Being in long-term physical pain can have a big impact on our mental health. It can be incredibly frustrating because not only can it have a negative impact on our mood, but it can also prevent us from doing some things which we know could help us to improve how we feel.
RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE TRICKY
Chronic pain can have a big impact on our relationships. It can rob us of valuable time with our family and friends. Sometimes we feel like such a burden on those around us that we deliberately push them away. We don’t want their lives to be limited by our pain. This can leave us feeling isolated.
If we have dependents, we can feel frustrated and disheartened about not being able to do as much as we might like to do with them. Sometimes those that we feel like we should be looking after are the ones who have to look after us. We often worry about how this might affect their lives and get annoyed with ourselves for not ‘being better’.
When it comes to romantic relationships, our pain can stop us from meeting people, dating, and all sorts of other things that we want to do. Our partner can become our carer. Pain can become a third party in our relationship, and it can reach the point where we push our partner away, or even break up with them because we don’t want our pain to stop them from doing things that they want to do.
WE’RE UNABLE TO BE AS ACTIVE AS WE’D LIKE TO BE
Exercise can help to lift our mood. Not only can it give us a rush of endorphins, but it can help us to feel more in control of our body, and can introduce us to groups of like-minded people. If we choose to do an individual sport, it can give us time and space to think. Exercise often takes us outside which can provide us with a welcome breath of fresh air.
If we take exercise out of the equation, our pain can prevent us from being active in other ways such as having fun with our friends and family. Being unable to be as active as we’d like to be can stop us from engaging with other people and can make us feel trapped inside our homes.
IT CAN AFFECT OUR SLEEP
Sleep is a really important part of maintaining good mental health. When we’re tired it’s so much harder to cope with things. Chronic pain can affect our sleep. It can prevent us from sleeping when we’re tired because we can’t get comfortable and pain-free. There are times when it will wake us up during the night – for some of us this will be multiple times a night every night. We often wake up in the morning feeling as though we haven’t rested at all. This lack of rest can leave us feeling irritable and can lower our emotional resilience which can have an extremely negative impact on our mood.
PAIN IS TIRING
On top of struggling with sleep, living with pain can be exhausting. If our pain is heightened for a period of time, increased exhaustion is likely to follow. This exhaustion could be a delayed reaction to our increased pain levels rather than an immediate response.
When we’re tired, everything can feel harder to cope with. Our emotional resilience is reduced. This means that our mood is more susceptible to the world around us and small things which normally wouldn’t bother us can feel like the end of the world.
WE HAVE TO ORGANISE OUR LIFE AROUND OUR PAIN
There is often a fine balance between living our life and balancing our pain. Chronic pain often means that we have less energy than the average person. Spoon theory is the idea that we each have a number of units of energy per day (spoons) and every task we do takes a certain number of spoons. Once those spoons are used up, we can’t get any more.
For those of us with chronic pain, not only do we have fewer spoons than the average person to begin with but each task takes more spoons than the same task would take for someone else. This means that when we’re trying to plan our day or our week, we often have to think very carefully about our pain and energy levels and then plan what we’re doing accordingly. We have to pace ourselves very carefully and frequently have to say no to things we want to do. Our boundaries have to be very clear. It’s frustrating and disheartening when our body stops us from doing things that our mind wants to do and can leave us feeling broken, useless, and angry.
WE MIGHT FEEL USELESS
Chronic pain can leave us feeling useless. We often can’t do everything that we want to do. It can affect the way we are able to relate to those around us, can stop us from being able to work in jobs that we want to, and can prevent us from going on adventures or taking part in hobbies that we want to try. We might have to rely on benefits – there is absolutely no shame in that, there is a reason that benefits exist, but it can leave us feeling ashamed due to the amount of stigma around it. Sometimes we will have to rely on friends, family, or carers to help us out with things that we’d prefer to do ourselves. This feeling of helplessness and uselessness can leave us feeling worthless or inadequate and can cause us to feel incredibly low.
WE ARE ALLOWED TO FEEL RUBBISH
We’re allowed to feel fed up. Chronic pain can grind us down. Sometimes it can feel like a never-ending slog. There might not be an answer for the cause of our pain, and pain-relief might not effectively keep it at bay. We might be offered some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help us manage our pain – that’s not to say that it’s all in our heads, it’s just another tool we can use to help us cope with it.
Whether or not we can find ways to manage our pain, we’re still allowed to feel rubbish about it. We’re allowed to feel frustrated or angry that this is our life and that there aren’t always answers or solutions. Our feelings are always valid.
COMPARISON IS INEVITABLE
Although we often get given the advice to avoid comparing our current selves to our past selves, and to others, comparison is inevitable. It can be hard to see the smiling photos of our friends from yet another event that we’ve not been able to attend. If pain is something that we haven’t always lived with to the extent that we do now, then we’re likely to run into situations where we think ‘well I used to be able to do this’. Comparison is inevitable, but it can be helpful to remember that all we can do is our best. And that ‘our best’ will vary from one day to the next.
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