I have written on this subject before because it is something I have been pondering for some time as a metaphor to delve into how I think about pain. A metaphor that works for me because I am a writer.
Now a story has a character, ourselves, and chapter, our lives, and a Plot.
The plot though isn’t the whole story. No there is also this theme that underlays the whole story… infuses it. Is embedded in it that we don’t necessarily see or feel or know. Because we Know the Plot. We know the history of the past chapters. And we Think we know the Plot.
Things Chronic Pain teaches us that creates a bit of a false story we tell ourselves
Past chapters in our lives will predict future chapters in the story
In other words, knowing the past, is fearing the future. My past was consumed by pain, therefore my future will be consumed by pain.
But… first things first, our brains are designed to focus on negative past events for survival. Hey, remember when you touched that hot thing? Yeah, not doing that again. And so we don’t. And we remember. But it doesn’t work so well in a world where we are not exactly in a survival situation all the time. So we remember all this negative stuff and have to focus to remember all the good stuff. And there is a whole lot of good stuff. So first of all, our past was not a blot of PAIN, it was a whole lot of memories, emotions, variable pain, good stuff, bad stuff, mediocre stuff… lots of stuff. And the future will be likely similar… variable pain, unless we get some sort of miraculous treatment, and hey, it happens.
Also there is fear of the Magnitude of Future pain because we focus on the Magnitude of Past pain. But we live second by second, nanosecond by nanosecond in the Now… not by the Magnitude of all time.
Don’t finish the book before it is even written. We don’t know what future chapters hold.
The plot is the whole meaning we make from the pain experience. We all make different meaning. Meanings.
Here is how we make our plot:
- Pain is the stimulus we cannot be rid of. It happens. Period
- We have a psychological response. We can treat this a bit with medication. And we have all sorts of other methods to cope with pain at various levels that may or may not help depending on the level of pain.
- We have an emotional reaction to it. Again, our brain is Wired to have an emotional reaction to pain. -we can calm that reaction but react We Will.
- We have thoughts about that reaction and make beliefs-
- We then create meaning and a story about our pain-
- That story either a) works for us b) works against us
My emotional reaction was decidedly depressive over time. Hopeless. So this is my plot which will not be yours. And the beliefs and thoughts that manifested from it, which likely will be different than yours. We have different thought processes, mindsets and behaviors. But some of the results you may recognize because some of those happen anyway, with a different road there with chronic illness.
And these are the beliefs that manifested from that:
- Nothing ever worked to treat the pain
- I would be in pain forever, unmanaged, and just suffer
- There was no point in trying anything because nothing ever helped
- I just had to push through it
- I would never achieve my goals or ambitions so what was the point?
- This is just an existence, not a life
And when I looked at my past chapters, at that time in my life, the plot and meaning of my story was this:
Life is suffering and that is all that it will ever be. Period.
Is this a story that worked For me? Or Against me?
Obviously it worked against me. Really against me.
With a story like this, there is no hope for acceptance. There is no hope for improve life satisfaction or well-being. I had a negative view of all options because everything Fails so why even Try, right? No point.
Things I wasn’t capable of then with that story and mindset:
- Any bit of self-compassion
- Any level of acceptance
- Any forward momentum for change
- Any self-development to improve my Own pain management
- Adjusting my values to suit my life as it was
- Adjusting my self-identity to suit my life as it was
- Being realistic with my goals given my chronic pain
Things I was Very capable of
- Low self-worth
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling like a failure
- Feeling hopeless
And I ended up in a deep depression. I had unmanaged pain. I obviously had horrible, horrible beliefs and thoughts that backed up that depression extremely well and were well embedded by then.
This was a very bad time in my life, by the way. I had all this going on in my headspace. I was working full time when there was no way in hell I should have been but I kept at it anyway, even though all evidence suggested it was destroying me mentally, emotionally and physically… kept at it. My pain was not managed. At all. And I can’t say that it ever really will be managed well, but with this mindset Plus working like I was and exceeding my limits I sure amplified that pain and stress into the perfect hell storm. I was primed for a burnout. And I did. And I kept on going past that. That was a big mistake.
There were things I knew about coping. Had learned years and years ago that I didn’t do because I believed I needed a career, needed to work, needed to function, needed to be what society wanted of me. I had specific Values and Rules and I forced myself to adhere to them even though those values and rules did not Fit the actual facts of my chronic pain life. They would have been fine to live by for a healthy person. Just not me in this real actual life I had. And I couldn’t see that or adjust them… because I didn’t see them as a problem.
Here is the thing
This is not the theme of this story. I will talk about that in Part II. Secondly, I will also talk about the fact I am the actual Author of this story, in Part III.
So we can change this story.
Fact is, anyone can change their story about any meaning they have developed that doesn’t work for the life they have now. The BIG MASSIVE ISSUE with chronic pain is that in our case it starts with PAIN.
And, we cannot DENY pain.
No one could deny I was in pain. And if you cannot argue with that 1st premise then how can you argue with my Meaning that life is suffering and always will be? One therapist told me I was ‘too intelligent to argue with’ when I discussed this with her. And she was right. Not about my sparkling brilliance but that she couldn’t argue with it. You can’t. That is a fact. That isn’t what the point is at all. We know that. You try and argue that, you will get nowhere fast. As she did, as that was the last time I saw her.
The point is that pain and suffering are not the same thing. Pain is the sensation. Suffering is the result; the emotional reaction, the beliefs we make, the thoughts that come from the beliefs. It is ALL of that. And That, we can do things about. If that therapist had torn down my faulty tower of beliefs and thoughts about pain then we would have gotten somewhere and I would have been in a better place a whole lot sooner. Instead of working this out the long, hard way.
Which leads to part II coming soon to a blog post
By the way, I had Major Depressive Disorder so keep in mind to treat this I went to therapy for some time and eventually I did need medication. There are some holes that we need a lot of help to get out of. And depression and pain can get very tangled together. I saw a very good pain psychologist at the pain clinic while getting pain management. I respond rather well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy because thinking about my thoughts and beliefs rationally really works for me, if there is someone there to point out ‘hey, that is sort of skewed or slanted in this sort of way’. It just didn’t work for me all the way because I still needed to wrap my head around this in my own sort of way and that took a little longer.