“How did this happen?” my friend says after a multiple injury fall. “These things don’t happen to me. This isn’t my life.” I reply, “its just your turn. Life happens to everyone… illness, injury, death, the good and the bad – no one gets through this life unscathed.”
I know this story only too well because a fall changed my life almost twenty years ago. I pride myself on being an expert on pain control. After all, I’ve been doing this for many years. “I live my life with one eye and acknowledge pain with the other,” I tell people.
Then, unexpectedly, my health fell apart. Now what? I’ve become resistant to the injections that treat my cervical dystonia. My pain level is over ten on the pain scale. I’ve been at this for five months and I’m exhausted. I don’t want to worry people, especially my family. Do I share or stay quiet? How do I access tools to help myself? What’s going to happen to me?
The answer is I don’t know. I’ll figure it out. I’ll just take it one moment at a time.
I need a plan … something to hold on to, something that creates hope and helps me to maintain a positive attitude. This takes strength, discipline, energy and work. My plan consists of medical support, caring for my mental health, eating a healthy diet, meditation and mindfulness, surrounding myself with positive people, exercise, finding hope and purpose, and spiritual practice. I think this is a plan that can be utilized for most illnesses. I’m sharing it with you in hope that it may help you face your challenge with a little more confidence and less fear.
- Medical Support
Research is my thing. I create an on-going list of medical professionals and treatment options possibly available to me. I spend time talking to the doctors I trust and then streamline my list of who to see to assess my health. Referrals in hand I seek treatment. If something doesn’t work, I go to the next thing on my list. Thanks, but no, I don’t want to see your doctor.
- Caring for my mental health
The last thing people in chronic pain want to hear is what other people think is making your pain worse. So unless you are in my body, trust that I know what makes me hurt more, and what doesn’t. Chronic pain can trigger depression, anger, anxiety, grief or feelings of overwhelm. Stress can increase pain by triggering muscle tension creating more spasms. I carefully choose the people I surround myself with, where I go, what I read and even what I watch. My world needs to be simpler and calmer.
“Distraction” is my daily go to. The goal of distraction is to not focus on physical pain. It doesn’t mean the pain isn’t present, it just means I am focusing elsewhere. This is a great tool to access instead of worry or fear. Some of the tools I use are breathing techniques, audio books, guided meditation, walking with friends, tapping my fingers, talking with close friends, writing and creating art. I take time to “play” each day.
- Eating a healthy diet
I feel better when I eat better. It’s as plain and simple as that. I drink lots of water, and eat a diet heavy in protein, fruits and vegetables. I toss in my favorite treats too, but I try to eat them in moderation because if I don’t, I feel very sluggish.
- Meditation and mindfulness
Pain makes it difficult to stay present. I use relaxation techniques to find my calm space. Mindfulness practice helps me to refocus on what is happening around me. It helps me to slow down my mind and focus on my breathing. All this quiets my body. I often practice meditation and breathing at the gym. It challenges me to be quiet within, while noise surrounds me. I find guided meditation very helpful because it gives me something more to focus on. Even if my mind wanders, I bring myself back time and again. There is no judging with meditation; no right or wrong- only practice.
- Surrounding myself with positive people
It is critical to be surrounded with positivity. Staying optimistic gives me more energy, creates joy and relaxes me, reducing pain and anguish. People who are energy vampires need to go. I build myself a cocoon of family and friends who “get me,” and I shrink my world. I don’t answer the phone if I don’t feel like talking. I give myself that permission. I unplug from social media. Like many women, I’m not great at asking for or accepting help. I like keeping my medical trials private, but after almost five months, I realize it’s time to come out of the closet. This feels freeing and people really do care and want to help. Regarding advice, this is very tricky. Everyone has an opinion and it can be confusing and overwhelming, so please understand, I’ll ask if I need advice.
I set the intention to move. I increase my now limited exercise and do what I can. Exercise releases some endorphins that help my pain level and improve my mood. I walk my beagle Farfel with my wonderful dog-walking friends. The conversations and caring distract me from pain. The relief may not last, but it gets my day started with great joy.
- Finding hope and purpose
Life can seem shockingly unfamiliar in the face of chronic pain or illness. There are many limitations, extreme vulnerability, exhausting explanations, scary symptoms and many challenges. To thrive, I need hope and purpose. I set some realistic goals for myself. Making a difference helps me feel better. I engage in positive self-talk by telling myself “I can do this.”
- Spiritual practice
I long to have my life back, as it was, but for now I welcome patience. This is not the life my husband and I planned at this time in our lives. It’s a leap of faith to believe in something I cannot see. I say a prayer of gratitude for what I have and accept where I am at today. I envision my health improving and that gives me peace and hope.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”