How Is Chronic Pain Still So Misunderstood?!

If someone in my life asked me, “Jeanne, what’s the hardest thing about having a chronic pain condition?” my answer would be, “the intense feelings of loneliness from feeling so misunderstood”. Number 1, I’ve never been asked that. Number 2, when I learned that over 100 million American’s suffer from chronic pain…NEARLY 1/3 OF OUR POPULATION…I thought, how is this possible? How is it possible my number one issue (aside from the pain) is loneliness & being misunderstood when there are so many sufferers? Chronic pain has more sufferers than diabetes (which effects approximately 26 million Americans including diagnosed and estimated undiagnosed), more than heart disease (which effects approximately 17 million Americans), and more than cancer, (which effects approximately 12 million Americans).* It all just seems crazy that I see commercials on TV for medications to aide symptoms of the other conditions, and characters in movies with diabetes, heart disease and cancer but rarely hear or see anything spoken about chronic pain conditions. I feel that since I often don’t outwardly look unhealthy, (unless it’s right after a procedure and I have a brace or am walking with a cane) people think the pain is not there. It is an invisible condition, and it’s been damaging my life since I’ve been 14.

If you’re not a sufferer of chronic pain, you probably don’t know what I even mean when I say “chronic pain condition”…that’s OK, I don’t blame you. I do not know what every illness is myself; I’m not a doctor, nor do I claim to be. That said, the label of having chronic pain typically applies to someone who has experienced pain for a few months or longer, and it doesn’t go away. When the majority of the population experiences pain, perhaps from an injury or illness, they are treated, begin healing and ultimately recover to not experience the pain again (at least to a much rarer extent). A chronic pain sufferer’s pain never goes away; it’s with us all throughout the day, making life a living hell. Some cases of chronic pain can be traced to a specific injury that has long since healed–for example, a serious injury, infection or surgical incision. Other cases have no apparent cause; they just flared up one day and never went away. Some of the most common cases of chronic pain are related to lower back or neck pain, forms of arthritis, headache, multiple sclerosis (MS), Fibromyalgia, Shingles, CRPS/RSD, or nerve damage (neuropathy).

I have never met a fellow chronic pain suffer that is only afflicted with just one type of pain condition. I myself suffer from multiple including (but not limited to): major neck & back disc and nerve problems, chronic hip pain, daily headaches and nausea, migraines that send me to the ER on a regular basis, nerve pain at the site of my three surgical scars, a sleep disorder, and in general feeling like I’ve been in a car accident & shaken around violently every single day. Those awful feelings don’t even take into account the side effects of the medication I take, or the side effects of being in pain for so long (I’ll save that for another post). Just like anyone else, I also randomly have acute issues, such as last April when a ganglion cyst growing underneath the tendons in my right wrist needed to be surgically removed after months of severe pain. I’ve also gone through excruciating cramping for months on end after an IUD implant 5 years ago; pain which still haunts me to this day. In general, people who have chronic pain have “exaggerated experiences”** of acute pain. How I explain that to others is: I have a lower than average pain tolerance. It makes me sound like I’m not capable of handling pain…if people only knew.

Why am I putting this information out for all to read? Because, throughout my life I’ve been very lucky despite my physical health issues. I’ve had access to amazing resources that have helped to decrease the emotional toll the physical pain has taken. The psychological impact of chronic pain cannot be understated. Negative emotions, including sadness & anxiety can aggravate the pain. Depression is common in chronic pain patients according to Roger Chou, MD, associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and a leading expert on chronic pain. “If you had always been an active person and then you develop chronic pain, you very well may become depressed. People who think chronic pain is ‘all in the head’ are not being realistic.”

It’s the biggest blow to your ego when the mind tells you that you’re capable of one thing, but your body does not cooperate. For example, I’m mentally competent to work, however physically right now, it’s impossible for me. Another example is, I’d love to go on my honeymoon (the one my husband and I never took last year when we got married), but since that time I’ve been physically unable to do so. I have a million examples of situations like that, and if I think about them for too long I start to feel terrible. I’m only 29 years old, and have been battling with different levels of chronic pain since I took a fall down a flight of stairs when I was 14. I had no idea it was the beginning of major pain problems which would affect all aspects of my life. Fortunately, I’ve always had the insurance to be treated medically, and during my undergrad I recognized the importance of being treated emotionally. For years I assumed I needed to “tough it out”, and until the last couple of years was satisfied with a team of doctors that didn’t treat my condition aggressively. As soon as I educated myself more on the condition I was facing, I began to make many changes that positively impacted my physical & emotional well-being.

My education and occupational background is in applied psychology, which is the use of psychological principles to overcome problems in real life situations. That’s why I have set up this site “Plugging Into Life”. It will serve as a hub for all the resources I’ve collected along my chronic pain travels that have helped me to function better and improve the quality of my life. My ultimate goal is to educate other sufferers (and the important people in their lives) on things that can be done to take the pain they are feeling (emotional, physical, or spiritual) and provide some relief. The fact that there is only treatment and no cure for the pain conditions I listed above causes great distress. Just image feeling “this may be how the rest of my life is spent: trapped with pain.”

I’m here to say, you don’t HAVE to feel that way. It takes a cognitive shift to change the way you think about your pain, but it can be done. Chronic pain is draining on many levels, so “plug yourself in” using these resources and recharge yourself. This site will offer weekly blog posts, podcasts with great guest interviews, a plethora of resources & contacts to help provide you comfort in a time when that means the difference between functioning and not.

For one-on-one coaching with me, click here and you can read all about what I have to offer you in addition to the resources mentioned above.

 

Sending you healing vibes,

Signoff

 

 

Sources:

*http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx#common

**http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1820749/

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