This is the first of is a series of articles aimed at providing counsel and consolation to people living with chronic pain. The author lives with chronic pain from a rare autoimmune condition.
Chronic pain is usually defined as:
“pain without apparent biological value that has persisted beyond normal tissue healing time”. It is also defined as pain that either persists beyond the point that healing would be expected to be complete (usually taken as 3-6 months), or that occurs in disease processes in which healing does not take place. (Chronic Pain Ireland)
Chronic pain introduces a variety of challenges to those living with it. This series – part practical advice, part philosophy – aims to address some of these, providing counsel and consolation.
Although these articles are aimed at people living with chronic pain, they may help anyone facing physical or psychological pain, temporary or otherwise.
In our first piece, we will talk about pain and isolation.
A Lonely Place
“There’s so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones”
– Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms
Mark Knopfler expressed it beautifully. We live in our own mental worlds. When pain is present, headspace diminishes and we can feel isolated, confined. Pain can feel like a place of its own, a lonely world with a population of one.
We try to explain how we feel, but the understanding of others is naturally bounded by experience. Sympathy and compassion provide essential comfort and consolation, but they cannot always plumb the depths of our feelings. People do their best, and we are lucky to have them on this journey.
Imprisoned by Inactivity
Physical isolation is also common with chronic pain. We may be immobilised, housebound. Even if we are active, we need to rest more than most, recover, conserve our energy. We’re easily fatigued and stamina is left wanting (see the ‘Spoon Theory’). There is nothing wrong with being alone of course, but when pain forces our hand, it can be harder to accept.
In a hyperconnected world, where Social Media shows all the wonderful things our friends are doing, we can experience a further blow, the reminder of what we cannot do. The pain of missing out. We grieve for our loss of vitality.
Alone Together – Dealing with Isolation
There are several ways we can tackle the physical and psychological isolation that comes with chronic pain.
DEPERSONALISE THE PAIN
It is easy to feel wronged, victimised, singled out for suffering. But you are not the only one feeling lonely and isolated. We are alone together, all who feel pain in this moment. Our journeys are unique, but by depersonalising the pain, we can see its universality in life.
Pain may be inevitable, but we can meet our trials with courage. The Stoics have many wise things to say on facing adversity. Here is Seneca:
“If you meet sickness in a sensible manner, do you really think you are achieving nothing? You will be demonstrating that even if one cannot always beat it one can always bear an illness. There is room for heroism, I assure you, in bed as anywhere else. War and the battle-front are not the only spheres in which proof is to be had of a spirited and fearless character: a person’s bravery is no less evident under the bed-clothes.” — Seneca
CONNECT WITH FELLOW TRAVELLERS
It has never been easier to find support groups for health issues, whether through your local community, or online via forums, websites, Facebook groups or otherwise. This is the positive side of Social Media, where fellow travellers connect to share advice and console one another. Chronic Pain Ireland are a great place to start in Ireland. They run workshops nationwide on living with chronic pain.
Sometimes, the best way to get out of your own head is to provide solace and companionship to others. Chronic pain may limit our activity, but it can’t stop us from helping others who are suffering. Pain can be a portal to compassion, if you let it.
LET PEOPLE IN
It’s easy to put up walls when pain is peaking. Sometimes we need space, sometimes healthy distraction. But shutting yourself off can compound stress and isolation. We need each other, and though complete understanding may be difficult, our loved ones deserve our confidence and trust. Sometimes a hug will do more to change a day than any words. Let people in.
BUILD AN INNER CITADEL
There will be times, however, that we need to retreat into ourselves, and rely on our will to endure. The Stoics spoke of an Inner Citadel, which must be built, maintained and reinforced. We are stronger than we know. Adversity is the true test of character. Resilience is a learned trait. Here is a great piece on this.
We hope some of these tips will help. Isolation can be a difficult aspect of chronic pain, but it need not break us.
In the next article, we will look at Pain & Pacing.