A Letter to Those Who Are Suicidal Because of Chronic Pain
In my work as a CRPS/RSD, Chronic Illness & Pain Peer Support Counselor/Advocate, I speak to people all the time who are on the brink of suicide or have lost hope because their pain is too overwhelming. It breaks my heart. But I must admit I understand. Why? Because I’ve been there. I’ve been in their shoes and I know many of you have been too, or are right now.
This letter is to you…
There was a period of time in my medical journey for years — years ago — that I didn’t want to be here anymore, for no other reason than I wanted the life-changing, soul-crushing pain to stop — at any and all costs, including death. I was 85 to 90 percent homebound/bedbound, couldn’t drive and many times had to get used to using new assistive devices during the rare times I did get out (yet I looked and sounded relatively “normal” considering I struggle(ed) with invisible chronic illnesses/pain). All this after a successful and lucrative career in business was stripped away from me in a split second by a routine medical procedure gone wrong. The grief and loss was palpable.
What was the point of living in this intense level of pain? I was not living; heck, I was barely existing. I had lost much of my independence. I was bitter, angry and difficult to deal with — I pushed my loved ones away because I didn’t want to feel like a burden. I thought I would be better off dead because no one would have to hear me complain anymore. I was lonely and isolated. My best friends became people on TV. I couldn’t sleep for days at a time. I let myself go. I gorged myself in food and gained weight. I was jealous of people for merely being able to live life or being able to do simple tasks. I was in a never-ending pity party of one. I enjoyed nothing — all because the pain wouldn’t let me.
The pain controlled me and dictated every move I made. I felt desperate, exhausted and worthless. I spent tens of thousands of dollars (out of pocket) on invasive and experimental treatments, modalities, healings and medications that only made me worse. I wasdoing the same thing over and over expecting a different result; I felt like I was going “insane” with the pain! My only goal at that point was fixing the horrendous pain and symptoms, and getting back to my old life again — there was no other option. In my mind, if that didn’t happen, I had to end my life. It was a deal I kept making with myself — if it doesn’t go away by xyz day or after xyz treatment, I will end it. I only saw black and white: fix it or end it. And I had a plan. I was serious — uncontrolled chronic pain is no joke for those of us struggling with it.
But…I never wanted to die — I simply wanted the pain to end. We have simply lost all hope — hope that we will ever be able to function without being tortured by our own bodies 24/7. If so, then how? How is it possible to live with this unbearable pain?
Well, I’m here to tell you it’s not all black and white — there is Grey. You can get better! I know because I did. It took me a while, but approximately 7 years ago I finally found some answers and solutions. You see, by having the only goal of fixing it, I was trying to cure incurable chronic illnesses, which was counterintuitive. I was finally able to find some treatments, medications and coping mechanisms that enabled me to live and have hope again! I’m not saying the pain/symptoms are gone — far from it. I still deal with them 24/7, and they are still severe. I have even developed additional medical issues. What I am saying, however, is that my medical condition is much better managed, and most important, I have accepted it. I have accepted that I have incurable chronic illnesses and pain that I will have to live with the rest of my life. Because of this, I must use a variety of tools to help manage them. And I’m doing just that, successfully. And you can too.
If you are feeling like you want to give up because of chronic illnesses or pain, below are some brief tips that might help:
1. Don’t give the pain your power.
If we say things to ourselves enough we start to believe them. When we think about or focus on the pain/symptoms 24/7, we inevitably make them worse. Chronic pain will take and take if we let it! It’s like a toddler throwing a tantrum. If we give it attention, it will want more. If we acknowledge it but then put it in a “time-out,” we have a better chance of yielding the desired result. Instead of focusing on what you can’t control at the moment (the pain), try focusing on what you can control. What can you do to move forward in your wellness? What can you do to distract yourself from the pain?
2. Redirect and set goals.
When we are stuck in a cycle of soul-crushing pain and thoughts of suicide, we are in a downward spiral of hopelessness. At that point, it’s time to refocus our efforts. If you’ve been trying medication after medication, or surgery after surgery, try another strategy. Maybe it’s time to see a new specialist. Perhaps you need to force yourself to get out of the house at least once a month, even if for something other than a medical appointment. Have you considered your general health? The point is you have to do something different. You cannot give up on yourself. You cannot let the pain win.
3. Expand your support system.
Unless they too struggle with chronic illnesses and pain, our family and friends can’t really understand what we’re going through. Therefore, it can help tremendously to join a support group! There are thousands of Facebook groups for chronic pain, and even for specific chronic illness diagnoses. I always recommend joining at least one large group and one small local group if possible. Being able to connect with and meet others who are going through similar medical struggles can help to validate us, offer resources and compassion when we need some extra support. In addition, reaching out to a counselor is one of the best things you can do! Asking for help is OK.
4. Take it day by day.
Someone once said that we can do anything for 15 minutes. Well whoever said it probably didn’t have chronic illnesses and pain, LOL. But seriously, what this means to me is, if you’re thinking about or considering a drastic measure, do something else for 15 minutes. Make a phone call, watch a funny movie, go get the mail. The point is, you can get through and past it. When we’re in a dark place because of chronic illnesses and pain, sometimes we have to survive day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute. You never know what tomorrow will bring — and that can save your life. Remember, you don’t want to die — you just want the pain to end. These are two different things.
I no longer want to end my life because of severe chronic intractable pain. Do I want the pain to end? Of course! But I also have realized that I am stronger than the pain. It doesn’t control or define me anymore and it cannot steal life away from me no matter how hard it still tries. After all, I am living proof.