Posts Tagged ‘chronic pain’

What Makes a Movie Special – and what does that have to do with Living Well with Chronic Illness or Chronic Pain?

Friday, July 31st, 2015

There are many things that help make a movie special: the acting, the characters, the scenery, the style, and more. One of the most important is the plot. For a movie to be special, it needs to touch us, and for it to do that, the protagonist almost always needs to go through some really difficult and often painful challenges.

But when he does, his or her life changes. He gets the princess, and he saves the kingdom or even the world! And there is absolutely no question that whatever it is, the outcome makes everything the protagonist went through, no matter how hard it was, completely worth it.

Movies like that are special. They touch us deeply, and can stay with us for a long time.

So what does that have to do with living well with a chronic illness?

My answer to that question is, what if your life with chronic illness or chronic pain were like a movie, and what if you were the screenwriter?

If that were the case, you wouldn’t start writing from the beginning, because a lot of the movie has already been written. Instead, you would write the rest of the movie, starting from today.

And as the screenwriter for the rest of the movie, your goal would be to create an outcome that makes everything that you, as the protagonist, go through completely worth it.

With that goal in mind, your next question is, what outcome would make everything you’ve gone through and everything you will go through worth it – beyond any shadow of a doubt?

It will likely take some time for you to get clear about your answer. Maybe it is to write a book to help others. Maybe your answer is to not let your illness or pain stop you from helping out at your local food bank. Maybe it’s to start an online or an in-person support group.

Whatever that answer is, and I invite you to share it in the comments section below, creating that outcome will, in spite of the fact that you live with chronic illness or chronic pain, make your life special.


Thomas Robinson is The Turnaround Coach for people with chronic illness and chronic pain. To get his free report: Learn 7 New Ways to Turn Your Life Around, click here.

Some Strategies For Dealing With Chronic Fatigue That I Wish I Had Known

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Those of us who live with chronic illnesses can have many difficulties to deal with because of those illnesses. But I have found,  from my own life and from coaching and talking with others with chronic illnesses, that there are five main illness-related challenges, and most of us have to contend with one or more of them. These challenges aren’t independent of each other. On the contrary, they are all connected and inter-related. They are: chronic pain, chronic fatigue, lack of money, depression, and finding meaning in our lives. In this post, I’m going to share three strategies for dealing with one of those challenges: chronic fatigue.

The suggestions I’m going to share with you are ones I wish I had known when my chronic illness (Crohn’s disease) was in an almost constant flare, instead of being in remission like it is now. I often suffered from severe fatigue, and at that time I only knew three strategies for dealing with it. They were to nap in my car during my lunch hour at work, to get as much rest as possible on the weekends to recover from the previous week and get as ready as I could for the next one, and to learn about all the standard and alternative treatments for my illness and try the ones that seemed like they might help (I often spent two hours a day doing research on the internet).

Those were pretty good strategies, but if I had that period of my life to live over again, I would add three more that I think would have helped a lot. They are:

1) Look for and think about small things I could to make my life better. For example, I could have made a list of movies I wanted to watch, including comedies to cheer me up and uplifting ones to give me hope, and then watched them (while resting in bed, if necessary).

2) Keep a gratitude journal. Gratitude has been shown to to improve people’s health and their outlook on life. In spite of having overwhelming fatigue (and many other difficult symptoms), I had a lot to be grateful for, including a roof over my head, food on the table, a bed to sleep on, and a whole lot more.

3) Give myself lots of self compassion and hugs because of how difficult my life was (instead of spending a lot of my time dwelling on how sick I was).

As I said, I wish I had known these strategies when my life was a overwhelming struggle because of chronic fatigue and my other symptoms. But I’m very glad that they’ve been very helpful for my clients and others I’ve shared them with, and I hope you will find them helpful too. And if you would like even more strategies, I invite you to get and read my How to Have a Chronic Illness – Without Letting Your Chronic Illness Have You report.

Do You Try To Be More Positive?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Last month, I asked the people in my How to Have a Better Life When You Have a Chronic Illness tips list what their three biggest challenges were and also what the three most important changes they would like to make were. Lots of them said their biggest challenges were their chronic pain and their other illness symptoms, and they said the change they wanted most was to not have those symptoms.

But a significant percentage of those who responded put down being more positive, happier, or more optimistic as either one of their three biggest challenges or as one of the three changes they would like to make. If you’re like them and would like to happier and more optimistic, keep reading, because I’m going to tell you how-and how not-to achieve that goal.

