Living with pain has taught me many things and it has caused me to fear others as well. I've learned a new understanding and appreciation for what my life is now. Coping skills are important for people like us. The things we do or don't do for ourselves can either see us through our pain or it can see us under it. And then there are times when nothing we do for ourselves seems to work. It's a painful truth and sometimes...we just have to endure.
It's during this time that I think we are most vulnerable to the hidden dangers of life with a chronic pain. When our days are manageable and our coping skills are working...we're doing better. But what happens if you haven't found coping skills that work? what happens if they stop working for you? We can learn to pace ourselves in our activities, we can reach out for support from our friends and family, we can have all the coping skills to see us through...but sometimes? even the best strategies can have their limits.
I've been at the end of mine lately and I think that's why the last few days have been a struggle for me and I'm thinking I'm not the only one who has been here. Have you ever been at the end of yours? It's an uncomfortable feeling and it can lead us down the road to the hidden dangers of life with a chronic illness.
Today I'd like to share something to get you thinking about your life and how you're living it. This information is shared for your entertainment only BUT I do ask that if you notice yourself in this entry that you speak to your doctor. Sometimes we can't beat this on our own and we need professional help...it's available so if you're needing it now...please ask for it. Love yourself enough to get the help you need and let your healing begin.
“It’s all in your head.” If you’re living with chronic pain, this is probably the most frustrating thing someone could say to you. Of course the pain isn’t just in your head; it’s in your leg, arm, neck or wherever it hurts. But chronic pain can affect your head: it puts you at higher risk for depression, which if left untreated can have serious consequences.
People who live with chronic pain know the importance of coping strategies. Building a support team, pacing your activities, setting goals, exercising, using relaxation techniques: all these can help manage pain conditions, but these strategies have their limits. When these strategies are not enough, the pain can interfere with sleep and your ability to manage stress, which can compromise your mental health and possibly lead to depression.
And not only can chronic pain lead to depression, but it can also mask it – because, let’s face it, pain is depressing: it hurts, it’s stressful, and, because it limits activities, it can isolate you socially. Some medications to treat pain can impair concentration, make you drowsy, or cause a depressed mood. These realities of chronic pain make it more difficult for even your primary care doctor to identify symptoms of clinical depression, which is a health condition that can severely impact your physical health, and if left untreated can be fatal.
So how do you distinguish between feeling depressed and clinical depression? The key is to assess your mood during your better moments. If the pain has momentarily subsided and you still feel down, or you’re not interested in the things you normally enjoy, or you have trouble concentrating and/or sleeping, or your appetite is gone, or you are thinking about death or suicide, you may have clinical depression.
Depression is a common illness that affects one in five people. But many people don’t seek treatment, either because they don’t have access to mental health care, or they don’t recognize their symptoms as depression. And people with chronic pain often face an additional barrier: their own “I can get through this” resilience that comes from living with chronic pain. Those of you accustomed to toughing it out may believe you can tough it out with depression, too – but you can’t fight depression with resilience alone. Depression attacks your capacity for resilience, making you susceptible to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and the belief that nothing will ever change.
So check in with yourself and be honest about your symptoms. If you’re concerned that you may have depression, call your doctor today and request an evaluation or a referral to a mental health professional. If you need an excuse: May is Mental Health Month, a reminder that we all need to take care of our mental health.
By Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman
Vice President of Research, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Friday, May 1, 2015