10 Things I’ve Learned About Chronic Pain

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I live with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue. My pain comes from Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis in all my major joints, Myofascial Pain, a condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia, Diabetes (and Neuropathy that comes from that), Pelvic Adhesions, a spinal condition called Forestier’s Disease, aka D.I.S.H. which stands for Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis, Gastroparesis and several other medical conditions.

The author showing various pictures of her face in pain

My many faces of pain

I’ve been living with Chronic pain for over 30 years now, from the time I was a teen, and I’ve learned a few things in those years. I’d like to share 10 of those things with you now.

1. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE

No matter how long I’ve been in pain for, I’ve never given up hope that things are going to get better. Some days I have are pure agony. Some days are pure delight. I cling to the good days as a reminder that things can be better and often are. There is always hope.

2. A GOOD DOCTOR IS TO BE TREASURED

Doctors have a hard time treating patients with chronic pain because they haven’t been trained well. They’re trained to diagnose a problem and solve it, so chronic pain is frustrating for them as well. If you don’t have a sympathetic doctor who is doing everything they can for you, find another doctor. When you do find one, be honest with them. Share everything…your depression, your anger, your worries. A good doctor wants to help you, but if you can’t share with them, you’re not giving them the chance to do all they can.

3. SUPPORT GROUPS AREN’T RIGHT FOR EVERYONE

Some people thrive in a support group. Others tend to get tired of the constant back patting and “Oh my gawd, I’m so sorry” conversations. Some are in the middle. I think a support group can be a great thing, as long as it’s the right fit. You want a group where you can feel heard and valued while offering support to the others as well – not just a one-way street. I also think it’s important to not jump into every group you hear about. That just becomes confusing and almost like a competition, to see how much sympathy you can drum up. You have to be willing to give back and you can’t forge honest relationships with people when you’re in a dozen active groups in my opinion. Unless that’s all you do all day long. And if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you, because you’re obviously not getting something you truly need.

4. CHRONIC PAIN IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN TO OTHERS

Despite having great tools like the Spoon Theory and the Battery Analogy to talk about how much energy it costs us to live with chronic pain, it’s almost impossible to get others to understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain day in and day out. Here’s the thing…THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY. I can’t make it any more clear than that. No matter what I’m doing, or not doing. I’m hurting. Sometimes I’m in agony, like when I get a Trigeminal Neuralgia Flare up. Try to imagine the last time you experienced brain freeze from eating/drinking something cold…do you remember that sensation? That agonizing pierce of pain in your brain?  Now try to imagine that same feeling but in your cheekbone…for 12 hours in a row. Can’t imagine it?? Go try and get brain freeze as a reminder. That’s what my TN flare-ups are like. They start in my cheekbone and spread to my sinus cavity and my eye, then down to my jaw, and to my esophagus. I get spasms in my throat and often I get chest pain as well. For 12 hours.

My Fibromyalgia pain feels like my limbs are in concrete…it’s a heavy throbbing sensation in my arms and legs that make them impossible to move. The Neuropathy I feel in my feet is like pins and needles that never go away. My back pain is so intolerable that I can’t sweep my floors for more than 5 minutes without my lower spine seizing up.

5. DID I MENTION, THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY.

Sometimes it lightens up a bit, maybe after I’ve had a rare good night’s sleep, but if I’ve done too much on a particular day, the next day will be agony. Every day is different, and I’ve learned that there is no rhyme or reason as to what might cause a flare and why some days are better than others. Even as I’m typing this, my hands and wrists are throbbing and I’m making more mistakes typing than I normally do. When I sleep, I have to make sure my fingers aren’t curled, or I’ll wake up and won’t be able to move them.

6. COMFORT ROUTINES FOR FLARE UP DAYS ARE LIFESAVERS

In order to combat chronic pain, you need to have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. This can include medications, therapies like massage or chiropractic care, acupuncture, heat, cold, stretching, yoga, and other items that help you when your pain is flaring up. Warm fluffy blankets and socks, a TENS machine or massaging unit, a roll-on pain medication – whatever you find works for you is part of your comfort routine and it’s important that you use these items when needed before your pain becomes even worse.

