Below is my story and the mind and body approach I take to manage pain. We are all different just like our pain. What works for me may not work for you. I am not preaching or villainizing. I am simply sharing what has worked for me so others might be able to benefit from my experience.
I have been living with chronic pain for over a decade.
The pain started in 2009 with nerve damage after emergency groin surgery. Four years later, I fell and hit my head. That fall led to a constant headache, a whistling sound in my ear, back and hip pain, tingling and numbness in my hands and feet, electrical shocks in my legs, muscle soreness, and random pain and burning sensations throughout my body.
To find out what was causing my pain, I jumped on the pain merry-go-round. I visited all types of health care providers. I went through x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans, and all sorts of other tests. I attended lectures. And I spent hours searching the Internet.
When all done, my official diagnoses were fibromyalgia, tinnitus, post-concussion syndrome, neuropathy, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
To try to solve my pain, I stayed on the merry-go-round. I took opioid painkillers, non-opioid painkillers, vitamins, and herbs. I had multiple injections. I even had surgery.
While some of these helped, some did not, and some even made things worse. Meanwhile, they all cost me time and money and delayed my pain rehabilitation.
Changing how I think and act towards pain
I was fortunate to attend one of the few interdisciplinary outpatient pain programs in the United States – the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Center.
A team of nurses, doctors, pharmacists, psychologists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists helped me understand what was happening with my body and discover what I needed to do to take back my life.
Programming for the three-week program included medication management, pain education, lifestyle changes, psychological therapy, physical therapy/exercise, occupational therapy, relaxation training, and family therapy.
The program gave me hope for the future. My goal changed from ending the pain to living with it. I learned to accept the pain, adjust to it, and manage it.
Accepting the pain
It is often the struggle with chronic pain that is the worse part of having pain, not the pain itself. The struggle makes it easy to become distressed and feel like a victim. I was once stuck there.
To minimize the struggle, I have come to terms with the pain. It is my “new normal” – accepting there is no immediate cure.
Yes, I hurt. But I know my chronic pain does not signal continued damage to my body.
No, I have not given up hope or resigned myself to a life of misery by accepting the pain. I have learned I can lead a fulfilling and functional life despite of it.
Adjusting to the pain
While important to grieve the past, it is also important to move forward and learn to cope with the pain.
Little did I know how much I would lose from chronic pain including time, relationships, work, and opportunity. Then again, little did I know how much I would gain from chronic pain including a new respect for myself, new friendships, a new job to take care of myself and a new purpose in helping others manage their own pain.
I have adjusted to the pain by recognizing my thoughts, feelings and actions are all connected. How I react to the pain is my choice. I could continue to be a pain sufferer, or I could choose to become a pain champion.
I no longer let chronic pain define me. I am defined by who I am and what I do. I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a mentor, a past-coworker and a professional clown.
Managing the pain
There is no magic pill or medical intervention that makes chronic pain disappear. Sadly, some people with chronic pain may never be pain-free again.
Below are some of the tools I use to manage my pain:
- Non-opioid prescriptions and injections (the Mayo Clinic program helped me taper off “feel good” narcotic pain medicines)
- Acknowledge the pain then let it go so I am not guarded or worried about it (we know what to expect with chronic pain – it is not like suddenly twisting an ankle or getting stung by a bee)
- Deep breathing and relaxation exercises to reduce stress
- Distraction like watching a funny movie or listening to music to focus on something other than the pain
- Moderate and modify what I do to not worsen my symptoms
- Stay active and exercise, especially walk
If you’re interested in the approach I follow, check out my Facebook group Chronic Pain Champions – No Whining Allowed for information, resources, suggestions and support.