Have you ever met a really passionate person? You know, the kind of person with eyes all lit up and sparkling, energised and enthusiastic? A bit like a Labrador puppy, nothing can stop them!
I’ve spent the past few years talking to people who cope well with pain. These people have chronic pain, with diagnoses like rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and so on. While they take medication to manage the inflammation that is part of these disorders, they’re very often left with a lot of ongoing pain. I talked to people who said they still had moderate levels of pain, but they thought they were living well. All of them were working – paid or unpaid work – and all of them said they felt positive. None had ever been to a chronic pain management programme.
So… how did they cope so well? Did they have some magic technique? Were they just naturally positive people? Maybe they just had it easy in the rest of their lives…
Well, no. Actually they were pretty much like you and me. They came from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ages, some had mood problems, some had other health problems, some worked in physically demanding work, some worked in emotionally demanding work, some had children, some lived with a partner while some didn’t. All sorts of people.
What made the difference were three really big things.
- They had something they really wanted to do in life. This could be being a good parent, playing a sport, being an artist, keeping up the mortgage payments. Whatever it was, they wanted to do it because it was a source of identity: it made them who they were.
- They’d recognised that their pain was going to be permanent, so they didn’t invest an enormous amount of energy in looking for a cure. AND they realised their pain was not a sign they were doing themselves any harm. Pain was just a nuisance or an unnecessary “noise”.
- They’d made sense of their pain (see this post for more)
If you have a passion, something that lights your fire, it’s much easier to put pain to one side, even to be prepared to have pain increase, just so you can do what’s important to you.
Have you spent any time thinking through what is really important in your life? Is it being there for your kids when they’re sad? Is it about expressing your creativity? Is it about caring for the environment?
Can I suggest that you take some time to think about what is important in your life, and what you’d like more of? Here’s a nice post from Mindtools that can help you work out what your values are.
Now think about this: which is more important to you – doing what’s important in your life, or trying to avoid increasing your pain?
This might feel like an odd question, because trying to keep your pain down to an acceptable level feels like such a sensible thing to do. But is it? Do you really reduce your pain and live a good life by NOT doing things? Or does your pain stay about the same no matter what you do? And what do you miss out on while you’re trying to control the uncontrollable? You can end up with both pain AND sadness from being on the sideline while life passes you by.
Next week, let’s talk about how you might deal with the pain while you’re doing what you value, in the meantime – come on baby, what lights your fire?