There is a moment when you realize that your pain just isn’t leaving. It has morphed from pain to chronic pain.
You may remember that moment very well. I certainly do.
I was driving down the road after a doctor’s appointment in which I was informed that my Thoracic Outlet Syndrome was not getting any better, that I would most probably have it for the rest of my life, and that, in fact, it was most likely going to get progressively worse.
The Awful Truth
Oh, I see, this isn’t going away any time soon. Or in the vernacular: I am really screwed.
And even though I had been living with pain 24/7 for the past year, I just kept thinking it was about to leave. I had always healed from things in the past. Nothing had ever stuck around this long. Any day now it was going to lift and just disappear.
Except it hadn’t. And it wasn't going to, apparently.
And I finally let that in.
I felt depressed, lost, desolate, and hopeless for a while. I mean, what are you supposed to do with that kind of news? There’s only so much positive thinking you can muster up to deal with an authoritative statement like that.
Accepting What's True
And, certainly, a doctor’s prognosis carries a lot of weight and does influence our ability to keep going, to keep a positive attitude, and to believe in ourselves and our ability to heal.
On the other hand, I’m grateful to have been told the truth. I now realize that the moment in the car when I allowed myself to accept the truth of my situation was probably the first step toward deep healing.
I had to accept that life had changed. Instead of assuming I was just going to get better by default, because that’s what always happened in the past, I had to come to grips with the fact that I had a condition that didn’t benefit by pretending it wasn’t all that bad.
I needed to make some lifestyle accommodations so that I didn’t keep causing myself more pain by trying to force myself to keep up in ways that really weren’t healthy for me.
I had to learn to simplify, to say no, and to take care of myself in new ways.
And that was hard.
Our Strange, Difficult, Beautiful Journey
It helped me take a longer view on healing and decide what I needed to do that would help me improve over time.
Instead of looking either for a non-existent quick fix, or simply trying to ignore the fact that my body was crying out for help, I had to take serious stock and make some decisions about how I was going to live and heal and ultimately thrive over the long run.
And these choices not only had positive effects on my pain levels, they enriched my life. Because slowing down, getting simple, taking it easy, and learning to say yes and no in appropriate ways taught me a lot about honoring myself and my own path.
Coming to grips with the fact that I was living not just with pain, but with chronic pain was a thoroughly unpleasant realization to have, and I deeply commiserate with those of you who have had to come to that moment. But it was also a very important moment, and a key to beginning to heal on deeper levels.
What a strange, difficult, and oddly beautiful journey we’re on, those of us in chronic pain. Some of the most difficult times of having to face pain, accept it, and just be with it have the potential to also become doors to deep healing and transformation.
Sarah Anne Shockley 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 regular columnist for Pain News Network. Visit her at www.thepaincompanion.com for resources for people in chronic pain and more information on her work.