How To Reclaim Your Sense Of Self & Identity While Living With Chronic Pain

July 12, 2016 Kerry Sutton

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” ~ Helen Keller.

Life with chronic pain can be a roller-coaster of uncertainty and change that disrupts your way of living and being in the world. In fact it marks the end of life as you once knew it – even your sense of self and identity can be affected. 

What is particularly difficult is that there is no end, no resolution to your loss. Friends and family trying to offer another perspective may offer comments, such as, ‘you look fine’, 'it could be worse’ or ‘think of those who are worse off than you’. These are well intended but can leave you feeling that your experience and feelings are being trivialised or even dismissed.

Chronic pain / illness and grief? 

Because most health professionals are focused on the medical / physical aspects of your illness, the emotional impact of both your illness and the ensuing procedures is often ignored or minimalised. However, your ongoing experience of loss can generate feelings associated with grief which can go on unaddressed.

Kate Jackson explains how loss of health can kick start a cascade of other losses. These might include income, career, freedom, sexual function, intimacy, cognitive function, diminished control, independence, mental health, dignity, hope, certainty, and sense of self and identity.

Even as a sufferer you may be unaware that the roller-coaster of feelings
you are experiencing is actually grief

Some signs of grief include:

♦  Changes in eating and sleeping habits

♦  A pervading sense of sadness

♦  A deep feeling of aloneness

♦  Anger and frustration

♦  Denial of your diagnosis

♦  Bargaining – What if I devote myself to serving others?

♦  Guilt – The ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ thoughts

♦  Tightness in your chest and throat

♦  Trouble thinking straight

**It is important to note though that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should have a check-up with your doctor, because they can be symptoms of other issues.

If you are experiencing grief it is normal! You have lost your familiar predictable life, and maybe feeling vulnerable, less connected and even a little powerless. But I want to encourage you that it is possible to transition through this time and begin to experience growth, re-connection, progress, and resilience.

This is the beginning of your transition from the life you once had to
a new way of living.

How can you take action!

Look, think and act 

Part of my inspiration for this blog came from the booklet series Transition in Chronic Illness. The writers discuss how to use the look, think and act process to help make the transition easier.

The benefits of working through this process is it can help you have more clarity in times of uncertainty, and experience more order, control, and purpose in your life. This is because you're encouraged to develop more self-awareness, self-care and to reflect on your strengths, coping strategies, and what matters most to you. Here is a brief outline of the process:

Look – Take some time to identify the issue you want to work on by asking yourself the following questions:

♦   Describe what is going on? What are your thoughts? What are you feeling? How are you responding to those feelings? How long have you been thinking about this?

♦   Gather information on who is involved. Where and when it happens?
Find out other people’s perspective on the issue.

♦   Now take some to record your findings.

Think – Increase your understanding of the issue by asking yourself the following questions:

♦   Write down the main issue and why it is happening. What causes it or triggers it to happen? What are the consequences, and how do you respond, e.g. anger, withdrawing...?

♦   Now look at what action you can take. What would that look like? What steps might be involved? When should you start? Most important, what are your strengths? If you have trouble with this one, ask a family member of friend.

Act – Now it’s time to take action by asking yourself what you could or should have done differently. What is the most achievable action you can take now? What help do you need to achieve this goal? Who can help? And if needed, where can you find more support?

It's so important to recognise the choices you do have, and that
only you can take the action required to realise your goals. 

The cool thing is every time you accomplish another goal (no matter how small) your confidence and motivation to try new things can grow. Overtime your resilience can be strengthened so you are more able to bounce back after those times when your illness or pain overwhelms you.


Lets Talk

If you are struggling with chronic pain / illness, then please call me for a Free 15 minute consultation. We can talk about what is going on for you and I can answer any questions you might have. If I am with a client I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Online counselling available in the privacy of your own home.

0403 064 874

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