Chronic pain: Who am I?


I don’t like this term people put on the chronically ill or people with chronic pain. You’re so brave. I don’t know, it seems like a word inflicted upon people with chronic pain when people do not get it. They do not get that there were two roads diverging in the woods; they took the main road and we took the less travelled because the other one was blocked. There wasn’t an option there, man. I would have taken the main road. Hell, yeah.

Dude, brave is when you confront something you fear and you do it anyway. I have no choice in this. Maybe I am brave to continue to exist rather than not exist but that is about it.

Chronic Pain: Who am I?

Bravery isn’t from no options.

Trust me if two roads diverged in the woods I would not have chosen the crappy road with large potholes, uphill both ways, twists and turns, pits of despair and other traps. Nope. Not for me. No thanks. I’d have taken that nice paved road, thanks.

From years of suffering we persevere, we endure, we survive, we fight. We break and we are made.

We are stronger than you will ever know.

And weaker than you will ever know.

We cope well with adversity

And we cope crappy with adversity.

Chronic pain is constant. It is relentless. And with that… No One can be strong All the Time. No one. No one can fight all the time. Sometimes we just need an effing break. And sometimes the pain just breaks us. And sometimes it really makes us because we learn to persevere and live in the pain gaps and learn to survive and no one teaches you to do that.

Badass, yes.

And when it comes down to it… that makes us truly and utterly BADASS. We are sailing through the hurricane screaming at the storm to BRING IT ON because we know that storm. We know it well. It has tanked our boat before. And damn it all we just made another one and it is stronger in its broken places.

Strong, yes

So I don’t feel strong 90% of the time. And yet, I actually am. I may not feel it but to endure this day in, day out, no break in sight, you are strong whether you think you are or not. Sometimes we feel like we are and we fight the good fight. Sometimes we do not feel like we are and we just need to rest. But we actually are overall… in the long term for getting through this life. That is strong as fuck, my friends.

Brave, no. But courageous, yes.

When you fear something and you do it any way you are courageous. I have to do things in pain. I don’t want to but I have to have some sort of life. And that is courageous. Conquering that which would consume me. Oh, sometimes it wins. A lot of the time it wins. But I win too. I get out and about sometimes. I do some things. I work in a life despite the pain… I will fight the good fight.

Take this study into consideration when you look at yourself and your life with chronic illness

Objective: To explore what people with chronic illness describe as their strengths relevant to their health and well-being.
Setting and Participants: Thirty-nine participants (11 men) from 4 outpatient selfmanagement programmes were recruited to individual or group interviews. Participants
included patients with chronic respiratory disease (n = 7), chronic pain (n = 18) and
morbid obesity (n = 14). Interviews were analysed using content analysis.
Results: A number of personal strengths were reported and categorized into 3 domains: (i) Internal strengths, (ii) External strengths and (iii) Self-management strategies.
Internal strengths included being persistent, having a positive outlook, being kind and
caring, experiencing positive emotions, being kind towards oneself, reconciling oneself
with the situation, having courage and having knowledge and insight. External
strengths included support from family, friends, peers and health-care providers. Selfmanagement strategies included being active, planning and prioritizing, reducing
stress, goal setting and seeking knowledge and help.
Discussion and Conclusion: The study provides insights into personal strengths as reported by people with chronic illness. The results complement prior findings on
strengths in people with health challenges and can aid in incorporating person-centred
approaches into health care.

Maybe we should think about our coping in the beginning to now in the present and think about all the things we have learned then to now. What positive traits have you gained from coping with pain? What value do you put on your support system? What value do you put on yourself and what you can do? How do you see your self and your identity?

Maybe you see yourself as a fighter. As badass. As a warrior. And how you view yourself and your experience with chronic pain may help you cope with it in various ways. The way you treat yourself with compassion. The gratitude you have for what you have. Your acceptance for your condition but the fight to improve. And that is your Internal Strength right there.

External strength is all our support system. Our family. Our friends. Our spouse. Our pets. Our medical team. Our goals, strategies and plans we set short-term and long-term.

Like I said, we have boatloads of strength. We just do not always see it. It has grown with us. And been there all along. And it is even there on our worst days when we focus on self-care… maybe there most of all, eh?

Either way, I think as I get older I feel like I am no longer in Conflict with my body. I am working with my body, as it is, for better wellbeing overall in the best way possible. In any way possible. It isn’t a battle: Me against this body. It is me; body, mental, emotional wellbeing all embodied together fighting the good fight to cope with the illnesses I have. The fight isn’t against Me it is For a better quality of life.

With arthritis, another study found certain psychological traits developed to help people cope:

  • Optimism
  • Benefit finding
  • Gratitude
  • Self-compassion

I have talked about Gratitude and self-compassion before because I feel for our emotional well-being with chronic illness and chronic pain it is vital for us to maintain. I am not an optimist by nature. I am a realist. But I can be optimistic about a treatment plan. About a medication. That sort of thing. Benefit finding (Benefit finding, the capacity to construe benefits from stressful events or circumstances, is one way that people derive meaning from challenging events that can facilitate adjustment-study)- is where we might find the benefit of our support system, the closeness to our friends and family… instead of feeling like a burden for example. These are things that we can cultivate in ourselves. I think self-compassion for me was a really hard one… I was pretty brutal on myself. I am getting better. And coping long-term is bit by little bit tweaks to how we cope.

It is all about what we cultivate in ourselves. Our identity is a story we tell ourselves… about ourselves. And it can be Crushed when we lose our capacity to work. And we have to rewrite that story. That is just one example. Fact is your self-identity changes throughout your life. And you have some influence on that by cultivating how you think of who you are.  And sometimes the story we tell about ourselves is just lies. Horrible lies. And we have to see, truly see, how we have coped and changed and adapted through time. There is a lot of traits that we developed and traits that grew in strength that helped us survive.

Things I know about myself now that I didn’t before

  • I am persistent
  • I persevere
  • I am very determined
  • I’m stronger than I think, especially if you think long-term
  • I have worth and value outside of work
  • I should have some self-compassion for what I cannot do
  • I should focus on what I can do-not Fixate on what I can’t
  • I am introspective and thoughtful
  • I care about the wellbeing about those around me
  • I am not a burden
  • I have grown a lot in how I cope

Write a good story about yourself and just make it so. Practice some gratitude and self-compassion. If being a warrior, a fighter, brave, strong, courageous… resonates with you then you own that as part of who you are in your coping. Go forth and exemplify it.

But keep in mind I’m not suggesting we all be positive happy-happy joy-joy freaks about our sucky situation. I’m just saying we grow. And we grow in different ways. And sometimes with chronic pain, we have some seriously negative coping strategies… I know I did. Because it is really difficult to survive this road. We can’t cope perfectly all the time. But we grow from those hard times. Grow the hard way but grow, nonetheless. And I hope we all progress bit by bit in a way that helps us cope better every year. I hope that I do as well. It is the best we can hope for.

See also:

Gratitude

Chronic pain and self-compassion

The story we tell ourselves
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