Living with chronic pain is hard, it is very hard, but it is also very possible. You can learn to live with chronic pain. There are skills that you can learn. There are attitudes that you can develop. There are ways to learn to manage your pain.
It all begins with you. You must make the decision to learn the skills, to develop the attitude, to learn the ways to manage your pain. No progress will be made until you make the decision. If you have chronic pain, you must and you will learn to live with it. The bottom line is, you don't have a choice.
However, you do have a choice about "how" you choose to live with it. You can choose to suffer and wallow in self pity, or you can choose to move on and live your life and make the best life you can. Everyone living with chronic pain must make that choice.
"you do have a choice about "how" you choose to live with it"
This is a collection of thoughts about living with chronic pain that I wanted to share with whoever would take the time to read them. I know everyone's pain is different, everyone's personality is different, and every person has a different situation to deal with.
There are a lot of variables, every person is different, and I know that there is no magic in these words. But, I also know that if you have chronic pain, you can learn to live with it. Not all of this will apply to you. Maybe none of it will. But hopefully, you can find something in here that will help you or a person you know.
First let me explain what I mean by living with chronic pain. Doctors define chronic pain as pain that you have had for more than three months. For what I am discussing here, it takes longer than that. Perhaps a year, before you are ready to accept the situation, and get on with your life.
"nothing more that can be done"
When I am talking about chronic pain, I mean pain that you have already had evaluated, and you have already gotten a second opinion, and a third opinion. And the experts all tell you there is nothing more that can be done. They tell you that you must "learn to live with it."
I know. Whether it is back pain, or nerve pain, or fibromyalgia pain, or whatever pain your first thought is, "Live with it? How can I learn to live with this pain?" And, your second thought is, "There is no way. I can't live with this curse. I can't have a life with this horrible pain. I can't do anything. I can't do this. I can't do that. I can't live, I just can't."
"You can begin living with chronic pain!!"
Let me tell you something friend. Yes you can! You can begin living with chronic pain!! And let me tell you why you can. Because, you don't have any choices, you must learn to live with chronic pain. If you want to have a life, you simply must learn how to deal with this, and the sooner the better.
The other choice is to give up. Don't do anything. Just stay in bed. Don't have a life. Throw away any chance of having a life, and the pain is still there. You will still have the back pain, or the nerve pain, or the fibromyalgia pain. It will be just you and your pain, lying there in bed.
"you must choose to suffer"
Life happens, things happen, life can make you have pain. But, life cannot make you suffer, you must choose to suffer. I know you did not choose to have pain; it is something that is forced upon you. But, surrendering to the pain, giving it control of your life, is a choice that you make.
Living with chronic pain for the rest of your life, is not always an easy thing to accept. But, at some point, accepting it is exactly what you must do. It may take some time and some denial, some anger, and some grieving, but eventually you must decide to get on with your life. You must begin living with chronic pain.
Let me add in a little warning here. I have worked in the medical field, and I have spent time around surgeons. I know that if you continually go from surgeon, to surgeon, to surgeon, you will eventually find someone to operate on you. In spite of the fact, that surgery may not make you better and it can always make you worse, someone will do your surgery.
A wise old surgeon told me one time, "There is nothing that we can't make worse with surgery."
"You need to accept it."
So, after you have gotten a second opinion, and a third opinion, and after you have been evaluated by all of the experts, and everyone agrees that there is nothing more that can be done. You need to accept it.
Then is when you need to stop thinking "can't", and start thinking "how". You must stop thinking, "I can't live like this." You must start thinking, "How can I live like this?" Then you must start looking for ways to begin living with chronic pain.
I injured my back in a motorcycle accident when I was 19 years old. I have been living with chronic pain for 40 years, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always there. Over those years I have thought about pain most of the time. Sometimes, when the pain is less, I can be more objective. But when the pain is bad, being objective is more difficult. When it really hurts, I am just trying to get through the day so I can go somewhere and lay down on the floor.
"Seems odd, to think about being lucky"
I guess I am lucky, in a way, my pain gets better if I lay down on something hard and flat. Seems odd, to think about being lucky, when you have pain like this. But, if you are living with chronic pain, you are lucky too.
