The Puzzle of Chronic Pain & A New Coping Mechanism
Everybody has experienced pain at one point in their life. Whether mental or physical…getting a paper cut to breaking a bone, we’ve all been there. There is a big difference however between acute and chronic pain. That is a big reason why when someone with chronic pain discusses how they’re feeling with anyone who’s never experienced it themself, it can be difficult. They can try to relate based on the pain they’ve felt. What’s the difference?
Their pain had an end.
Chronic pain is continuous and scary. You never know how evil it’ll be when it hits. Or know when pain will come. Or go. Or how severe it will be. It’s a difficult thing to grasp unless you’ve experienced it. Our natural instinct is to relate to what we know, and what most people know is pain having an end. The unknown is obviously not relatable.
Pain also affects people differently…chronic or acute. Now this has nothing to do with being tough enough to endure pain or too weak to handle a situation. Our bodies are simply wired differently and we perceive the signals differently. Going back to my post about The Pain Scale by Eula Biss , someone’s “7” might be another person’s “10”. I’ve never used my 10. And I hope I never have to.
So why do people perceive pain differently? Specifically, chronic pain?
Honestly, that is a post for another day. I’ve been doing research on pain perception but today I’m HURTING and that’s not really the point I’m trying to convey.
I love writing. It’s become therapeutic for me…which brings me to my point.
While I’m currently in the middle of a nasty fibromyalgia flare, I spoke with my rheumatologist about all this pain mumbo jumbo. I have a bunch of coping mechanisms to use when the pain is this bad:
- Meditating: Specifically, I use the app Headspace and LOVE it
- Progressive Relaxation: Tensing and relaxing muscles to relax your body
- Meditative Breathing: Used to relax the body
- Heating Pads/Ice Packs
During my last doctors appointment I was introduced to another way to cope with chronic pain, and I’ve been extremely excited to share it with others!
Chronic pain can be debilitating to the point where you can’t do anything except lay. There needs to be more, because there’s only so much meditation and breathing you can do…but how? There’s been many times I’ve thought to myself “how can I possibly do anything while I feel the way I do?”.
*Pleasant Activity Scheduling* (I feel like I’m back teaching coping skills…which I guess I am huh?
Activity scheduling is an extremely important strategy that is proven to help you get through the tough times when facing chronic pain. The point is to brainstorm ideas of things you love to do. They can be things from the past, present or future. They can be huge such as a trip to another country, or small such as listening to a song you like. Whatever they are, WRITE THEM DOWN. Aim for 40. Yes, 40. I know that sounds like a lot, but you want VARIETY. You don’t want to have the same types of activities. Think of all the things you’ve loved to do, whether or not you can currently do them. If it’s not realistic at all, it can be crossed off the list later but initially, write it down. The point is to be writing down anything that makes you happy. That causes you pleasure. That is a DISTRACTION.
The point of the exercise is simple. On a typical day, you’ll usually partake in one to two of these activities naturally. You may hear a favorite song in the car, read a chapter of a good book before bed, talk to a friend on the phone, etc. But on the painful days is when it gets tough. That’s when you’re supposed to do about FIVE of these activities. I know, that sounds crazy. Especially if you’ve had days where you really can’t move. That’s why you have to dig deep and push to find simple things that put a smile on your face. Taking a bath. Watching a funny show. Playing a game on your phone. Listening to music. Even something as simple as listening to rain fall, which can be incredibly peaceful.
The idea is that the more you incorporate things that make you happy into your life when you’re struggling with pain, it can decrease. It seems obvious when it’s talked about, but before it was brought up to me I didn’t think about it like that. It’s scientifically proven dating back to the 1960’s that negative thoughts and feelings can exacerbate feelings of pain. This is based on the “Gate Control Theory” which again, is a post for another time. But in a nutshell, endorphins are released and endorphins make you feel GOOD.
For now, I encourage anyone who has a chronic illness that gives them pain to make a list. If you can’t write or type, talk into your phone. Have somebody help you.
It can’t hurt, right? 🙂
If you can’t handle the wait for my next blog posts about pain perception and the Gate Control Theory, check out this video on How Your Brain Responds to Pain by Karen D. Davis. It’s a Ted Ed talk that gives you a glimpse into how people react differently to pain…and I’m a sucker for a good Ted Talk.