In Chronic Pain Workshop Totally Unprepared for Patient With Chronic Pain, Sarcozona, who is a PhD student with chronic migraine, highlights a serious issue for people with all kinds of chronic illness: Being sick doesn’t come with an instruction manual. When a chronically ill person seeks out guidance, the advice they find is often useless at best; some of it is actively harmful. Sarcozona’s experience in a chronic illness workshop falls somewhere in between, largely because she used it to fuel her own fire rather than internalizing the criticism and bad advice.
She attended a multi-week workshop on living with chronic pain that was developed by a Big Name Medical Center. The program has received high acclaim; I even considered becoming a facilitator for it. Her experience was awful. The facilitator was certainly a problem, but the book the workshop was based on was also terrible. Here’s her take on the book:
“It is also offensive and harmful, suggesting that people who are struggling are at fault for being bad ‘self-managers,’ a phrase I quickly came to loathe. The book constantly minimizes the struggles of patients and oversimplifies and over sells solutions. It almost completely ignores the enormous structural issues they must deal with. The few times it mentions structural issues, it does so in a way that puts all responsibility on the patient – it’s all about ‘managing’ your response (Got the blues because private insurance won’t cover your pre-existing condition and you have to move into the nursing home with abuse problems? Go scrub the bathroom with a toothbrush to distract yourself!). It hardly mentions uncertainty, one of the biggest struggles to living with many chronic conditions. It cites discredited or old and incorrect research in several places or is just downright ignorant or tone deaf.”
(Yes, scrubbing the bathroom with a toothbrush was an actual recommendation for coping with the emotional fallout of chronic pain. When I was at my sickest, scrubbing my teeth with a toothbrush was sometimes impossible.)
That’s only a short excerpt. Take a look at Sarcozona’s original post – it’s insightful, informative and well-written. While you’re there, checkout her other wise writing on migraine.
Not all chronic illness workshops miss the mark. The mindfulness-based stress reduction workshop I did was fantastic. I was frustrated and annoyed with the concepts at the time – “Yeah, like I can think of the pain as a ‘sensation'” and “She has no idea what it’s like to feel like I do” were among my kinder thoughts – but they have changed the way I think about illness and how I approach life in general. In a related secular take on Buddhism, How to Be Sick, by Toni Bernhard, is a great resource. (She’s at work on a book about using mindfulness to cope with chronic illness. I’m eager to see what she has to say and how it complements the MBSR materials). I also recommend Life Disrupted, by Laurie Edwards. It isn’t as directly instructional as How to Be Sick, but contains much food for thought. I’m working on a review of it that I hope to share with you soon.
Have you done a chronic illness workshop that helped you or read any particularly useful books? If so, please share!