Are you experiencing chronic pain or do you live with someone who is?
You are not alone.
Globally, 1 in 3 people experience chronic pain – that’s epidemic proportions, a human crisis. In Australia, it is estimated that 1 in 5 are chronic pain sufferers and 1 in 3 over the age of 60; that’s those of us who have had pain for over 3 months.
And for many of us, the traditional medical model is not helping us to cope and manage this debilitating, consuming aspect of our lives. In fact, from my experience and those of many to whom I have spoken of their chronic pain struggles, it can actually hold us back!
Why, because pain is the result of a holistic challenge to our bodies, not just a medical construct.
Probably the easiest way to explain this is to tell you a bit about my story.
IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD – THEY SAID!
Rather than create a section about the physiology, neuropathy, psychology and social impact of chronic pain, I thought I would share my personal experience and hence my new book (more about that later) and my clinical support. Since my first book Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes was published in 2008 there have been numerous changes in my life, dominated by my final acceptance that I have chronic pain.
I have always been a believer in ‘mind over matter’; that if we are mentally focussed and positive, so much can be achieved. Of course, there are certain extreme situations where this is more challenging than at other times, such as living through war torn countries, although even then, an element of positive, focussed thinking will certainly help people cope with their distressing situation – even though any opportunity to ‘fix it’ may be well beyond their control. Some of us are naturally more positive in attitude and outlook than others – you know, glass half empty, half-full scenario.
And then came recurring bouts of pain, flare-ups, acute pain, brain fog, fear, distraction, absorption, isolation, exhaustion, constant pain that never leaves me day or night and constant medical merry go rounds in a desperate bid to find answers and of course, the inevitable fights with Google and all the legitimate and less favourable research out there to confuse us even more.
And suddenly – no, not suddenly. In fact, it was a slow, insidious build-up that was wearing me down until I finally reached my tipping (or should I say, crashing) point, I didn’t have one positive thought in any cell of my body. Not one could I conjure up, except that I knew I didn’t want to continue my life this way. I felt a total burden, a waste of space, a thief of quality air that others were better able to utilise than I. And the biggest, yet calmest thought was that I wanted to kill myself. That was a much easier and bearable option than the current and recurring situation. I wasn’t being dramatic, or attention-seeking. Actually, quite the opposite. I was fed up with the attention which was no longer about the fun-filled Dawn, the intelligent Dawn, the animal-loving Dawn, the caring Dawn or the interesting person: no, all the attention from myself and (I believed) others was based on my pain, my inability to socialise anymore and my complete loss of confidence in my world as I knew it. I was a burden to my husband and my children wasn’t safe to be around the grandchildren for fear that they would get freaked out by the intensity of my pain and even entertaining the idea of travelling to see my parents and siblings in the UK became totally unachievable. At this point, I admit that my gorgeous dogs didn’t seem to judge me any differently, although their walks were significantly curtailed. Not the same for our goats, however, who got the raw end of the deal. As my ability to look after them became erratic and unreliable, we sadly had to rehome my 4 lovely goats and to this day, I miss their playful antics and cute natures.
So why couldn’t I adopt my life learned approach of thinking positively and resolving the issue? I was exhausted. Exhausted from constant pain, exhausted from no more answers and as each day offered no way out, or what I considered a quality way to cope with the pain, I truly had nothing left to draw upon. I was also on significant amounts of medication which meant I wasn’t able to think clearly – or was it the pain-causing that? One of the (many) medications was for neuropathic pain, but also an antidepressant, so even with that supposed chemical support, nothing was changing. I had had all the surgery I was prepared to undergo, attended pain clinics and pain management programs, drawn upon my own knowledge of cognitive behaviour therapy, lifestyle changes, nutrition and sleep hygiene, exercise etc. – and still in the same place!
And so, my need to support others going through this mental and physical agony. Whilst there is acknowledgement for the need to address chronic pain in a multidisciplinary fashion, in my experience, little seems to be available regarding ongoing support. The very nature of chronic pain means it’s not going to go away soon – if ever! So after exhausting every known avenue of doctors, medication, chronic pain specialists, rehab, pain clinics, pain programs, physiotherapists, psychologists, naturopathy, homeopathy, pilates, swimming, acupuncture, diversion therapy – the list goes on, and so does the pain.
So what would be useful to help those of us for which chronic pain is going to be as much part of our lives as the air that we breathe and the ground that we walk on?
How do we become an active participant – be in control of our pain rather than the pain control us?
In order to answer this question, it is important to understand many of the elements that chronic pain impacts on our lives. For me, living with chronic pain is similar to living with constant grief and loss, the subject of my doctoral thesis some years ago. We have to learn to adapt to ‘the new normal’ and each of us will do this in different ways. One thing is for sure, leaving us to cope after we have been through some or all of the above efforts to resolve our chronic pain has the potential to actually create more negative and depressing thoughts and behaviours.
After all, if we have had all that is known to man (or at least, health professionals and google) and still feel like this – what hope is there?
And this is where I come in. I can both appreciate and support you on this challenging road to re-establish your sense of self, and your relationship with others in your world.
My book ” Living With Chronic Pain: From OK to Despair and Back Again”, released in August 2020, chronicles some of my challenging pain-related experiences over the years. It will help you understand that you are not alone, offer guidance to friends, family and health professionals about how we can be supported and some of the definitely not so helpful behaviours!
Please get in touch so together we can navigate and I can support you through your chronic pain journey.