Pain has the ability to attack from a multitude of directions-a small burn on your finger, a skinned knee on the pavement. But there is a pain so intense it has the power to block out the entire world and have your life come to a screeching halt. When chronic pain develops it has a devastating effect and those effects are not only physical but also mental and emotional. It takes its toll on all fronts.
To fully understand the emotional aspects of chronic pain, the individual who is suffering needs to first understand what is happening within his/her own body. When a condition that causes chronic pain (for example fibromyalgia) enters your life it is often due to numerous causes, and overloads soon the body’s defense and repair system so that repair or even coping become difficult. Two options exist to effectively tackle the problem: 1. Stop or reduce those activities that are overloading the system or 2. Provide help to repair and support the body systems so that they can adapt to this newly experienced overload in a positive manner.
In cases of conditions that cause chronic pain such as fibromyalgia, other symptoms are common and can include allergies, chronic rhinitis, easy bruisability, nighttime leg cramps, restless leg syndrome, dizziness, sleep apnea, dryness of the eyes and mouth, bruxism, photophobia, premenstrual syndrome, digestive disturbances, viral infections, Lyme disease, foggy thought processes, dyslexia, panic attacks, phobias, mood swings, and general irritability, Although many individuals suffer from muscular aches and pain, these muscular aches and pain only officially becomes the diagnosis of fibromyalgia syndrome when the aching muscle pain is accompanied by discomfort when pressure is applied to those specific body areas. One of the most devastating costs of chronic pain is the disruption it causes to an individual’s life. I was someone whose self worth was based on my achievement of school grades; when chronic illness entered my life I initially truly believed as a human being I no longer had value. What time has shown me through this pain when one door closes another one opens and that represents an opportunity to participate as you walk though that door. However, if fear paralyzes you to the point where you choose to stand and stare at the door not walking through it and allowing it to be closed you may never realize what amazing things lie ahead of you.
For me, a chapter of my life ended with the start of my chronic pain, I can no longer peruse my past interests including soccer and springboard diving however, it has led me to new wonderful people and different experiences in my life. When chronic pain reared its ugly head my life was suddenly in shambles; but focusing on the activities I was able to still do rather than focusing on those that had been taken away is the best course of action.
Even with focusing on what you can do the mind still produces a deep fear of loss engrained in each of us as an individual causing one to push away the few things that provide enjoyment that are left due to a fear of losing it. Chronic pain is an invisible illness and outsiders can at time pass judgment on the chronic illness and that which accompanies this illness. Unfortunately, many doctors have yet to distinguish chronic pain patients who also suffer often silently from psychological disturbances and those who are emotionally unstable because of their constant pain. In a recent study conducted by Dr.Jessop she stated that the depressive symptoms were a ‘reactive depression’ not ‘clinical depression’ noting that only 8% of her chronic pain patients had required medical attention for their depression before pain symptoms emerged.
Many patients who do have chronic pain are depressed and this is often an under recognized phenomenon. Studies have shown 8 out of every 10 chronic pain patients are severely depressed which when considers this in the context of the incredibly high suicide rates in chronic pain patients should not really be a surprise to anyone. Medical professionals often discount chronic pain, so much so that you yourself as the one who is suffering even begin to believe that the pain is all “just in your head”. If you feel the pain in your body it is real what is important here is for you to know that the pain is real. Regardless of what anyone else says to you or attempts to tell you otherwise. Living a life filled with pain and anxiety is physically and mentally exhausting, knowing you are never going to fully heal and be free of pain is taxing. Learning as much as possible and staying aware of your own body and its reaction is an incredibly effective method of treating depression. The more sense of control you gain over your body, the harder for depression to get its grip and over time it will fade. When pain is present in every aspect of life it is typical to only view life as pain, however continuing to be active while still acknowledging your physical limitations is a wonderful way to stay involved in at least a portion of past activities.
There are lots of recourses available online for making social connections and participating in support groups for others experiencing chronic pain. Although there have been many studies presenting proof that anxiety and depression is a result of an ongoing chronic illness some doctors continue to incorrectly insist that psychological disturbances are the cause of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. If you have a chronic condition chances are you have encountered people who refuse to believe your suffering is real. The most important attribute in your life is setting boundaries. Set boundaries with who you are surrounding yourself with by asking if this person is understanding of the struggle you are facing regarding your illness. If the answer is no dropping them from your life will drastically improve your self-esteem. Looming negative judgment from the people involved in any sort of chronic illness will have a cynical effect on anxiety and depression surrounding the patient. Anxiety can easily stem from experiencing pain on daily basis. Human bodies have a withdrawal reflex system, when you touch something hot your brain will immediately pull your hand away however when living in a body in perpetual pain this system spirals out of control. Never knowing when a flare could hit prevents the body from protecting the body from damaging stimuli. Anxiety and chronic illness will feed off each other in damaging ways. In the simplest terms, the more anxious you are the more on edge you will be, the more on edge you are the more it disrupts the sympathetic nervous system, the more the nervous system is disrupted the more fatigued and tense you will become. The most effective way to tackle this is accepting the unknown. Depression and anxiety are not the only mental illnesses common in chronic pain. Approximately 15%-35% of chronic pain sufferers also have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and certain forms of pain are common among those who have experienced significant traumas. Studies have shown survivors of abuse are more likely to develop PTSD. This is challenging to overcome, but not impossible. Pain can strike at any second but knowing your body and accepting the fact that a flare may attack at any moment will ease anxiety and hopefully break the cycle.
Being afraid because of chronic pain is not a feeling for anyone to have as being scared means you are about to do something incredibly brave and reach out of your comfort zone. Sometimes pain becomes such a huge part of life that you expect it to always be there by your side, because you cannot remember a time when it was not present in your life. Always keep in mind hope never abandons you, you abandon it.