About half a year ago, I was in really bad shape. My rheumatoid arthritis was out of control, and I could barely move. Seemingly simple things, such as taking a bath or walking around the house, started to become almost impossible. Mentally, I struggled…but I continued to stay strong. I’ve learned from experience that losing hope, especially during the middle of a severe flare, makes coping with the pain and disability even much more difficult that it already is.
And no matter how many pills or shots I took, I experienced absolutely no pain relief. I started to get a little anxious…how could I possibly cope with this overwhelming pain, all on my own? So instead of getting scared, I decided to turn those words on their head, and do exactly that. Learn how to deal with the pain. All on my own.
Now don’t get me wrong, my aim was not to be some sadistic Stoic. I had previously tried many, many different options in an attempt to reduce my pain. And when the pain didn’t go away, I found myself experiencing more despair.
So part of my thinking, months ago, was to focus my thoughts and energy on full acceptance of my chronic pain. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my stress and unhappiness were not related to actually dealing with the pain that was present, but were a result of the fact that this pain would just not go away.
Living Beyond Your Pain: Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to Ease Chronic Pain
A rich and rewarding life is possible for those of us who live with chronic pain. Based on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), one of the most promising and fastest growing psychotherapies being practiced today, this book breaks with conventional notions of pain management.
These “feel good” approaches—including the use of pain-killing medication—all work to prevent painful sensations. The ACT approach, however, begins with the assumption that pain is a normal part of living that teaches us a lot about the state of our bodies and minds. Attempts to avoid it often cause more harm than good.
By accepting and learning to live with pain, you limit the control it exerts over you. Mindfulness exercises, in particular, help you transform pain from a life-defining preoccupation to a simple experience. From this strong position, you can make choices that will lead to the life you’ve always wanted. Committed action is the way to make it happen.
This morning as I was swimming (an hour in the pool gives me a lot of time to think), I realized just how far I’ve come in terms of accepting my chronic pain. While I know that acceptance is a process that never ends, just the fact that I was there exercising on a cold winter day showed me that I have indeed learned how to live beyond my pain.
A couple of weeks ago I pulled out my copy of Living Beyond Your Pain and quickly read through the chapters. As I moved through the book, which is structured as a self-help workbook, I was struck with how much sense there was in its text. Compare this with my first reading, years ago, when I was intrigued but still absolutely horrified that chronic pain is exactly that…chronic, and that one of the best coping mechanisms is to accept it, incorporate it, and live beyond it.
And the fact of the matter is that even though so many aspects of chronic pain remain outside my control, how I react to this pain is something that has and will always be within my control. By learning this, not just in my head as I did the first time I read this book, but in my entire being as I have come to do so over the past few months, I have realized that by accepting and learning to live with my chronic pain, I have been able to limit the control that it previously exerted over my life.
I live with chronic pain and disability, and I also feel great. These things are no longer mutually exclusive in my life, as they once were.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!