One of the most important things I have learned about becoming more positive and upbeat is that I can’t get there directly. What I mean is that trying to be more positive hasn’t worked well if at all, and whatever increase in happiness I achieve is quickly gone and forgotten when the next setback triggers my fears, or when I experience my next computer problem, etc.

However, if instead of trying to be happier, I give myself lots of compassion for those setbacks and problems, if I use my God-given gifts (and we all have them) to make a positive difference for other people, and if I make the time and take the time to do things I enjoy, the result is that I’m a whole lot happier.

You may be thinking that what I’ve written sounds good, but that your ability to help others and your ability to do the things you enjoy is greatly limited because of your illness. My response is that even if your ability is limited, I recommend that you still give my suggestion a try.

First, give yourself lots of compassion for the symptoms, pain, and limitations you have. Then make as much of a difference for others as you can, and do as much as you can for your own enjoyment. (Brainstorming helps here. When you do, you will probably come up with several ideas of things to do that never occurred to you before.)

If you follow my suggestion in spite of your limitations, you will find that there is what I call a sliding scale for happiness. What I mean is that you will experience as much happiness by doing as much as you are able to as a person without the limitations of a chronic illness will experience following the same suggestions as much as they are able to.

So I encourage you to try my suggestion, and don’t try to be more positive. I wish you much happiness.

Do You Have an Identity Crisis?

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Many of the people I work with have told me that besides taking away some–or many-of the abilities they had when they were healthy, and besides bringing unpleasant and painful symptoms into their lives, their chronic illness caused them to question who they are.

Before their diagnosis, they saw themselves as competent, active, productive, and engaged partners, spouses, parents, and friends. Then they become ill and lots of things changed. They couldn’t do all the things they formerly could, and they often become dependent on others. Also, they sometimes grieved for the person they no longer were and wondered, sometimes for a long time, who the person was that they became.

If any of what I’ve described also applies to you, the first thing I will say is my mantra for everyone with a chronic illness: give yourself LOTS of compassion – compassion for yourself for any grief you have for the person you no longer are, as well as compassion for all the difficulties that having a chronic illness has brought into your life.

Here’s some information that may surprise you: there is another group of people who often go through identity crises when their lives change. I learned from a prominent chronic pain doctor, who has a revolutionary method for treating certain kinds of chronic pain, that many of his patients resist getting well. They resist because they have gotten used to, and have identified with, being a person with chronic pain. This doctor has found that his patients usually need lots of counseling or therapy in addition to the treatments he gives them.

From the stories that doctor told about his patients, it’s clear to me that people have a hard time, i.e., an identity crisis, when their life circumstances and their roles change. But I’ve learned, both from my own life and from working with my clients, that our true identity goes much deeper than our being healthy or sick, being “productive” or disabled (I put quotes around the word productive because I think it’s a quality that is often overrated), or being self sufficient or dependent on others.

But changes in our lives and circumstances, such as having a chronic illness, give us an opportunity to examine our identity that we otherwise wouldn’t have. For example, we often discover more compassion for others within us than we realized was there. We may discover that the things that are important to us are different from what we thought they were.

I could say a lot more about the identity crisis that many go through when they have a chronic illness, but for now I’ll close by saying that I would love to get your thoughts and experiences about any self-identity struggles and changes you’ve had since you’ve had a chronic illness. If you go to share your self identity thoughts, I will include your comments in later post about this topic.

When you get angry, be gentle and understanding – with yourself

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I decided on today’s topic because of a conversation that took place recently in one of the online support groups I belong to. A woman I’ll call Carolyn wrote about her long, ongoing struggle to try to get disability insurance. She said she was very angry because she was being treated unfairly by the disability insurance system, especially compared to a relative of hers who was getting a much quicker response.

I don’t know Carolyn, but from what she shared about herself it seems clear to me that she qualifies for and should get disability insurance. I can easily empathize with her, not only because of her struggle to get the insurance, but because she lives in constant pain and shouldn’t have to go through all that additional stress. The fact that it’s well known that valid claims are routinely denied, especially the first time they are made, doesn’t make Carolyn’s-or anyone’s–experience of trying to get disability insurance any less trying and stressful.

