Chronic Pain

Coming to terms with pain

Many of the people that we talked to felt that coming to terms with the reality that pain is likely to be a permanent part of their life was a vital process in living life with chronic pain. The alternative was thought to be pointless anger, aggression and bitterness that could ruin the person's life and destroy their most important relationships.

Some people said that they were still struggling to come to terms with their pain and move on with life.

Some people contrasted coming to terms with living with pain with their early and hopeful belief that they could and should 'fight' the pain. Others talked about not letting pain rule or ruin their life anymore.

Sometimes there was a particular moment when they recalled changing their attitude to their pain. However, for most people it was an ongoing process. One woman explained that it had taken her two years to get her life back, but she now focuses on overcoming disability and living a full life despite her pain. Some recalled times when the pain had got them down and they had to go through the process again.

Several had attended an NHS pain management programme, which had helped them to come to terms with pain and see the importance of focussing on other aspects of life. Others were helped by a healthcare professional, often a GP or a psychologist. Whilst it was a hard thing to hear, especially for people in their 20s and 30s, some found it helped when a healthcare professional told them that there was nothing that could be done and they just had to live with the pain.

A diagnosis can be helpful (see also 'Search for a cause and diagnosis'), but often it is a struggle to find a cause, diagnosis or a treatment - described by one man as the NHS roundabout.

A woman thought she would have come to terms with her pain quicker if health professionals had been honest and a man who had many negative tests eventually realised that there would not be a cure and he would have to live with his pain.

Joining a support group or getting information about their condition was sometimes helpful (see also 'Support groups' and 'Finding information'). Others had come to terms with living with pain in their own way.

One man found that having to live with a problem with his eyes had helped when he had to accept that he had chronic back pain. Another woman felt that initially she had pretended to hide her feelings from others but had gradually come to accept pain as part of her life.

Many people acknowledged that it was important to direct their energies into doing activities that they found useful and enjoyable while living with pain. Some people did so while still holding out hope of a future treatment that would relieve or cure their pain. One young woman talked about the importance of sometimes pushing the boundaries.

Some people acknowledged that for them it was just unrealistic to keep trying to get back to their previous types and levels of work and social activities. Although this was difficult and frustrating people emphasised that you can live a fulfilling life with pain and that one should not keep making comparisons with life as it was.

Some people spoke about positive sides to their experiences for example that they or someone in their family had become more compassionate, or that they were stronger or more confident because they had had to learn to overcome problems. The time to think and reflect could lead to greater appreciation of the simple things in life.

Although there were many negatives, some even thought their life had changed for the better.

Last reviewed May 2015.

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