Sometimes, when you live with chronic pain, the hardest part of coping is admitting just how awful the emotionally spiral can be. At times, it’s easier to say, “My body just hurts today”, than to admit through your tears, “I feel broken by the emotional weight of my chronic pain today.” We have all seen the look of helplessness on the faces of our loved ones when it’s mutually understood that there’s nothing they can do to stop our pain in that moment, and it can be soul-crushing.
So, what do we do? We minimize everything we feel, of course. It can be damn easy to dismiss our emotional reactions to our pain because sometimes it’s damn impossible to dismiss the physical pain itself. We have to be in control of something about ourselves, right? But, not confronting our emotional life along with our physical one will be detrimental to both because they most certainly effect one another. So, let’s explore some interesting facts about how chronic pain can cause emotional trauma:
According to The National Center for PTSD, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Approximately one in three Americans suffer from some kind of chronic pain in their lifetimes, and about one quarter of them are not able to do day to day activities because of their chronic pain.
We know that some of us have chronic pain from the normal wear and tear on our bodies or from aging. Others have chronic pain due to various types of cancer, or other chronic medical illnesses. In some cases, (such as mine), the chronic pain may be from an injury that happened during an accident or an assault. And some chronic pain has no explanation whatsoever but is still just as valid as all the others.
This is what we all know about our chronic pain. Now, here are some surprises…
Research has also shown that approximately 35% of patients with chronic pain also have PTSD! One study diagnosed 51% of patients who suffered from chronic back pain with PTSD symptoms.
And almost all of us who experience chronic pain (up to 100%!) are also diagnosed with depression.
When it feels like our emotions have become too much for us to handle it is a sign that something has been repressed for too long and is now begging to be confronted, analyzed, processed, and released. We must honor the emotional signs our mind and body uses to communicate this to us. How do we do this? It starts with loving ourselves enough to keep company with our inner, and often neglected emotional lives.
Coping with chronic pain can lead to a lot of distracting. For most of us, cultivating distraction can work for combating pain in the moment. But we also know it only works temporarily.
Confronting emotional trauma helps alleviate your suffering on the long term. It begins with REALLY listening to how your mind reacts emotionally to the chronic physical pain your body feels. It is the complete opposite of distraction so it can be very uncomfortable but it can also be a powerful coping tool. It starts with complete self-awareness. Get fascinated and even excited with exploring your ’emotional currents’ and how they flow. The torrent is different for everyone. So, let’s dive in together! Here are some common symptoms of PTSD caused by chronic pain…
Physical pain directly caused by stress
Common physical symptoms caused by PTSD stress are sudden headaches or migraines, dizziness, fatigue, chest pain, involuntary tensing and aching of muscles, breathing difficulties, and stomach and digestive issues.
Nightmares or Flashbacks about severe pain episodes
Flashbacks—a symptom known as re-experiencing—in which you may suddenly and vividly re-live traumatic hospital incidents or the worst of your pain episodes in a repetitive manner. Re-experiencing can enter dreams or come on suddenly in waking sensations of physical and emotional pain and fear. It may cause sleeping difficulties and anxiety leaving the safety of home.
Depression or Anxiety
Chronic pain causes depression and anxiety. We can all testify to the overwhelming fear, helplessness and resignation that can consume us at times.
Withdrawal and Avoidance
It may seem easier at times to just stop trying to form connections with people. Sometimes our bodies are not even reliable enough to make plans with friends. We may start to lose interest in our favorite hobbies, and activities that we used to be very passionate about or even develop social anxiety.
It’s very common for those with sever pain and PTSD to feel emotionally numb involuntarily or to deliberately try to numb their feelings. It’s your body’s natural defense mechanism against chronic pain. After all, it’s hard to suffer pain if we don’t feel anything.
It’s common to suffer jitters so sever that it becomes impossible to relax due to our level of fear. We feel “on edge” and “jumpy” or easily frightened.
This state of constant fear and paranoia can cause PTSD-associated irritability, indecisiveness, a total lack of concentration, and sleeplessness.
Guilt and Shame
When we have difficulty getting past all of these negative emotions we may blame ourselves for ‘being a burden’. We’ve all felt the immense shame and guilt that none of us deserve to feel.
If you feel this list rings true for you, connect and share your experiences with the vast PTSD community available online where coping techniques can be shared. It’s also important to express any emotional discoveries to the support system in your life. It will alleviate some of the helplessness they may feel because they will better understand how to support you as well as their own reactions to your pain.
Exploring our ’emotional currents’ is the first step to processing the anxiety and depression that accompanies our chronic pain so that instead of desperately treading water with no land in sight, we will reach the other side where some peace can be found. Our emotional suffering is just as legitimate as our physical suffering. It is justified and absolutely normal. It is not weak. It is not selfish. We are human. We must express to heal by embracing the power that comes with self-awareness, and ultimately – self-acceptance.
If you found this article useful, please post your findings in the comment section:) Good luck today my fellow fighters!