If you are dealing with chronic pain, I know firsthand how difficult it can be. I’m not just saying I understand, I really do understand. I am living your life and I have compiled 10 tips to survive chronic pain in a fast-paced world. I hope that my mistakes will help someone turn things around early on instead of later as it took me to do.
Going from the caretaker to the patient was one of the hardest transitions for me. I spent many lunch breaks sitting with patients dealing with pain while not really understanding it at all. I felt sympathetic and wanted to do everything I could for them, but I never grasped how a person’s life could change in a blink of an eye from chronic pain. And I really did not understand how pain could take over someone’s life.
And then tragedy struck me. And boy was it a wake-up call. I’d never had to deal with pain before on an ongoing basis. I’d been prescribed pain meds through the years for different things but I never filled a single prescription. Not a one. Until that moment.
Before I go any further, I want you to know that my post is not going to take your pain away. It’s not going to allow you to stop taking whatever medicines your doctor has you on. It’s not a magic cure. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time so if you’re looking for a cure for chronic pain, I’m sorry, I don’t have it. However, if you’re at the point in your pain journey that you want to take control of your pain and live your life to the fullest despite your pain, I hope you’ll continue to read this post. I’m taking the time to post it in the event that it might help even one single person.
To bring you up to date if you don’t already know my story, it started with a visit to my OB/GYN’s office. I was having some issues and it was advised to me that I need to have a hysterectomy, or, I needed to have a hysterectomy. Yes, it was that serious. With no other choice really, or not liking the other choice I should say, I had the hysterectomy.
Waking up from that, was a bit scary. I felt something wasn’t quite right with my back. Every time I’d complain they’d give me pain medicine. And for the first time in my life, I not only wanted it, I felt I needed it. As persistent as I was, they were equally so that it was normal for me to feel aches and pains after the surgery.
Fast forward a few months and I was still experiencing pain to the point all I wanted to do was stay in the bed all day. I was not able to return back to work when I should have been ready to. The pain was not letting up. Finally, I took matters into my own hands and made an appointment at a sports clinic that I’d referred many of our patients to in the past. They took x-rays, CT scans, and an MRI of my back and they turned me away. They weren’t touching my back, no way no how. There was nothing they could do for me. Due to the position, I was in during my hysterectomy, my spine collapsed, disks blew out, something strange happened and it was because my bones were weak and no one knew that at the time.
For the next 3 years, I ended up going to 17 different specialists and all of them turned me away. No one wanted to touch my back with a knife. Not a single one of them. I wish I had listened to them but I felt like the right doctor was all that was needed to fix my spine. By this time, I really believe that anything would be better than having to live with the pain and there were even times when I wished they would try the surgery and it would paralyze me. At least I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain. Those were desperate times. And I thank God for unanswered prayers.
17 specialists later, I returned to the very first place I sought help for my back. Finally, they agreed to do the surgery. But with the condition that I knew how slim the chances were that it would be helpful.
It failed. Not only did it fail, but I was also now faced with an increase in pain that was unimaginable and if that wasn’t enough, I was then faced with the realization that I would be 99% bed bound for the rest of my life. I pouted. I threw a fit. I had rages like you wouldn’t believe. I was MAD. I had a screaming match with the surgeon in his office, in front of patients. Me, someone who had taken a code of ethics and professional conduct course was screaming at another healthcare worker. I was mad at the surgeon, mad at God, mad at myself, mad at anyone who dared smile in my presence.
I really believe I’d still be living this way if it weren’t for the fact that I had my first grandchild. When it was time for my daughter to return to work from maternity leave, she showed up with my grandson, a cooler of bottles, a bottle warmer which she plugged up beside my bed, and a diaper bag of everything he needs. And then she had the nerve to just leave him on the bed beside me. I spent that day just looking at him. Sure, I’d seen him and been around him but when pain is consuming you, you really aren’t seeing what’s in front of you. But I saw him. That day I really saw him and realized that he was my very own grandson. Mine. My thoughts would go back and forth, between loving this little innocent child and feeling how dare she put this responsibility on me? How was I going to care for anyone when I couldn’t even care for myself?
