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Is it possible to validate one’s pain and still live a life beyond bed when you’re chronic?

“Short and simple, Validating Your Pain is the First Step to Getting Stronger by Danielle LaPorte is astonishingly powerful in its approach to pain,” I wrote yesterday. My first instinct was to tell you it is an absolutely must-read article for anyone with chronic illness. I even wrote, “Read it now. Right now. Really.” Then I let the ideas simmer for a while and began to question how they could realistically apply given the constraints of chronic illness and pain.

Head on over and read the post. It’ll only take a couple minutes and the ideas are intriguing. Then come back to read what I’m thinking about it and share your impressions.

I love, love, love the thought that people with chronic migraine, including me, might stop denying the reality and severity of this illness to everyone around them, even themselves. Pushing through despite our debilitating symptoms, pretending we feel better than we do, brushing off others’ concerns. . . These strategies seem like the only way to survive, to have some semblance of a life while also having chronic migraine. But they also lock us in a battle against ourselves, where we’re constantly denying how we truly feel physically and emotionally.

“Validating your pain is the first step to sanity, strength, and healing,” LaPorte writes. My therapist has expressed a similar message. I’m listening. And I really want to buy into what they’re saying. Yet, I cannot help but wonder how to follow their lead and still get anything done. Three of LaPorte’s points tied my mind in contradicting thoughts of “That would be amazing” and “How is that possible?” They are:

Endurance can be a very unwise choice. As inevitable as emotional and physical suffering is, it doesn’t always serve to make us stronger — sometimes it just wears you right down. Sometimes, the test of strength is to say “This isn’t working,” the millisecond it’s not working.

Believe your pain. It’s not a friend you want to invite over, but when it does show up, it always — always — brings you precious information about what’s best for you.

Dare to be high maintenance. I bet you’re invincible in many areas of your life. But when you need it, ask for special treatment.

It is a good time to note that LaPorte does not have chronic pain, but extreme sensitivity to dental work. She’s talking about validating her pain a couple times a year. Applying her ideas to the daily life of chronic illness is so seductive. Imagine recognizing (and stopping) every time you’re wearing yourself down by trying to push through, listening to your body’s signals and resting accordingly, asking for special treatment. Sounds blissful. And utterly inconceivable, a life-sentence of confining yourself to bed.

Still, I want to believe that these concepts can apply to some degree and improve life with chronic migraine. I want to validate my pain and listen to my body, ask for help when I need it. For LaPorte, honoring her body and her needs leads to an effective treatment for her pain. Many chronic migraineurs don’t have the luxury of surefire way to manage their pain, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, photophobia, and numerous other migraine symptoms. Admitting our pain doesn’t get us a numbing agent, it just takes us away from living our lives.

5 Responses to Is it possible to validate one’s pain and still live a life beyond bed when you’re chronic?

  1. Julie says:

    I can’t even start to begin to comment here!
    This post, the post you are referring to, all of it needs to be read be everyone dealing with any kind of chronic pain. May I share?

    Typing this while wearing my TheraSpecs, in an air-conditioned room, no overhead light, on my best spot on the sofa. Yes, I need accommodations to manage my pain! And I have pain! Every day, every hour, every minute! Even if you can’t see it – even if I don’t talk about it with you. It’s there, trust me, you will KNOW when it’s not! Without my having to say anything!

    There, done talking about it and moving on, as my therapist would say!

