Power of Pain: How to Boost Your Mental Health

Barby Ingle, Columnist

Let’s face it. Living with any chronic illness is very difficult. When it also involves pain, we are bound to experience changes in our personality, mood, and mental health.

It is hard to admit that we are depressed, snap at others, and take our physical pain out on them. My husband and I spend a lot of time helping others in pain. He has said to me that if I dealt with my pain like some other people do, we would never make it. 

When I first met my husband, I had just come out of a 10 year marriage to someone else. I knew what I wanted -- to figure out what my pain was and get a cure to fix it. I had no intention of dating, let alone getting remarried. 

I have a degree in social psychology and was able to keep in mind that no matter how horrible I felt, it was not the person I was with who was at fault. It wasn’t my fault either. Sometimes things are just because they are. I made a conscious effort to go above and beyond, be thankful, and to never snap at anyone helping me or choosing not to help me, as was the case with my ex-husband. 

I also realized that I needed some tools to cope with my new life. I needed professional help and guidance. Anyone facing the challenges of chronic pain will have “situational depression.” It is normal and common. Who would not be depressed after going from healthy to disabled?

Not only that, but chronic pain affects the limbic system in our brain, where mood is processed. I found that my anxiety and depression rose along with all the other things I was losing. It was very easy to snap at others around me or blame my situation on others. 

The tools I learned through cognitive behavior therapy helped get all of those feelings under control. I saw a few counselors as well as going to group counseling with others who were facing similar situations. I looked at it as an attitude tune-up to remind me of the life tools we need for our mental capacities to function to their best ability. 

Tools that I found most helpful were setting goals, getting organized, spending time outside, meditating, not to sweat the small stuff, and finding my purpose. The “Who am I?” question was where I started. One of the best exercises a counselor had me do was write down who I was. 

I had lost everything, my job, my husband, my house, and my driving privileges. I had trained my whole life to be a cheerleader. I was head coach of a division IA university and owner of a cheer/dance training company. It was my dream and it was all shattered. 

I had the hardest time starting the assignment. What I was since I could remember was a cheerleader. That was all I was, all I knew, all I wanted to be. I couldn’t go back into the counselor’s office with nothing on my paper. But I felt as if I was nothing. I had lost my purpose and doctors were telling me I would never get it back, even though they couldn’t give me a proper diagnosis. 

I called my psychologist and said, “I am failing again, I don’t know where to start, I am nothing anymore.”

He said, “Let’s start with your faith.” 

“I am Catholic,” I told him. “Okay, write that down,” he said. “What do you like most about yourself?” 

“My teeth” I replied. He said, “Write down, I have good teeth.”

I began to see where this was going. I began to look at all the things in my life that I am. 

I am more than this pain I am in. I am more than one thing. I realized that all my life, I had one goal and one dream, but I was so much more. When I was done, I ended up with 78 things on my list of who I am. 

I learned that I am not just a pain patient, I am well rounded and I am unique. We are all unique. Most importantly, I learned I was still a cheerleader. I was just going to have to change how I achieved and continued my purpose. Who I am and what my purpose is are two separate things that intertwine, but my purpose doesn’t define me. 

I encourage people who are having trouble after developing pain to write down their goals. Write down your purpose. Write down who you are. Use it as a reminder to yourself in your toughest moment that you still are! You are important. You count. You matter. 

You can accomplish your goals. The how, when, why, and who will help are yet to be determined, but you now have something to work for. 

Take on the smaller tasks first. Whatever boulder gets in your way is passable. Don’t think I have to go through this, but how can I get past this. Over, under, around, walk, bus, train, plane, there is a way. If it is too big in the moment, break it down even more. 

You don’t have to change your dreams and goals, but you have to find a new way to accomplish them that is not necessarily the easy path. We will all have personal failures, but it’s not over until you give up. That is just part of the path you are taking. 

Let go of the worry and stress of not accomplishing what you want in a specific time frame. Just getting parts done is an accomplishment in itself. No one is perfect, even the healthiest person on earth. Live for the positivity of life and for your own mental health.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International 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 represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.