This can create an immense sense of loss which often becomes an overall, pervasive sadness at having had our lives completely immersed in living with, dealing with, and trying to get through pain. This sadness and sense of loss is something we don't often share with others, and it's not always something we even admit to ourselves.
We tend to just live with it. Or we don't recognize it for what it is. It just seems go come with the whole package of living with pain.
Living Outside of Time
The sense of sadness and loss is not only of the time and experiences that are eaten up by pain, but also includes a feeling of losing dreams and goals, as if our connection to the future is also being consumed by pain as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a formula for recovering time that’s been lost to pain, but, over the years, I have found some things that have helped me mitigate the sense of sadness that comes from living with long-term pain.
Pain Is The Landscape You're Passing Through
The pain landscape was nasty, ugly, and burned out, but it was only a landscape, a place I was walking through, not the entire world. I told myself over and over that I I was just passing through this, and I would eventually reach gentler and more beautiful landscapes. (And, in time, I have.) This helped restore a sense of having a future.
Valuing Life, No Matter What
When I went in search for the gifts in the ashes, I realized that living in pain had given me valuable insights. I had gained greater awareness of what others suffer, and greater compassion for others, as well. And for myself. I developed a fuller sense of gratitude for all the relationships in my life, and a deeper appreciation for my body.
Feeling It Comes First
So, for me, recognizing that I was feeling a quiet, but constant, sense of sadness and loss without even realizing it - that these emotions were somehow intertwined with the sensations of being in pain - was a helpful first step in addressing them, and allowing them to release.
Then I worked with choosing other ways to think about what was happening in my life. When it feels like life in pain is meaningless, I remind myself that it is I who chooses the meaning my life has.
I can decide that I have wasted or lost the years I have been in pain, or I can choose to see them as years with a different kind of meaning, sometimes surprisingly rich and deep despite the pain and, sometimes, as much as I don't always want to admit it, because of it.
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. She is a staff columnist for Pain News Network.