Chronic Pain & Medical Issues
A serious health problem can disrupt all aspects of your life, whether it’s a chronic or life-threatening illness, such as cancer, or a major health event such as a stroke, heart attack, or debilitating injury.
Chronic pain has many causes, including injuries, illnesses, and prolonged physical, emotional or social stress. The brain decides when you are in pain, but that does not mean that pain is in your head. For example, pain is not always caused by a broken or worn-out body part. Chronic pain can be due to the brain reading signals sent from the body and sending signals back to your body. The more signals to the brain and the more the brain labels the signals as pain, often the longer the difficulties with pain can last.
Responses to Chronic Pain & Medical Issues
Common emotional responses to chronic pain or serious illness include:
- Anger or frustration as you struggle to come to terms with your diagnosis—repeatedly asking, “Why me?” or trying to understand if you’ve done something to deserve this.
- Feeling powerless, hopeless, or unable to look beyond the worst-case scenario.
- Facing up to your own mortality and the prospect that the illness could potentially be life-ending.
- Grieving the loss of your health and old life.
- Worrying about the future—how you’ll cope, how you’ll pay for treatment, what will happen to your loved ones, the pain you may face as the illness progresses, or how your life may change.
- Regret or guilt about things you’ve done that you think may have contributed to your illness or injury. Shame at how your condition is affecting those around you.
- A sense of isolation, feeling cut off from friends and loved ones who can’t understand what you’re going through.
- Denial that anything is wrong or refusing to accept the diagnosis.
- A loss of self. You’re no longer you but rather your medical condition.
It’s important to remember there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to respond. We’re all different, so don’t tell yourself what you should be thinking, feeling, or doing after a diagnosis or serious health event. Give yourself time to process the news and be kind to yourself as you adjust to your new situation.
Seek Professional Help
When you have a serious illness, it’s normal to feel sad about your health and grieve the hopes and dreams you may have lost as a result of your medical condition. It’s also natural to worry about what the future may hold or be apprehensive about certain treatments, for example. But if such feelings persist and start to interfere with your daily life, you may be suffering from depression or anxiety.
Counseling can help you work through your emotions in a nonjudgmental environment. Facing your emotions, even the most painful and fearful ones, can help you to ease your stress and suffering, better come to terms with your condition, and find greater peace and physical fortitude as you work towards recovery.