Living with chronic pain, regardless of which illness is the culprit (fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, etcetera) is about as far from fun as possible. You must learn to train your brain and cope with pain if you want to have a hope for a fulfilling life.
It’s funny how constant pain becomes the norm. The kind of pain I was experiencing when I sought out a medical diagnosis was mild compared to what I live with now on a daily basis. Fibromyalgia and its pain, fatigue and a host of other things, has been part of my life ever since.
And yet, I love my life. How is that possible?
For me, acceptance that constant pain had become my new normal was the first level of my brain training. I learned how to put my fibromyalgia and the pain that accompanies it into the bucket labeled “it just is”. Why I have fibromyalgia isn’t something I waste time agonizing over. I choose not to take any pain medication to help me cope with pain, except for the odd aspirin or Tylenol before bed, maybe once a week. The side effects of the medications are too horrible.
It’s not that my pain isn’t bad: if I think about it, it is. If you asked me today to rate it on a scale of 1 – 10, you know, like they do in the hospital, I’d say it’s a 5. And when I tweak my injured shoulder, it jumps right up to a 10. I’ve had nurses in emergency wards and surgical recovery rooms tell me the goal of pain medication is to bring pain to a 3. So ya, I have pain.
Of course, I do my best to take care of myself so as to minimize the symptoms. But that’s quite different from wasting energy wishing things were different.
Change the Focus
I have benefited greatly over the years from psychotherapy, much of it related to my fibromyalgia. It provided me with tools that I use to cope with pain.
One of the most effective tools is to think of your focus like the light from a goose-neck lamp. You see what is illuminated by the pool of light, right? Your pain. Now, in your mind’s eye, reach out and move the lamp so that the pool of light is shining on something else. Not your pain.
You can control the things on which your brain focuses: you have the power to move that lamp.
Another tool that works for some is visualization. I haven’t perfected this yet, but one of the women I interviewed for the book I’m writing, The Trauma Trigger, swears it has changed her world. She summons up images of places she loves, like mountains and ocean vistas and hiking trails, real and imagined, and puts herself there. There isn’t any pain in those visual scenes, and she has also mastered the art of generating calm through her visualization.
I love that word: catastrophizing. It’s a common habit that involves thinking the worst about any given situation. Here are some examples, exaggerated to make my point:
- My back hurts = I’m dying!
- I don’t feel like going out = I’ll never, ever get to go out again!
- I am unable to do that stretch today = I will never, ever be able to do any stretching, or walking or moving ever again!
You get the point. Every person’s pain, especially with fibromyalgia, is a little different, so I’ll challenge you to watch and see how many times in a day you catch yourself catastrophizing. And then? Change your mind.
So, whether you suffer from Crohn’s Disease, or fibromyalgia, like me, or another chronic illness, you can learn to better cope with the pain. This is the only life you have. Make the best of it.