Sarah Shockley explains how you can be kinder to yourself and give yourself some much needed love, whilst dealing with chronic pain.
Living in pain can make life seem joyless. Not only are we suffering from physical symptoms, but it seems like pain takes over everything. We go to sleep in it, wake up in it, eat in it, love in it, parent in it. Even though we try to put a good face on things, at some point, we’re probably going to HATE our pain.
When pain is chronic, when it won’t leave no matter what we do, we often blame ourselves. What is wrong with me, we ask, that I can’t heal? Maybe I haven’t done enough, haven’t tried hard enough, must have made a mistake somewhere along the way to have ended up in this pain. This is all wrong, life is wrong, and maybe I am wrong.
While disliking pain is understandable, it’s important that we don’t transfer that dislike, anger, and even hatred onto ourselves. It’s not conducive to healing and can serve to keep us stuck in both physical and emotional pain.
So how do we move on from there?
I found that the most helpful thing I could do for my well-being and to support my overall healing was to find ways to move away from the anger, resentment, blame, and fear of living with pain. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to heal my physical pain when I was in so much emotional pain. I made a conscious effort to renew my sense of joy and pleasure in life and not wait for pain to leave before I did that. In fact, I felt it was imperative not to wait so that I wouldn’t slide into depression, hopelessness, and despair. I chose to renew my sense of self worth and self trust through loving myself more, even in the midst of pain. Here’s what worked.
Seven ways to love yourself through chronic pain:
- Separate your feelings about yourself from your feelings about your pain. Remember that you are still here. You are still you. You are experiencing pain, but pain is not the totality of who you are. There is always more to you than your pain. Love that.
- Find ways to be more compassionate, soft, and kind to yourself. We are such an accomplishment-oriented society, that we often transfer the Type-A approach we have for our work lives to our approach to physical healing. But I have found that the body does not always respond well to pushing it to heal. You can be kinder to yourself by:
- asking for help when you need it
- resting often
- reducing or throwing away your to-do list
- allowing your body the time it takes to heal and trusting it
- acknowledging what you’re going through and giving yourself a break from trying to keep up with everyone else
- Remember that healing is not a straight line. It goes up and down and spirals around. Some days you will feel better. Some days you will feel worse. This has nothing to do with your worth as a person, it is simply part of the healing journey. Don’t blame yourself on your bad days. Be gentle and know that this is a day to pull back in as many ways as you can. Say no when you need to. Instead of hating that you can’t be productive, love yourself by pampering and taking care of yourself. Know that there is no more important job for you right now than to heal.
- Consider not only being more loving and kind to yourself, but being kinder and more loving to the painful parts of you too. Remember, pain is a signal from your body. It really isn’t the enemy. I have found that the more I fight it, resist it, or hate it, the more stubborn it is. If I can find ways to be softer with pain, understanding that it is a sign that my body is trying to heal, then I can relax a little more about having it in my life. The less I fight it and hate it, the sooner it begins to move, to release, to ease. So, as strange as this sounds, find ways to be more loving with your pain. Speak to it softly. Ask it what it needs. Treat it like a wounded animal that needs love and tenderness.
- Remember that there are still joys and pleasures that can be had, even in pain. Yes, pain may still be there, but you don’t need to starve yourself of the things you enjoy. You deserve to feel good about yourself and to love the people, things, events, smells, and sounds that you have always loved. Maybe they must be experienced in smaller doses. Maybe pain has to come along for the ride, but love yourself enough to indulge where and when you can in simple pleasures. It’s not just more enjoyable, it’s crucial to keeping depression and hopelessness at bay.
- Congratulate yourself warmly and wholeheartedly for each new day you meet, for still being here, for carrying on, for sticking with yourself and for loving yourself through this challenging path.
- Take yourself off the hook. Pain is not a test or a punishment. You have not failed or made a mistake. Being in pain has no bearing on your self worth. Let go of self-recrimination. Everyone meets pain on the path of life, whether it is emotional or physical. No one has a completely pain free existence. Love yourself enough to know that you are not alone on this journey through pain.
Finding ways to love yourself through pain not only makes the path a little easier and less stressful, it can help lift physical symptoms. When you come through the other side you will have gained something valuable: wisdom, compassion, insights, kindness, and greater trust in life and appreciation for who you are and the journey you have made.
Sarah Anne Shockley
Sarah is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain (New World Library, 2018). In the Fall of 2007, she contracted Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), a collapse of the area between the clavicles and first ribs, and has lived with debilitating nerve pain ever since. She has been a columnist for Pain News Network and is a regular contributor to The Mighty, a 1.5 million–member online community for those living with chronic illness and pain. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area . You can visit her online at The Pain Companion.