a flame-like shape wearing a blue graduation cap,

The Spectre of Chronic Pain

- Some object or source of terror or dread
- A mental image of something unpleasant or menacing

Pain, especially chronic pain, is a personal experience shared by no one. It menaces each one of us in a unique and terrifying way. It is a thief: robbing us of our vital energy, our ability to do the things we love and to live life fully. It is our own personal torturer: causing feelings of helplessness, lack of control, sleep loss, uncertainty, and extreme discomfort.

Yes, I’d say calling chronic pain a spectre is a pretty accurate description!

September is Pain Awareness Month

September was Pain Awareness Month and today I want to honor everyone who, like me, carries pain with them wherever they go. I have to say, although the experience of pain is unique to everyone, we are not alone: One in ten people in the U.S. suffers from chronic pain or about 25 million people.

The 25 million of us who walk with pain have many barriers to health. There is very little support for us unless we have a lot of extra cash because many of the treatments that help alleviate pain are not covered by insurance and very expensive. Our doctors do the best they can, but with new regulations about prescribing opioids, it is getting harder and harder for them to do their job.

Daily life is getting to be more of a struggle as well as our economy tightens its belt, and this puts even more pressure on our painful bodies. Times are tough for those of us in pain.

Recognizing and taking care of those living with chronic pain

As Americans we inherently are dreamers. This, to me, is one of the things that make me proud to live in this country- we show the world how to dream. My dream today, for myself and everyone who bravely lives in pain, is this: I Dream of an America that takes care of its citizens in pain.

We already know what to do. The NIH (National Institute of Health) along with many other organizations that research treatment of pain have laid out comprehensive treatment guidelines, all of which recommend using complementary techniques such as acupuncture, self-management classes, massage, biofeedback, meditation, electrical stimulation, and cognitive processing therapy. They also recommend the use of a healthcare team in order to support and educate a person on how to live their best life pain or no.

The recommendations are there. The knowledge is there. It is only access and funding that is lacking. Maybe, just maybe, if we keep dreaming, keep asking, and demanding when we have to, we will begin to get the care we need.

4 tips for better coping with chronic pain

So, today, take a minute to honor yourself and your chronic pain peers. And, if you have the energy, think about one thing you can do to spread awareness about pain. Most importantly, commit to yourself to start shifting your habits in order to decrease your pain. As someone who has had 45 years of experience with this, here are a few pointers you can consider:

  • Next time you go to your doctor, ask for more support. You can start with asking to see an occupational or physical therapist, both of which are generally covered by insurance and can offer many things to help with your pain. Other health care practitioners that you can consider seeing as well would be a psychotherapist, a nutritionist, or a social worker.
  • Think about whether you have the resources to seek out alternative therapies, and if you don’t, start a savings account that you can add to until you do have the resources. Over the years I’ve tried many things and I can fully recommend acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, low-level laser therapy, far infrared saunas, tai chi, yoga, mindfulness, and guided imagery. I highly recommend that you do your due diligence when seeking people out, making sure that they have the experience and training you will need.
  • Get to know your pain. After 45 years, I know that I can push my body a certain amount but if I go too far it takes awhile to get my strength back. Pay attention, especially when you are having busier days, and see if there are ways you can alter your routine in order to decrease your pain.
  • Treat your pain every day, even on good days. Have a daily routine that includes something that you know decreases your pain level. In my pain toolbox, I have many things that help me to handle my pain depending on the issue of the day. I have a wand massager, heating and ice packs, an electrical therapy machine, a sauna, splints, adaptive equipment, and good, old-fashioned exercise and rest, among other things in my toolbox. It’s taken me many years to accumulate these things but each one has given me a little bit of freedom from my pain.

The unsual teacher that is chronic pain

Finally, one last thing to keep in mind-Pain has a lot to teach you. Over the years, as I’ve struggled against my pain, I’ve also learned so much about how to be a better, stronger person.

When I have let go of the anger, frustration, and helplessness that pain has created, I’ve allowed myself to see the gifts it has given me. Pain has helped me learn humbleness, compassion, self-honesty, gratitude, fortitude, inner strength, and resilience. Maybe there is a light, however small, within the experience of pain.

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