Chronic Pain Survival Skills

Photo by Li Yang via Unsplash
An excerpt from my new book, Chronic Pain Recovery now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play and Kobo.

I want to talk to the people out there who are in so much pain they can’t do anything. They’re not looking to manage their day; they simply want to survive it.

If that’s you, first off, let me start by saying I’m sorry you’re in such a horrible place. Give yourself some major credit for still proactively trying to work on your pain even though you’re so exhausted and beaten down. You, my friend, are amazing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

I want to give you some suggestions of things to do when it’s REAL BAD. You know, when it hurts to breathe or even exist, when all you can do is watch the clock and hope time will pass, because if it does, that means the day will pass and that means your pain might pass eventually, too.

Six activities can serve as your lifeline during these times. These six things may not always make your pain feel better, but invariably they will make your pain feel different, and when things are REAL BAD sometimes “different” will have to suffice.

1. Eating/Drinking. Although your body likely wants comfort food right now, give it “medicine” instead in the form of high quality foods whenever possible (even if that means a banana or a handful of grapes) as well as multiple glasses of water.

2. Sleeping. Sleep whenever you are able. If naps make the time pass, take ’em (especially if your sleep is compromised at night).

3. Showering/bathing. Use it as time for pampering and some self care like applying pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory creams, gels, or patches.

4. Exercising. Even if it’s a slow walk around the living room, try to do something to use your body each day. Like comfort food, lying in one spot all day may seem like pampering, but you are actually making it harder for your body to get better.

5. Meditating. Find some time each day to deeply rest your body (especially if you are not sleeping regularly at night) and quiet your mind. This is the time to remind yourself that your mind is incredibly powerful and can do more to help you recover than you maybe give it credit for.

6. Socializing: If you have the means, talk to another human each day. This could be calling a friend, chatting online, or telling a stranger “good morning” at the pharmacy. At the very least, this can distract you from your pain and remind you you’re not alone in the world.

When I was in the bad place, all I did was rotate through these six activities all day. (Because as you already know, when things are bad and you can’t sleep, there is no “night.” “Day” simply lasts forever.)

This pattern got me through some bad hours, and those hours got me through some bad days, and those days eventually got me through some bad weeks. You know what happened then? Slowly, things changed. I’m not even sure I noticed things changing at the time, and you likely won’t either. I mention it because right now, you may be thinking things will never change. I want you to know that that’s the pain talking. This will pass.

Survival steps

Okay, let’s say you buckle down and do the six things above (or other things, if those work better for you). What else should be on your to do list during this difficult time?

  • Call your doctor. Choose the one who is most empathetic and explain how awful things are right now. Tell them you are in crisis and need help immediately.
  • Address your mental health. No, you’re not crazy, but you’re living in a crazy situation and that is putting some serious stress on your mental health. If you feel like you want to opt out and not do this anymore, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK (8244), or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. If you simply feel like hell, call a friend, visit a chronic pain message board, or find a therapist who will make a house call (your doctor may be able to help with that).
  • Simplify. Ruthlessly cut anything from your life that is not essential. There is nothing you “should” be doing right now other than staying alive. Make self-care your priority, concentrate on the things you can handle, and let go of everything you can’t.
  • Breathe. Don’t think about how you’re going to make the pain go away, or what’s going to happen if your doctor won’t give you the meds you want. Stick your hand on your belly, feel your breath, and remember: you are alive. You can do this. Deep down inside, your body still knows how to work. Give it some time to do its job.

Remember, even if you can only manage the smallest step today, that’s one step farther than where you were yesterday.

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