Accepting and Enduring Chronic Pain

Accepting and Enduring Chronic Pain

By Jessica Martin

“Acceptance does not mean resignation.  It means something is what it is and there has to be a way through it.”

-Michael J. Fox

I received an email today from a very strong girl who I will call A.  She is in the process of doing the bravest thing she will ever do but also the most difficult and confusing.  Her email goes as follows:

Dear Jessica,

I just wanted to know how you accepted the pain and got on with life?  I am spending half of my time crying and the rest of the time just whizzing around trying to forget about the pain.  It’s hard isn’t it?

Here’s what I shared.

Dear A,

Hard is not a big enough word for how difficult the journey of accepting chronic pain and learning how to not allow the illness to get in the way of living.  The first year for me was the most difficult part and it took tons of practice.  Practice never makes perfect but it does make permanence.   I took a few months off of college and practiced a routine to manage chronic pain without medication or treatment and have been practicing the same routine since: fourteen years now!  I used to cry all the time after I left the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  While in the pain rehab center, I was with fifteen other people who knew exactly how I felt and was given the same routine every day for a month that was with other people.

Then, BAM I was home, alone, and it took so much strength to keep to that routine and not fall back into behaviors that I knew would ruin all the progress I had made since my acceptance of chronic pain.  I had to write out my routine every day for almost a year: a list of things people without chronic pain never have to think about.  Acceptance is the hardest part so my reader is much further along than she believes.

I love what Michael J. Fox says: “Acceptance is not a form of resignation.  It means something is what it is and there has to be a way through it.”  I have adored Michael J. Fox since his days on the show: “Family Ties” and his hit movie: “Back to the Future.”   He has accepted his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease and although his disease is always there, he has found a way through: not out but through.

You do not forget you have a disease such as chronic pain or Parkinson’s disease: that is the practice of non-resistance and the opposite of acceptance.  There is a big difference between forgetting and distracting and that must be clear.  If you go into accepting chronic pain with an outcome in mind or with a thought that you will forget you have pain one day, you will most likely prolong the process of living as opposed to surviving.

I live with chronic pain every day of my life.  I made some room for it in my daily life so it does not get in the way of my dreams and my desire to live.  I have made changes in my life and I live a certain way in order to manage pain so that it does not manage me.  Everyone needs to give themselves a break and slow down on the expectations.

You must allow yourself to cry and to feel the feelings you feel.  I promise you what you are feeling is normal and I am living proof that life gets better but this is a journey and it can be long with ups and downs.  That is okay.  I do not know how I got here and how I accepted pain as this disease stole so much of my life but I know I did it.  I also know all of you can do the same.  You are not alone.  All your feelings are validated, normal, and with time and patience will pass.

Editor’s Note Jessica Martin is a 34-year old stay at home mom with a three year old daughter and lives in New Jersey. She was severely injured in a bicycle accident 20 years ago when she was only 14 and has battled chronic pain since. She blogs on chronic pain and you can read more of her work at noonegetsflowersforchronicpain.com. She will continue to contribute to the National Pain Report

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Authored by: Jessica Martin

There are 15 comments for this article
  1. Jean Price at 8:00 am

    Annette…depending on where you live, there are many Mayo clinics across the country. I only have experience with the one in Rochester Minnesota but it was fantastic! Look on the Internet for Mayo.com and you’ll find what you need. You do not need a referral! You just call, give them an idea of what you need, and make an appointment. They’ll ask you some questions so they can get you in the right place and ask you to bring all your records and any hard copy of X-rays, etc. (you’ll get those back before you even see the doctor, because they put it all in your file!). Accommodations are available at a discount and also airline tickets that don’t have penalties for changing the dates., even for someone accompanying you. Just tell them you are going to Mayo and need to talk to the person that helps with medical ticketing. Best of luck, dear. Mayo is how health care should be and could be…excellent and patient oriented! Can’t say enough about my experience there!

