How to Hold Onto Hope When You Have Chronic Pain
I know the feeling – pain is so pervasive you can’t imagine life without it any more. I’ve lived with debilitating nerve pain from thoracic outlet syndrome since the fall of 2007.
It’s part of what has made living with pain so incredibly challenging. It’s such an immediate, and invasive experience that there isn’t room for anything else. It demands our full attention, and it takes most of our energy – not just the healing process, but being in pain.
Life without pain seemed to recede irretrievably into the distant past. I almost couldn’t remember what it felt like to move freely, to not be in pain.
That’s one of the things that made me feel like giving up. Life without pain lived in some remote, untouchable place in the distant past. It seemed inaccessible, something long ago and far away. And because I couldn’t access that, couldn’t even imagine life without pain any more, the pain felt permanent.
These feelings of “I’ll never be out of this,” “there’s no end to pain,” “this will never stop” took me to hopelessness and depression. It’s really hard to come back from that if there isn’t a lot in your daily life to lift you back out.
You might say to me, “You don’t know how hard it is for me.” And you’re right. I don’t know your pain. No one does except you. But I can tell you that I know about being in relentless debilitating pain every hour of every day for most of the past 10 years. I know about waking up in the morning and having to pull on all my inner strength and resources just to get through another day.
I know about wanting to give up.
I might have, but I had someone who needed me to be there.
I think that’s one of the secrets of carrying on. Finding someone or something that calls you back into life – that you can use to call yourself back into life. Something or someone you care about being here for.
It might be a child. It might be a spouse. It might be a friend, or it might be a cause. Maybe you have something the world needs to hear because of your time in pain. Maybe you want to advocate for people with chronic pain. Maybe the pain has taught you something that you can put into writing or art or poetry or song. Something.
You may have to work at it, and you may have to search to find something to care about – but find a line to throw back out into life, to hook into something that’s important to you, and pull on it.
Pull on it like your life depends on it.
Am I going to tell you that if you do this, you’ll find your way to the other side of pain? No. I can’t promise that. But I also can’t say it won’t happen either. And neither can anyone else.
It’s difficult to find a way to believe in life after pain if your doctor tells you there is little hope for it. It’s hard to keep going when there seems to be no medical reason to expect something better.
I know. I was given a life sentence too.
But I have moved into a much better place since then. I had to learn to stop letting my current situation completely determine my future. I had to stop looking only into the past to find any evidence of being pain-free because that was reiterating the message that that part of my life, the pain-free part, was over. That it would never come again.
Yes, that part of life is past. But the future is not yet created. The future is wide open. It’s possible that things could get worse, but there’s also the possibility that things can get better. The place of no pain is hard to imagine when we’re in pain, captive to it, but that does not mean that the place of less pain or less pain can’t ever exist.
I am living proof.
Did I go from barely being able to walk down the street to competing in cross country ski races? No. But I have gone from barely being able to walk down the street to regular painful walks to regular more enjoyable and less painful walks to a couple of movements of Tai Chi to doing Tai Chi daily. For me, that’s miraculous.
But I couldn’t have gotten there if I’d let my then-present experience with pain convince me that it would always be that way. I had to use tenacity, fortitude, and courage to keep going when it didn’t seem to be getting any better. I had to tell myself that I didn’t know the future, and neither did my doctors.
Nothing, nothing, nothing in our current experience proves that the future does not hold a life with less pain or no pain. Nothing. No one can tell you that, or take that hope away.
My future is between me and my Creator, and no one else.
And so is yours, my friend.
Be as angry as you need to be about what you’re living through, but don’t give up.
Don’t give up.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
Follow this journey on The Pain Companion.
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