There is a paradox at the heart of chronic pain recovery…
Chronic pain makes people more depressed… but they have a better chance from recovering from it if they are less depressed.
In other words, in order to complete the Herculean task of healing your body from chronic pain, much of the advice you’ll read will suggest you also do something equally Herculean, heal your mind.
But how exactly does one do that when you’re already overwhelmed and unhappy, when your depression is robbing you of the motivation needed to try new things (and to bounce back when they fail)?
A great first step is gratitude journaling.
Write down the good stuff. (Yes, there is some).
Gratitude journaling is basically a process of cramming good thoughts into your head with the goal of reprogramming your mind to eventually become more positive and less depressed overall.
Journaling doesn’t magically make depression (or chronic pain) go away, but it DOES start to create cracks in those foundations. Within those cracks you can start planting some seeds to help you imagine (and then create) a better, more positive future where pain isn’t running your whole life.
I know you’re probably thinking that sounds like a lot of work. Who wants to start and maintain a journal writing practice when you’re in tons of pain and super depressed?
So pretend I didn’t use the word “journaling.” Maybe call it a “not awful log” or “happy list” for yourself.
Whatever you call it, just take a moment each day to write down at least three things that DON’T suck about your life — three things for which you are grateful.
You don’t need anything fancy equipment — any notebook or notepad will suffice. You also don’t need to stay married to the number three. (Want to write five things? A dozen? Go ahead.) It’s the frequency and consistency that matters most.
I’ve seen it work firsthand.
Believe me, when I first started gratitude journaling, I thought it was totally lame, (Of course, I did. I was depressed!) but I did it anyway and I kept the bar very low.
- I was grateful I had a working toilet.
- I was grateful a zombie apocalypse hadn’t happened yet.
- I was grateful my then 12-year-old daughter wasn’t pregnant with triplets.
As I continued journaling though, it got easier to make my list each day, and easier to remember all the good things I had experienced.
I realized quite a number of lovely things happened in my life every day, but my jerk brain let them slip from my memory in an instant, like water through a sieve. The journaling practice forced me to remember and appreciate those moments and that fundamentally changed how I perceived my life overall.
After six months or so of daily journaling, I noticed I was finding the brighter side of sucky situations on a consistent basis. No, I wasn’t transformed into a Pollyanna overnight, but I was less bitter, pessimistic, and defeated.
When you’re in terrible pain, that’s an excellent first step in your recovery.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Gratitude journaling isn’t an overnight fix. It’s best done slowly and methodically over a long period of time (in the end, it took me hundreds of days to see the biggest payoff). However, it’s a tactic tailor made for people with chronic pain. (Slow and methodical is the only way we do anything!)
Essentially, the whole process is a lot like water torture — but with positivity being dripped onto/into your head instead of water. Each day you drip three positive thoughts until the day comes that you realize those thoughts are starting to naturally occur and replicate on their own.
The best part of this type of reprogramming is it won’t need a system update every year like your computer or phone. Once you change some of these thought patterns, they’ll be changed for good, which will help with your depression, your pain, and your entire life.