a mother and have a family and take care of people. I could not even take care of myself. I used to want to be a writer, but that seemed impossible — I could not even read for more than one minute without my mind going right to pain which leads to tears and I felt hopeless. This was my hardest loss. The thought of never being a mom or having a family and helping others truly made me feel useless and pushed me to want to give up.
When a person loses someone they love, they may feel hurt, emptiness, loneliness, anger, disbelief, sadness, depressed, alone, out of control and sick. It’s possible to feel the same exact emotions due to chronic pain. They may demonstrate behaviors such as not eating or eating too much, insomnia, crying endlessly, thoughts that living without their loved one is enough to want to end their own life, withdrawing from life and isolating themselves. Some people develop bad habits in order to cope with their loss, such as smoking, drinking, drugs, etc.
I can tell you from personal experience that many people (including the old Jessica) demonstrated all of the above behaviors and had all the same thoughts because of the diagnosis of chronic pain. If people do not understand chronic pain or the adverse impacts it has on a person’s life, mind and soul, I urge them to think about a loss he or she has faced in their life and try and remember how awful it felt. I was unable to get to a good place in my management with chronic pain until I went through the grieving process of chronic pain.
It is very hard for a person to understand an invisible illness. However, we all know loss.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.
Follow this journey on No One Gets Flowers for Chronic Pain.
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? 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.