Pain has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, sprains and strains as a kid, always falling, unable to weight bare on and off throughout all my childhood which I now know was due to a Labral hip tear and impingement, as well as dislocations, subluxations and neuropathy. All painful. Eventually chronic.
Throughout this time I developed my own list of coping mechanisms to manage chronic pain, they all served me at the time but ultimately long term were not the answer. I’m going to show you what you need to avoid if you are going manage chronic pain and stay sane and what you can do to help yourself.
My first coping mechanism was born from the doctors and medical professionals telling me that nothing was wrong. Eventually I began to disconnect from the truth as a way to cope with my reality – to just carry on. Sadly this disconnect became my normal.
I would relocate my knee cap back into the socket after a dislocation and walk straight into a night club and dance the night away. I could hold a full conversation with a dislocated rib and you would never know. I would sit in a staff meeting wanting to sob as the neuropathy in my feet was burning like a furnace beneath me, all the time running the narrative that I was ok really.
My go to coping mechanisms were to distract and ignore. The pain shouldn’t be there and ultimately to feel pain came an element of failure. After all the professionals were telling me that there was no medical reason for it.
Avoidance… that was my way.
For others being in pain all the time means that thoughts about it never leave their mind, welcome second unhealthy coping technique… indulging.
You think about it, ruminate, brood, beat yourself up. The constantly running narrative or ‘It used to be so much better’, or ‘I used to be able to do x or y why can’t I just do that now’.
Your mind also worries about what tomorrow may bring before tomorrow is even here with thoughts like, ‘This is never going away’, or ‘I’m never going to be able to do x again’.
And the spiralling blame that you may have that you caused this in some way and the subsequent feelings of fear, guilt and shame.
Even as I tried to distract and avoid feeling pain I had to think of it to block it. The pain was never far away.
Then there is distraction, I’m not talking about healthy distraction here but doing anything you can to avoid discomfort in the moment. An extra glass of wine that turns into two or three, or when you zone out watching cute puppy videos on You Tube and before you know it you haven’t moved at all for two hours.
These coping mechanisms exist to protect. To protect you from the pain you are experiencing right now and may experience in the future. But when you distract, ignore and resist or even indulge the pain you actually become its victim, in that moment you have given the pain control.
Ignoring, indulging and distracting are tiring for one.
The resistance to the pain is the hardest thing not the pain itself.
By just letting go of the stories and thoughts that you have around your pain : that it should be a certain way, that it needs to be a certain way, that it will always be there, that you caused it in some way, immediately takes away its power. Without the stories it is what it is… a sensation.
I distracted myself from my pain, I ignored it when it was screaming at me for attention, indulged in the stories, I resisted vehemently what I felt in my body, and I did this for decades.
My pain was just asking for my attention, it was not trying to destroy me but to wake me up. To make me listen to its wisdom. And I chose not to listen and ultimately did not give my body the nourishment that it needed when it needed it.
While I was ignoring and denying the pain and pushing through every day I was often too tired to eat well (grabbing take out after work), to enjoy time with my friends, to have fun. I did not nourish my body or my soul as all of my energy went on surviving.
I have learnt that you always have what is present, in any moment without the stories of what was or should be, or was, or may be tomorrow. You have now.
With pain we have what is present now. And when we drop the narrative of ‘Will it be there tomorrow’, ‘Will it be worse?’ It never going to be better!’ we immediately lose the resistance to the pain.
What we are left with is the sensation of the pain itself and when we begin to allow the pain, however it shows up, really tune in to the sensations, to give it space, to listen to the wisdom that it has – we wake up.
When I have a dislocation and I have to relocate a joint, I ask myself, ‘Am I OK in this moment?’ the answer is always ‘Yes’. And when I let go of that resistance, the panic, the story, then I manage the pain in the moment with more wisdom, calmness and compassion.
All my life I had learnt that pain was not safe, that it was an unwelcome visitor to my door, there to hurt me now and in the future. But I decided to look at this visitor with a fresh perspective… what if this was not a threat but a welcome guest? What if it had things to teach me?
It was then that pain lost its hold over me, the hard thing had been the hold pain had over me, not the pain itself.
Pain has taught me to slow down, to listen to my body and nourish it with what it needs, to be grateful for the gift of my body and how well it works for me even with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Charcot Marie Tooth disease.
I am not pain, pain is just in me.
By being more present with what is there every day and losing the stories associated with my pain I can just be with the sensations that are there at any one time. Get intimate with those feelings, explore what’s real, and give whatever is present room to be.
I can then act from that place of acceptance knowing what is real. Sometimes I need to rest, to nourish myself, to be kind, to treat the pain with medication, or with compassion.
When I was in a place of resistance, distraction, indulgence and avoidance this was not possible.
Clearing this has been like pulling up weeds from the roots.
I don’t know if I will be in pain forever or if it will be better or worse tomorrow that it is today. All I know is what is true now and how best I can act and manage the situation that I have today. I still over do it and have days when pain is increased but I treat myself with compassion on those days and tune in even more to what my body needs.
Without the resistance to the pain, I no longer feel a victim to it. It’s not me against the pain anymore, it’s not a fight, I don’t have to hide. The narrative has shifted and I no longer see it as my enemy but my teacher.
What is your relationship with pain? Do you recognise a pattern? Do you resist, ignore, indulge or distract? Are you willing to develop a new relationship to pain. Let me know in the comments I would love to hear ❤️ your perspective.
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You may feel like no-one understands what its like living with your chronic illness or worrying everyday about your kids. That you are hanging on by a thread or the future may feel a little uncertain. In the tribe we get that.
You value life and want to be the best version of you. To manage your symptoms effectively so that you can live your best life.
In the community we will be having real, open conversations about how you can do this. With my experience of living with multiple chronic illness’ and raising kids with CMT, EDS, PoTS and ME. I know that the struggle is real. I will be sharing guidance, challenges, my personal tips and real life stories to remind you of how this can become a reality now!