Coping with Chronic Pain
Pain is an inevitable part of life. However, when living with a chronic pain condition we are likely to endure more than the average person may endure. Much of this type of pain can't be eliminated or treated, so we have no choice but to learn to live with it. In my struggle to learn how to do this and to still find meaning and purpose in life, I have learned many things and developed a new relationship with my pain.
Mindfulness Over Chronic Pain As a mental health professional and a person who has faced a variety of painful conditions over my lifetime like chemical sensitivity, fibromyalgia, atypical trigeminal neuralgia, and chronic migraines, I have dealt with a great deal of pain in my own personal life. In my own exploration of chronic pain, and in my professional experience, I have found there are several intertwined levels of pain: the physical level, the emotional/psychological and the spiritual level.
Severe physical pain is likely to cause emotional distress as one struggles to cope with feelings of loss, grief and anger associated with diminished abilities or changes in lifestyle or identity. In forming a new identity that includes being ill, one may struggle with the spiritual pain of existential aloneness. Questions such as “Why me? And “What is the purpose of my life now?” may arise.
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There is no doubt that chronic pain on any level is unpleasant and disrupting. It is only natural that our first response to it is to want to eliminate it as quickly as possible with whatever means are available. But I think there is a problem with how we are taught to view and deal with pain. Our culture teaches that pain is bad, unnecessary and should be quickly eliminated. If we are not successful at eradicating our pain we are viewed as weak or malingering. If we are in pain, then we (or our doctors or medical science in general) have somehow failed.
The message in our society is that we should not feel. We are bombarded from advertising, media, medical authorities, etc. That we should never let ourselves feel any pain. The promise of pain relief is everywhere. If we have a headache or stomachache or muscle aches, or if we feel sad, lonely, anxious, depressed or shy we should take a pill that will fix the symptom or feeling. And then we wonder why one of our largest problems in society today is addiction. This attitude actively promotes addiction.
We are obsessed in finding and providing quick fixes and quick relief from every little ache, twinge, pain, grief or discomfort. In the reality of my life, I have found there are no quick fixes and pain generally cannot be completely removed or controlled. Nor should it be. Some pain is necessary and serves a purpose as a messenger. We must often learn to live with pain effectively and listen to it rather than always trying to medicate it away.
Although I do not subscribe to the popular New Age belief that everything happens for a reason, I do believe that we can take a very painful experience and make meaning out of it. In spite of the suffering chronic pain may impose on our lives it may also help us to change, grow and learn. My pain has challenged me to redefine my identity, my values and my priorities, which led me to find deeper meaning in life. I have also found a strong connection to nature.
Causes of Chronic Pain
The body is very wise. We need to honor this wisdom because sometimes pain can be a signal that we need to change something in our diet, environment, lifestyle or our relationships. In this way, pain can be a great motivator. If we listen closely to our pain and pay attention to our body and our states of mind, our discoveries may guide us to what we need to do to reduce our pain.
I have found that some of my own muscle and joint pains, as well as depression and anxiety, were triggered or made worse by Candida yeast, food allergies, certain chemicals and by nutritional deficiencies. Everyone with chronic pain should assess for the possibility of nutritional deficiencies.
For example, I eliminated wheat and refined white sugar from my diet and became free of the anxiety attacks and severe depression that crippled me since my teenage years. By correcting a magnesium deficiency, I reduced chronic muscle pain by half. My pain has also taught me to become more outspoken and expressive, to get more sleep, to exercise according to my needs and to decrease stress. Chronic pain has taught me to live more consciously within my limits.
Not only that, I overcome fibromyalgia by completely eliminating sugar, grains, potatoes and any starchy carbohydrate from my diet, switching over to eco-friendly household and personal care products, and regular exercise.
