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Coping Mechanisms for When Chronic Pain Becomes Your 'Normal'

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“It’s not normal to have headaches every day.”

I know! I know it’s not. It’s not normal, not usually. And, I hope, certainly, not normal for you. But that’s the thing. Whenever someone says “that’s not normal,” what I think is:

“I’m glad you don’t think so, but that’s the thing. It’s not your normal: it’s mine.”


It’s been my “normal” for years now. For a while Dad asked me every morning, “Do you have a headache today?” and I’d gotten so used to my headaches I’d have to think for a minute, but the answer was always the same: “Yep.”

Coping mechanism: Don’t think about it.

“It’s not normal.” No, you’re wrong. It is. It’s my normal, and so, since it is, I have to learn ways around it. I have to ignore it. And if it gets really bad, you can tell. I tend to go back into my shell, turn very quiet and hope my head won’t explode – or, if it’s really bad, hope it will and just want to get it over with already!

Coping mechanism: Distract yourself.

When there’s something I don’t want to think about, I tend to distract myself with other things. If I don’t, I’ll dwell on the problem, and that never helps anything. I plunge into a good book, I stick myself in my room with paper and pen (and laptop), I turn on my music and have fun throwing flour around the kitchen making muffins, or chopping veggies endlessly to make stir-fry, or I simply take my camera and MP3 player (with a good audiobook, naturally) and go out to find adventure – or at least some good pictures. Or, if all that fails, I can always count on the laundry, cleaning, gardening and, most especially, weeds to be there to distract me.

photo of woman's eyes with her hair in a bun

Coping mechanism: Find joy.

Everyone has things they need to work on. Everyone has things they need to figure out. Everyone has troubles, and trials, and problems, and pains. This happens to be mine. You can find joy in anything, if you are determined to do so. Joy doesn’t just come to you. You have to go out there and find it. Go to an orchard and pick apples. Go fishing with your little brother. Eat a popsicle.

I was listening to a song from one of my favorite groups the other day, and these lyrics caught me: “I had a dream, but it wasn’t true; I had a faded picture of you, fearlessly happy, unfastened and free, laughing at how hard life can be.”

That just stopped me. I love that: “laughing at how hard life can be.” And I thought, that’s what I need to do! Then I listened to it again, and this stuck out and stopped me again: “fearlessly happy.” I think I listened to that song about six times, just rewinding it and listening hard to the lyrics. “Fearlessly happy… laughing at how hard life can be…”

Coping mechanism: Laugh. (This goes hand-in-hand with finding joy.)

I love to laugh. But sometimes, it’s hard. That’s probably why I have such a strange sense of humor; I can find laughter in the weirdest things. But sometimes, that’s just because I have to laugh. I know if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. I hate crying. I never cry, if I can help it. So I grab my camera and look at old, funny pictures. Or I’ll find my favorite book of poems, and read ‘The Walrus and The Carpenter.” I love finding laughter, especially where you wouldn’t expect it. Which is why I’ll just start gigging, and you won’t know why. Something will happen, and my mind twists it and turns it until it’s funny.

Coping mechanism: Hold on to hope.

This is the hardest one for me. After trying one thing after another, it gets hard. The more things we rule out, the harder it gets to hope. But someday, you will be free from this pain. And even if, some days, you can’t believe that, just whatever you do, never give in, and never, ever give up hope.

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Originally published: August 10, 2017
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