Pain flares tend to send me into fairly predictable downward spirals when it comes to my thinking. My mind begins to race, anxiety sets in, and my thoughts go in unhelpful directions, as I consider how the additional pain is going to affect my schedule over the next week.
Often, behind my anxiety and thoughts, I find a lot of questions. Questions such as…
“Will I make it through X responsibility tomorrow?”
“How bad is the pain going to be this weekend when I have to do Y?”
“How many days will the pain get progressively worse before it plateaus or feels better?”
“Is this flare going to be like the epic one I had last year?”
Typically, these questions head in two different directions.
First, I think about past flares and try to get a sense of how this current flare will compare. This thought process can become quite frightening because some of my past flares have been terrible and left me glued to the couch for months at a time. I start to dwell on how I felt in the past,
and this only exacerbates my unhelpful thinking in the present.
Secondly, I start to think forward, anticipating what the pain will be like and how it will affect me over the next days, weeks, and months. This can be frightening as well, because there are things in my life that absolutely have to get done. They absolutely need to get done, but unfortunately, chronic pain does not care about my needs, plans, or absolutes.
My most recent flare was triggered the Thursday before Christmas. I was doing my regular physical therapy exercises, and my body decided it was too much. That night I crawled into bed, and as the hours went by, the pain only intensified. My mind started to drift backwards and forwards as it typically does.
I don’t know what prompted this shift in my thoughts, but as I was lying in bed, I decided that to get out of this unhelpful thinking rut, I needed to change the questions I was asking myself.
I started to ask myself, “Can I get through the pain that is happening right now, in this moment?”
I realized that I could easily answer “yes” to this question. I knew I was going to make it through the night. My mind began to calm down. I was able to set aside whether or not I would be able to get through the my responsibilities tomorrow and focus on whether I could get through the pain right then.
Then, I asked myself, “What will make it easier for me to get through the pain in this moment?”
For me, the answer to this question that night was to do some deep breathing, meditate on Scripture that was encouraging to me, talk to God about what was happening, and get out of bed to get a new ice pack.
As I reminded myself to do these things I started to feel more in control. There was literally nothing I could do about my responsibilities for the next day, and I needed to let go of that. But there were things I could do in the moment that would decrease my pain and give me strength to move through the pain.
Most of us know that becoming more mindful of the present is important when it comes to managing chronic pain. But making that switch can be difficult. Something about changing the questions I ask myself has made that switch much easier for me over the past few weeks.
What questions do you ask yourself during a pain flare? Are there better questions you should be asking yourself?
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