I know that sounds weird, but in some way, you are lucky. It may not be obvious, when your pain is so bad that you can't think, but there is something about your life that is lucky.
If you are going to have a life, living with chronic pain, you had better find some things that are lucky about your life! Those are the things you need to dwell on.
How about your legs, do they work? Can you move them? Oh, that's lucky. How about your arms, do they work? Ooh, that's really lucky. Have you got food to eat? Yep, that's pretty lucky too! The list goes on and on. I am sure there are lots of reasons why you are lucky; you just have to find them.
"find other reasons to be happy and feel blessed"
If you are living with chronic pain, and these examples did not work for you, I am sorry. You will just have to look around and find other reasons to be happy and feel blessed. How about your eyes? They must work if you are reading this, that's lucky.
Say what? A friend is reading this to you? You have a friend? Well, aren't you lucky, and you must have ears and be able to hear, that's pretty lucky.
Say what? You are reading this in Braille? Wow, that is lucky! Your fingers must be very nimble, and Braille is hard, so you must be smart too. You are really lucky.
Now that you are feeling all lucky, let's shift gears and think about this.
"What is pain?"
Pain is just a signal. It is just a signal that travels through your nerves to tell your brain that some part of your body is being injured. That is a pretty good idea.
Without the signal, your brain would not know that your hand was being burned by the fire, and your hand would be ruined. The pain saved your hand. Without the signal, when dust blows up into your eyes, you wouldn't close your eyes and turn away. The pain saves your eyes.
"Yes, pain is a pretty great thing"
Well then, pain must be a pretty good thing. Pain has been helping keep people safe since the beginning of time. Yes, pain is a pretty great thing, most of the time. The problem begins when there is an abnormality or an injury, and the nerve continues to send the signal, when the risk of injury has passed.
We think of it as pain, and we call it pain, but it is just a signal. It is just an impulse traveling up the nerve to your brain. So why do we find it so distressing when we are living with chronic pain?
"we are programmed to panic"
My theory is that somewhere deep in our brain, we are programmed to panic and take immediate action, in response to these signals. That is how people have been saving their hand from the fire, and saving their eyes from the dust for hundreds of millions of years.
So, obviously the answer is to just shut off the program in our brain that is causing the distress. Just block the part of the brain that changes that, impulse coming up the nerve, from just a signal to a pain.
"It is just a signal."
I think that the people who are living with chronic pain the most successfully, are the ones that learn to control their brain, and how it reacts to the signal. They still feel the signal, but their brain doesn't respond to it, as pain. It is just a signal.
Oh, I know, I hear ya, "Easy for you to say."
You are right; I can't control my brain very well either. But, it is something to think about. It is just a signal. What about animals? Do animals feel pain? There must be animals that are living with chronic pain.
"do animals suffer?"
Animals feel pain, right? Sure, I think everyone can agree on that. But, do animals suffer? There is a point to ponder. I don't think they do. I know people will disagree with me, but I don't think animals go through the same mental distress as humans, when they are injured.
I think animals feel the pain signal, but I don't believe their psyche is developed enough to experience the distress, and suffer the way people do. I will admit that in some cases, animals appear to suffer, and maybe they are. I certainly don't know for sure.
"they just keep on going, doing the best they can"
But the animals that appear to suffer, in most cases, are mammals. Let's think about reptiles or amphibians, something with a less developed brain. They certainly avoid painful experiences, so we know they feel pain. But, when a lizard is injured it will just keep on going, doing the best it can.
If a leg is broken, it just drags along, and it walks with three legs. If a limb is cutoff, it just keeps moving, doing what lizards do. Just like nothing had happened, except now they are a little slower. It must hurt. The lizard must still feel the pain. It must be living with chronic pain, but there is no agony. There is no suffering.
"they don't agonize over it"
They feel the pain, but they don't agonize over it. We humans, on the other hand, with our highly evolved brains are smart enough to think about it. So, when we are living with chronic pain, we dwell on it. We evaluate it, and analyze how much it hurts. Along with all of that thinking, comes the suffering.
So, all we have to do, is not think about it.
