Throughout your life, you will have experienced at least some degree of physical pain (unless you’re a super hero?).
The ability to experience pain is actually a good thing – in small doses. Pain is our brain’s ‘alarm system’; warning us to immediately stop doing things that will cause us harm (e.g. touching a hot oven).
Pain can include a sharp, dull, numb, burning or aching sensations anywhere in the body. It can be caused by an illness/disease, accident/injury or stress.
Many painful conditions can be resolved through resting the affected area, medication, physical therapy/massage, lifestyle changes (e.g. avoiding certain foods), exercise or surgery; without recurrence.
Unfortunately, other painful conditions cannot be alleviated so easily.
Chronic pain (lasting longer than six months) is not a natural state for the body to be in. It can cause physical discomfort, disrupt daily routines, limit the ability to exercise, decrease sexual desire/activity, interfere with social activities, make work/study more difficult and lead to weight gain.
As such, it can also have a massive impact on mental health.
Chronic pain affects around 13% of Australians at any given time. Almost 45% of Australians living with chronic pain also have a mental illness (more than double the general population, which is around 20%). Suicide rates are 2-3 times higher for Australians living with chronic pain.
Another factor that can compound mental health issues when living with chronic pain is the feeling of isolation.
This usually occurs because the people around you don’t understand what you’re going through; make unhelpful or minimising comments (e.g. “you look fine to me”); pressure you to ‘get on with things’ before you can/should; project unrealistic expectations onto you; judge or compare your pain threshold to someone else’s; ‘guilt trip’ you; disbelieve you; or imply “it’s in your head”.
Sound familiar? You are NOT alone.
These responses to your pain (even with the best of intentions) can make you feel pressured, frustrated, useless and hopeless and add insult to injury – but they are all too common.
This is especially the case for people living with ‘invisible pain’.
‘Obvious’ pain (e.g. a broken leg), is common, diagnosable, recognisable and relatable; therefore, it attracts sympathy. Whereas, invisible pain doesn’t have any physical signs (e.g. cuts or bandages) and often attracts apathy, ignorance, misunderstanding and a lack of empathy.
Compounding the problem, when you suffer from invisible pain, you may appear ‘fine’ – even fit and healthy. This can feed into the false narrative that you’re ‘exaggerating’, ‘lying’, ‘trying to get attention’, ‘weak’ or ‘have mental problems’. Yet it is often this very attitude that can cause your distress in the first place.
There are many very real physical causes of invisible pain including autoimmune diseases, neurological conditions, genetic disorders, cancer and infectious diseases.
Painful conditions that are widely unknown, misunderstood, difficult to diagnose or controversial (e.g. Lyme disease and previously Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) can cause even more distress when sufferers are told their condition “doesn’t exist” by non-experts.
It can be frustrating and disheartening spending time, energy and money seeking a diagnosis and cure unsuccessfully; being made to feel “it’s all in your head”; receiving conflicting medical advice; not knowing who to listen to; and questioning your own sanity each day.
These experiences – and the fact that our culture expects us to ‘soldier on’ – can lead to ‘band aid’ solutions (e.g. self-medicating), which don’t address the root cause, simply to ‘push through’ and ‘function’.
The overuse/abuse of prescription/over-the-counter medications has led to a widespread ‘opioid crisis’ (1.4 million Australians currently suffer from an opioid addiction; there are 150 hospitalisations per day due to legally purchased opioids; and 70% of drug-related deaths are due to prescription medications); resulting in even more negative health impacts, in a vicious cycle.
Prescription drug dependency can create yet another layer of mental health concerns for people living with chronic pain.
If you are struggling, it is important to seek support for your mental health concerns, as well as your physical pain.
In an emergency, call 000. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 any time for free. Please seek support from a GP or a mental health professional for ongoing support.
I also offer a range of modalities to assist you to manage both your physical pain and emotional distress/blockages, including Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis, Time Line Therapy®, Access Bars® and Life Coaching. I can work together with you and your support team to maintain continuity of support.