It was also the turning point I needed even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Until this point, 4 years had passed since my failed back surgery. I was living a full-blown pity party and I didn’t try to help myself through it one little bit. I’d lay in the bed all day. I didn’t turn on the TV because if I had to see someone laugh I’d go ballistic. I didn’t read even though I’d been a bookworm all my life. I couldn’t sit without the pain so what was the sense of trying to be normal? I laid there brewing and stewing. Year after year. This was my life.
Even though I scarcely said a word to my daughter when she came to collect my grandson, I knew that I wanted to be a part of his life. I wanted to watch him play baseball. I wanted to take him to the fair. I wanted to change my circumstances although, at the time, I didn’t realize that would take more pain than I ever knew possibly even though I thought I was living the worst pain anyone should have to deal with.
The next day she showed up again, and again and again. A week later I realized she wasn’t going away which meant he wasn’t going away so I called an equipment company and they brought everything I’d need to get up. Even a wheelchair so I could get out of the house which was going to be a semi-long-term goal.
I started sitting up 30 seconds a day. If I was going to hurt laying down, I thought I’d just as soon hurt sitting up. I was a cursing fool. I made up more cuss words than I knew and I knew a lot. 30 seconds in the day in the life of someone with chronic pain, is like 30 hours.
Eventually, months turned into years and my 30 seconds turned into hours. I went to the fair a year later. I cried the entire time, just from the relief of being out among the living. It was my first outing. The sounds and smells were so overwhelming that I couldn’t stop crying. I even laughed and I’d not heard myself laugh in so long that it sounded foreign to me.
My daughter continued to bring my grandson to me, she would set him beside me on the bed and leave. Just like that. Then along came my granddaughter. And she started bringing her over every morning just like she did my grandson. The difference being, I’d meet them at the front door when they arrived. I do want to note that I was never alone with them. My youngest daughter was a teenager by the time I had my surgery and we decided after my fateful surgery that she’d be homeschooled so she could be there with me during the day. I tried to do everything I could by myself so I wasn’t the burden to her I felt I was. But even just a walk to the kitchen was unbearable. She had to grow up early because of my circumstances. She took care of paying all of the bills and doing all of the shopping. Things she shouldn’t have had to do in a perfect world. And I love her all the more for it. She sacrificed a lot of fun to take care of me when she could have been out having fun with others her age. She has great business sense because of all she had to learn at an early age so all was not lost. But I still feel guilty.
I got to watch my grandson and my granddaughters play their first game. I was there when Tyler got his first black eye (and boy was he proud of that shinner) and Abby fell off her first bike. I’m here for the long haul.
I have a total of 5 grandkids now. I’ve been blessed to be a part of their life because I really didn’t think I would ever be able to.
I’ve flown around the world which I never thought I would be able to do and even went on a cruise. I’ve been to so many places I’d only ever dreamed of. I’ve done more firsts since my failed back surgery than I ever did before it. No, my pain hasn’t gone anywhere. I’ll never be able to bend, I can only lift a couple of pounds, I will always struggle with sitting, I can’t stand still, it’s all still there folks, the pain, and the issues, but what has changed is my mindset. I found a reason to live again.
If you’re suffering from chronic pain, you’ve got to find something you love more than you love misery. And I’m here to tell you that when it comes to pain, misery loves company. You don’t need that kind of company. You need to find what makes you want to live again. It could be spending time with your family, writing a book on what it’s like living with pain, or you might want to consider starting a blog, it can be whatever it is that helps you take control of the pain. Dig deep. It’s in there. I know this sounds easier than it is going to be (and you will be cursing me but I’m here for you, I’m an email or even a text message away) but you can decide to change your mindset. I’m living proof of it.
