Living with chronic pain is more than just physical discomfort. You’re forced to change your normal routines and habits, depend on others for support, and it heavily impacts your mental health.
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When I was much younger, I was often referred to as the “sickly child.” I can’t blame them for calling me that either. Even on hot days, you’d never see me without a jacket wrapped around my cold shivering body. I developed asthma before I was eight and spent the next few years constantly getting pneumonia. It got to the point when my primary doctor suggested my family move to a warmer climate to improve my health and prevent further damage to my lungs. Luckily my parents agreed and for the first time in forever, I wasn’t getting pneumonia every other month.
Still, even with being a sick child, I was not prepared for developing chronic pain in my adulthood. I’ve truly stepped into new territory. So far, I have no known triggers which means there’s no real way to prevent my pain. I don’t even have a name for it. I could be relaxing, reading a book, walking around the neighborhood, or taking a jog - it doesn’t matter, the pain will just appear randomly out of no where.
Yes, the pain sucks but what sucks more is the wondering.
Is this serious or nothing to worry about?
Do I have cancer?
Is my appendix about to burst?
Will I be able to have kids in the future?
Will I need surgery?
What if they find out what it is but it’s too late?
Is this my life now?
Believe me, I’ve gone out my way to visit doctors and even searched for specialists on my own. Yet I still have no answers. I actually have even more questions than before. Throughout this, I’ve discovered that doctors don’t have all the answers like we were lead to believe as children. Often times it takes the right one to piece it all together for you. In the meantime you’re wasting a lot of time and money getting the run around. But beyond that, the whole experience takes a huge toll on your mental health.
The things I used to do with ease are now the hardest to do. I don’t like making plans in advance because I have no idea what condition I’ll be in until the day of. Good days can quickly turn bad. I’m so tired of complaining about the same thing and changing my diet just to see no results. I feel so alone. It doesn’t feel like anyone truly understands what I’m going through and I often feel undermined by colleagues and even doctors.
My chronic pain piggybacks off my declining mental health and now I’m caught in an endless loop of self loathing and misery. The sad truth is mental health and chronic pain are both invisible so many people don’t even acknowledge when I’m suffering from it. I’ve heard the lines, “you look healthy,” “you’re too young for that,” “your bloodwork came back perfect,” and “it could be worse” so many times I’m ready to hurl. Honestly, the worse thing you can do for someone suffering from chronic pain and poor mental health is to make them feel unheard or guilty for voicing their concerns. Sure, it could “always be worse” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck and you should recognize that it does.
The main thing that keeps me upbeat and moving forward is my support system, my passions, and positive thinking. I have a self care routine I keep in my back pocket for whenever I get into these low moods and when I’m dealing with pain.
My Self Care Routine to Stay Positive
If the pain is too much, just stay in bed. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. We weight our worth based on what we do in comparison to them or how “productive” we are. But productivity doesn’t equal your worth. Some people can do a lot more and that’s great for them. We need to listen to our bodies. You can only do as much as you can especially when you’re in pain.
I enjoy sleeping with a weighted blanket because it helps ease some of my pain. Same goes for a heating pad. I always have it close by so I can grab it whenever I need it. It heats up quickly and fits perfectly onto whatever spot I need it for (which is normally my stomach and/or abdomen area).
For days when I’m not in as much pain but still don’t want to move much, I’ll light a lemongrass candle, prepare some raspberry leaf tea, and relax on the sofa with the help of my resting pillow. The scent of lemongrass makes me so happy - it calms me, smells amazing, helps me focus, and sparks my creativity. Maybe I’m weird but I always add ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of turmeric into my tea along with some honey. It’s a combo that always leaves me in a good mood.
Make sure you pick a candle scent and tea the makes you most happy. The point is to do things that will lift your spirits and keeps you from thinking about your pain and all your unanswered questions.
It’s important to find something to distract yourself with. If I’m feeling up to it, I might work on some of my projects that have upcoming deadlines. That usually includes writing for my book or this blog, working on art or learning new art techniques, or working on social media.
For the times I’m not up for working on projects, I do something else that further relaxes me and has nothing to do with work. Journaling is something that has been extremely helpful when I feel my mental health falling. I use a simple journal with lined paper and either use journal prompts or just write out all my thoughts. I write like no one is watching so I can be as honest as possible and empty my head of any and all negative thoughts.
I’m an art gal so I love adult coloring books. I use colored pencils for them so I have more control and precision over how the final art piece comes out. I often pair coloring with listening to a mental health podcast. Hearing advice and other people’s experiences keeps me from feeling alone. Always remember, just because people in your life aren’t dealing with your struggles doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there who understands.
Some times I’m in the mood for a book or a brain teaser, in which case I gravitate towards cheery self help books or a puzzle game I can do by myself like Kanoodle. Whatever you end up doing, it should be captivating enough to hold your attention and keep you from diving back into negative thoughts.
Managing chronic pain and your mental health can be a complex journey but there are ways to stay positive. Don’t give up! Even when it feels like no one’s listening or as if it might be useless to keep trying, keep going. We only get one life and we deserve to be happy. It might take a long time (and believe me I know because it’s been at least five years of pain and unanswered questions for me) but I believe one day I’ll find an answer and my condition will improve. I hope the same for you.
How was your roommate experience? Terrible? Ours too. Did you ever think about writing a letter to them, no holding back? Well we did. Check out our article A Letter To My Abusive Roommate to read all the tea.
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