Power of Pain: Choosing to be Happy

By Barby Ingle, Columnist  

Mental health can be disrupted by chronic pain. Anxiety, depression, hopelessness, isolation and helplessness can increase to dangerous levels. Particularly for people who have been suffering with chronic pain for a long period of time, life can become overwhelming.

When I finally realized that chronic pain had no cure and that my future would include pain on a daily basis, I began to have dark thoughts. I did not want to end up at risk of suicide, so I started to build tools into my life for emotional comfort. 

There are going to be good and bad days, and if this is a bad day for you, remember to focus on the good days, good feelings, positive past, and future experiences. It is very important for you and your family to recognize the symptoms of diminished emotional well-being and take action.

Understand that these feelings and thoughts are common among people living with chronic pain. It is helpful to create an overall strategy to get through the rough times.  Chronic pain patients learn over time that they can better cope and adjust to both the physical and psychological consequences of their disorder with the help and support of spiritual guidance, family and therapists.

Creating an arsenal of tools, such as spirituality, physical modalities and meditation, are all ways to better your situation. Turning to God has especially helped me with anxiety, depression, and other psychological and physical challenges; and it offers a great way to cope with and put situations into proper perspective so we can learn to live with them.

Chronic pain is not understood very well, and there are physicians and psychiatrists who believe that it is all in our heads or that people just complain for the sake of getting worker’s compensation or some other benefit. If we are seen as malingering patients who just won’t go away, doctors who don’t understand chronic pain may find it difficult to look for any other diagnosis other than psychological. A lot of my stress could have been avoided if doctors had really listened to me from the start, instead of looking at my marriage troubles as an excuse to “be ill for attention.” 

There were stages to my grieving. First was hope. I hoped that there was some cure to make the pain go away. Second, wondering if the treatment I was receiving was appropriate, I got angry. Feeling resentment and depression when I realized that this is not temporary is sometimes overwhelming in itself.

When this happens, I try to rationalize and evaluate the changes in my life and how I live it. In doing this I come to an understanding and acceptance of what my place is with permanent pain.

Despite the difficulties we experience, it is important that patients with chronic pain and other chronic conditions maintain a healthy lifestyle, including getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthy foods.

There are long-term health consequences created by leading a more sedentary lifestyle due to our pain. Because we are less active, we are at greater risk for developing other medical problems. We need to watch out for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, as the risk for these conditions is heightened by inactivity.

I myself have been dealing with poor posture and sudden weight gain and loss. I fall easily and have trouble gripping and holding onto things.  

No matter the challenges of today, they will pass, and in retrospect, they will not seem as bad as time moves on. The challenges may just turn out to be a bump that looked like a mountain at the time.

I have found that when I live life with a negative attitude I am saying that I do not respect myself and do not believe success is possible. Try working on displaying a positive attitude and the moods of others and the challenges of life will become easier to deal with.

Choosing to be happy starts with you. No person or thing can make you happy and positive. It is a skill you have to practice and develop when living with chronic pain. When you are able to live in a happy, positive and optimistic light, your life will become a life worth the ups and downs that come with it.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the Power of Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.