As I mentioned last week, it’s National Pain Week in Australia this week. I will be sharing my story over at the National Pain Week website and at My Invisible Life later in the week. I’ll also be talking to local media, starting with ABC Riverland Today at 10:45 this morning.
Living with chronic pain can be frustrating, overwhelming and disempowering, however it is still possible to live a meaningful life while coping with it.
With over 2 years experience of living with chronic pain myself, and having spoken to many people who have lived with it a lot longer than I have, I’ve found many tips and tricks that have helped me live a reasonably quality and meaningful life despite constant pain and fatigue. Below I share my top 3 tips for living with chronic pain:
- Listen to your body and pace yourself
- Don’t stop researching and trying new things
- Eliminate the unnecessary so you can focus on what is meaningful to you
Listen to your body and pace yourself
One of the first things I learnt on my journey with chronic illness is that my limits had changed. Before chronic illness I was a high achiever who had to always be doing something active and challenging. Since becoming ill, I still need to be doing something but I’ve had to cut back on the level of activity.
On a day to day basis I need to consider how I am feeling and plan my day accordingly. If my body has higher pain or fatigue levels than normal, or my brain is complete fog, then I know I need to step back and rest most of the day. If my pain levels are lower than normal or I’m feeling energetic (doesn’t happen that often but it could!) I need to remember not to push too hard or I will crash later on.
In general it’s best to aim for consistency and to allow your body to rest when it needs to.
To give you an example, I’m just coming out of a 2-week crash so my step count and activity level has been cut way back to an amount that i can maintain even if I’m feeling really bad. I have to minimise work and social activities and focus on resting. On any given day I usually only have one or two key activities lined up, which could be as simple as make a meal. While I was in the crash I didn’t really do any activities and most days were spent on the couch.
Don’t stop researching and trying new things
For many of the causes of chronic pain there is no known reason or cure for the pain. As a result there is usually always someone claiming to have the solution. Although it’s important to consider each solution offered to you carefully it is good to keep an open mind and try many different things.
What works for one person may not work for another.
I’ve tried multiple prescription drugs, none of which helped. In fact, most of them caused side effects worse than the symptoms they were meant to be helping. For other people though these drugs have helped.
I’ve tried (or I’m trying) physiotherapy, various exercise programs with guidance from an exercise physiotherapist, acupuncture, breathing techniques, a tens machine, and hypnosis.
Eliminate the unnecessary so you can focus on what is meaningful to you
Because of my limitations I have gone through phases where I’ve felt that my life had no meaning. To help me get over that I’ve had to focus in on what is meaningful to me.
I’ve worked on identifying my values and changing my lifestyle so what little energy I have is used doing things that fit with these values.
Since living with chronic pain I have taken up blogging so I can still contribute to the wider community, I’m focused on shopping and living as sustainably as possible, I meditate daily and practice gratitude, and I make time each week to spend at least an hour with family and friends.
I have eliminated my gym membership (I can’t exercise to that extent at the moment any way), full time employment (again beyond my limitations), and cleaning the house (we get a cleaner in fortnightly to do the major cleaning, and I’m slowly decluttering so there’s less to pick up and care for around the house).
Bonus Tip: Have Fun
I personally believe the most important tip I’ve been given on my journey towards a simple, sustainable and meaningful lifestyle while living with chronic pain, is to focus on what makes you happy and to have fun.
Tasks such as cleaning can be outsourced and when you have limited energy to contribute to society you are more likely to be happy with your life if (as in the tip above) you focus on what is meaningful to you and make sure you do at least one thing to have fun each day.
Whether it’s taking the time to look out the window and connect with nature, reading a good book or spending time with family and friends, it’s important to make time for fun in your life.
What tips would you give someone who was living with chronic pain and struggling?