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Facing the Reality of Chronic Pain Is Hard, But It Can Also Help Me Heal

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There was a moment when I realized my pain wasn’t leaving because it had morphed into chronic pain. I remember that moment very well. I was driving down the road after a doctor’s appointment where I was told my thoracic outlet syndrome was not getting any better… and I would probably have it for the rest of my life. In fact, it was likely to get progressively worse.

The Awful Truth

I heard the doctor quite clearly, but it didn’t really land until I was driving home — and then it hit me hard. It felt like a sort of cold, icy feeling in the middle of my chest.

“Oh, I see, this isn’t going away any time soon. Or in the vernacular — I am really screwed.”

And even though I had been living with pain 24/7 for the past year, I had kept telling myself it was about to leave. I had always healed from things in the past, nothing had ever stuck around this long. Any day now it was going to lift and just disappear.

Except it hadn’t… and apparently it wasn’t going to.

And I finally let that in.

I felt depressed, lost, desolate and hopeless for awhile. I mean, what are you supposed to do with that kind of news? There’s only so much positive thinking you can muster up to deal with such an authoritative statement. I didn’t want to hear it, I didn’t want to know it, I didn’t want it to be real.

Accepting What’s True

Part of me wanted to blame the doctor for having ever said it, because saying it somehow made it more true. A doctor’s prognosis carries a lot of weight which influences our ability to keep going, to keep a positive attitude and to believe in ourselves and our ability to heal. But on the other hand, I’m grateful I was told the truth.

I now realize the moment in the car, when I allowed myself to accept the truth of my situation, was probably the first step toward true healing. I had to accept that life had changed. Instead of assuming I was just going to get better by default, because that’s what always happened in the past, I had to come to grips with the fact that I had a condition that didn’t benefit me by pretending it wasn’t all that bad.

I made some lifestyle accommodations so I didn’t keep causing myself more pain by trying to force myself to keep up in ways that really weren’t healthy for me.

I had to learn to simplify, to say “no” and to take care of myself in new ways.

That was hard.

Instead of looking either for a non-existent quick fix or simply trying to ignore the fact that my body was crying out for help, I had to take serious stock. I made decisions about how I was going to live, and heal and ultimately thrive over the long run. Those choices not only had positive effects on my pain levels, but they also enriched my life and taught me a lot about honoring myself and my own path.

Photo credit: Credit:Sjale/Getty Images

Originally published: February 12, 2019
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