Keeping My Spirit Safe From the Depression That Comes With Chronic Pain
As a person living with fibromyalgia and chronic migraines, depression is a tenuous and ongoing issue. It’s a constant challenge keeping my spirits up and not judging myself too harshly. I know I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to feelings of inadequacy…feeling I’m not good enough because overwhelming fatigue has kept me from walking, or because I’ve missed yet another book club event because of a migraine, or because my house is covered in dog hair, but I don’t have the strength to clean. And it’s not only judging myself, but also the overwhelming feelings of despair when an epic migraine goes days and days and days with no release.
Before the 1994 head-on car accident that would forever change my body, I was an active, outgoing, sincerely happy person, nearly always smiling and ready to tackle most days. And even then, although I was having constant headaches and in physical therapy several times a week for three years, my outlook remained optimistic. I was still young, still strong, happily married and loved being a mom to my smart and beautiful teenage daughter. Looking back, I now see I had a positive sense of self, despite my physical self slipping ever so slightly every day.
But I ignored the body changes taking place, the flu-like symptoms I was having every couple of months that would knock me flat for days at a time. Instead, I chalked up physical issues mostly to my busy life of working full-time at a university, taking advantage of low cost tuition by being a non-traditional student, being a mom and partner and maintaining our home on 20 acres.
And now, over 20 years later, I struggle accepting limitations that have only increased with age. Is not accepting chronic pain my bane for almost always feeling on the brink of depression? Am I just stubborn, in turn causing body pain to flare and migraines to ramp up more often? One of my doctors recently told me not to fight migraine and fibromyalgia pain, but to embrace and let it flow through me. So I’m trying to figure out how to reach acceptance, because when I’m blinded by head pain that is off the pain scale chart, it’s kind of hard to let anything flow except tears. I think there must be 12 stages of chronic pain acceptance, and I’m teetering between feelings of depression and bargaining with myself, which I’m guessing is around stage three. So it appears I have a ways to go toward allowing pain to slide through me.
Learning to accept and let chronic pain flood my body is like telling myself to give up a fight, while my instincts are screaming to get in that boxing ring and duke it out with the invisible opponent. The thing is, I really don’t have a fighter mentality; I’m more loving and accepting of life and people. So why am I fighting this constant pain and how can I learn to let it flow through me without giving into the hopelessness that too often comes with it? Or is giving into pain the solution? And if it is, how do I give into pain while still being my best self? How do I give into pain without letting it destroy my spirit and keep myself safe above the precipice of depression? What does that even look like?
Not to lessen the unrelenting pain of fibromyalgia, but constant and intractable migraines are my most debilitating health issue. For me, migraine pain is different than fibromyalgia pain in that it brings with it the inability to communicate clearly. Some days I can’t say words distinctly, my tongue tripping up and over itself. Other days, I can’t think of the words I’m trying to convey, and yet other times again, I can only cry in pain and frustration, out of desperation and anger.
Living with migraines and chronic pain has changed my personality – my once chronically cheerful self is instead a practical and realistic person on good days, and on bad days, a person struggling to keep depression at bay, keep faith in herself, her body and…in believing. Believing that my migraines will lessen, or better yet, that an actual cure will be found.
Meanwhile, on those good days, I will embrace and nurture my physical and emotional self in hopes this emotional self-care will flow over and through me. So that when a bad day hits again, I’ll feel less pain, less despair and unburdened by depression.
Thinkstock photo via Archv.