Today I want to share with you what helps me get through extra difficult days with my chronic pain. If you’re suffering from chronic pain – whether physical, mental or emotional pain that is ongoing – this should be helpful for enduring those days when you just have to survive the day.
1. Accept help.
If you’re battling with chronic pain, you need to find a tribe of supportive people to surround you. Whether that’s your physical family, your church small group, or some friends and neighbors – find your tribe. Have your go-to people that you can text or call if you’re having a bad day. People who can pray with and for you, or who can come over to help distract your kiddos if you need a break.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.Proverbs 17:17
Of course, if you want this type of friendship, you have to be this friend to others as well. Be intentional about your relationships. It’s not realistic to have 15 super close BFFs – but you can have 2-3 friends whom you would do anything for – and who also will understand if you have to change your night-on-the-town plans to a movie night in bed because you’re in pain.
2. Communicate your pain.
“A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.”
If your friends and family members don’t know you’re in pain, it’s going to be impossible for them to know how to help you. So even if it’s hard, you have to share your pain. You don’t have to tell everyone – but be intentional with what you share. Don’t just say “I’m fine” when you know that’s not true. Be specific. Be real.
Have one or two people that you know you can shoot a text to on painful days. For me, I typically reach out to my sisters-in-law, Amanda and Andrea. Just a simple, “pray for me, I’m in a lot of pain today,” text can help take some of the burden off of me.
A note on getting help & communicating your chronic pain:
One question that I get a lot from friends or family members is: how can I help? This is a difficult one for me because I genuinely need help, but I don’t want to inconvenience people and I certainly don’t want to ask for something that’s more than they were willing to give. However, I think if someone is asking this question, they most likely really want to do something for you! My mom often reminds me that God can use my pain as an avenue for others to answer His calling to serve. I shouldn’t hinder that call by being too proud to ask for help. So, communicate specific ways that a friend can help. Perhaps they can bring a meal, watch your kids for an hour while you rest, pick up groceries or medicine for you, or just bring you a coffee.
Please don’t be hurt if people don’t “get it” when you’re in pain.
If you’ve never had a migraine before, it’s hard to grasp how debilitating one is. Oftentimes we feel like we’re falling apart on the inside, but to others we look just fine! This can make it much more difficult for them to connect with how we’re feeling. I’m always surprised after a group hangout if I mention that I was in pain and people reply, “I had no idea!” Don’t assume people know how you’re feeling and don’t be afraid to explain in detail what you’re experiencing. However, make sure to offer lots of grace when a friend or family member inevitably doesn’t quite understand. That’s OK!
3. Have some tricks up your sleeve for extra painful days.
Especially with my kids, I have to have my go-to activities that I can do even on painful days so that we don’t end up watching Paw Patrol all day long. For me that means going out into our backyard and letting the boys play in the sandbox or the kiddie pool (which wears them out and allows me to just sit). It means blowing up a balloon or blowing bubbles for them to chase. Or reading them as many books as they want. Playing “pirate ship” while I lay in bed, launching rolled up socks (AKA cannonballs) off the side of the bed while yelling “ahoy, matey!” requires minimal effort.
If you’re looking for some activities to wear out your kids, here’s my go-to list that you can easily incorporate into your chronic pain survival day: Activities to Wear Out Your High Energy Kid.
I also have a few dinner hacks that I save for rough days. I keep around ridiculously easy ingredients so that even Tyler could whip up a dinner in a heartbeat. Having a meal plan for the week helps me SO much. I know exactly what I’m going to feed my family for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day so there’s less guesswork involved – and we don’t end up eating cereal for dinner when mama’s on a survival day.
4. Be OK with some screen time on your chronic pain survival days.
We don’t want this to be an all-day, every-day kind of thing, but don’t feel guilty if you need to turn on the TV in order to rest. Generally, I try to find something educational that makes me feel a little less guilty about the screen time. Lately we’ve been watching Brain Candy TV – Finn loves the episodes about the planets. He’s also enjoyed watching a Masterclass by astronaut Chris Hadfield with me. I’m surprised by how engaged he’s been with something that’s so clearly above his head! I also cherish the times when we’ve been able to cuddle up on the couch and watch Lady & the Tramp or Peter Pan.
5. Have a plan for your chronic pain.
I have a pain system for when my pain is flaring up. This is basically a list of things I can do when I’m in pain that will help me get out of pain. I can’t tell you how much this helps me – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. If I know there’s something I can do to help get out of pain, it gives me hope and helps me to be less discouraged. I’m able to approach my pain in a more matter-of-fact way rather than feeling defeated.
I have two different lists, a short-term and a long-term.
Daily Pain System:
- Take/apply homeopathy
- Stretch/lightly exercise
- Use heating pad and/or ice for the afflicted area
- Take a hot bath with epsom salts
- Take ibuprofen
- Get a massage and/or see the chiropractor
- Take an ice bath
- Take a nap/go to bed early
- Try a different medication
- Repeat as needed
So, if I’m in a lot of pain, I’ll start at #1 and work my way down until the pain has lessened – or I repeat the list as needed.
Long-term Pain System:
- Medical: Have I seen my doctor recently? Do I have up-to-date labs/imaging? Do I need to change my medication? Are there specific questions I need to ask a medical professional about my pain?
- Food: what have my eating habits looked like lately? Is there anything I can try to change?
- Exercise: am I exercising regularly? Am I overdoing it? Am I stretching consistently?