  2. Annette at 6:27 pm

    I have had chronic pain for more than 12 years and have had almost every treatment known to man. Am taking high doses of opioids. How do I get ahold of the Mayo pain clinic?👵🏼😎

  3. Terry at 1:37 pm

    The anti-drug establishment is not addressing the heroin epidemic in America rather they would like to approach it in a misdirection they would have you look at chronic pain sufferers and opiate addiction as the main causes of death in America but more people have died of heroin overdoses than opiate addict opiate abuse 500000 people have died from automobile accidents and alcohol related alcohol event why doesn’t da regulate who gets a drivers license or the alcohol industry and go after pain sufferers why doesn’t Congress or anybody and do in Washington have to sign a pain contract why are they considered above the law of the rest of America

  4. Stephen S. Rodrigues, MD at 10:10 am

    T. Potterf and all of you who which to know; This is best reason I have uncovered:

    The year was 1968 when Hippocrates teachings were trashed.

    Everyone knows that if you tell a lie you will have to tell cover up lies and deceptions to keep the original lie alive. The lie has to be kept safe from discovery.

    It’s taken me 32 years to figure this out, when a few influential group of men promoted the first artificial knee replacement. This procedure to treat pain was not suppose to be. It is incomplete, illogical, not science-based and breaks all of the ethical codes.

    This event in time should not of happened. Someone should have stopped it from happening again in future years. But as time passed the rewards were HUGE and investors were already chomping at the bit for more profits.

    So this influential group of people simply changed the rules. So every policy and procedure related to pain had to be flawed and redesigned; Pain was now in the skeleton. Pain is now not in the muscles.

    These influential parties then went into the insurance industry to tainted, bar and barricade benefits away from muscles to that of skeleton.

    Another tragic event can be read in a lawsuit between the AMA vs chiropractors. The AMA went out on a multi-million dollar defamation campaign to destroy chiropractors. They were very successful and you can still feel the negative effects of the betrayal today.

    So to get everyone to believe that pain can only be surgically removed, ALL of the safe, natural and restorative options had to be negated, marginalized put away out of your reach. This is why they are costly and not covered by insurance.

    We ALL, without exception, are living with this huge monster of a flesh and blood eating system. It is now “self contained” and running a muck. It has no heart, no compassion, no honor, no integrity or does not care about anyone. It will sacrifice any man, woman or child. It simply is devouring anyone who enters it’s path.

    The original seed lie is a simple invisible trick. Now you cannot see the “seed” because of the dense forest of trees hiding the lie.

  5. Jean Price at 5:58 pm

    I had no idea there was a religion (other than the CDC, our government, and the DEA!!), that discounts pain medication to treat chronic pain! I bet God is unhappy about that! Some people need a more narrow view of God so they won’t get outside his love, I think…and I don’t mean this as disrespectfully as it sounds. It’s just that I see religion as a set of beliefs like a language to understand how God fits in your life. And how you fit in his purpose. Religion isn’t God, but it tries to provide a gathering place for like minded people to learn about God, and worship and give thanks for all He gives us. Some religions are more accepting than others of the frailties of the human spirit, and the body…it would seem. The woman mentioned in an earlier comment must have had an awful time dealing with pain and being true to her religious belief, and surviving each day. I don’t doubt to her the future looked darker than she could bear to be in! So very sad. I think Jessica’s article tells what worked for her, in hopes it might help or work for someone who reads it. Aren’t all these articles for that purpose? To give us knowledge, keep us updated, and be supportive! And Dr. Oberg…she didn’t have to do the same in a different situation, because that wasn’t where she was at and that’s not what she faced everyday, as I’m assuming you did. Like pain, acceptance can’t really be measured, and for me and I assume others…our acceptance is challenged or in need of revision on really bad days. Pain, its treatment, our acceptance, and I guess you could even say God are definitely not one-size-fits-all issues. We chose a size we think will fit, or work on being a different size and do the best we can. No competition and no judging, just compassion…even if we don’t understand another’s choice or their approach.

  6. Jessica Martin at 2:45 pm

    Thank you all for reading! I just want to say that I know two ppl who lost their lives because of chronic pain. Neither were religious but chronic pain was too much to bear and they took their lives. I pray for their families daily as that was almost me. I am not in any formal religion nor judge anyone who is. I do not feel anyone should be forced to do anything especially when it comes to chronic pain
    I chose to accept pain and manage it naturally and that is what works for me but my method is not for everyone.

  7. BL at 1:59 pm

    Bob Schubring, often those that feel they need to suffer have mental and/or emotional problems. The Lord is full of compassion and understanding. The Lord gave us the ability to make the pain meds. The Lord doesn’t control how they are used. I am 62 and I have known many that are strong in their faith and they believe in Divine Healing and some have received it. But, they take the medications that they need and that their drs prescribe.

  8. Richard Oberg M.D. at 12:03 pm

    Thanks Bob Schubring! I’ve been reticent to say this myself but see it embedded in the religious culture of the south where I live and also the dominant very religious physicians who practice here. Most in our 5th largest city in Tennessee have never written a script for opioids long term and never will. It makes it much easier to ‘just say no’ since their religion is dictating their behavior and they’re almost guaranteed to not have chronic pain issues to any significant degree and be in full time practice.

    Yet physicians overall here are claimed responsible for ‘driving the opioid epidemic’ in these high-outlier states. When you begin gathering data, you find those in positions to say will tell you ‘it’s mostly in East Tennessee’ which I’ve heard over and over. That’s over 400 miles from where I live in West TN. and I guess means we’re going to throw out 3/4 of the more populous areas here and act as if this is one homogeneous place? BCBS tells us there are pockets where people can get care and also pockets of problems. They most certainly know this at the State Board level. My suspicions are it’s this way everywhere. But the powers that be just can’t do anything about it because they don’t approve of it (getting opioid pain care) in the first place and are happy to see it collapse.

    This is destruction of pain care by design and belief. No disrespect to Jessica Martin, but I wonder if she’d say the same thing in a full time diagnostic in-house pathology practice working 60hr/week with 23 years of bad psoriatic arthritis? Without help from opioids I’d have been out 20 years sooner provided by the one small internist group in our large system who’d do it.

  9. Danny Elliott at 10:38 am

    I certainly appreciate the sentiment behind this approach and hope that manycan vbenefit from it. However, like most things, it can’t work for everyone. After 25 years of severe, chronic head pain, I find that I go through cycles where there are times that I know that, when my pain is at its worse, I know it will ease off at some point and I’m fairly comfortable with that. But, the other cycle is when I find that I’m having great difficulty, knowing that even when it eases off, it’ll be coming back soon and there’s nothing I can do to prevent being holed up in a dark, quiet room for days or weeks at a time. I use all of the relaxation and biofeedback techniques that I’ve been taught, and they do help a little. I have meds that turn the pain down from a
    9/10 to maybe 7/8. But, I certainly agree that a “positive” attitude can be beneficial. I just can’t be positive all of the time. As for the physical “treatments” mentioned in a previous comment, there aren’t any ways to massage or stretch the brain. With my kind of brain damage, I have to live with it, knowing it will never heal itself. I spend what time I can function searching the Internet for possible breakthroughs in brain research, hoping that some day, one will lead to a treatment for me or, at least, someone like me in the future.

  10. T. Potterf at 10:17 am

    I would like to respond to another commenter Rodrigues MD. You are so right, no one should have to live with chronic pain but many millions of Americans have to every single day. All of those things you listed cost money and time and that is not always available to everyone financially. That is the trouble with our medical system now, when you are in pain, you are looked at as a drug seeker then when you are finally believed, the cost is too high for most of us to pay on disability so we suffer. This article was very helpful to me though because I am at that acceptance phase of my life and each day I try to live the best I can and pray that my pain levels will not be higher then a 7.

