Chronic pain is more than just physical. Living with pain day in and day out can wreak havoc with your mental health too. We asked Clinical Counsellor, author and chronic pain survivor, Dr Dawn Macintyre, how chronic pain can impact mental health, and how you can combat it.
1. It is one of the most isolating conditions.
“Because the nature of chronic pain means it’s always present in some form, it affects one’s mood, mobility and overall demeanour,” says Dr Macintyre.
“It can be impossible to enjoy the company of others at times, yet we also crave social connectedness.
TIP – try to have discussions with relevant people in your life, explain the irregularity of your pain and ask them to keep asking if you would like to join them.
“Explain that we are not shunning them; rather, at times we are so exhausted it’s impossible to socialise. However, this is not always the case – it’s unpredictable.”
2. We live in constant flight or fight mode, never knowing when the next intense 'event' will strike.
“Which means we can go out, socialise or go to work and then bang – we are suddenly causing a scene because the pain becomes relentless and in my case at least, very obvious as I may drop to the floor in spasm, vomit and be unable to move,” Dr Macintyre says.
“The anxiety of this happening creates the flight or fight which in turn makes it difficult to relax and enjoy.
TIP – meditation and visualisation of positive scenarios and deregulating the system through various techniques (maybe yoga, breathing walking etc).
3. Sometimes we look OK - and people think we are better. This often creates stigma and a situation where we close down.
“Sometimes it feels we would be better if in a wheelchair or cast. Then our pain would be validated, legitimised and somehow create empathy,” Dr Macintyre says.
But when pain is hidden and nonspecific, it can become problematic.
“Being not believed or suggesting hypochondria is demeaning and frustrating. It breaks up relationships.
TIP – You shouldn’t feel as though you have to explain yourself all of the time.
“Let those close to you know that it’s frustrating and complex,” suggests Dr Macintyre. “They can choose to believe or otherwise. Living with pain is not something we choose – although we can learn to manage it to varying degrees.”
4. We feel a burden to our loved ones.
“Not being able to pull our weight the way we used to is incredibly frustrating,” Dr Macintyre explains.
“For me, I wasn’t able to play with my grandkids, or at times be in their presence because when I spasmed, it was a scary experience for the young ones. My partner had to be my carer and I was unable to contribute to the household tasks.
TIP – again, discuss concerns and recognise the things you can do in the moments of less pain. “Don’t assume you are a burden – your loved ones may see it quite differently.
“Also, work on the theory ‘This too shall pass”. It’s easy to catastrophise and think it’s always this way, when hopefully for most of us, we do have times when we can do more.”