Kitten resting in a fluffy blanket

7. PACING REALLY DOES WORK

One of the important things you learn when you have chronic pain is that you have a limited amount of energy and you have to pace yourself throughout the day/week, etc. in order to stay ahead of the pain. Pacing is critical in helping to prevent flare-ups or in helping to reduce the number of flare-ups you may experience. There comes a point when you may have to consider outside help for chores because you can’t do them all. Perhaps a teenage neighbour can help with cleaning or laundry or care in the garden. Maybe you decide to hire a cleaning service twice a month for a deep clean that you can’t get to. Whatever you need and whatever you decide, my best advice is to lose the guilt. It’s not your fault you have chronic pain. You do what you need to, in order to make your home a happy one again.

8. SLEEP IS A VERY GOOD THING

Most people with chronic pain struggle to get good sleep, just by the very nature of being in pain. Take the time to establish a good sleep routine and don’t be afraid to nap during the day if that’s what your body requires. Just sent a timer for no more than 90 minutes (one sleep cycle) and do it early enough that it won’t interfere with bedtime. If you need to ask your doctor about sleep medications, then ask. Don’t be afraid of them, but perhaps try the more natural solutions first, like melatonin. Your doctor can give you the best advice.

9. WE ARE ALL WARRIORS

Just by the mere fact you are reading this and identifying with it, you are a warrior. Living with chronic pain is no picnic my friend and those of us who do it struggle every single day of our lives. Some days are good, some days are bad and some days are too difficult to talk about. It takes a special kind of strength to manage chronic pain and life at the same time and I admire every single person out there who is doing it. You are a warrior.

10. I’VE FINALLY ACCEPTED MY BODY THE WAY IT IS

For all my bravado and positive spirit, it took me a long time to learn to love this pain-filled body of mine. When I was forced to leave my job at the top of my game in 2009 I was devastated. I didn’t think I’d ever be useful to anyone again and I sank into a deep depression over how my body had let me down. It took several years before I was able to accept that this truly was my “new normal” and that returning to work wasn’t going to happen for me. When I found myself in a place where my health had improved somewhat, and I felt I had something to give back, I started volunteering for the Patient Voices Network and that really helped me get back on my feet. I am able to take part in committee work again, but at a pace that works for me and my health. I’m better able to accept my body and all it’s medical failings because I’ve found ways to contribute again.

I’ve also been able to get involved in hobbies again such as crafting and reading. I’m learning how to crochet and do needlepoint, all things I didn’t have time for when I was too busy working. So accepting my limitations also opened the door to new things for me to try, which has been a blessing. Perhaps you’re in the same place now, ready to accept that this is your new normal, and it’s an okay place to be. If you’re going to be in pain anyways, doesn’t it make sense to accept it and find ways to make the best of it.

CONCLUSION

I’ve been blessed with a positive nature that has helped to get me through a lot of difficult situations in my life. Chronic pain and my medical conditions are part of that. I believe in God and trust Jesus every day to be there for me. I have wonderful family and friends who have been so supportive of me. I belong to a great support group online that genuinely cares about me. More than anything though, and as my first point says,

There is always hope

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Overcoming Depression With Fibromyalgia And Invisible Illness

If you are a patient with Fibromyalgia or another Invisible Illness, chances are you’ve felt depressed at some point. Depression is prominent in fibromyalgia patients with the risk of getting depressive symptoms at least once being about 90% and getting major depressive disorder (MDD) being about 62–86% in fibromyalgia patients*.
Depression Is a Big StormBy following an appropriate fibromyalgia treatment plan and getting the support of family and friends, you can take control of your fibromyalgia. You can also get control over your symptoms of depression and improve your quality of life.

What Is Depression?

Sadness is a normal reaction to loss or life’s struggles.  Depression surpasses sadness and becomes a problem that affects your whole life. People who are depressed commonly experience:

  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • weight loss or gain
  • thoughts about death
  • Irritability and guilt
  • Anxiety that won’t go away
  • Insecurity and a feeling of helplessness
  • decreased energy
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • uncontrollable tearfulness

These thoughts, physical changes, and feelings interfere with daily life.

What Is the Link Between Fibromyalgia and Depression?

