Our pain story is what we carry around with us based on our pain history, experiences, and leaves us with a certain perception of what it is to be in pain in the world. And it can be quite a burden to carry because chronic pain is constant. A constant stressor with a massive impact on our lives. It is hard to get through it without attaching meaning to it. It is hard not to be scarred by it.
How long we have been in pain
Years to decades the duration of persistent unmanaged pain affects how we look at our future with pain. As people often say, past experience predicts future experience, even if this isn’t necessarily true… we feel our past pain history predicts our future pain.
There could have been times in our lives, or our entire pain history, or our pain present where we have unmanaged pain. No effective medication or treatment. These times in our lives are brutal. And can lead to survival mode of just crawling through life inch by inch. It leaves an emotional and mental impact on us.
The impact of chronic pain is widespread. We have lost jobs and careers and so lost financial security. Lost friends. Lost our significant others. Lost our social lives. Limited how we can be in the world. Affected us mentally and emotionally. Impact leaves a lot of scars. Because when we lose things to pain we blame ourselves. We feel intrinsically like we are a failure. We feel guilty for that which we do not have any control over.
We can lose our jobs to chronic pain. We can lose careers we love. We can push through and try to hold onto work even though we have extreme difficulties with functionality. We can be reduced to part-time or casual work. At some time or another, we face financial consequences for lack of work or having to take leaves from work. We face work stresses due to missing work, and dealing with co-workers and employers due to this fact. We can feel like failures. It can be a massive blow on our self-worth, self-esteem, and our self-identity.
Chronic pain carries with it a hefty emotional toll. And as a result, we carry with us a lot of stress. Physical stress on the body leading to emotional and mental stresses. We are at higher risk of comorbid depression and/or anxiety. And that added layer can be extremely difficult to deal with on top of the pain.
We can face discrimination and stigma in the workplace, with medical professionals, with family and friends. It can be difficult to deal with but adds a significant layer to our perception of pain. Sometimes we believe the stigma others toss onto us so much we self-stigmatize ourselves. We are not pushing through enough. We are not trying hard enough. We are just failures.
What story do we tell ourselves about our pain?
All that pain history tells us how we perceive a pained existence in the present. And we can really be bruised and battered from it.
It can result in:
- A sense of hopelessness
- That the pain is endless
- It can compromise our coping
- It can make us feel like we have no worth to the world
- We can feel isolated
- We can stop trying to do things because we feel like we fail at everything
It is good to think about the notions we develop from our pain history and the story we tell ourselves about our pain. Because we really can do a number on ourselves. We can just not give ourselves a damn break. We can have very little self-compassion for our journey. But rather blame ourselves in various ways. We can feel resentment and bitterness for how we were treated as well. We can lose all sense that things could get better.
And I say this because my pain history is a dark place, man. A very dark place. With unmanaged pain, work stigma, medical stigma, suicide attempts, and depression. I felt in my bones that it was all just hopeless. That the pain would never end and it was expected of me to function with unmanaged pain, and when I could not, I blamed myself and called myself a failure.
Acceptance is sometimes trying to change our pain story and we can do that by evaluating our pain history.
- I am resilient. I have survived some really hard times and came out the other side
- I cope better than I used to. And working on my coping is valuable
- I think about my entire wellbeing now, not just my physical
- I am very aware I cannot exceed my limits all the time, every day, without severe consequences to my mental and emotional wellbeing
- I am not a failure when I exceeded my limits all the time and wasn’t physically capable of that. It means I was stubborn for trying to keep a career when I was in unmanaged pain, and I ignored the consequences of it for a long time.
- The stigma of others is Not mine to own. I do not tell myself they are right. I tell myself they do not comprehend pain or coping with pain. The stigma is on them. I will not take it into myself.
- I know I need self-care and I do not feel guilty about that
- I know when I need to rest and I do Not feel guilty about that
- And my productivity is based on lower usable hours in the day than a healthy person has. And if my usable hours are 2… then what I accomplish is pretty amazing.
- I have self-worth, more than I did anyway, but doing things that are within my capacity at this time in the game. Like my hobbies. I boost my sense of self by doing the things I can instead of focusing on what I cannot.
And so in many ways, I am trying to change my story about pain by focusing on all the things I have learned to survive and not the hard falls I took on the way. Our pain history can really make us feel like past experience predicts future reality… but we know that isn’t true. How I cope with pain now is vastly better than I used to. I learned a lot of ways to cope… the hard way, but still. And yeah, if I coped this well back in the day all that hardship wouldn’t have happened, but I cope better now so I am more resilient in the face of the future.
We cannot change our pain history. It happened. And sometimes it leads to some very, very rough times in our lives and the impact lasted for a long time. But we change the story we tell to ourselves about all that history in order to better cope with the future. I don’t want us blaming ourselves, in any way, for having to survive with chronic pain. We are not to blame for this. This is a disease, not a decision. And we cannot stop the impact of pain. It has an impact. And we cannot control the unpredictability of chronic illness and when things get so much worse… but sometimes they get better. We shouldn’t allow our history with pain to be a massive burden on our present. And it really can be. Pain teaches us a lot. And sometimes we think of some of its most painful lessons and sometimes we learn really negative things. But it teaches us more than that. Like how to persevere, how to endure, how to survive.
When you look at your pain history and what you have carried with you from it. Pain always has a price. And that price takes a massive toll on us mentally and impacts our entire lives. It is all too easy to feel horrible because of it and to blame ourselves. Whether that is hopelessness or bitterness or resentment or whatever you feel from it that affects how you cope now… I want you to remember:
- You have survived every moment. We are survivors.
- You are resilient and you get through the ebbs and flows of chronic pain
- You are stronger than you will ever know
- We cannot change the past but the future is ours to create so every little improvement we make to coping and our wellbeing
- Exist within your limits and know what you can do has value