Living with Chronic Pain
Accepting a Chronic Pain Diagnosis
Receiving a diagnosis of chronic pain can be devastating; yet a clear diagnosis can also bring peace of mind to those who have internally questioned why they are in pain. As with any chronic health condition, chronic pain requires individuals to actively make changes in their lives to reduce the severity of the condition. This usually involves a combination of medical treatments, lifestyle changes and psychological help.
After receiving a chronic pain diagnosis, individuals often go through stages of emotions similar to the Kübler-Ross model of grief. They are grieving life as they once knew it. Emotions that may be experienced include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Shock and denial
In the beginning, individuals in chronic pain may resist going to needed doctor’s appointments because it may be difficult to face the truth. Even after a diagnosis, individuals may be in shock or denial and not agree with the diagnosis or treatment plan(s).
After the initial phase of denial, anger usually arises. Not only can the experience of pain cause angry feelings, but receiving a diagnosis of chronic pain can lead to frustration and irritation. Individuals may ponder, “Why me?” or “How could this have happened?”
- Bargaining, fear and anxiety
Individuals with chronic pain may experience fear about the future. “What if” thoughts often creep into the psyche. Struggling to find the “meaning of life” after a chronic pain diagnosis is common.
Thirty to fifty percent of individuals with chronic pain also deal with depression. Chronic pain can cause depression, and depression can increase chronic pain; it is often a vicious cycle.
- Acceptance and hope
While most individuals with chronic pain eventually gain acceptance of their condition, some individuals never reach this stage as they are stuck in anger, fear or depression. Accepting a chronic pain diagnosis does not mean giving into it. An individual may experience pain for the rest of their life, but they can always control their reaction to it with treatment(s) and lifestyle changes. Acceptance takes time. Adjusting to a major lifestyle change is a process. Psychotherapy, group therapy or simply family support are all important factors in finding acceptance of and hope for a chronic pain diagnosis. Anti-depressant medications are available for those diagnosed with clinical depression.
These emotional stages do not follow a strict schedule nor are they always sequential. People with chronic pain may experience many emotions at once or their emotions may fluctuate among the stages.
Individuals with chronic pain experience a plethora of emotions in relation to their chronic pain: anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, etc. These are common emotional reactions; however, when they affect daily living, they should be shared with a health care provider. Talking with a trusted family member, seeing a mental health counselor or joining a support group can help an individual properly deal with the emotional aspects of chronic pain.