  2. Chris says:

    Acknowledging the pain… I have worked with this idea, various concepts and practices, for years. My current technique involves naming the migraine (Marvin). This gives me someone with whom I can dialogue (and curse). And I do dialogue with Marvin, my painful “other” voice. I can ask what he wants, what he needs, why he is visiting. In trying to form Marvin’s responses a part of me comes from and works in a very different space. I cannot say that I have had any great revelations. Nor have I succeeded in stopping Marvin.
    What I have done is acknowledge the pain. I have also come to gain some kind of appreciation. I do not appreciate that I have the pain of chronic migraine, but I do appreciate the complexity and the exquisite intensity of the migraine. Marvin is exceptional at what he does. Unfortuneately what he does is destroy my life and inflict great pain upon me nearly all of the time.
    I must also comment on the idea that endurance may be a bad thing. I cannot deny that I often feel as though chronic migraine is wearing me down. Despite chronic migraine I manage to work outside the home on a full time basis (always have). This is not to say that I do not miss days or that my productivity is not lessened. So, yes, I do feel worn down. Some days I wonder how much of “me” is left. I feel as though chronic migraine and the constant fight to keep up work and continue bringing in an income are eating away at my soul. Some days I feel as though I have only small ragged fragments left (tightly gripped).
    A voice in my head says, “What are the alternatives?” My spouse works, but her income would not sustain our family. So, disability – is that an option. Realistically it may be, but the adjustment in lifestyle would be considerable. I just do not choose to consider that as a viable option. I have held a few different jobs over the last few decades. I can honestly say that there is no job where chronic migraine does not present a real challenge and threat. Absolutely last on my mental list of options is some sort of final exit. I refuse to consider that as well. With a wife and four wonderful sons I would never walk that path.
    Where does that leave me? From where I sit today (with Marvin) this leaves me with more of the same. I continue to work. I continue to acknowledge Marvin’s power. I continue to meditate. I continue to pray. I continue to breathe. I continue in pain.
    I would be remiss if I did not mention another piece to my puzzle. Although not completely related to the original post I have to mention HOPE. I know that I must keep hope alive or Marvin will completely destroy me. This is why I do daily Google searches for new treatments, new alternative therapies, new therories, etc. around migraine and chronic migraine. I do not find something to pursue or research further every day, but at least the quest is alive and well! I do find something every week or two that is worth looking at in more depth. Without hope Marvin leads me into a cold, damp, dark cell and locks the door (did I mention his tray of rusty spoons, forks, knives and hammers in the corner).
    I acknowledge my pain and name him Marvin. He is the best at what he does. I just wish he would retire!!!
    Keep the faith and keep fighting!

  3. Julie says:

    Chris, either you are wise beyond your years, or you’ve had some amazing therapy, or you are naturally equipped to have an almost Buddhist approach to chronic pain.

    I spent a year with a Christian/Buddhist therapist (brilliant, compassionate, wise) and read everything he put in front of me, and continue to learn from his wise words (he’s now written a book) and still have not reached your level of detachment to my pain. The idea of naming your chronic migraine is fantastic!!!! I will be naming mine today. You can use gallows humour to “play” with the migraine/migraines.

    Do you write online anywhere, Cris?

    And Kerrie, sorry to hijack your amazing post, which I’ve linked to just about everywhere I can think of in online migraine community.

    May I text you soon Kerrie? I’d love to reconnect (my fault, completely).

  4. Julie, of course you may share. And you didn’t hijack the post… I love hearing your input. I’ve long wished that you were interested in writing your insights and sharing them with the world. You are quite wise.

    Chris, I agree that you sound like you have a wonderful approach to coping with migraine. I’m intrigued by the idea of naming the migraine and a reader has told me that she is going to follow your lead. So thanks for sharing your story, it has already helped several people.

    Have either of you read How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard? It’s an excellent guide to coping with illness from a Buddhist perspective. Many of her lessons fit with what both of you have shared.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  5. Chris says:

    In response to the last couple of comments…

    Julie, thank you for your comments. I don’t know about being wise beyond my years, but I have studied more than a few religions and faiths over the years. I carry with me the methods, techniques and practices from each that “fit” and work for me. Buddhism is one of my favorite faiths and one that I cherish. I spent my childhood wrapped in Christianity, with a strong flavor of Catholicism. Simply acknowledging the divine, in whatever manner one chooses, provides a great sense of comfort. As for writing online, well you have hit a spot with me here. I love to write! Somewhere along the way, however, writing seems to have been shoved into a corner. I guess I allowed it to be shoved. Perhaps the most accurate thing to say is that I shoved it into that corner. I need to grasp its hand and lead it back into the light! I have a few failed attempts at blogs that never went anywhere. I am now inspired to dust one of these off and give it another go! Thank you Julie!!! I will let you know as soon as I have something worthy of reading. You can contact me directly at chris_hicks@me.com Let’s stay in touch!

    Kerrie, first allow me to thank you for thedailyheadache. Your blog is so very helpful. As a fellow sufferer of chronic migraine I cannot tell you how much comfort I have found in your writings. Thank you! I have just ordered a copy of How To Be Sick. It looks like a very good book.

    Take Care,
    Chris

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