Mental Health Monday: Living With Chronic Pain
I’ve been in physical therapy since October. First it was for my leg/ankle, which were broken last July. Having spent three months with no weight-bearing on the right leg, I needed a lot of help getting back to walking.
In January I did a few weeks of P.T. for my neck, which was also broken last July. My pain level in my neck and shoulders is pretty manageable most days, although my range of motion is limited.
On January 29 I started a third round of P.T. This time it’s for my right hip/gluts. Evidently I aggravated this area during the months I was lying in bed with external fixation (metal rods) sticking out of my leg, and later with a cast. I hopped around on one leg for a few months, and when I began walking, I limped.
So here I am, almost eight months since my wreck and surgeries, and I’m in pain. Every day. Almost every step I take. Sometimes it wakes me up at night. This weekend my husband and I went for a couple of long walks here in our beautiful neighborhood on the Mississippi River. The weather was gorgeous, and it lifted our spirits greatly. But every step I took sent pain through my hip and buttocks. And later my ankle also started hurting.
I haven’t taken any pain meds since last July, and I don’t plan to. I want to learn to manage this with physical therapy, massage therapy, heat and ice, stretching and strengthening exercises, and rest. But it sure does wear on me, mentally and emotionally, at times. So I decided to do a little reading about chronic pain. Here are two links, in case any of you are also dealing with this:
How to Cope With Chronic Pain offers some good advice. Click on the link to read more about:
Accepting the pain.
Keeping a pain journal.
Talking about it.
Getting your grief out.
Being mindful of what helps and what hurts.
The experience of the pain can either be one of suffering (“this is unbearable”) or one of tolerance and existence (“my pain slows me down but I won’t let it stop me”). The difference is a state of mind, not a state of physical injury. Physical limits exist, but how people face them is a choice.
This was helpful to me, so I read further in the same article:
In addition, a person’s personality traits, social supports, life history, substance use, spiritual perspective and life stressors all impact the level of pain experienced—your reaction to difficult circumstances can be changed, with help.
A third article discusses the relationship between pain and depression:
When pain lasts longer than a few weeks, areas of the spinal cord change their physiology, and ‘learn’ to maintain the pain, even if you don’t want it. Similarly, long-standing depression changes your brain, reducing the amount of grey matter in important regions. Depression can be the result of pain, and pain can be the result of depression.
So, as I continue to do whatever I can do help minimize the pain, I’m also going to try to react to it differently. Distractions help, and I’ve got plenty of them to keep my mind of the pain as much as possible—helping my husband as he continues to recover from rotator cuff surgery (11 days ago), preparing for a visit from my daughter and granddaughter (in two weeks), and preparing for our MOVE, in 40 days! But even in my caregiving, grandmothering, and move organizing, I know I need to pace myself in order to manage the pain. I just remembered that my “One Word” for 2014 is mindfulness.