The stress from fibromyalgia’s pain and fatigue can cause anxiety and social isolation. The chronic deep muscle and tender point pain can result in less activity. That causes you to become more withdrawn and can also lead to depression. It is also possible that anxiety and depression are part of fibromyalgia, just like the pain.

Depression and fibromyalgia can greatly interfere with the way you manage your activities at home or at work. So it is important to openly discuss any symptoms of depression you have with your doctors.

Does Stress Increase Depression With Fibromyalgia?

The stress of living with chronic pain and relentless fatigue can put a person into “overload.”  This results in near catastrophic levels of nervousness and anxiety. Doctors aren’t certain yet whether stress brings on Fibromyalgia or if Fibromyalgia brings on stress. All we know for certain is that it’s a vicious circle and that stress adds to problems of anger and irritability. Most patients feel their pain and fatigue worsening over time.

Is Depression Common With Invisible Illness?

Feelings of depression are common with all types of chronic pain, including headache, back and neck pain, hip pain, shoulder pain, and the pain of fibromyalgia. For example, the prevalence of major depression in people with chronic low back pain is about three times greater than in the general population.

Continuing that vicious circle, being depressed also increases the risk of developing chronic pain. Patients describe greater disturbances because of pain and display more pain behaviours than other pain patients who are not depressed.

One of the worst things that happens is that people with chronic pain such as fibromyalgia start to isolate themselves from family and friends at a time when they often need them the most. They become more focused on their pain, which causes further withdrawal which then causes more depression and round and round it goes.

Ways to Ease Depression With Fibromyalgia

It’s important to understand that fibromyalgia is more than the deep muscle pain and tender points you feel. It encompasses everything about you — your feelings, emotions, and attitude; the way you respond to stress; and the way you communicate with others.

The good news is, though, that while there is no cure, the fibromyalgia pain and symptoms of depression can be successfully treated.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

One of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia and depression is a program called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviours. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, including depression, and anxiety.

This negative self-talk can fuel a sense that negative experiences are catastrophes, which further increases stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.

Your doctor can refer you to a CBT program offered individually (often online) or in a group format.

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

This program, which teaches mindfulness to patients, had demonstrated remarkable benefits for reducing fibromyalgia pain as well as anxiety and depression. “Mindfulness is an awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of mindfulness in medicine.

Being mindful means intentionally being present with your breath, thoughts, feelings, and sensations. You can practice mindfulness through meditation, body scans, mindful eating, or mindful movements like yoga or Tai Chi.

You can find an MBSR program offered in your community through your doctor.

  • Music for Pain Management

Music has a powerful effect on the mind – listening to music is associated with the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that is known to have a role in the body’s natural pain-relieving mechanisms. It also produces relaxation, which in turn can help to lift your mood and ease your pain.

A study published in Science Daily found that, when people with chronic pain listen to music for an hour a day, they experienced up to a 21 per cent reduction in pain and a 25 per cent reduction in depression. Additionally, they found that listening to music made participants feel less disabled by their condition and more in control of their pain.

Music that you find relaxing is likely to be the most effective for improving mood and pain levels. However, music doesn’t have to be soft and soothing to be effective. Whatever type of music makes you happy is the best kind to listen to, so go ahead and turn on Rock & Roll, Grunge, Heavy Metal or Classical…it’s your choice.

  • Medication

Medication does have a role in treating depression in people living with Fibromyalgia or other Invisible Illnesses. Only your doctor can know for sure if you require medication so it’s important you seek medical care if you are experiencing the symptoms of depression.  The goal is to help you feel better and often a short course of medication might be an option in conjunction with one of the above treatment options as well.

As you can see, depression can wreak havoc on the body already plagued by Fibromyalgia. Don’t let it isolate you from your family and friends. If you’re experiencing signs of depression, seek help. The sooner you start, the better the chances are of decreasing your pain and suffering and getting you back on track to better health.

There is always hope

*https://www.news-medical.net/health/Fibromyalgia-Depression-and-Anxiety.aspx

Interview April – Terri Sutula

Readers, thank you for checking out our final Interviewee – the fabulous Terri Sutula. 

