6. If you answered Spend More Time with Loved Ones, it is clear that family and friends are a top value for you. You may feel you aren’t doing your part in the relationship. Perhaps, you say, “I don’t want to slow them down” and so you miss out on fun events with them. Or are you used to being the caregiver in your family? Maybe you withdraw from other because you are uncomfortable asking for help.
Solution: Withdrawing from people you love doesn’t usually help with pain in the long run. However, taking self-care breaks or setting healthy boundaries with loved ones is a necessity for a good life even for those without chronic pain. It is tempting to put fun activities or strengthening relationships on hold until pain decreases, but this may result in more strained relationships and cause you more pain in the end. If taking care of others is important to you, pain might be a signal for you to find more balance between taking care of others and your own self-care. Don’t jump back in at full force, but show up when you can and participate in a way that works for you now. As for not slowing them down – they likely value you for who you are, not what you do. You might value yourself the same way and let them decide if they mind being slowed down.
7. If you chose Travel, it is likely you have an adventurous spirit, have traveled before and know the gifts of perspective, beauty, and excitement that travel can bring. Avoiding travel is a common mistake for those with chronic pain. If your condition is stable and chronic (not rapidly worsening, deteriorating, or waiting for surgery), you have likely been given permission by your doctor to travel, but it’s fear of pain that keeps you at home. You wonder what will happen if you have a terrible flare up on vacation and so decide to remain home.
Solution: What would happen if you had a flare-up on vacation? What is the worst thing that could happen? Be aware of how much fear is driving your decision to avoid travel. Pain can be awful and we want the comfort of home, but a flare is a flare. You may be out of your comfort zone experiencing a flare, but this is not something you can know for certain in advance. Our expectation is to feel our best on vacation. The reality is you might not, but don’t let this deter you from doing something you enjoy. You can bring pain with you anywhere -- fortunately and unfortunately.
Challenge yourself to set up your trip for success. Thoughtful preparation will help. Be creative using supportive devices like canes, walkers, back supports, ice and heat packs to ease your ride. Work on conditioning yourself, eating right, sleeping well, and minimizing medications before you go. Creatively schedule the details of your trip to pace events such as sight-seeing, hiking, sitting, and build plenty of opportunities for rest and gentle movement into your itinerary. Take more time to go shorter distances. A slow, steady rate may take longer, but you may discover things otherwise missed on the journey.
8. If you said Live More Independently you may be grieving some of the personal losses that go with chronic pain. It is likely that you have been forced to give up some independence such as working, driving, or engaging in projects around your home. Adjustment to these losses certainly takes time and patience. It may be especially challenging if you are used to taking care of others and now you need help taking care of yourself.
Solution: Being truly self-sufficient is more of a myth than a way of life. Wanting to be alone too much may even be a sign of depression. Being interdependent, rather than independent, is how we survive as a group. It is very challenging to let go of control and let others help. Pushing yourself in an attempt to maintain complete independence can lead to misery. Eventually, it negatively impacts your well-being and the well-being of those around you. How do you feel when you help others? Likely, you enjoy it. What would it be like to afford them this same gift? Chronic pain and limitations can be a catalyst toward recognizing the gifts that come with asking for help and relying on others. When you need help, use your energy to do what you can without fighting against yourself or others. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do and communicate clearly with those around you. All-or-nothing is not the best option. Try picking and choosing those activities you can still do safely on your own.
9. If you chose that without pain you would Enjoy Life More, there seems to be no argument! Agreed, life would be more enjoyable without chronic pain and if that was possible, I would be selling the cure in bulk. But what will life be like for you if you wait to enjoy it only after pain goes away?
Solution: Any wish for suffering is unhealthy. However, pain is already here so we may as well recognize the gifts that can come with it. It can be a great teacher -- not just a disciplinarian. It seems like everything would be better without pain, yet some people who have suffered greatly say that suffering was a gift that brought other beautiful things with it. Without the struggle, they would have missed out on the growth. This is not to say that you should start enjoying pain or be grateful for pain…that’s just crazy. Or is it? Could we dare to be grateful for pain as we lean in to hear what it has to say? Might it have messages reminding us that we are human and to slow down, to prioritize our values, to take better care of ourselves, to lean into discomfort, to forgive, to share, to ask for help, to empathize, to be brave and stare it in the face, move through it rather than away from it -- yes, even befriend it? This is the ultimate challenge in your relationship to pain. What would it be like to befriend yourself with pain? What would you lose if you stopped fighting pain?
10. If without pain you would Be In A Better Mood, you likely have insight into how pain and mood can impact each other. You may have noticed how irritable you become, or even that you can lash out at loved ones -- and it justifiably bothers you. Pain can certainly take up so much space in our brains that we feel worn out, irritable, and as if one more thing will tip us over the edge. You may have thought, “If only pain would go away, I could be a nice person again!”
Solution: You may have already noticed that your mood is impacted by how your body feels, but did you know that your body also holds emotions in it and that your moods affect pain? Although the brain is the control center for your body and its sensations, emotions also reside in the body. Do you know where you feel frustration in your body? Where do you feel anger physically? What about impatience, fear, helplessness, loneliness, or sadness? Check your body when you are experiencing different emotions to see where you personally hold these feelings. Is it your shoulders, stomach, back, hands, jaw or forehead? Sooth your mood and pain at the same time. Try to move straight through discomfort and other strong emotions. Find small joys and comforts in the ordinary. Search for wellness by asking yourself, “What is right with my body today?” Be loving and patient with yourself and you may find that you are more patient with others as well.
Date of last modification: 10-20-2016
Author: Jessica Del Pozo, Ph.D. Dr. Del Pozo is the founder of PACE, a four-week chronic pain management program (www.paceforpain.org). PACE provides cognitive-behavioral therapies and mindfulness training for those with chronic pain as well as consulting and training services for healthcare providers. She is also the co-author of The Gut Solution (www.thegutsolution.com), a book for families with IBS utilizing SEEDS (Stress, Education, Exercise, Diet and Sleep), a biopsychosocial approach to IBS and RAP. Dr. Del Pozo is also on staff of a multi-disciplinary pain management program at Kaiser Permanente, where she helps many patients refocus their strengths to manage pain without opioid medications.