Depression, hopelessness, helplessness, frustration, loneliness, sadness, grief, anxiety, stress, and rage: a plethora of emotional reactions and states come with living in pain.
Outside the purview of most medical practitioners to address, these feelings are often left unrecognized and unacknowledged, yet they are very, very real.
If our emotions are not seen, not treated as a normal side effect of living with pain–if they are not openly
Sometimes, we feel ashamed for even having them. We wonder, am I the only one who feels this way? Why isn’t anyone talking about this? We are asked about our physical pain, our conditions, or our illness, but our emotional suffering is often not addressed, or even acknowledged.
Climbing Out of the Well
So, we might avoid feeling the emotional side of physical pain because it just seems like too much to deal with. We feel alone in our angers, our shames, our sadness, and our fears. Over time, it can seem like we’ve always felt this lost or this lonely or this helpless, and that makes it more difficult to feel hopeful about the future.
We may numb ourselves out to try to keep the additional pain away, but at some point, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge that living with chronic pain is affecting us deeply on an emotional level. Holding all of these emotions at bay may help us cope in the short run, but may not serve us in the long term.
Avoiding feelings doesn’t make them go away. Pushing emotions down can increase feelings of depression (we are literally pressing down or de-pressing them), and can lead to a continued sense of victimization and hopelessness. Not responding to the very real emotional needs we have during this difficult time is almost like victimizing ourselves by refusing to “hear” our own cries for help. We withdraw further from life, and from ourselves, as a result.
It’s very helpful to let ourselves be heard – maybe by a close friend, but certainly also by ourselves. We read our words out loud back to ourselves. We listen to our tones or song. We pay attention to our movements as we express. We become our own therapist, our own witness.
In this way, we learn to be with ourselves in pain in a more emotionally healthy and balanced way. In expressing and sharing, we find we are not the only ones who are going through these emotional challenges. In expressing our emotional pain, we allow it to release and move through us and out. This relieves some of the stress we're under, allows us to practice compassion toward ourselves and honor rather than dismiss the very normal, very real, and very deep emotional responses we have toward this challenging journey we're on.
Sarah Anne Shockley has lived with nerve pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since 2007. She is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom For Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain and Living Better While Living With Pain.