  11. HOWARD H HEROLD at 10:05 am

    Ive had two failed back surgery’s !! one is a fusion, both failed. I would like to see someone in the government, deal with constant pain 24×7, if our opioids are taken away, you will be setting people crazy !!!!
    RESPECTFULLY

  12. Jean Price at 9:01 am

    Jessica…thanks for your great article! It speaks about what I call the first task of grieving the losses chronic pain brings. A change happens and we have losses from that change, as we do with all changes in life…even the good changes like becoming a mom or getting a new job or retiring. Chronic pain for me was like instantly aging…only aging wasn’t supposed to hurt so much, I figured! But this did. Accepting the reality of our situation is so different than accepting the pain itself. I think many struggle with this difference a lot, especially at first. If we accepted the pain itself, we wouldn’t seek help trying to fix it or make it go away. Yet the RE ALITY of the pain is the elephant in the room. Accepting this new truth about ourselves, this change, is the first step on the road to healthy grief work. The goal of grieving is to eventually create a new life for ourselves which includes the reality of our life changes, and for us…the pain it brought. We are faced with all the feelings of loss, and we need to allow and process them…the anger, frustration, simple depression, disbelief, blaming, to name just a few. Yet the flip side of our acceptance is denial of the reality of the change. Although denial can be helpful in getting us through the shock of a tragedy…it is destructive if we try to hold on to it, ignoring our feelings, and living a lie. And it takes so much energy! Plus we can start using behaviors and substances (like abusiveness, food, overspending, alcohol, withdrawing, any number of unhelpful blocks) to help our denial! When someone looses a loved one in death, we often hear them say statements like “I can’t believe he is gone.” or “I can’t believe this happened.”. We all go through similar feelings when we start life with pain. Yet it’s so important to get through this and not start using denial to cope! It doesn’t help and it leads to a bleak life. For me, my loss happened as I was reaching out to put a bottle in a cabinet at waist level!! Although my back had been deteriorating for years, this was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back, so to speak. And it broke mine too! Every day since then has had pain in it. The losses don’t just stop with pain, either…we have ripple losses of many other things along the way…our ways of functioning, our jobs, our incomes, our social life’s…you all know theses losses. However, with each loss, we also can get better and quicker getting through the acceptance task…even though we don’t like it any better. That’s partially due to having truly accepted the initial loss, the first change we experienced with our bodies which will most likely always be a part of life. Telling our story is important and it’s another task of healthy grieving. It helps moves us through to a new level of acceptance and opens the door to being able to create a new view of life which includes our pain and our new levels of function. Eventually this will lead to reinvesting the time and energy we used to spend on things we can no longer do and we can begin to do different things, have different goals, have a fuller life within the pain. This whole process isn’t easy and we need support and we need to practice it. Yet it’s the pivotal point of reclaiming our life. I’m so glad you have waded through the deep water and come out on the other side….the view from here is so much nicer and peaceful! And that first step is a doozy! Yet, it’s possible, and that’s what counts!

  13. Stephen S Rodrigues MD at 8:27 am

    No one should have to live in long term pain.

    These are restorative options which are not being offered in full force. All focus energy into the muscular system so tissues can heal from inside:

    Massage, Tissue release; strain and counterstrain; spray and stretch and Joint and Spinal Manipulations.
    Thin intramuscular needling options, Dry needling, GunnIMS, Chinese, Japanese, French Energetic and various other “Acupuncture Disciplines.”
    Hypodermic intramuscular needling options, Wet Needling aka Tender Point Stimulative Needling, Tendon and Ligament Injections.

    Gods Blessings

  14. Bob Schubring at 8:20 am

    Last summer I buried a young friend who went to the same Mayo Clinic “accept-your-pain-without-meds” cult. She accepted her disease and it still killed her.

    Her objection to taking pain meds was on religious grounds.

    We cannot force people to change their deeply-held religious beliefs, because they consider those beliefs to be a source of their quality of life, even if we find the beliefs ridiculous.

    However, people whose religion tells them to force themselves to suffer pain, should not dictate to the rest of us, how we deal with pain.

    The anti-drug cult that maintains US drug policy, is attempting to establish itself as a National Church of sorts. The US Constitution prohibits Congress from establishing such a church. Accordingly, patients’ needs must be addressed in the real world…not in the guise of some belief system that demands suffering.

  15. Alvin Hill at 6:47 am

    This is an appealing and very sensible way to approach chronic pain, especially regarding the distinction between acceptance and resignation. I suspect that many people who suffer from this disease will benefit from your analysis and encouragement.