Slow Way, Way Down
If you’re a an active person, a parent, a manager, an athlete or anyone else used to moving fast, being a leader, or getting a lot done, this is really hard. You have to be fairly ruthless with yourself. You have to stop yourself from taking care of everything, making sure everyone is alright, organizing things and being a Type A. You just do.
It’s time to let other people do things for you, even if they do them badly in your opinion. That just has to be okay for now. Doing things perfectly isn’t necessarily perfect right now.
What’s perfect for you is giving yourself a break and letting go of taking care of everything you used to take care of.
This usually means changing priorities and re-categorizing many things right off your to-do list. When in acute pain, what remains on the list (after personal hygiene and eating) might be only one or two absolute necessities in a day.
I’m not kidding. One or two absolute necessities. Going to one appointment. Making one important phone call that requires organization and brain power. Resting the remainder of the day.
Let Go of Your Schedule for Healing
It requires a certain kind of emotional balance to neither insist that pain leave (and be constantly disappointed) nor give up hope altogether. The best way I have found to handle the fact that pain isn’t leaving is to let go of my scheduled healing date.
As much as we want it to end right now, our ideas of how long pain should stay don’t seem to be of much concern to pain. Pain has its own purpose, its own timeframe, and its own requirements for what needs to happen before it will leave. We only end up discouraged if we keep noticing how long we’ve already been in pain, and fretting about how long it will be before we’re out of pain.
This doesn’t mean we give up hope, not at all. But I’ve found that a better way to be with pain, and one which, paradoxically seems to ease it, is to resolve to give it the time it needs.
Understand Your Pain-O-Meter
The most useful way I’ve found to monitor my pain levels is to keep a pain diary. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just a way to note down the time, type of pain, and level of pain you experience over the course of a day and continue this for at least a week. This is most useful if you also note your current mood, what you’re doing, and any stressers present at the moment.
This way you can correlate what you are feeling and doing, the time of day, when you rest and when you’re active with how these affect your pain levels.
Tracking your pain makes you aware of any recurring patterns that you might otherwise not have noticed. You can make a little more sense of your pain rhythms during the day. Noticing them allows you to plan around them.
You can download a free template here which you can use as a basis for your pain diary.
Hold Yourself Blameless
Give yourself credit for getting through another day. You are walking a very difficult path. You may not understand the reason for this path, but, one way or another, you are on it.
Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a small child who is hurting. Be gentle, be reasonably positive, let yourself have a good cry when you need it, then brush the dirt off your knees and lift your eyes off the ground.
Yes, sometimes we wish we could have a kind parent or friend do this for us, but often we have to do this for ourselves. And we can. And when we meet others in a similar situation, we can offer them the kindnesses we also desire for ourselves.
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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.