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When I Was Asked By a Psychologist If I Considered Accepting My Chronic Pain

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I can still recall the psychologist asking me, “Have you ever considered accepting the pain?” My relationship with pain is inherently horrible. I am bedridden as I write this and am constantly changing plans because of my pain. It keeps me up at night, has cost me my job and has stressed my relationships. So how could I ever accept it?

That day I stood up as straight as I could and walked out of that psychologist’s office. I broke down crying in my car and thought to myself, “He has no idea what I am capable of.” I was determined to beat the pain and return to my old life. Although a part of me still tugged at my anger, I reminded myself that I had heard the concept of “accepting your pain” before through online reading about chronic pain. Back then my emotions were too high to think logically. My inner voice was drowned out by the power cords and double base from Pennywise that was often blasting from my speakers. At that time accepting my pain meant I needed to be happy with just sitting on the couch. It was being “OK” with getting high on marijuana watching “Star Trek,” eating spinach with chicken for the rest of my life all while popping more pills.

Thanks, pain but I have plans.

I had just graduated with my master’s degree, had a job lined up and a wonderful husband who was helping carry me through. I dealt with medical issues for the last six years and I was finally ready to turn the page on that chapter. My father used to tell me I could be anything I set my mind to. I had perfect grades in school and earned scholarships. I had overcome the majority of my obstacles with research, planning and hard work…certainly, those skills could be useful in helping me get rid of my pain. The article “Accept Your Pain; It Will Hurt Less,” published in Psychology Today mentioned “self-compassion,” another concept that was foreign to me at the time. When the pain was above a six I could calm myself, but when it got above a nine there was no calming and I would start cursing my f*@ckign body! A year later, after building up my courage to go and see another psychologist, I did my research. I read a very compelling article in the National Pain Report, and I decided I needed a pain coach. If pain was learned as the article suggested, then I could unlearn it. My pain coach helped me understand I was my own bully. Self-compassion meant treating your body like a puppy. When it’s in pain, hold and comfort it. Just like a yelping puppy, your body is scared and needs to be consoled too.

These days I have moved on from cursing my body when I see a person on a bicycle, running, boating, skiing or doing any fun activities that I used to do. Now I am in the accepting stage where I know I cannot do those activities, so I don’t waste the energy on getting worked up over my pain. Today I look for activities that I can do laying down and I am OK with that. Right now writing is fun for me. I also enjoy drawing, reading and watching TV. I’m OK if those things sound boring because they are not.

I am also still working on self-compassion. It’s hard to break old habits, especially when you are recognizing them for the first time. I am learning to do what makes me happy through things I can actually do. Eventually, when I have unlearned my pain, I am going to move into the planning and hard work stage. It’s new ground for me, and at times frustrating and filled with uncertainty. But in a way, I have finally accepted the pain. I’m not just going to sit on the couch for the rest of my life.

Photo credit: demaerre/Getty Images

Originally published: October 22, 2018
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