Carolyn was denied not just once, but twice, so her anger is completely understandable and very probably justifiable as well. But I hope she follows it up with a lot of gentleness and compassion for herself (and I let her know that). When we get angry when we feel like we’ve been treated badly or unfairly, we often don’t realize that underneath that anger is a lot of emotional pain. And just as we give those we care about compassion when they have been emotionally hurt and are in emotional pain, we can do the same for ourselves.

Another person in the group told Carolyn to try to stay positive. That sounds good, but when we’re going through a hard time, neither I nor people I’ve talked about it with have been able do that for very long. And not only is giving ourselves compassion is much easier to do than staying positive, but it heals the emotional pain rather than just covering it up.

What To Do When It Hurts To Play With and Even Hold Your Children – Part 2

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

In my last post I shared with you the suggestions I had given to a woman with two young children who, because of her illness often feels shock waves of pain throughout her body when her children touch her ( here’s the link to that post). Donna recently replied to my email and told me more about her situation.

She said that her daughter (she has a boy and a girl) has a serious, painful medical condition and may need major surgery. On top of that, Donna recently injured her back at work and she and her family are facing the possibility that her husband’s job may be eliminated. But she made it clear that what was upsetting her the most was the fact that physical contact with her children, contact that she wanted to have and knew they needed, caused her tremendous pain.

After reading Donna’s email, I had a couple of additional suggestions that I shared with her. I told her that it was clear to me that she was a very caring and compassionate mother who would do anything she could for her daughter. Then I said that given that she was very compassionate, I wanted her to look in the mirror and have lots and lots of compassion for the person she saw, since that person is someone’s daughter and she needs and deserves much compassion.

I also told Donna that for what she did for her children everyday in spite of her own illness and pain, she deserved a Medal of Valor. I said that maybe her husband would get her one if she showed him my email, but if not, she should get one for herself. Then once she got it, she should hang it on the wall so that she doesn’t forget what a heroine she really is.

If she follows my suggestion, and I hope she does, I’m going to ask her to send me a picture of her medal so I can add it to this post.

Are you treating yourself as if you matter?

Monday, July 20th, 2009

During my many years as a life coach for people with chronic illnesses, I’ve met many people who thought that ignoring their illness-related pain was their best option. I don’t agree.

I think you will understand why if you think about a child who tells her mother that her knee hurts. If the mother tells her that she’s too busy to do anything about it, not only is the pain going to continue until the knee recovers on its own–if it does, but the child gets the message loud and clear that she is not important. If her needs continue to be ignored, she will eventually conclude that she must not be important and her needs must not matter.

In a similar way, if you ignore your illness-related pain, you are sending yourself a message that you’re not important. Even if you consciously try to reject that message, your subconscious mind will hear it and let it in. So it’s important that you don’t  ignore your pain.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you should run to a doctor every time your little toe hurts. But  a good parent determines if her child’s knee or toe needs to be seen by a doctor or just given a kiss, and she doesn’t ignore or be dismissive of her child in either situation. Instead she  expresses her love and caring. I encourage you to be that same kind of caring parent to yourself whenever you experience illness-related pain.

Don’t be a Tough Guy or Gal

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Last week a woman in an online illness support group that I participate in–I’ll call her Ellen–shared with the group that her hair had fallen out and then had grown back in, but it now looked weird. Ellen wrote that she was sad because she used to have very pretty hair. Then she said she knew it was dumb to fret over hair.

I responded by saying that it was not at all dumb for her to fret about her hair or to be sad that it looked weird. I suggested that she give herself lots of compassion for what she had gone through and the sadness she felt. She wrote again and said that she had gone to a chronic pain management program, and in it was told not to complain about anything, including pain. She was also told that expressing  negative feelings to ourselves or others is harmful, and to always realize things could be worse.

Since I didn’t attend that chronic pain management course myself, I only have the information about it that Ellen provided to go on. I know it’s not helpful to complain about things. But it seems to me that the people who taught that course were misguided in saying that expressing  negative feelings to ourselves or others is harmful.

What you and I need to do to successfully manage both physical and emotional pain is to fully acknowledge it, including how much it hurts and all the difficulties it causes in our lives. Then the next step is for us to give ourselves as much compassion as we possibly can for our pain and all those difficulties we’ve been experiencing. I have found, with both my clients and myself, that trying to tough it out and ignore pain only works for a limited period of time. Eventually the pain becomes so severe or causes problems so serious that they can’t be ignored. So the best way to manage pain and have lives  we truly love in spite of it is the way I’ve described.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post, and what has worked best for you.