Another very common root cause of chronic pain is undiagnosed food, mold or chemical sensitivity. Food sensitivity occurs when the naturally occurring chemical composition of the food causes inflammation in the body, that results in pain. The toxins in common everyday chemicals and mold may also result in pain. This pain can be experienced anywhere in the body and may vary from person to person. For one it could be back pain, headaches, muscle pain or jaw pain, while for another it could be gastrointestinal pain, joint pain or widespread and diffuse pain.
Regardless of the diagnosis, many people find improvements in their pain level by making changes in their diet and lifestyle. For example, arthritis can often be relieved by removing onions, potatoes, green peppers and tomatoes from the diet or chronic back pain and headaches can sometimes be relieved by using unscented laundry soap and no chlorine bleach or moving out of a moldy house. There is a very simple test that can be sent to you directly in your home that can help you identify if you have hidden food, mold or chemical sensitivities. It is called the ALCAT test.
Other common root causes of pain may be found in adrenal fatigue and environmental toxins or a neurotransmitter deficiency or imbalance. For example, if you are not producing enough endorphins, the bodies own natural pain reliever, then there will be pain.
Some pain should never be limited or eliminated too quickly, even if it may feel overwhelming. The loss of a relationship or death of a loved, one as well as the loss and grief one experiences living with a chronic health condition, should be felt fully and mourned. The pain should run it’s natural course, otherwise it may cause difficulties later.
Then there is the insidious kind of pain that seems to have no message or purpose. Or by the time we realize what the message or purpose is, there is already permanent damage done to the body. It is often excruciating, disruptive and untreatable. For this category of pain, I found I must “go into it”. What does this mean? I allow myself to acknowledge and fully experience my frustration, resentment, grief and outrage over my suffering. I also allow myself to feel and experience the physical pain in its entirety. I embrace it and become one with it. I surrender to it and I flow along with it and allow it to flow through me.
I must come to accept it and learn to function within it. I must make chronic pain my companion rather than my enemy. I have found that if I fully accept, rather than resist, the pain in this way then it no longer has the same power over my life. Initially, in my chronic health conditions I did a lot of cure chasing which eventually led me to realize that I was wasting a lot of time, energy and money. What I have just described is often referred to as living mindfully. I found that I made more progress when I focused on learning how to live with my conditions and within my limits. This does not mean that we stop looking for answers or trying to improve, but we must first have acceptance for where we are.
Learning to live with chronic pain is a difficult process. It is not a recipe that is the same for everyone. It does, however, require a commitment to ourselves and a willingness to confront and challenge our social conditioning. We must give ourselves permission to feel without labels, judgments or time limits. We must let go of societies expectations and listen to our internal wisdom. It is important to support people in their efforts to listen to their internal wisdom and to validate their findings.
At times it may be hard for us to hear the messages carried in our pain or to appreciate them because the pain is too great. There may be setbacks into old thinking patterns and we may not be able to accept, flow and find meaning for a while. We may feel angry at our fate. All of this is part of the natural coping process, too, and it needs to be felt and respected. In no way does the fact that chronic pain carries valuable messages for us minimize the frustration and suffering one endures, but I believe it is possible and necessary to honor both the wisdom received and the suffering.
Managing Chronic Pain
On the other hand, there may be times when relieving your pain is certainly called for, however, prescription drugs only perpetuate the existing health condition, create new problems and expose one to the possibility of damaging side effects and possible dependence. Finding safe, effective and natural forms of pain relief is the preferred route.
I have a specific mindfulness technique that I use to eliminate most of my pain, which you can learn in Mindfulness Over Chronic Pain. It's highly effective, simple, easy and quick to learn. In my opinion, this is the best way to manage chronic pain.
However, there are many different choices to manage pain naturally that may include herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, massage, deep breathing exercises, meditation, acupuncture, generating brainwaves and exercise. You can learn more about these options and much more on the following pages:
Although living with chronic pain can be very challenging, by adopting a healthier diet, making changes in lifestyle, working towards acceptance and using a variety of natural techniques you can develop a comprehensive plan that will provide relief, reduce the impact of pain and improve the quality of your life.