Let me start with some self disclosure. Old school counsellors may clutch their pearls at such a start; back in the early days of psychotherapy we were supposed to be 'blank slates' who did not share personal information as that was seen as getting in the way of therapy. That has never really sat well with me as I believe that the relationship between client and counsellor is the most important key to change. And sometimes a little self disclosure helps with that; it takes two to tango as they say. Plus, if you've seen me you will already have guessed that I'm not one for following convention!
So yes, I do sometimes share that I identify as having a physical disability and that I know what it is like to live with chronic pain. Often this shared information is a way for clients to realise, 'ah she gets me'. Not that I know exactly how my client feels, how could I? Everyone's personal circumstances, thoughts, feelings and emotions are completely unique to them. But I do understand how life can change utterly when we experience chronic pain.
Chronic pain is defined by the NHS as pain that continues for 12 weeks or more despite medication or treatment. For many of us, it lasts considerably longer than that. Chronic pain can become as debilitating as the condition that caused it in the first place. Unrelenting, unforgiving, infuriating, exhausting, frustrating. It can affect the ability to work, study, concentrate, sleep, travel, maintain relationships, remain independent, enjoy hobbies. Almost anything you can think of, chronic pain will affect it. It seems to raise its head whenever least wanted, raise two fingers in the air and say 'ah-ha, nope not today. Today I'm in charge!' In short, it can make it incredibly challenging to feel like we are living a meaningful life.
But here's the thing. We do not need to accept the voice of our chronic pain telling us that it is in charge. Because it isn't. We are in the driving seats of our own lives (even when prescribed medications which prevent us driving actual rl cars or operating heavy machinery).
Focus on your breath. It's our one constant, there with us from the day we are born until we die. Don't try to force it, just notice how it is able to do it's own thing as you concentrate on breathing in and then breathing out.
Notice your other senses. What can you hear, see, touch, smell, taste? Sounds in the room, the clouds through the window, soft clothing, candles, coffee. Your senses are alive and focusing on them can bring us back into the present moment.
Don't fight the pain. This is a tough one. It's our default setting. 'You just have to get on with it' was drummed into me as a child and you know what? It's not helpful! Instead, try leaning into your pain instead. Accept that in this moment, you are in pain. Be curious about it. Notice how it doesn't actually stay the same, it changes from moment to moment. This reminds us that 'this too shall pass'.
Pace yourself. Yup, this is another tough one It's all to easy to try to fit as much as possible in to the 'good' days then wonder why we crash and burn. Chronic pain often means significantly reduced energy levels, it's like the battery never reaches fully charged. You are not a Duracell bunny and you will pay for it later if you overdo it today.
Find Your People. Relationships often change when one person has chronic pain and sometimes friends, family and colleagues just don't understand/can't accept that we are in many ways different people now. Nurture the meaningful relationships with those people you can be honest and open with and who unconditionally accept you warts, pain and all. If it feels like no one understands, search for support groups or speak with a counsellor. We will listen without judgement, offer our empathy and unconditional acceptance of the person you are today.
You may not be able to dance the light fandango anymore but what else brings you joy? Find pleasure in the small things. Without going all Julie Andrews and in no particular order, hot buttered toast, watching the seasons turn, contrary cats, a good book, feeling the wind in my hair, absurd humour, music and colourful things do it for me.
Be gentle with yourself. Bad days happen. We can have every tool in the box and still not always get it right. Don't beat yourself up if you forget/willfully ignore any/all of the steps above when having a bad day. Just dust yourself off and remembethat tomorrow is a new day.
In addition to all of the above, there is something more I need to say. Chronic pain and ill health generally can often affect our ability to work and earn a living. All the mindfulness techniques in the world are not going to help if you are struggling financially, finding yourself in increasing levels of debt or making impossible choices between heating and eating. Speak to your local CAB about disability benefits and other financial help that may be available to you.