Sometimes I dread being asked this question, more than the small talk question of “how are you.” Unlike the inquiry of your state of being, that you may have to give the white lie of “I am OK” and be done with it, this question can’t be brushed off. Also I feel I don’t have a good, answer to this question. By that I mean I think – “I don’t know, I just do,” followed by a shrug, a pretty lame answer. “I just do” can even seem a rude, but in all reality, I don’t know any other way to be. People have told me I am unique, and that I am “strong.” I don’t know about all that, I personally think I am just a normal human. Anyone can do what I do, I really do think everyone is capable of living a happy and positive life even with chronic pain. So I will attempt to describe how I do what “I just do.”
Something I know for sure is I am stubborn, I have always been as stubborn as a mule. While this hasn’t always been a boon to me in all situations, I guess it could be a large motivation in my need to keep going. I have an almost blind determination to just make it through today, because tomorrow could bring something new. New information, new techniques, and new experiences. Possibly even a reduction in pain, but you don’t know unless you make it to tomorrow. I absolutely know that I have to see tomorrow, and no matter how bad I feel now tomorrow will eventually come. This fierce determination springs from somewhere deep in me, bubbling up from a source that is, to be completely honest, hidden even to me. It could be my stubbornness, but a lot of days I am not really sure why I drag myself out of bed, and force myself to go through the motions of a normal day. There are a lot of days where just the act of getting out of bed is excruciating, but I do it. Sometimes its very, very slowly, but I still do it. I have to, something in me makes me feel I must. My stubborn mind tells me that staying in bed is not an option, so get up! There is stuff to do! I am even starting to wonder if I may actually be physically unable to stop completely. To just give up and wallow in a puddle of self pity and immobility seems to be something that is beyond me. I also think, just going through the motions makes you feel better, even if your pain levels don’t improve. More often than not it usually does improve my pain levels. Just like getting up, having a shower and getting dressed can make you feel better when you are feeling sick.
Another thing that helps me not start to slip into the quitter sort of thinking, is making sure I feel like I accomplished something. That feeling of despite everything stuff still got done, makes me feel like the day wasn’t completely surrendered to The Pain. You can say to yourself, “Hey Self! Even though you couldn’t do everything you wanted to today, you still did something. Good job!” And you really do feel good about it. Even if that something seems simple like just sitting up for an hour, reading, or walking to the mailbox. Because sometimes, even though you may not want to admit it, that is all you are truly able to do. I have struggled with it, but I feel I have gotten to a point where I have accepted my new limitations. I set daily goals I can meet, and adjust them according to my pain. Like I said it can be a struggle, especially if you are a person that was very active and forced to halt. Speaking as just such a person, it is hard, but not impossible. Before my accident I was working a full time job, a commuter cyclist, and avid student of two styles of martial arts when I wasn’t cooking, sewing, reading, drawing, etc, etc, etc. Then my life came to a screeching halt. But like the saying goes, when one door closes, others open. You have to embrace the fact that a simple task such as mopping the floor, cooking dinner, or even just walking the dog, could require hours, or even days, to recover from. Tasks you did effortlessly before some have now become difficult, maybe even impossible. This wears on the psyche, and for me creates thoughts like…
“I am not who I was before…I am broken…I am useless…”
Thinking like this can really throw you into what I call a “well of despair.” That dark pit of soul crushing sadness, that sort of depression that makes everything seem not worthwhile. If one thinks only negative thoughts, it will only continue the descent into negativity, and inevitably giving up. It is a deep pit, one you have to claw and fight your way out of once you are init. Not many chronic pain sufferers escape alive once they allow themselves to fall in. One thing you always hear is suicide rates and that they are extremely high for chronic pain. Negative thinking is a slippery slope into that pit. It starts small, and seems innocent at the start, but it grows quickly. This then breeds depression, anxiety and stress. Pain is already isolating, it cancels plans, it doesn’t stop for birthdays or holidays, and it can make you want to withdraw from people and the world. Feeding it negative thoughts only increases its power, so why give pain more power than it already has?
Pain, especially chronic pain can be very hard. The worst thing when discussing it with people is, it is invisible. If you have a broken arm, people can see the cast. But being in pain doesn’t always show on the surface, or it is intentionally hidden, and this can sometimes lead to further isolation. People don’t understand that sometimes you have to cancel plans. That you can attempt to plan in advance but things are always “pending how I feel.” Friends can think you are avoiding them because you were able to do something one day, but then not at another. To top it all off, it is frustrating for you since you aren’t able to do what you want. The invisibility of pain can destroy relationships if you allow it, and sometimes even if you try not to. Pain separates you from your loved ones, your support, and makes it far easier to slip into the “well of despair.”
Also falling into that kind of thinking is a hard fight to get out of, harder still when you are fighting your own physical pain. So the best way to combat that is to not slip and fall into that trap, or, even better, be so far from the edge that it isn’t even a worry. Positive thinking, it is so so important, find that silver lining in all situations. This has kept me from the edge so far, and it really is an easy habit to keep once you get started.
Another way I have found works to fight falling in, is to keep my mind (or hands) busy. Up wandering the house at night because you can’t sleep? Time to fold that laundry. Time to do some research. Time to work on my stretching exercises, or other exercise routines. Time to do some baking/cooking. Time to work on creating something. Time to do anything that will take your full focus, anything that takes your full focus means that you can not be also thinking about anything else that might be going on. This includes how much pain you are in. Being able to focus your mind so intently on something diverts it from the task of reminding you that something is hurting. It can give you a much needed emotional break at the worst of times, and it can feed into that feeling of accomplishment I mentioned earlier.
Everyone is different, and everyone’s perceptions shape them, but I think everyone is capable of living happily. You just have to chose to be so, no one, and no thing, will ever make you happy for you. You have to do it for yourself, and chronic pain sufferers can be happy, I am living proof! Every day is full of potential, seize it! As long as you never give up, and never surrender. Just do it and tomorrow will be right around the corner.