In recent weeks, I’ve profiled chronic pain from that standpoint of validation. I asked myself, and others not to minimalize chronic pain. I took the reader on my own personal journey through a detailed and vivid story. (Link) Prior to that, I decided to take a deeper and more philosophical approach and talked about the deep existential battle of chronic pain. (Link)
I have been silent for three weeks over various reasons. Among them is a recent and marked increase in shoulder pain due to a decade of nerve damage, bone pain, and thoracic outlet syndrome. Oddly enough, it broke three weeks of writer’s block because I have decided to talk about the emotional and mental breakdown that chronic pain causes. Join me in discussing the nonphysical effects.
HOW DOES CHRONIC PAIN AFFECT THE MIND?
There is a lot to be said about chronic pain and its immediate and recognized effects on the mind. When we are in physical pain, we are not at our best in body, mind, and spirit. It’s easy to understand why this is so. Think about the last time you were very hurt. Your focus is on the pain and how to make it stop. When our focus is on pain, it is taken from other areas which results in reduced concentration and thinking ability. But what about the vague, long-term, diffuse effects? Are there any? Why do they occur? How do we lessen or halt them?
Chronic pain invades the mind on every conceivable level. But there are long term effects that while less intense make for a miserable life when not recognized and attended to. It becomes difficult to live with the constant aches that turn into 9 and 10 out of a 10 scale of pain. But why does these mental and emotional effects occur?
First, there is the fatigue that often accompanies chronic pain. When you are in pain, regardless of type, the surrounding area fruitlessly aims for protection. Your muscles may try to be on nonstop guard which is cause for physical exhaustion at the site of the pain. Your body is also trying to fight what is happening which brings about an overall body fatigue.
Second, there is the recognition of the pain itself. Chronic pain sufferers have to deal with hurting day in and day out. In many cases, 24 hours a day is spent hurting which does not even take into account the flare ups or “breakthrough pain.” The flare ups are excruciating and they are called breakthrough because they “break through” the usual medication regimen. In some cases, even high powered opiates are unable to stop these events. Then when the flare ups reduce, the sufferer may be always wary and thinking when and how the next flare up occurs.
The entire lifelong process becomes a thinking game. We devote large sums of our time working on creative methods to work through the day without wanting to give up. Which is yet another reason for the emotional fatigue. Many chronic pain sufferers admit that sometimes they want to give up. Not in the ways of suicidal thought, though it does occur, but wanting to quit going to doctors, taking medications, or even trying. It’s disheartening to lose over and over when it comes to pain.
Finally, there is the medication. There are hosts of medications and hosts of side effects. Benzodiazepines and opiates cause drowsiness and fatigue and can wreak havoc on the system. Nerve pain medications such as Tegretol and Neurontin can reduce the ability to express emotion due to the emotional dampening effect.
The overall point is that it hurts both mentally and physically. But there is hope.
WHAT CAN I DO?
I am a frequent loudmouth when it comes to self-advocacy. You have to become part of your medical team and not remain a bystander. Here are some tips to help you reduce the emotional toll of chronic pain.
- Be an advocate – Learn all about your pain and SPEAK UP!
- Read, read, READ – Read all about your medications, procedures, and all of the side effects
- Seek professional help – There are scores of psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists that specialize in chronic pain treatment and management of the emotional effects
- Seek support – Family, friends, and even support groups exist for chronic pain
- Eat well and exercise – It’s good for the body and mind
- Validate yourself – remind yourself that it is ok to sit and wallow for a minute or two. As long as you don’t obsess over it, it can be healthy to lay back and just be hurt for a moment. Recognize what you are going through and give yourself TONS of credit for how well you are surviving and battling!
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness and meditation have shockingly powerful effects on the body and mind
- Above all – Do not give up. Each day, more and more ideas, medications, and treatments are being studied, researched, and approved. Our medical scientists, chemists, biologists, and doctors and working hard
Remember that YOU deserve empathy and care. Make sure you go out and get it.