Can chronic pain cause PTSD?

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.

Emotional Numbing

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.

Hyper-arousal

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.

Irritability

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!

You’re not a bad person for the ways you’ve tried to kill your sadness…

I don’t care that you got into drugs for three months straight, or how much sleep you lost in that period. I don’t care that you went home and fucked that person and woke up at 6am hating everything about yourself, or that you drank, smoked, and partied so much you thought your lungs would give out.

You’re not a bad person for the ways you’ve tried to kill your sadness. And anyone who judges you as such is a hypocrite. Most are too afraid to face their true selves.

You’re just human, and being human means you need to survive. Fuck everyone else.

-Anonymous-

 

Accepting the Madness in everyone…

Nothing is simple when it comes to mental illness — there are no easy answers, no political slogans, no webcomics or awareness campaigns that can encompass the full and difficult reality of living with a mental condition.

Yet the truth is that many of us, and many of those we love, live their lives in fear of their own minds. We live in terror of the idea, the possibility, that we are damaged goods, incapable of bringing anything but pain and shame to ourselves and those around us.

I believe that no one “goes crazy” on their own — that we live in a society that is crazy-making in its capacity for trauma, denial, and rejection of its own complicity in the creation of disturbed and violent individuals.

If everyone had access to security and healthcare, if our social systems were more open to diversity of psychological experience and expression, I truly doubt that mental illness as we know it would exist.

This is what we must strive for: a greater understanding of how social oppression and intergenerational trauma breed violence and more trauma. We must come to the realization that everyone exists on a spectrum of mental health and illness, and that no one lives without being affected in some way by the “illness” side of the scale.

Let’s focus on the ways in which oppressive social forces such as poverty, racism and systemic violence, as well as personal traumas like child abuse and neglect, are actually responsible for creating and maintaining the symptoms of mental illnesses.

Finally, we must learn to recognize, and love the madness we find within ourselves so that we might better hold and heal the madness we encounter in the world.

Shame thrives on confusion and misunderstanding. When you illuminate shame by talking about it, its power diminishes.

Once we have been trained to be ashamed of ourselves, we don’t need active confirmation from others. We supply it on their behalf. We assume others are disappointed in us, even those we love. We fill in the blanks between us and others with the most damaging possible messages; even when those messages are not their intention at all. It is this willingness, this need to fill the blanks with self-condemnation and shame, that can collapse relationships and destroy marriages. It leads to all manner of self-destructive behaviors. Shame fuels itself, becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy. And no one, no matter how kind or supportive they are, can sustain support for someone who has succumbed to the voice of shame.

Shame strips us of our natural sense of self-preservation and replaces it with a willingness to do anything to get off the arbitrary and hateful hot seat as defined by whatever bully might seek to shame us. Some children see their parents that way. Its a chilling thought and should give us all pause.

 

For adults, shame can be about everything; our sexual selves, our failures, our imperfect bodies, our difficult pasts, our losses, the relentless litany of our regrets. Shame can leech the joy out of life. It is a loop of self-destructive internal dialogues that blind us to what is good and magical and strong in us. Shame is a sure fire recipe for depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, alienation and despair.
Now for the good news! There is a simple and powerful answer for dealing with humanity’s culture of shame: TALK ABOUT IT.
Shame is deeply personal. We can not know what others might view as shaming unless we talk with them about it. And this includes our friends, wives, husbands, parents and children.

Shame thrives on confusion and misunderstanding. When you illuminate shame by talking about it, its power diminishes. This is the first step to creating a culture of discovery and compassion.