People living with chronic pain often experience depression and negative emotion, magnifying both the severity and ongoing nature of the pain. Although that may come as no surprise to someone who has lived with pain or other significant life stress, in fact, people also experience positive emotions in the midst of chronic pain—an idea researchers have been slow to realize. Positive emotion—feelings such as happiness, excitement and calmness—can lower perceptions of pain intensity, may break the vicious cycle of pain and negative emotion, and thereby reduce pain-related suffering.
As a professor of medical social sciences and director of research at the Northwestern University Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, my research confirms that positive emotions commonly surface and can easily co-exist during times of intense grief or pain. For example, although caregivers we studied reported high levels of depression and stress, they also reported experiencing frequent positive emotions as well, often in response to a fairly mundane event such as the sight of a beautiful sunset or a kind word from a stranger. These positive emotions gave them a momentary break from the burden of caregiving and helped them cope better with the stress. Scientific America
Really. Just really. We are capable of a full range of emotions? Who would have ever thought that? This is the most idiotic thing I have read in a long time. Yes, we experience our fair share of negative emotions. Yes, we struggle with that. Because, yes, pain sucks. It is perfectly normal in the coping process to struggle with negative thoughts. A difficult process for all of us. Because, pain.
But to be surprised we are not bombarded with negative emotions all the time? That this is a shocker? That is some sort of stigma right there. Because we know that dampening that negativity, actively doing things to counter those moods, helps us. We know that our moods help with our pain. We also know overt positivity is not going to help us, because it isn’t realistic to our reality. But we also know we are fully capable of laughter, joy, happiness and humour when we are in pain. Within limits. We have moods. Because we are fully functioning human beings. There are days we cope better than others.
I know that encouraging my sense of humour and good mood helps me with coping with chronic illness. Obviously. The fact they needed a study for this when they could have just asked us to me is pretty funny in itself. When I am in a good mood I manage my pain better. There. Said it. Study done. When I ruminate on the pain, I tend to not deal with the pain as well. Also, here is something that might be news to them, there is a correlation between high unmanaged pain and negative thoughts! More pain, harder to think past that pain and cope well.
So, logically, better managed pain and the better I am able to manage my thinking processes. But, of course, pain management these days… well, not a focus. However, my pain is better managed than it was five years ago and so I am coping better thought process wise.
So, no, I am not miserable all the time. Why should I be? Moods are variable. Pain is variable. I have moderate days. I have severely bad days. But even on bad days I can still be in a decent mood. Just not on Severely bad days. When the pain is completely unmanaged and it is taking up all the space in my brain.
That being said when my depression wasn’t treated I struggled massively with during high unmanaged pain with negative thoughts. Even with therapy to manage those negative thoughts… because the pain makes them so Real and Tangible. Like the perfect storm. And my depression did need medication, which works really well for me. But I still have negative thoughts and certainly with the high pain. I am just able to work through them a little better. The lingering depression is something I work through. It isn’t a tidal wave.
I have to say, in general, I laugh. I laugh a lot. I am a bit of a goof. I know for a fact it makes people think I am not in as much pain as I am. It is a common stigma. I know for a fact it helps me cope with the pain I am in. I know for a fact we are all human with a full range of human emotions. Fully capable of our gleams of sunshine. But yes, we do struggle a lot more with the negative spectrum, because, pain sucks. I know for a fact I use humour to mask my pain as well, so there is that. But happiness exists for me. I am not a miserable person. I don’t want to be a miserable person. I am just a person who lives day by day trying to cope the best I can. I do struggle with the depression that exists even with the medication though. Which is why I work on those negative thoughts, that low self-worth… bad days, good days. Humour hides a lot, really.