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Grieving Process and Chronic Pain

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“Sometimes the healing is in the aching.”

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I shared my personal losses in my previous post with the promise to share my personal grieving process I experienced because of my diagnosis of chronic pain.  The loss of a loved one often causes a person to go through the stages of grief which are commonly but not always as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and many times Acceptance. I had to go through, what I call the grieving process of chronic pain in order to heal and live the life I am grateful for despite chronic pain.

I first faced:

Denial:  After many years of searching for a cure I hit my rock bottom and was just about to give up when I found myself at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  Once there, I spent about two or three months working with an amazing Neurologist who had me see many doctors, ordered every test there was in the book to find a cure, and after those difficult yet hopeful months he told me the ugly truth.  He told me I had something called chronic pain and there was no real “cure” for my condition.  At first I  just stared at him as if he was crazy and then realized as his private nurse put her arm around me, this was no joke.  One of the best doctors in the United States of America had truly just told me there was no cure to my condition.  I then cried.  I cried to the point of falling to the floor as if I had lost a loved one, which I thought I had.  I was at my breaking point.  However, I did not believe him.  I denied his diagnosis and barely listened to him as he explained the Pain Rehab Center that I could enter the very next day where I could learn how to manage pain naturally and live a great life despite pain.  I stormed out of his office, out of the building and into the hot summer Minnesota air where I went straight to buy a bottle of wine and (possibly a jug of wine, lets be honest) and decided that the doctor that I had put total faith in was nuts and there was no way I would not be able to find a cure.

Anger:  I was MAD!  I was not going to live the rest of my life in chronic pain.   I had never heard of the term: “chronic pain.”  What in the hell was that??  Live with pain the rest of my life.  At the time I felt a deep feeling of hate towards the medical field, my father for wanting me to enter the program my neurologist suggested, and a deep hatred towards PAIN.  Nobody understood me I thought.  If any doctor or person who loved me felt what I felt every day of my life they would never suggest living in that pain forever.  I was so mad I drank that jug of wine for two days and nights, cursing the world and any higher being I had once believed in.

Bargaining:  Then I began thinking and talking to my friends and my dad: maybe I could see another doctor or go to another famous hospital?  I thought there could be a different medication I  had not tried in my ten plus years of searching for a cure to chronic pain.  Maybe I needed another surgery?  The worst bargain I made was with myself.  I once again bargained my life: maybe I should just end it once and for all.

Depression: After bargaining for a good amount of time, I had a long talk with my dad over the phone.  I sat looking around my hotel room in Rochester, MN and I saw two jugs of red wine, a bed that I had no desire to make, and food that had been sitting out all night.  What had my life become?  I decided to enter the Pain Rehab Program despite my despair, anger, and disbelief in their program.   I spent the first few days in the program extremely depressed.  I could not eat, sleep, and felt totally hopeless.  Everyone in the program looked fine to me.  They did not appear to have chronic pain and many were talking and laughing as if nothing was wrong.  The only two people who looked as if they were in pain were the two people who utilized wheel chairs.  I then realized that I did not look ‘sick’ either.  I really did not look any different than anyone in the room and yet we were all there to learn how to manage pain naturally.  It took me some time to realize that we did all have chronic pain and a few weeks later I made it to the acceptance phase of my personal grieving process.

Acceptance: The Pain Rehabilitation Center at the Mayo Clinic defines acceptance as: moving from looking for a “cure” to concentrating on living life to the fullest in spite of symptoms.  It was not until I was able to come to terms with not finding a cure that I was able to begin living.  I started listening to the instructors and my peers about ways to manage pain naturally.  I started practicing the tools over and over again.  I began to train my brain to not think about pain.  Acceptance was the hardest part and yet without accepting my condition, I would not be here today.

There are times I still face the grieving process of chronic pain but not as I explained above.  You will not find me with a jug of red wine or spending a week in bed crying in pain and depression over my invisible illness.  However, I still go through these stages just in a different way, a healthier way I believe.  I have difficult nights and some difficult hours during the day at times but I do not allow chronic pain to rule my life.  In my previous post I wrote that most of us have experienced loss and we can all relate to the feelings of loss.  The same goes for the grieving process.  Many, if not most people do not understand chronic pain but I know a lot of people who have experienced the grieving process in some way, shape, or form.

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9 thoughts on “Grieving Process and Chronic Pain

  1. Ginger Ratzlaff says:

    Living life to the fullest requires acceptance of my new “normal.” But, I can’t push myself to ignore the symptoms of my 4 chronic illness. I am trying to learn when to push myself and when to accept that I need to be alone and rest.. I just recently had an undiagnosed urinary tract infection that became a kidney infection that became a blood infection because I choose to dismiss symptoms by explaining them away. We have to listen to our bodies even when we want to ignore them.

  2. Scott Braspenninx says:

    My depression is my love of a life I cannot live (or that I think I cannot live). My elevation is my love 1) of being alive, 2) of life, love and beauty in all forms and 3) the life that is before me. It SEEMS so simple what I should spend my time thinking about, being and doing, but like with everything else, it takes much practice to be good at it. I’m so glad you have learned from your past and now use that to help others learn theirs is still a life well worth living. It helps me. Cheers.

  3. Don says:

    Thanks for your insight, I am working on training my brain to “look beyond” the pain and discomfort. No easy task for sure.

  4. Casey says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Everyday is s struggle, but being thankful for what we still have and knowing we’re not alone on this journey truly helps. All the best to you😄

  5. Heartache Rx says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s natural and even expected to go through the grieving process when someone becomes chronically ill. It totally took me by surprise when it happened to me.

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