Updated: Oct 25, 2021
Having a chronic illness or chronic pain has its fair share of disappointing occurrences in life. You may feel discouraged from time to time, and it may be the only obvious choice to you at such times. You may think that you doing really well and then have a relapse of illness, and injury, or something else that sets you back in your efforts to live well and heal as much as you can.
I experience that on a regular basis, and it’s very tempting to let it get you down for a long period of time. However, that is a deadly trap to fall into. Not only is it dangerous psychologically, as it can lead to despair and depression, but physically it is not helpful either.
The Depression Connection
People with chronic pain can also have co-occurring depression, which makes it harder to cope with the physical symptoms. Sometimes depression can create its own body aches, lethargy and physical achiness that can be hard to distinguish from chronic pain from a physical origin.
Feeling discouraged is natural, but staying discouraged is not necessary. When you get stressed out about your situation, it leads to a whole cascade of stress chemicals dumped into your body that actually harm you in that moment. Stress chemicals are meant to help you fight or flee a dangerous situation, but they are not helpful for ongoing stressors like illness.
So what do you do about this? I don’t have all the answers, and I think that it’s an ongoing process of development, but there are some things that I’ve noticed that help more than others. The things I’d like to suggest are changing your attitude; seeing what can be done in the interim; and monitoring self-talk in order to avoid slipping into depression.
First, having a good attitude is obviously a good starting point. Optimally, we see our setbacks as opportunities to take better care of ourselves and to revamp our healing plan. A recent injury had me feeling down, because just the day before I had been doing really well with exercise and weight loss. However, I stepped wrong on something and injured my ankle.
I can acknowledge that I feel sad about it and even indulge that feeling for, say, 30 minutes or so. But that’s all the time that I will allow that to register my consciousness. If I can, I will notice that I’ve lingered on the negative aspect of the injury or illness longer than I intended, and tried to think of what needs to be done that I can do sitting down.
Sometimes it helps to look back and think of times that you’ve gotten sick and then gotten better, even, as the case may be. . I’m convinced that stressing about healing actually slows the process down. I’ve noticed it in my own self and in other people as well.
Think back to a time when you had illness or injury, and how you thought about that. If it was something as minor as a head cold or a bumper bruise that healed without your even noticing it perhaps. During the time that you are in pain or not well, you are probably acutely aware of that body part that was affected by the illness. But when you stopped focusing on it and a larger body to do what it needed to do, you probably found that you healed quicker than you would have if you had focused on it entire time it was healing.
When you distract yourself in a healthy way, say to reading up on what’s wrong with you, or reading a good book that absorbs her attention, it can be very helpful to allow your body to repair itself. When you’re stressing about it, The Autonomic Nervous System is activated and your body is confused – “should I flee, fight, or take care of this injury or illness?”
Your body can’t heal very well if it’s engaged in the ANS; it does better when your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is engaged. So instead of obsessing about how unfortunate and unhappy you are, engaging in mindful meditation or guided meditation using a recording might be helpful.
Second, just because you’re physically compromised doesn’t mean that you can’t get some things done while you’re healing. I can think of a number of things that can be done from a seated position that can benefit you.
As mentioned, meditation can be very helpful in calming your body down and your mind. So can writing letters to people, writing email, reading, finding out about a topic that you’ve always wondered about, talking on the phone to people who are encouraging and helpful, or just friendly. I’m sure that you can also think of other things to do while you’re laid up.
Doing this not only distracts you from the pain or the illness, it also gives you a sense of purpose and moving forward with your life. I think that’s essential to getting back on track. When people become hopeless and desperate, they are more vulnerable to depression. Activity seems to lift people out of depression and self-pity.
The All-Important Self-Talk
That brings me to my third suggestion, which is monitoring your self-talk. This is an old standby for cognitive behavioral therapy, as it helps us to develop our observing self. We need an observing self to step back and see when we’re thinking in ways that hurt ourselves or compromise our ability to function well.
You don’t have to have a psychiatric illness to need this simple technique. Meditation is a good way to develop it, as are writing in a journal and noticing what you say to yourself. It gives us reflective capabilities that allow us to see when we’re hurting ourselves with our thoughts.
Typically, when we get injured or ill, we naturally graduate from the initial pain or discomfort to thoughts like, “why me? Why does this always happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? Was it something I did spiritually that set me on a wrong course? When will this be over?”
While tempting, these thoughts really don’t help us for obvious reasons. They put us in a victim role, and they lose perspective of what other people gone through. They also keep us from moving out of discouragement. When we get sick or injured, we naturally seem to become somewhat selfish. I can be helpful in a way, because we slow down and take care of ourselves better. However, it can also make a self-centered and think that were the only ones who have suffered this way.
Obviously, there are people who are doing much worse in the world, and this is not to make ourselves feel guilty for feeling sorry for ourselves. However, it can make us delve deeper into negative feelings that we really need to.
If you see a healthy mother and child at a playground, and the child gets hurt and falls down, the mother will offer some sympathy, but reassured the child that they’re okay and that they will be back up and running in no time. This assumes, however, that the injury is mild. So too can we reassure ourselves that we will recover from this, and that there will be times when we feel good and bad and that we are capable of experiencing both.
It's also a matter of degree; sometimes you will feel less pain or less illness/fatigue than others. You might not feel 100% the way you want all the time, but appreciating when you do feel well is important to keep your spirits up too.
Hopefully these ideas have been helpful and if you are currently ill or injured, I sympathize with you, but I also have faith that you will feel better soon. If you need to discuss how your physical condition is affecting your mind and life, please call 661-233-6771.