Living in constant pain unfortunately is a reality for 1.5 billion people around the world, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine. From a mild pain to severe pain, having pain as your companion every day, throughout your day is not an easy reality to cope with. It can also cause stress on families, extended sick leaves, unemployment, as well as misunderstanding from friends and family. And it can be a lonely way to live life.
But if pain is such a common thing, and it becomes more obvious as we grow older, how can you live your life in a satisfying way, despite feeling in constant pain? Keep on reading to find out more.
Fibromyalgia: The apparent invisible pain
In my private practice, this has been a condition that often appears in depressed patients. And the more pain they’re in, the more they feel depressed; the more they feel depressed, the more it hurts. It’s a vicious cycle that reduces significantly when a patient is less depressed and learns how to control a certain amount of pain with their mind. But how can you not feel discouraged in your life if you have a diffuse pain all over that doesn’t show up on x-rays and doesn’t respond well to medication? You might start thinking it’s all in your head. It’s not.
What exactly is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that consists of diffuse musculoskeletal pain, like muscle and joint pain, as well as an incapacitating fatigue. It’s often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. And it is accompanied by psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Other symptoms can appear and it often varies from patient to patient.
Socially speaking, it’s hard for others to understand why these people complain so much and often skip work. Apparently they’re fine! They don’t have any injury, it’s all in their heads! But is it? Only patients can answer that question, but from what I’ve seen, fibromyalgia patients deserve praise for their bravery in facing pain and not criticism.
And it’s definitely not easy to deal with misunderstanding in your own home: when your spouse and children refuse to help out or criticize the patient constantly. Others see fibromyalgia as an excuse to not do anything and spend all day in bed.
Mind over body: How does that help ease the pain?
Most of the time, pain has a reason. Not only spiritual but psychological. Sometimes we can’t process our emotions on a conscious level (or even begin to face them) and that’s when your body starts aching. “Always listen to what your body is telling you. It’s important. And it will keep on getting worse until you’re forced to stop and really listen.”—I say to my patients. And that is exactly what happens. When they ignore it or try to sweep it under the rug, they usually end up sick in bed with nothing to do, except to process feelings and deeper emotions.
From this strong experience with patients, I also started to listen to my body signs. Of course, most psychologists have studied pain theories in college, but they don’t seem to make much sense when we need them! And if you’re like me, you don’t trust a pill to do all the magic for you. (Health specialists make the worse patients.)
Anyway, my body started talking to me or I started listening and trying to understand what the pain meant. My shoulders hurt terribly when I feel like the weight the world is on me; my stomach hurts when something or someone bothers me; and my head hurts when I’m just too tired to think and really need a break.
So, it’s not a matter of mind over body, but mostly listening to your body because your mind might me trying to communicate through it. But as you’ll see from the example below, mind can override the body’s commands.
How to deal with being in pain every day? A few helpful strategies
This is something I’ve learned over time in my work with seniors. Probably because they’re most likely to be in constant pain due to a long life of hard work or illness. But the good news is: the impact of living in constant pain can be smoothed and there is a life to live despite pain.
The mind can be distracted from pain.
It’s true. The pain will not go away but it can be minimized and take up less space in your mind. How? You need to fill your mind with things you truly love. Do you love dancing and your constant back pain that makes you limp is stopping you? Don’t stop dancing over it! Dance less and with less energy, but don’t stop dancing! I’m saying this because I’ve been a witness that it can be done, and what my 68-year-old patient tells me is: “Let’s forgive the evil it does me afterwards, for the pleasure I’m feeling now.” And he truly feels alive again and for an hour forgets his awful back pain.
A great attitude is halfway through. (Portuguese saying. In English: A great attitude is half the battle.)
It’s possible to live with constant pain and that possibility is mainly due to your willpower. Things are much harder to face now, you’ll want to give up often, but don’t let the pain take away your pleasure in living. You’re still alive, make the best of what you can, with what you’ve got.
Pain doesn’t have to be your only companion.
Suffering in silence is a way of giving in to pain. Although pain is a highly subjective sensation, because it all depends on how you see it, sharing how you feel with others can be of great help. And that doesn’t mean you have to complain all the time; it means pain shouldn’t stop you from being around others, from seeing the world, from having fun.
Don’t let the pain define you.
You’re more than just a collection of illnesses and aches. You have a family, you’ve had (or still have) a profession, you have things to teach others, you have things to learn yourself. You are so much more than your pain. Don’t forget that.
Pain is a part of your life. It’s NOT your life.
Daniela Anéis has been a clinical psychologist since 2009, with a Masters degree in Systemic at Lisbon University, Portugal. Her first experience as a clinical psychologist was in a private and Catholic mental hospital, the eldest religious congregation in the country devoted to mental health – and a real school. In 2012, she created a community based project at her hometown called Senior’s University which, through volunteer work, teaches classes to people over their 50’s and most of them retired. There are no homework, no tests and no diplomas, only people learning and enjoying life. Besides the classes, the parties, and the field trips, the main objective is to promote active ageing and enhance people’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
As a therapist in private practice, she often works with families and teenagers. She will read anything and everything that has to do with Existential Psychology and Positive Psychology.
Daniela Anéis is an optimistic and her “glass is always half-full.” Her work with active Seniors has taught her to value life even more and most importantly, life-experience. She teaches an Emotional Intelligence and Positive Psychology class but learns far more than she could ever pass on. She always has an inspiring story to tell about her “students”.
She’s hoping to reach 90 and live life to the fullest. Always working to be the better version of herself. And believing her mission in life is to relieve others from suffering.
Read more about Daniela at her blog. (In Portugese)
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