Last year, when I started getting daily, life-interrupting headaches, I wasn’t prepared for how much my life was going to change.
I never expected to be suddenly waylaid by my health; I don’t think anyone ever really expects that. Even if you’re highly anxious like myself, on some level you likely believe that serious health problems are something that happens to other people, not you.
And while I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the ways my life has changed with chronic pain, or the challenges it has brought, I was. And I continue to be surprised when new issues crop up, even after more than a year.
If you are struggling with chronic pain, you probably know what I mean when I say that it changes your life. If you know someone who has chronic pain and are looking to better understand them, there are a few things that I personally think you should know.
Everyone with chronic pain is different, and my experience might not be reflective of your experience or the experience of your loved one. That said, here are five ways that your life can change when you develop chronic pain.
You’re so much more tired
Being in pain is exhausting.
Never mind the mental and physical energy it takes to treat your illness — from going to doctors appointments to researching treatment options — the very act of being in pain is tiring.
My pain comes in cycles. When I first started getting chronic headaches I had some amount of pain every day. Some days it was at a “just lay in bed and don’t move” level, and other days I was able to more or less do the things I had to do in a day. But even those “good” days made me tired. Tired from the previous day’s pain flare-up, my mind and body drained from trying to cope. Tired because I knew I had to get as much done on my good days as I could, and I’d be overwhelmed. Tired because I knew another bad day was right around the corner. Tired because even on the days when the pain was more manageable, normal activities were still harder to complete than they were before I developed chronic pain.
These days, I have more good days than bad. There are still a lot of days where I have pain, but it’s much more manageable. I’m more aware of my triggers and how to treat my pain when it flares up. Still, when I’m going through a particularly bad flare it can be exhausting, and I have to rest more than usual.
In short, everything is just more draining when you have chronic pain.
It feels like you have a second Job
Having chronic pain eats up a lot of your time. Not just because you can lose hours of your day in bed, trying to get through a pain flare-up. But also from all of the things you have to do to diagnose, treat, and manage your condition.
Finding doctors, calling doctors, going to appointments, doing home treatment like my physical therapy exercises: these are just a few of the activities that you have to somehow fit into your day that you never had to before. When the pain first started, I also spent a fair amount of time researching my symptoms, trying to find out what was going on and find other people who had gone through the same thing.
Even now that my pain has improved, I still spend a good chunk of time maintaining it, through doing things like daily physical therapy exercises. There are so many things that you have to do when you have chronic pain that you just don’t have to think about as much, if at all, when you are healthy.
The amount of time I’ve spent dealing with my pain feels like it’s equal to taking on a second job. One that I have to pay to do and that doesn’t come with any benefits.
You anxiety or other mental health issues can get worse
When the pain first started, I lived in a constant state of high anxiety. Already an anxious person, I wasn’t prepared for the extent to which my anxiety would spiral out of control, wrapping itself around my entire existence and leaving no room for me to relax.
I worried about every new symptom, every new pain. I was convinced I was going to die of a painful, mysterious illness that no doctor would be able to diagnose in time.
These days I worry less that each new pain means I’m going to die, and more that each new pain means I am never going to be rid of it. And while my anxiety is more manageable these days and I’m working on not letting it get out of control, pain and health-related anxiety is still something I deal with.
I also have depression, and when I am feeling particularly bad it can trigger depressive feelings and thoughts of “What if I can never enjoy my life again?” If you already deal with mental health issues, they can be compounded by chronic pain.
You feel more isolated
Having chronic pain is both physically and emotionally isolating.
From a practical standpoint, it’s harder to get out of the house and socialize with others when you are in pain. As a classic introvert who also works from home, it wasn’t like I was getting out that much before my pain started. But in the early days of my pain it took me from being “a bit of a homebody” to “someone who doesn’t leave the house except for doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping.”
Chronic pain can also be emotionally isolating. Even if the people around you are being as supportive as they can be, it’s isolating to go through any kind of health issue because other people can’t fully understand what that experience is like unless they have gone through it themselves.
At the end of the day, you are the one that has to live in your body, with your pain. No one else can take on this experience for you.
And while I believe that the people who love us generally try the best they can to understand when we are suffering, it can sometimes feel like they don’t really “get it.” Which is why I think it’s important for those who are suffering from any kind of chronic pain or other health condition to seek out people who have dealt with the same thing or something similar, whether that is through in-person meetups or online communities.
You’re forced to reprioritize
Of all the things that surprised me about having a chronic pain condition, this is the only one that feels like a blessing. Because it’s a lot harder for me to do all of the things that I want to do, I’ve had to reevaluate what is important in my life and what is worthy of my limited time and energy.
I started to ask myself more questions like, how do I want my life to look in a year? In five years? What do I really want to spend my time doing, and what will be worth the effort? These are questions that we should all be considering anyways, but they are easy to place on the back burner when we get caught up in our busy day-to-day lives.
By being forced to slow down and only focus on what is necessary and important, I’ve gotten a better picture of what I want my life to look like and what I want to spend my time on.
Developing chronic pain or any other health condition will bring a lot of changes to your life, changes that you probably wouldn’t be expected and can’t really prepare for. The important thing to remember is this: You are not alone. Whatever changes happen, you’ll be able to handle them.
Do you experience chronic pain? What changes has it brought to your life?