Having Pain Can Mean Making Tough Choices
By Lisa Davis
An article by Toni Bernhard, J.D., published earlier this year in Psychology Today, discussed an important point: Having chronic pain can feel like a full-time job. One reason for that, Bernhard wrote, is that we must constantly assess and evaluate if we’re managing our health and our relationships as skillfully as possible. This ongoing decision-making makes up a major part of the workload in this full-time job a position we certainly never applied for!
Here’s guidance for navigating some of the decisions chronic-pain sufferers have to deal with:
Open up about your health problems or keep them to yourself?
While it can be unhealthy to isolate yourself and not share your feelings, being open can sometimes backfire. People might be turned off or annoyed by your complaints or might start treating you differently, showing not compassion but pity. On the other hand, if you share, even with a stranger, you might get much-needed advice. Before divulging your situation, assess if the person can handle hearing it. Is he or she judgmental, neutral, open-minded?
As psychologist Bren Brown, Ph.D., a research professor at the University of Houston, said during an interview with Oprah on OWN about sharing your personal issues with others, Tell your story to people who deserve to it hear it. Sometimes when we confide in others about our pain, or anything negative going on in our lives for that matter, whether it is a divorce or job loss, be sure that person can handle hearing what you have to say. Sometimes people do not know how to respond to what you are saying, and their response, whether intentional or not, could leave you feeling ashamed about your pain. (Watch Brown’s video on the six types of people with whom you shouldn’t confide in.)
When are the downsides to alternative therapies?
Nontraditional treatments can be expensive. They can be advertised on the Internet as lifesaving, but don’t always believe the hype they can even be harmful in some cases. If you are interested in acupuncture, for example, consult with your doctor about risks so that you can make an educated choice.
Do you ignore a new symptom or rush to the doctor’s office?
It’s counterproductive to worry about every twitch and ache, but ignoring a symptom might not be smart. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain conditions shouldn’t be dismissed, including unexpected weight loss, high fever and shortness of breath whether or not it’s connected to the primary cause of your pain.
I read in one of my chronic illness books about a woman who ignored a new symptom because she decided it was best to assume it was related to her chronic illness, Bernhard said. She also said that she waited so long to see her doctor because she didn’t want to bother him. The new symptom turned out to be stomach cancer.
Should you push yourself, or take it easy and play it safe?
When you are dealing with chronic pain, the urge to be like everyone else (I’m tired of being sick mentality) is strong. You might want to exercise like your husband does, or play tennis with friends. But be mindful of how your body responds to activity.
Bernhard’s advise: I recommend a middle path of gently challenging your body now and then so that you don’t fall into a fixed pattern of behavior that underestimates what you might be able to do.
Is it better to fight your condition or surrender to your fate?
Battling to be healthy can be exhausting and could amplify your pain with unnecessary stress. But being complacent also isn’t helpful.
Again, I recommend a middle path, Bernard said. It took me a while to realize that I could acknowledge and accept my health as it is right now, while at the same time continuing to try to regain the health I had before I got sick. These two courses of action aren’t contradictory.
Sound Off: How do you deal with these types of pain-management decisions? Share your advice by joining our Community and let others who live with pain know how you face these tough choices.