TerriSutula

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

Hi, I’m Terri Sutula, and I currently live in the state of Virginia, USA. I’ve been married to the love of my life for the last 21 years, and I’m the Mom of a fabulous grown son. I served 20 years in the Air Force, and after I retired, I went back to school and received my degree in Religion (emphasis church ministry), then obtained my certifications in Personal Training and Health Coaching with the goal of developing a whole-person health ministry. Those plans took a bit of a turn in 2011…. Now I consider my blog to be my ministry, and I hope that by sharing my journey, setbacks and all, I can let people know that there is still life – a great life – after diagnosis, and help them avoid the hopelessness I felt at one point during my illness.

One fascinating fact about me is:

I don’t know if I’d call it fascinating, but it’s something my family loves to tease me about…. I’m constantly making up silly songs to popular tunes. I just can’t seem to help myself haha.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

My main issue is fibromyalgia, though I’ve suffered from migraines my entire life, and have also lived with endometriosis, early osteoporosis (probably from the endometriosis treatment), and irritable bowel syndrome for years.

My symptoms/condition began…

Around 2011, my primary fibromyalgia symptoms began after a “snowball” of illnesses, accidents, and a stressful move. I got the flu and soon after that, was diagnosed with subacute thyroiditis, which resolved after about a year. During the same period, I had a couple of bad falls which ended with me doing a face-plant on the pavement. My second fall ended in a trip to the Emergency Room and pain in my ribs for months afterwards. Then, about a year later, we moved to another city, and everything that could go wrong did. I became extremely stressed out, my abdominal symptoms got worse and worse, and the fatigue and whole-body pain became overwhelming.

My diagnosis process was… 

Surprisingly enough, my diagnosis process was pretty quick and easy. I went to my Primary Care doctor, explained my symptoms and my accompanying illnesses, and he checked me for tender points, did some bloodwork, and confirmed what I suspected – that I had fibromyalgia.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…

The hardest thing for me to come to terms with is my physical limitations. As I mentioned earlier, I was in the military for 20 years, stayed mentally and physically strong, and was capable of doing pretty much anything I put my mind to. Learning to work within my revised capabilities has really been a challenge, but it has also been a time of growth. It’s given me greater empathy for others and I’ve discovered a new sense of purpose.

 A typical day for me involves…

I’m not sure I have a really “typical” day – I just do whatever needs to be done on a given day. I do try to do some blog work most days, and I break my cleaning chores into different days so I’m not trying to do everything at once. We’ve started picking up groceries for a few days at a time rather than doing a “big” shopping trip once a week. It gets me out of the house and helps me work with my energy levels. It’s a lot easier to run into the store for a few things than to spend a long time shopping. I guess I’d say I do all the “normal” things others do, just on a smaller, more relaxed scale. I’ve learned that pacing my activities is key to keeping flares at bay.

 The one thing I cannot live without is…

 I have to say that there are actually two things I can’t live without, my faith and a sense of humour. Both of these are my keys to not just surviving, but thriving, with fibromyalgia and any other adverse event or circumstance that comes my way.

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

This illness has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be strong all the time; it’s okay to share the load with others and asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s actually a sign of strength.

 My support system is…

My absolute biggest supporter is my husband, and I’m so grateful to have him. I’m very fortunate to have a really supportive family in general, but he’s my day-by-day, minute-by-minute supporter. He sees what I go through many days and is always willing to do whatever I need him to do.

If I had one-day symptom/disability-free I would…

I would go hiking on one of the beautiful trails we have around here. My hubby and I used to love to pack a picnic lunch and go hiking, and unfortunately, my pain and energy levels don’t allow us to do that right now. My goal is to work my way up to at least some of the easy trails.

 One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

You find out what’s really important to you when you have a chronic illness/disability. When you aren’t in such a place of “doing” all the time, as I was before I became ill, you can concentrate on the things that really add the most value and joy to your life.

One final thing I want people to know is:

There is hope, and there is a fulfilling life after diagnosis. Your life might not look exactly the way you imagined and you might have to learn to adjust to your “new normal” but this new phase of your life might open up even greater opportunities for you to live a life of joy and purpose.

My links are:

Blog: https://reclaiminghope.blog

Facebook: https://facebook.com/hopereclaiming

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hopereclaiming

Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/reclaiminghopeblog