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What 'Acceptance' of Chronic Pain Looks Like for Me

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I know acceptance means different things to different people. I want to tell you what it means to me but I am going to build up to it.

For a good seven-year period of time I lived in a real hermit mode period of my life. I worked, came hope and collapsed on the couch. We didn’t do anything, go anywhere, have any friends, or socialize in any way. My pain was unmanaged and I was in survival mode. I was just doing what was necessary and no more. Get to work, get home. And getting to work was one I often failed at. Too many times. I went off on many leaves as well in that time frame. My pain wasn’t managed by medication. My suffering wasn’t managed. And I developed depression that wasn’t treated. In there I had one suicide attempt as well. If someone had asked me what I thought about acceptance I would have said, “I accept it is my job to suffer.”

Four years later, I wrote this:

Pain is dangerous. People should understand that pain is dangerous. Sometimes it isn’t “I don’t want to move today.” It is “I don’t want to live today.” Physical pain, by itself, is a suicide risk. Living with it constantly, with no end date, will be the hardest damn battle of your life. It is a battle hidden behind smiles and “I’m fine’s” and “I’ll push through the pain.” It is a silent battle and a silent scream. No one will give you an award for it. No one will notice it. People will doubt your pain. People will accuse you of being lazy of having no time for them. Of making excuses to get out of things. You will fight, and fight, and fight and that is what you will get for it. You can expect mediocre medical treatment or no medical treatment. People will expect, though, that you are addicted to painkillers or drug seeking. Expect that.

Fight the good fight. Inches of life. Fit in life where you can. Do not listen to people. People know nothing about this existence you find yourself in. Find joy where you can. Live in the pain gaps. And understand… pain is dangerous. Do everything you can to maintain your mood. Do everything you know that helps maintain your pain. Do whatever you can that works for you. If it works for you, do it.

I was out of my survival mode and understood the depth of it. Understood the time it had taken from me. The risks of it. And also understood I wanted a semblance of a life back. I went to the pain clinic. I went on Tramadol slow release. On Abilify for my depression. To the psychologist there who specializes in pain patients. To their pain class. See their pain doctor every six months now. And now I exercise regularly. I set small daily goals for myself, and write them down, with one daily accomplishment. I do a gratitude journal in an app called Happier. I do mindful meditation regularly. These things were things recommended by the pain clinic, mostly because they all help with mood regulation. I also do a thought journal which helps with thought distortion, which helps with the coping process because we can sometimes distort the things we tell ourselves. Especially since I have depression.

Here is what I think about acceptance. I believe acceptance is acknowledging the pain you have currently is going nowhere. Treatment may change it to a degree in the future, but acceptance is dealing with life as it is until things change, and then dealing with it as it is then. You still strive for treatments and methods to improve pain, of course. But you accept you also have to deal with existing pain in order to have a life with it. Because you want to adapt in such a way as to be able to have a life. To be able to do things like have a social life, visit with family and friends and go to various events. You want to be able to go on a vacation if you want to. To work, in some variable degree, if this is possible in your case, but if not then to have something that fills that void for you.

We don’t want to be fearful and hopeless about our pain so we don’t engage in the world. But we also want to pace ourselves, moderate our activities and stay within our limits. Accepting we have pain so when we do do something, we have to be prepared for anything our illness may crop up… so we bring things with us we may need. Never go unprepared. Go gentle and mellow into that world. Embrace the tortoise! Accepting while there are limited things we can do about the pain treatment-wise, we can do things about our suffering. And working on reducing our struggling will help us cope with our pain experience. This will then help us to be able to live a life.

So acceptance to me is getting out of that survival mode and then learning ways to manage my struggling so I could accept the pain I am currently in, in order to have a life in the limited way I can, as long as I pace, moderate and stay within my limits.

So what glorious moments can we win from life?

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: November 23, 2016
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