A Balanced Life: Living with Chronic Daily Pain
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
How can one achieve balance in the midst of pain? Is that even possible? I believe there are times when such a sense of balance is possible – even though such time may be intermittent. Like most other accomplishments in life, establishing such balance requires a set of skills that need to be practiced routinely. Learning to ride a bicycle requires the development of the ability to remain balanced on two wheels – the repeated peddling, watching where you are going, steering, and breaking are core aspects of this ability. In the beginning we fall often but with determination and perseverance, we keep trying until we get it right! I find this a good metaphor in thinking about achieving balance between our body, mind and spirit, as we move through each day.
When you live with varying levels of daily pain, it impacts each of these landscapes – the actual physical pain in the body, the emotional pain in the mind, and the impact on our spiritual journey and our close relationships. Existing ideas and beliefs about life often questioned and can become very easy to slip down into despair. The unending questions: why me? How can I keep going? And all the if only’s….I have found these questions unanswerable and the if only’s simply wishful thinking that can also lead us astray. The pain is what it is! We have it – it shifts in intensity, often beyond our control to stop it – our only choice is how we respond when the pain shifts. My experience suggests that it is not helpful to remain strictly reactive to the changes in pain intensity, as it leaves us with significant anxiety (worry) about when it will happen. I have found that by having a proactive plan that involves daily practice (even just 15-30 minutes) of diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, and gentle exercise (walking, yoga, baguazhang, tai chi, for example) is immensely helpful in responding to the changes in pain intensity from a state of relaxed calm. Reacting to pain by becoming upset, frustrated, or angry, only makes the pain worse and triggers those experiences of feeling helpless and hopeless – a very slippery slope many of us have experienced. By maintaining a daily practice that reinforces an inner foundation of relaxed calm, I have found that my response when the pain intensifies is one of acceptance, icing the area of pain, treatment with what medications I have, listening to self-hypnosis recordings for pain management and remaining in this state until the pain eases. I find that this daily practice helps with my mood and attitude, allowing me to engage in daily life, as best I can.
I hope this is helpful to folks who live with any kind of chronic pain.