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The Cycle of Emotions That Follows a New Chronic Diagnosis


I left the pain doctor’s office a little bit ago with mixed feelings. First it was validation, then it was relief, then it was resignation, now I’m just sad.

I already have a handful of diagnoses, and about half of them cause chronic pain. In this case, it’s a suspected new diagnosis, but since a specialist has to get involved, it won’t be confirmed for another several weeks.

So first, it feels like, “I knew there was something wrong! It wasn’t in my head!” So many times, I’ve been treated as though I’m seeking medication or just being dramatic. So when someone in health care agrees with me, I feel validated. I feel a sense of justification in pursuing care.

Then comes relief. “Whew, I knew it was something, and now we know what it is, so we can treat it. We can do something about it.” Whatever that treatment is, I look forward to it and the relief it will bring and doing all the things I’m missing out on right now because of the pain. Yes, I want to come to your party this weekend. Yes, I want to volunteer at the church thing. Yes, I want take on extra projects at work. But I can’t. Everything hurts and after a while, the pain causes a unique kind of exhaustion. So I’m relieved – there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

But wait. This means a new diagnosis. Something else to learn about, to keep up with, to treat, to have to enter into my medical history, to have to explain when I’m having a flare. (I realize I don’t have to explain anything to anyone, but people who care about me deserve to know the whole story because they’re part of my support system.) So after the initial optimism fades, then comes just the resignation that something else gets added to the list.

And then, it sets in that it’s a new diagnosis that has no cure and only treatments that are temporary, and this is more than I can deal with today, so I’m sad.

Which, by the way, triggers certain reactions in the body that exacerbate pain because (I think) of the inflammatory response of stress.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

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Getty Image by bruniewska