1. Once you decide to be in control of your pain and your life, it’s all about making it happen.
2. Know your limitations. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Even though sitting for 30 seconds doesn’t sound like much, I knew it was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. I wanted to succeed so I started low and went high. My muscles had not been used for 4 years. Sitting is still something I have to fight my way through but I do it even if an hour a day and I will probably never be able to sit through a painless session. Every few minutes I have to walk around but still, I try. I do it because I choose to.
3. Set short-term AND long-term goals. My short-term goals consisted of changing the way I viewed my new life. I was as happy as I’d ever been when I made it through my first day without crying. And watching a movie without getting mad if there was laughter on it. I had to start with scary movies and that was okay too. I started reading again. Whatever it took to reach my goals, I did it. It’s been 17 years since I had my surgery and I’ve got a lot of goals to go but I’ve accomplished more than I thought possible in the beginning. Goals are important.
4. Remain active. It becomes so easy to just say no to things like invitations to outings. Saying yes for the first time wasn’t by choice, I felt like I’d been cornered into it and I was. But little by little I started turning those no’s into yes’s. The more I said yes, the more active I started becoming. The more active I was becoming, the more energy I had. The more energy I had, led to activities that would help me sleep at night. It all started with a yes. Don’t be the person sitting at home when everyone else is out having fun.
5. Get rid of life’s stresses. We all have our emotional baggage and for me, getting rid of what was stressing me most meant leaving an unhealthy relationship. I AM NOT TELLING ANYONE TO DO THIS. Lol. You need to pinpoint what is causing you the most stress in your life and either find ways to control it or move on from it. Stress is not only bad for those dealing with chronic pain, it’s bad for our health too.
6. Laugh. Just do it. Chronic pain is nothing to laugh about but it truly can help make a difference in dealing with chronic pain. When you’re laughing, you release all of those feel-good brain chemicals which help relieve pain. If you don’t believe me, try it. When you’re having fun, ever so slowly the pain takes a back seat to what is going on and you forget about it. Even if just for a second, it’s a start.
7. Get a pet. Any pet as long as it’s one you can take care of. It can be fish, or a turtle, a hamster, a dog, just get a pet. Do it. Up to this point you’ve probably been the one being taken care of. Now start to turn that around by finding what it is you need to take care of. By doing this, you’ll find that you’re stronger than you think and you’ll be able to rely more on yourself with your care and less on others. I have a slew of pets which you know if you’re a regular reader here, but I started out with only a dog for 10 years. A small dog. I knew I needed something to give me a reason to go outside every day even if only to take my pup out.
8. Which brings me to sunshine. You’d be amazed at the healing properties of sunshine. Go outside every single day that you’re able to. Sit if you have to sit. Walk if you have to walk. Buy a hammock if you have to lay. Don’t forget the sunscreen and a good book or your Kindle to play games on. Feeling the sun on my skin after being indoors for so many years and getting my first boost of vitamin D, was just what the doctor ordered. Mentally and physically.
9. Eat healthier. Did you know that some foods cause more pain? Well, they do. It took me a little while to figure out that beef was causing me more pain and once I put two and two together, I worked at limiting the amount I’d eat. Now, I’m a steak lover which you know if you’ve ever read my “who’s that lady” page so I couldn’t just give up beef altogether. But knowing what it does to me and knowing when my pain will be at its highest (rain, cold, etc), I’ve been able to monitor it so that it doesn’t put me back in the bed.
10. Get a hobby. Did you know that those who have hobbies tend to live longer? You need a strong purpose to deal with these trying times and a hobby is a great way to get started on a new adventure. I firmly believe that if we don’t continue to learn new things, our brain starts to shrink. When I realized I needed a hobby, I bought my first digital camera and I went everywhere I could to decide what I liked taking photos of. Turns out that’s my family and nature. I now have quite a few hobbies that I enjoy that I did not have before my surgery. I enjoy cooking, baking, journaling, blogging, and so much more. I continue to add to my hobbies and I hope that I always will.
Setbacks can happen and probably will happen. I’ve had my share of them but realizing that it’s normal helped me get back on track as soon as I was able to. You’ve got this. You can do it. I believe in you.