CHRONIC PAIN AND RESILIENCY
For Grace (an organization passionately devoted to promoting better care and wellness for women) had a University of Michigan psychologist, Afton L. Hassett, Psy.D speak at their 8th annual Woman In Pain conference in Los Angeles this September (2015). Of which, the National Pain Report published an article on her talk titled, "Positive emotions can help fight chronic pain". They stated her message was "quite simple --resilient exercises aren't going to make your pain go away, but they can increase the quality of life." "When you feel happier, you do more and it puts you on an upward spiral." And the National Pain Report also shared:
"She outlined a number of things that she recommends chronic pain patients can do to enhance resilience.
1. : More social interaction and engaging with friends and even people you don’t know is a key step.
2. She suggests that your write down three things you are grateful for each day, and make sure there are three different things each day. “You start to appreciate everything from your family to sunshine.”
3. Hassett says that chronic pain patients should set aside a block of time each day for their own pleasures. “It helps you focus on what you have.”
4. Do one kind thing a day for yourself, a stranger and someone you know.
5. Hassett said that concentrating not only the fact good things happened buy Why They Happened can promote resilience."
These ideas presented regarding RESILIENCE, are well founded. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_resilience . I have implemented similar practices into my life even before my chronic pain invaded it. Personally, I had to refocus my constant cycle of thoughts of pain and dreading what it was doing to me. I was drowning in it! I also feel that others can try to integrate some of these suggestions into their chronic pain journey and will find some benefits, as they are ready, able and willing.
However, one thing of great importance that was left out was practicing ones faith and drawing upon the many strengths found there that gives the majority of chronic pain survivors a solid foundation to hang onto and is in the forefront of survival for many!
I feel many need to be aware of several things a chronic pain sufferer deals with in life to understand where they are at with being resilient.
AWARENESS OF WHAT WE HEAR
It was stated that the article covering this Resiliency theory led to a "dubious" debate by readers as reported by the National Pain Report in another article, "Surprising Argument Over Chronic Pain Resiliency Erupts” on the National Pain Report website and their Facebook page.
I was perplexed when I read this comment by psychologist, Afton L Hassett, Psy.D, the National Pain Report stated, "In a follow-up interview with Dr. Hassett in Michigan, she said she was surprised by the chasm that seems to exist between those embrace the resilience argument and those who see it negatively."
Between the “chasm that seems to exist” and the “dubious” debate that the first article caused I want to address both. First of all, I'm not sure if "dubious" would be a good term to use regarding this topic. Although I agree with what Dr. Hassett is saying about using these techniques, I fully understand why many don’t find these helpful at all!
Better descriptors for them than “dubious” would be terms like, irate, annoyed, angry, disgusted, or irritated, For many of us chronic pain sufferers have repeatedly heard similar "positive” statements along our chronic pain journey!
Secondly, the “chasm that seems to exist’ is simply due to the fact that many chronic pain sufferers, who have been dealing with moderate to severe pain for months and even years, would equate what was said by Dr Hassett to these frequent statements, verbally tossed at chronic pain sufferers, by "well-meaning" acquaintances, friends, family, as well as many health care workers.
Statements such as, ‘If you would have a better attitude!" "Don't focus on the pain so much!" "Look on the bright side of things!" "Things could be worse!" "Focus on your blessings!" "Try to be positive, listen to good music, and watch a fun movie! That'll take your mind off the pain!" "Laughter is known to help pain!" The list goes on and on!
These statements, as well as the teachings presented by Dr. Hassett, can appear to simplify what we should do with our horrendous chronic pain; it is like be told to place it in a nicely wrapped package and stick a pretty bow on top!
AWARENESS OF WHAT WE ENDURE
Most times the well-meaning, well wishers that say these things don’t have any idea of the plethora of activities we deal with to try and overcome our pain (constant doctor appts, multiple tests, horrible medication trials, behavioral, physical and occupational therapy appointments, alternative medicine, etc.).
Not only that, but many don’t understand the levels of loss chronic pain sufferers deal with. If they, or anyone in their lives, have never experienced the physical, emotional, spiritual, social or financial devastation chronic pain causes, how could they comprehend these depths? Due to such lack of awareness, how would they know what is appropriate to say to one suffering? Nonetheless, we are provided with these “positive”, albeit not so helpful, statements relatively frequently. So, can you understand how a debate would ensue and why there is a chasm?
