Having chronic pain can stop us doing the things we enjoy and love to do. I went through a real bad patch a few years ago when I said no to doing things with my partner and my friends. This affected my happiness, my relationship, and ultimately my mental health. I had no life and I was miserable. Things changed when I started doing the things I love to do again and I got my life back. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I know some people have such intense pain and chronic conditions, that their pain literally takes over their whole lives. But I truly believe that I must do the things I think I cannot do.
An exciting moment for me
Last Tuesday I was lucky enough to have front row tickets to the Andy Murray Live event at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow. This was a charity tennis match event to raise money for UNICEF and some of Andy’s other favourite charities. He played Roger Federer in a singles match, and then a fun doubles match with his brother Jamie versus Tim Henman and Mansour Bahrami.
I booked the tickets back in February, and knew without a doubt that I’d struggle with my chronic pain. Regular readers of my blog will know that I have a sitting disability and that I am in pain when I sit down. Traveling to Glasgow from the North West of England was always going to be challenging, as well as sitting for 4 hours during the event itself.
Having front row tickets to this event was, for me, a once in a lifetime event, and I was not going to let anything stop me from going. My mum is also a huge Andy Murray fan and I sure wasn’t going to let her down either. Coping with the guilt of this was something not worth thinking about and wherever I can, I have a tendency to put my pain second to others’ needs. (These are definitely future blog post topics.)
Coping strategies to enjoy life with chronic pain
Chronic pain changes everything – what we do, how we do it, how we think, our energy levels, our concentration, mental health, the list goes on. Our pain is often invisible to others but it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. People with chronic pain use coping strategies to get by and carry on their daily lives as best as possible. This can be exhausting; we put a lot of energy in to planning ahead and changing our behaviours so that we hide our pain from others.
I knew I had to do everything I could on my trip to see Andy Murray, to manage my pain as best as possible. I knew it would be worse than normal, so I had to plan ahead and put in place some of my usual coping strategies. These included using my coccyx cut-out cushion in the car and at the SSE Hydro; having a break from driving as often as possible without making the journey longer than necessary; and walking about or lying down as often as practical throughout the whole trip.
Just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean it no longer hurts.
I’m always embarrassed to use my cushion, and in the past I’ve refused to use it in public. I don’t like drawing attention to myself; it’s always easier to have one thing to worry about (my pain) rather than adding what other people are thinking to the equation as well. Some people may think think this is silly – why not use something that can hep your pain? – but those with chronic pain understand how easy it can be to hide our pain and say we are fine. It’s another coping mechanism that allows us to carry on and do the things we enjoy without letting our pain stop us.
My happiness outweighed my pain
I certainly made the right decision to attend the event. I was literally star struck at seeing Andy Murray in person, along with Roger Federer and the other stars of the night. It almost didn’t feel real while I was there, and still doesn’t now to be honest. I kept checking my mum was ok too as she was very quiet, but I think she was just as star struck as I was. The only disappointing thing of the night was that despite being on the front row of the floor level seats, my photos didn’t come out very well at all.
Yes, I was in pain. Yes, I struggled at times. But I’m assuming the endorphins that my body produced must have been working well that night. I learnt a lot about getting my life back and how to cope with my chronic pain in the book “Beyond Pain: Conquer your pain, reclaim your life” by Angelo Ratnachandra. I read this book before I had my surgery and it really helped me to think differently and to learn to accept my pain (one of my 10 ways to cope with chronic pain). My whole mindset changed once I knew that my surgery hadn’t worked and that I had to become friends with my pain and learn to think differently.
Some days I do have to still say ‘no’
On my very bad pain days I do still have to say no. Sometimes there is no specific trigger that makes it a bad pain day, but I just have to go with the flow on the day, and not be too harsh on myself when things don’t go to plan. It’s about balancing pain versus life, and overdoing things one day can really affect things the next day.
I have learnt over the past few years that having chronic pain and still doing a large majority of the things I enjoy is much better than having chronic pain and not doing the things I enjoy. Sometimes these things may only be small – reading a good book; having a mammoth Netflix session; getting organised with my blogging; going out for a coffee with my partner – but I am doing something that makes me happy and that gets my endorphins going. I’d rather be happy and in pain, than miserable and in pain.
How do you ensure you do the things you enjoy?
What coping mechanisms do you use?
How do you feel when you do the things you enjoy?