I'm in a much better place now. Prior to my ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis, I was very active. My husband and I were raising our young family. I looked forward to the opportunities to take my kids for ice cream or to the swings at our neighborhood park. Some of my fondest memories are of the times we spent the day as a family at the beach. Those were some of the loveliest times in my life.
Then chronic pain reared its ugly head.
Although I had supportive people, like my husband and sisters, it was very difficult to describe how chronic pain felt on a regular basis, especially the toll it took on my mental health. We take the smallest things for granted. For example, walking out to the grocery store to pick up some strawberries because you’re in the mood for some.
In the old days, you just went and got them. Now, you start to question do you really need them after all because your swollen knees are not letting up.
We feel good when our bodies are working the way we expect them to. But when you factor in pain, it not only slowly breaks down your body but also starts to chisel away at your mind. It breaks your identity piece by piece until you no longer recognize who you’ve become.
I grew increasingly anxious because I feared I wouldn’t be independent anymore. I was also nervous because I didn't want to become a burden on my family.
It took a tremendous amount of inner work to get to a better mental place. The big moment occurred when I realized my perception of the pain was the star of the show (aka my life).
For many years, I lived in my head and believed whatever chronic pain wanted me to. I desperately wished things would return to “normal” so I could go back to the park and chase my children in a game of tag.
When I look back, the missed moments with my kids are the hardest. But I don’t beat myself up about it. I was in tremendous pain, so I try my best to hold compassion for that dark time of my life.
If you're struggling with your mental health because the pain is unbearable, please seek out support if you don't have people you can turn to. There are some amazing chronic pain support groups, so join one. Scientific studies show that they help because they foster connection with others going through a similar situation.
The second thing I would suggest is regular meditation. It’s been so beneficial for me on so many levels. In particular, research finds mindfulness meditation reduces chronic pain.
Meditation helps calm my mind, helps with my focus, and I look forward to the connection with my inner self. If meditation isn’t your bag, that’s OK. But try to find an activity that can help relax you or slow down your thoughts.
Exercise is also wonderful for your mental health. It can be tough if you have sore joints. However, some type of movement is better than none at all. If you can’t strength train with weights, consider going for a 20-minute walk. The fresh air will feel good on your face and clear your mind.
Another tip – I’m not sure how you’ll take it, but I’m going to say it anyway: Keep your thoughts high-vibe. In other words, positive.
Some people living in chronic pain get upset when someone tells them to “be positive.” But you know what? It works. It takes the same amount of energy to think a negative thought as it does to think of a positive one.
Positivity brings a smile to your face (and uses fewer facial muscles than a frown). I’d rather have a smile on my face and try not to let pain ruin my day. The way I see it, I’m on the planet for a limited time only. So I need to make the most of each moment.
OK. The last tip: Read the words written by or written about people that inspire you.
I learn and study people like motivational teachers Jim Rohn or Lisa Nichols, brilliant scientists like David Bohm, or the poetic masterpieces of Rumi.
Inspirational people or those I admire motivate me, especially on the days when my thoughts may want to drop down to a low-vibe level.
My daughter jokes with me and says I should try reading fiction once in a while. I tried once; I can’t do it, not that there’s anything wrong with reading fiction. But I’m a very serious student of life and all the beautiful gifts it has to offer.
I have no intensions of ever returning to the dark side of chronic pain. If you try any of my suggestions, great. If not, that’s fine, too. But if you’re not in a great mental place because of pain, what have you got to lose?
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