By Jennifer Martin, Columnist
A patient of mine told me the other day, “I don’t think I will ever be able to accept my chronic pain. It has completely changed my life.”
I think this is something that most people with chronic pain contend with at some point in time; wanting to hold onto hope that their diagnosis isn’t chronic or not wanting to come to the realization that they will have to live with the pain forever.
When most people hear the word “acceptance” they equate it with the notion that they should feel that it’s okay or it’s alright to have a chronic condition. Many people don’t ever feel okay about having to live with pain or an illness for the rest of their lives. It is not something that is easy to get used to and it’s not fair.
- Accepting chronic pain does not mean giving into it and it doesn’t mean that you stop looking for treatment.
- Accepting chronic pain does not mean accepting a lifetime of suffering.
- Accepting chronic pain does not mean you are never allowed to feel angry or sad.
- Accepting chronic pain does not mean that you have to give up hope for the future.
When I use the word “acceptance,” I mean accepting the reality of your situation and recognizing that this new reality could be permanent. Those of us with chronic conditions may never like this reality and it may never be okay, but eventually it is necessary to accept it and learn to live life with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live.
Acceptance also involves making adaptations and alterations to our lives. We must find new things that bring us joy and we must have hope for the future.
- Accepting chronic pain means learning to live again.
- Accepting chronic pain means advocating for ourselves and our health so that we can be as healthy as possible.
- Accepting chronic pain means learning our limits and learning to cope with feelings of guilt when we have to say “no.”
- Accepting chronic pain means being able to look at your diagnosis as something you have, not who you are. Your condition does not define you.
- Accepting chronic pain means re-evaluating your role as a husband/wife, mother/father, etc. as well as your life’s goals -- and figuring out how you can maintain these roles and attain your goals with your chronic condition.
For many of us, learning to accept our chronic condition isn’t easy. It is a learning process with a lot of ups and downs. It is something we may resist and something we may think impossible. It is difficult to accept something that has completely changed our lives and possibly the direction we thought our life was going to take.
Why is it necessary to accept your chronic condition?
Once you are diagnosed with a chronic condition, it will be always be with you. The sooner you are able to begin the process of acceptance, the sooner you will be able to learn exactly how to live with it. It is also how you will learn to cope.
Accepting chronic pain means learning to live life in a different way than before your diagnosis. It means learning to pace your activities, educating yourself, taking your medications, advocating for yourself, and surrounding yourself with support. It also means accepting that some aspects of your condition are out of your control.
Chronic pain can be unpredictable. There may be days when you feel in control of your pain and you are able to accomplish everything you would like to. There may also be days when your pain is unbearable, you feel angry about your situation, and all you can do is rest. Accepting your chronic pain means adjusting and adapting to the ways in which your life is different now that you may be living with this kind of unpredictability.
Your life may never go back to what it was prior to your chronic pain. But that doesn’t mean you can’t live a happy, successful, hopeful life with pain. Learning to accept your chronic pain can help you get there.
Jennifer Martin, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist in Newport Beach, California who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. In her blog “Your Color Looks Good” Jennifer writes about the psychological aspects of dealing with chronic pain and illness.
Jennifer is a professional member of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and has a Facebook page dedicated to providing support and information to people with Crohn’s, Colitis and Digestive Diseases, as well as other types of chronic pain.
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.