AWARENESS OF OUR LOSSES
It would be wonderful if there was awareness by others of our losses. Every single chronic pain survivor is suffering insurmountable losses in their chronic pain journey, as described in this article, A Look at Our Losses. These are ongoing losses due to experiencing the inability to accomplish what we desire with multiple activities and events we come across on a daily basis.
AWARENESS OF OUR GRIEVING
Not only that, but awareness that we are all at different stages of grief dealing with these losses.As described in this article, Stages Of Grief With Our Losses. This grieving is weaved throughout our daily lives, at various levels, in relation to what it is each loss brings to our thoughts and emotions.
AWARENESS OF THE JOURNEY
Suffering with chronic pain is a very individualized journey. It depends on many internal and external factors. Some go through it smoother than others, some get stuck and are unable to move further until they have some catalyst to help them through, and some, for various reasons, just aren't able to get through the stages and stay stuck in anger, depression, and negativity and grieve these losses by chronic pain for life. We see it in those around us! We hear the experiences of those verbalizing their struggles in social media! No surprise here.
For it is kinda like dying! But not being allowed to fully die.
As stated before, the losses and the grieving are being over looked. We need to get angry and grieve and weave our ways back and forth through the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross stages of grief. For some, that means dragging our positive side along with us, for others finding it along the way, and sadly, others may never find it.
AWARENESS OF INTEGRATING RESILIENCE
I feel it is a nature vs. nurture situation. Those of us chronic pain survivors that are able to "embrace" the resilience theory either already had a natural “positive” personality or have integrated it into our journey from the beginning, use it as a survival technique as taught by someone- when we were ready to hear it, or are at the stage of grief (acceptance) where we can accept such statements and see the benefits of incorporating these strategies into our lives.
For those that are perceived as being “negative” about it all may not even be negative. Of course there are various levels of negative people out there. Perhaps some just don’t know about these things, have not been able to integrate these things it into daily life or perhaps they are just pissed off and don’t want to. There are many reasons.
Some of us may have been trying throughout our journey to be positive and deal with all this the best we can by, "Focusing on good things." "Not constantly looking at our pain." "Looking at our blessings!" "Putting it in God's hands!" etc. For some it's our personality, gripping tightly to our faith! We all have different survival techniques.
I remember walking out of a therapy session after having the “look at the blessings” talk. Yes, I am a woman of faith that has always tried to focus on my blessings; however I was not at that point in my journey (surprising to many that know me I am sure). I needed to be able to be angry and grieve at that time. I knew what I needed, however, the therapist didn’t understand me. When my pain doctor asked what happened I simple said I wasn’t ready for it yet. I had some grieving to do and I didn’t know how long it would take. It doesn't work on anyone's timeline. Especially mine. I'd have been through all the grieving crap on day one and moved onto a happy, joyous life for sure. If only that were possible!
Positivity can be incredibly difficult to practice. We can find peace and comfort for awhile, and then we lose it and have to struggle to get it back and maintain it. We all falter, fall flat on our faces and grieve horribly the losses we endure! It is a life that takes great strength and bravery to get up and live it! Every! Single! Moment! Of! Every! Single! Day!
It was also stated in the article link that, "Everyone is resilient. It is a matter of how we can build it," she said. "It is not a substitute for medication or intervention, but there are some things that every person can do."
I agree with that to a point. We can all try it. But the results can be as dust in the wind. The constant overwhelming, unbearable pain can wipe away all the positivity that had just shined upon us and blows it away in the blink of an eye!
Wherever we are in our chronic pain journey, I am thankful for those that care enough to reach out at the right time, with the right knowledge and awareness with wanting to truly help us along our journey to help to be resilient! But, you see, there are many that aren’t aware of where we are or what we need. So we need to have patience with them and not become bitter. Yes, it can be hard to do!
As far as other chronic pain sufferers on this journey, it is up to us that are further along on this journey and have been able to obtain these skills to reach out a hand and let them know they can do it! They are not alone. We can be a light in their darkness. We have to be here for each other, for it can be a very lonely road if we allow it.