Yes, I know that is a crazy thing to say, and for many people who are living with chronic pain, it will be very difficult in the beginning. But, I also know that it can be done, and it works. It is not easy. It does take effort. But, when you focus your mind on something other than the pain, the pain can become just a signal. I didn't say the pain would go away, because it won't. It will however, become background noise, like static on an old record.
My friend Tracy at PsychCentral often blogs about the emotional aspects of chronic pain. You should read her blog post about using your brain and controlling your pain at "Making Friends with Your Pain".
"take your mind away from the pain"
When living with chronic pain, the key to not thinking about the pain. The key to not suffering is to find something else to think about. Even if you are not interested in thinking about something else, you must find something to take your mind away from the pain.
When you find something that is complicated enough to make you really concentrate, you can turn down the volume on your pain. Your brain cannot really focus on two things at the same time, so as you focus more on one thing, the other thing will fade. It takes will, and it takes practice, and it takes discipline, but you can do it.
I know this sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me as I sit here writing this. But, I know it works. It is called distraction, and if you are living with chronic pain, it can take your pain away. As soon as you break your concentration, and think about the pain again, it starts coming back. Some people can do the same thing with hypnosis, which might be worth looking into, if you are interested in exploring other ways to control you pain.
"just sounds too crazy to me"
I want to suggest some things, for people living with chronic pain, that maybe you could use to distract yourself from the pain. But, everything that I think of just sounds too crazy to me. How can I tell someone who is in pain to, just go do algebra problems, or just go find some complicated poetry to analyze? So, I will just tell you what works for me. You will have to think about it and find something that will work for you.
What works for me is, I like to build things out in the garage. Little things, I don't do big projects like sailboats or airplanes. Sometimes I can't stay out there very long, so I come in and lie down for awhile. Then when my back feels a little better I go back out, and do a little more.
"turn down the volume on the pain"
I have built different kinds of things. I have built a few cradles over the years, and I have built bicycles. I built a BattleBot back when those were popular, just different things that give me something to think about, and concentrate on. I would like to say that it makes the pain go away completely, but it doesn't. It does however, when I am really thinking, trying to figure something out, make it better. It can sometimes turn down the volume on the pain. It can make it just a signal, for awhile.
If you are living with chronic pain, I don't know what will work for you. You will have to think about it, maybe do a little research. Look some things up. Get busy, and find something that interests you. Then get involved, to whatever extent you can. There is a whole world full of possibilities. But, none of them are going to come to you. You have to take action, and go get the life you want.
"I mean you taking charge of your life."
Being proactive in other ways can make living with chronic pain a little easier to endure. I mean you taking charge of your life. You decide what you are going to do today, and you take responsibility for making things happen. It is okay if you need to get someone to help you do this, or that. The point is that, you are taking control of your own life.
If you are going to have a life, living with chronic pain, you must be the person in charge of it. Don't depend on your spouse, or anyone else, to do your thinking for you. It is your back, or your fibromyalgia, or whatever is causing the pain, that is the problem. There is nothing wrong with your brain. You just need to get busy using it.
You be the person who decides when you need to see the doctor. You be the person who makes the phone call. You make the list of questions. You be the person who talks to the doctor. You run things. Don't just let things happen. Make a decision, and make things happen your way. Then, you are living your life.
"be thankful for those parts of your life that are good"
It may not be perfect, but so what. I'll bet that there are some parts of it that are pretty damn good. When you are living with chronic pain, you need to be thankful for those parts of your life that are good. Be thankful for the love of your family, and the other people that care about you. Be thankful for your God, whatever you conceive him to be.
Be thankful for what you can do!
No matter how miserable your life is, there are millions of people all over the world that would change places with you in a heartbeat, because their situation is worse than yours.
It might not be the life you wanted to have, or wished you would have, or thought you could have. But, it is the life you got. So, you have to get busy, and make it the best life you can.
You can learn more about living with chronic pain at
It may not be easy, but for some of us it is the life we have. By coming together and sharing our stories we can all gain strength and determination.
How do you deal with the pain?
Sharing your frame of mind and attitude can give us all courage to get through the day.
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