This is soon going to become quite obvious, but I still want to begin this post by saying that I wrote out these ideas based on my own experience of pain. They've helping me immensely in coping with what's probably been the most despairing experiences of straight up suffering I have lived through (and continue to live through). I continue to be humbled by it. So, from someone who's in it with you:
1. Accept your pain
At the risk of sounding too obvious, you’re in pain. Even if you don’t want to be. Even if you think you should be better by now. Fighting it isn’t working anymore. Pretending it’s not there isn’t working anymore. Accept that you’re in pain.
2. If “curing” your pain doesn’t work, try managing it
When our goal is to cure pain, we can end up dismissing strategies that help us to manage it. I remember an eye-opening conversation with a friend a few years ago about pain. “Yes, meditation helps,” I admitted to her, “but the pain always comes back after a few days. Nothing I do is really getting rid of it.” “What if you didn’t try to get rid of it?” she asked. “What would happen if you just kept meditating, every day?” It may seem obvious from the outside looking in, but I’d never thought of this before. I felt that I must be doing something wrong if I couldn’t find a cure, and if the pain didn’t go away for good, then it wasn’t worth doing. “If I was meditating everyday... I guess I’d be feeling better than I am right now,” I laughed. “But it also makes me want to cry – to let go of the idea that I’ll actually get better.”
And that leads me to…
Grieve the life you thought you had – the one that wasn’t impacted by chronic pain. Grieve the loss of anything you can no longer do because doing so would increase your pain. Grieve the person you used to be before you realized that “doing all the right things” doesn’t always lead to a cure. Accept that the things we go through in life can feel unfair and unjust. As Cheryl Strayed puts it in Tiny Beautiful Things, we assume that because mercy has always more or less been granted us, it always will be. But it isn’t. We need to accept that awful things happen to people all the time, and then let ourselves grieve it.
4. Embrace your new life
When you’re done grieving, remember that there is a full and wonderful life awaiting you. It may not be the life you envisioned, but it’s yours. I can’t speak for anyone else, but dealing with pain has helped me to really make sure that what I’m spending my time on is worthy of my time. Because I don’t always have time that’s pain free, I find ways to embrace it. I’ve stopped doing the things that hurt me, and I have a better relationship with my body. I also unexpectedly found myself connected to my humanity and my compassion in a way that just wasn’t possible before.
Day after a rough migraine and I look a little worse for the wear but happy to be alive. When pain is at a 10/10 I try to keep reminding myself that it will eventually pass. (Did those new grey hairs sprout overnight? I wouldn't be surprised...)
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.