Being resilient to fight chronic pain seems like a fairly gentle topic. A story on it earlier this month set off a debate among our readers on the National Pain Report website and our Facebook page that is worthy of follow up.
The story quoted a Michigan psychologist, Afton Hassett, Psy.D. who told the 8th annual Women in Pain Conference in Los Angeles a number of ways that positive emotions can help people fight their chronic pain.
Her message was quite simple–resilient exercises aren’t going to make your pain go away, but they can increase the quality of life.
“When you feel happier, you do more and it puts you on an upward spiral.”
A number of readers saw the story and were dubious.
On Facebook, Priscilla Reese wrote: “How can life be enjoyed while you’re in continuous pain? It’s not considered living a full life.
In the comment section on the National Pain Report site, a woman identifying herself as Patti shared, “This is the kind of thinking that’s the undoing of the treatment of chronic pain. You’re just not “resilient” enough so therefore your pain must have an emotional cause; here, take these dangerous antidepressants.”
A woman named Misti reacted even more negatively: “Doctors who want us to channel our good thoughts are not sharing our pain, or have not worn our shoes or they would be advocating other doctors and the government to treat us as humans with legitimate issues of pain that should be treated correctly and enough of under treating us or not treating us at all.”
In a follow-up interview with Dr. Hassett in Michigan, she said she was surprised by the chasm that seems to exist between those embrace the resilience argument and those who see it negatively.
“Everyone is resilient. It is a matter of how we can build it,” she said. “It is not a substitute for medication or intervention, but there are some things that every person can do.”
One of our long-time readers is Michele Thompson who both suffers from chronic pain and formerly worked for a chronic pain company. She shared on Facebook her observations during a recent visit to her pain management office. It reflects the diversity in how people deal with their pain.
“What amazes me is the differences in attitudes: the person with all the operations and broken bones was still optimistic and cheerful and making great strides towards recovery, while the CTS patient was nothing but “woe is me”. Attitude is EVERYTHING when it comes to pain management.”
Step one, she said, is to stop identifying yourself as a “chronic pain patient.”
“That’s giving the pain all the power.”
For Rehabilitation expert (and mother of a chronic pain patient), Terri Lewis, Ph.D., how you fight chronic pain is a process.
“Persons who have chronic pain go through stages of grieving. How they come out the other side has a lot to do with resilience. Early in the process there is a clear notion that they have suffered great loss that they are not responsible for choosing, and may perceive conversations about resilience as being told to ‘suck it up and get over it, get on with it..’ Understanding the context of grief and loss in relationship to resilience is important.”
Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace, a non-profit that focuses on the unique issues facing women in pain. Her organization sponsored the Women in Pain Conference which focused on resiliency and where Dr. Hassett shared her thoughts.
“What I’ve learned is that many people are unable to accept that their pain will most likely be with them for the rest of their life. They understandably want a magic pill to make the nightmare go away. They don’t want to think about having to manage or cope with their pain like exercising, positive thinking, healthy diet, building a support system – all of these practices are aspects of resilience over the long-term.”
Dr. Hassett knows that chronic pain sufferers often have to deal with feelings of isolation, hopelessness and helplessness.
What’s key, she believes, is a patient committing to it and try to identify something good that has happened each day.
“Everyone has bad days,” she said, “but little by little you can start to see good things happening which can put you on an upward spiral. It won’t cure your chronic pain, but it can help your manage it better.”
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