When you first hear the words “chronic pain diagnosis,” a thousand thoughts and emotions may flood your mind. Fear, relief, confusion, anger, and a whirlwind of questions swirl together, creating a perfect storm of uncertainty. It’s a moment that can change your life forever, and it’s a journey that only those who’ve walked in your shoes can truly understand. And often, diagnosis is just the beginning of a long journey. It is an emotional rollercoaster. Let’s take a look at what you might experience.
Relief, the unexpected emotion
In a strange way, diagnosis can bring a sense of relief. At last, there’s an explanation for the endless discomfort that’s plagued you for months or even years. It’s not all in your head, and you can finally put a name to the pain that’s taken up residence in your body. But that relief is often bittersweet, as you come to terms with the reality that your life has changed irrevocably. Sometimes, it is fleeting as you realize there is no accessible treatment or cure. I felt relief when I knew there were other treatments out there that could help with the frequency and intensity of my attacks. That quickly faded when I had to fight with the doctors and insurance provider for access.
The fear of the unknown
This fear can be overwhelming. Will the pain get worse? How will this affect your career, your relationships, and your ability to enjoy life? Will you ever be able to do all the things you want to do? Will you be the same person? What does this mean for the life you envisioned? I experience it from time to time. Even after all these years, there is no certainty of how this disease will play out and whether I’ll ever have a career or good relationships or be a good mother or achieve anything at all in life. The unknown can be terrifying, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this journey. There’s a whole community of people who’ve faced similar challenges, and their resilience and strength can be a beacon of hope for you. Also, I can tell you, there’s always a path. Even when it feels like there isn’t one.
Anger and frustration
Anger is a natural response to a chronic pain diagnosis. You may feel betrayed by your own body, as if it’s turned against you. It’s not uncommon to look for someone or something to blame, whether it’s your genes, your lifestyle, or even fate. You may also look for ‘root causes’ and try to find ‘solutions’. But it’s important to remember that this anger, while justified, can be destructive if left unchecked. The frustration can be persistent, especially when flareups occur without any warning. Channel all that energy into advocacy, support, and healing instead. It is what helped me get started on my healing journey.
Grieving the life you had
As you come to terms with your diagnosis, you’ll likely grieve the life you had before the pain took hold. You may mourn the loss of your independence, the activities you used to enjoy, and the person you used to be or thought you would be. Give yourself permission to experience it fully. I won’t lie and say the grief fades. It probably never will. It’ll come in waves, crashing on you when you least expect it (often during an intense flareup). You will eventually grow around it, and learn to give it space whenever it chooses to overwhelm you. And over time, you’ll see that its impact on you diminishes.
Finding your new normal
One of the most challenging aspects of a chronic pain diagnosis is learning to adapt to your new normal. You’ll need to find new ways to cope with the pain, manage your symptoms, and navigate the complex world of medical care. This may involve trying new therapies, making lifestyle changes, and seeking out support from friends, family, and fellow chronic pain warriors. It also involves accepting the disease. It is hard to find your new normal as long as you keep fighting it, wishing it away, or hating your own body. Acceptance is a crucial step to healing.
Embracing hope and resilience
Your journey with chronic pain may be long and arduous, but it’s important to remember that there is hope. Advances in medical research and pain management techniques are constantly being made, and countless individuals with chronic pain have gone on to lead fulfilling lives despite their diagnosis. Embrace the power of resilience and allow it to guide you through the darkest moments.
Receiving your first chronic pain diagnosis can be filled with ups and downs, twists and turns. It’s a journey that will test your strength, resilience, and determination. You’re not alone. There is a community of people who understand your pain, your fears, and your dreams. Together, we can face these challenges and emerge stronger, wiser, and more compassionate. And remember, you will get through it. Healing is possible. You will not only survive, but you’ll live and thrive.