- Stress: what areas in my life are causing undue stress? How can I cut back or cut out stressors?
- Sleep: what are my sleep habits like? Am I getting enough sleep? How can I get better sleep?
Know your triggers.
It can be extremely helpful to have a pain management journal where you track your pain throughout each day as well as what activities you did, your food, exercise, water intake, etc. This way you can see patterns and learn about your own body. For me, I know that my pain is often correlated with menstrual cycle and with stress – if I know this in advance, I can prepare. I’ll schedule fewer activities during certain times of my cycle. If I know in advance that I’ll be dealing with an extra stressful situation, I’ll try to not plan anything else stressful around that event. The more we know ourselves and our triggers, the more we can be prepared for painful days.
That being said, not all pain is triggered by a known cause – and it can be SO frustrating when I’m in pain and someone says, “Oh, well what did you do [to cause the pain]?” Cue eye roll.
There is, of course, a balance here: we try our best to connect the dots, but sometimes that’s out of our control and we have to be at peace with that.
6. Be your own greatest advocate.
Before going through this, I used to think that medicine was very black-and-white: you have symptoms, here’s a test, oh it’s positive so here’s the prescription to fix it. What I’ve learned is that only a few things are black and white…everything else is very gray.
Preparing for Doctors’ Appointments When You Have Chronic Pain
When you’re communicating with your doctor, be as specific as possible. They are not a mind reader! Don’t assume they know what you’re feeling. Instead of saying things like, “my whole body hurts,” or “my pain level is a 10/10,” try to find adjectives that describe your pain. For example, is it a shooting pain? A throbbing pain? Is it constant or does it come and go? Do certain movements make it better or worse? The more specific you can be, the better. Prepare for your doctor’s visit by making a timeline for your doctor – when did the pain begin? How long has it lasted? Has it changed at all or stayed the same? Is there anything else that coincides with your pain? This can help them to see any patterns with your pain.
Ask questions. Do research. Have your doctor clarify their medical jargon. Come up with a long-term plan of action with your doctor (for example: let’s try this first, if this doesn’t work then we’ll try XYZ, etc.). Bring someone along with you to your appointments so they can ask questions/clarify. Perhaps they’ll catch things you missed or be able to mention certain symptoms that you may have forgotten.
Ask to see a specialist. Try seeing a specialist or medical professional whom you wouldn’t normally see (for example, you could try seeing a naturopath or a chiropractor, or if you’ve been seeing a family medicine doctor, try seeing a rheumatologist or a pain management specialist).
Our bodies are like puzzles that have an indefinite number of pieces – and the image we’re using to put our puzzle together is blurry in some parts and missing altogether in other areas. What I’ve found is that YOU have to be the one trying to put the pieces together. Of course, most of us are not medical professionals, so we need help! But the best way to get your section of the puzzle worked out is to involve professionals in the process and be your own advocate.
7. Don’t try to be a hero every day.
I know we’re all striving for those perfect days where the house is clean, dinner is complete before our spouses get home, the kids had full naps and educational activities throughout the day, and so on. We all want the perfect day, where we were perfectly productive, perfectly loving, perfectly hardworking and perfectly satisfied with every moment of that day.
Forget what that Model/Influencer is doing on her Instagram – this is real life and you’re in pain.
There are days when I have to tell myself: this is a survival day. Just get through the day.
If you’re going through a survival day, figure out what you HAVE to do to get through that moment, that hour, that day, and just do it. Nothing more.
Yesterday I was on my way to having a quasi-perfect day in line: we went for a long walk, Finn and I baked some muffins while Justus took a long nap. We watched a rocket launch and learned all sorts of things before sitting down for a healthy lunch. Then, my right hand started KILLING me. It ached to lift Justus out of his crib. There was no way I could do the dishes after our baking session and lunch. The pain was pulsating up my arm to my shoulder and down my fingertips. I struggled to make it through the rest of the day. Tyler came home to a messy house, our sink overflowing with dishes, and leftovers for dinner. It was unfortunate. But, I survived. And so did he.
8. Minimize in order to maximize.
This is a hard one for me, but it’s something Tyler’s convinced me of and I’ve seen the impact on my life.
Less stuff = less to clean up.
Our house is remarkably easier to tidy up these days. Having less things in general has made life simpler for all of us and hasn’t negatively impacted anyone!
9. Do what gives you energy.
Being in pain wears you out in a way that’s difficult to explain to someone who’s not in pain. Unfortunately this means that you have to expend more energy to do the same things that others are doing. So, you either have to do less – or get more energy. Or both.
So, what gives you energy? For me, I know I’m at my best when I’m sleeping enough, eating clean and exercising regularly. I’ll still have painful days, but when I’m doing these things I know that I can face them.
10. Have something to look forward to after a chronic pain survival day.
It helps me when I know I’ll have a special treat at the end of a painful day – maybe a massage from Tyler or a few scoops of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy. When we have something to look forward to, it gives us the boost we need to keep going. So think about it: what helps you to keep going? What will give you a little extra energy? Keep a stash of your favorite chocolate hidden away from the kids (and hubby!) that’s reserved for those extra painful days. Or maybe you love to take baths – so keep a set of bath bombs that are only for “survival days.” Whatever helps you to have a little extra hope in your day!
I pray that this is helpful as you battle through painful days ahead. Ultimately, as Christians, we have the hope of eternal comfort and relief from our sorrows. This should be what drives us through each day as we try to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Keep going, mama, you (and God) have got this!
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.-A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh