As I look back over my patients, family members, and friends who have battled chronic pain, I’ve noticed that the ones who have been the most successful have several things in common. It doesn’t matter what their diagnosis is; chronic pain conquerors have some mixture of these traits. There’s no one secret thing that makes them successful, and the more of these traits they have, the more likely they are to be able to manage their pain.
Grit: When we talk about grit as a personality trait, we mean perseverance and dedication. Anyone dealing with chronic pain has to have a healthy dose of grit in their make-up to ultimately prevail in their struggle to manage it. Chronic pain eats away at you. Without grit, it will roll right over the top of you. Grit lets you stand up against the pain and dig your heels in. It’s what gets you out of bed every day and meet it head on.
How do you get grit? First of all, you already have it. We all do. It’s kind of like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it wastes away. Start small. Maybe you decide you’re going to take a walk around the block. Make your mind up about it, and stick to it- no matter what. It doesn’t matter that it’s raining, or you’re not feeling well, or that you’ve got tons of stuff to do. Don’t bend. Don’t compromise. Do it. That’s how you flex your grit, and it’s an imperative mindset to gain control of chronic pain. With practice, it gets easier!
Support System: Like the song says, “We all need somebody to lean on.” Having someone who you can talk to or ask for help is critical in managing chronic pain. Chronic pain sufferers have a tendency to isolate themselves, which feeds into a negative cycle of depression that further exacerbates the situation. Successful management includes knowing when to ask for help because there are going to be days when you need a bit of assistance. Success hinges on avoiding triggers like over-extending yourself and minimizing contributing factors like depression.
If you’re blessed to have a family or close friends, be sure to share your journey with them. They’ll likely want to help and be more than happy to do what they can to support you. If you need to look outside your immediate circle for someone to lean on, ask your doctor, or check the internet about local support groups. Nobody understands your struggles better than someone who shares them. Whoever it is, you need somebody who is in your corner to help when the going gets tough.
Education: I don’t mean you need college degrees to be successful in managing your pain. I mean, you need to educate yourself on pain, and your diagnosis (our app, download links below, helps you do that). Try to learn everything you can about why you have pain and how you can manage it. In our modern age of technology, the internet brings much of this information to your fingertips. Look beyond the first five Google hits. There’s a wealth of information out there.
Another way to educate yourself is to talk to your health care providers. Go prepared for your appointments with questions and things you want to discuss. If you need to, ask for a second opinion. The more knowledge you have, the better game plan you’re able to make for the management of your chronic pain.
Communication: I think this is one that even the most successful pain patient struggles with. It’s hard to verbalize your pain and your needs. It’s hard to ask for help if you need it. For a lot of people, when they speak about their pain, they are forced to face it in new ways. By putting your pain or needs into words, it defines them. You can no longer ignore them once they’re spoken. It’s tough but so necessary to fully manage chronic pain.
Again, you need to start small. You don’t need to bear your soul to someone to achieve productive communication. However, if someone with a genuine interest in you and your life asks if they can help you, try to let them in – even a little bit. Another good place to start improving your communication is with your healthcare provider. It’s always shocking to me how many patients don’t tell the full story to their providers. Doctors want to help, and they can do that best with all the details. Communication strengthens your relationships, which will then strengthen your support system and ultimately make you more successful in managing your pain.
Grace: You’re going to have bad days. You’re going to fail to meet goals. You’re going to lash out either at yourself or someone around you as you deal with your pain. It’s the nature of the beast. You need to give yourself a bit of grace. When things go badly, it’s ok to get down- for a bit. The key to giving yourself grace is that you turn your eyes forward to where you’re going. You don’t stay mired in the past, beating yourself up over things that didn’t go the way they should.
Grace means that you’re kind to yourself and love yourself. Without grace, the speedbumps of life become huge mountains and major detours on your road to success. There are lots of ways to find grace. For some, it’s an aspect of their spirituality. For others, it’s simply a love of one’s self. Find something that resonates with you. There are lots of books about loving yourself and having a positive relationship with yourself. If nothing else, remember to give yourself a break!
Everyone manages their chronic pain in their own way. When I think about people who I consider a success, they all have a combination of these traits. One might be more grit than grace, and others might be all about education and communication, but all these aspects are still there.
It’s important to remember that all these traits are learnable. They can be developed in anyone. The Pathways app is a great tool to help you as you work to emulate these powerful attributes. With time, practice, and dedication, you can hone these skills and write your own success story.
Please note: This article is made available for educational purposes only, not to provide personal medical advice.