Being in pain is hard. But usually people have an end in sight. With chronic pain there is no end, and with a condition like Fibromyalgia, the pain is wide spread rather than being localised to an area. So imagine having your whole body hurt and knowing that it will never end. It’s a lot to process mentally, and being diagnosed at 22 it felt like I’d had my life stolen from me. At 26, I still often feel like that, and there have been many times over the years where I’ve been close to tapping out, convinced that life in this much pain isn’t worth living. But then I’d have one of those moments. The ones where your cheeks hurt from laughing or your breath leaves your chest from a feeling of pure love or when you see a sunset over a clear sea and you feel completely at peace. Those moments are the ones that remind me that life is worth living, no matter how painful it is.
I’ve tried everything to ease my pain; exercising fives days a week, acupuncture, chiropractor, various massages, cryotherapy, a strict diet, physiotherapy, mindfulness, yoga. Things have helped, but I’m still living in pain daily and for a while it consumed me. I was angry, negative, spiteful, jealous of everyone who got to wake up every day feeling refreshed without the feeling of fire spreading through their body. Even worse, it made me hate the person I was.
I had CBT therapy to cope with a horrific spout of anxiety and depression. Issues at work and the loss of a friend made me feel even more isolated than I already was and it overwhelmed me. CBT made me realise why I felt a lot of the things I was feeling, helped me understand that I was viewing everything with a lens of insecurity, not how it really was. But whilst it helped deal with the anxiety, it couldn’t ease the depression that swallowed me from the pain.
My pain clinic sent me to Acceptance Therapy, explaining that there were no other treatments that they could offer me or recommend. I’d tried it all and it was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to hear. I’d spent thousands trying to make it better and I was only little better than I was at the beginning.
I’ll be honest, I walked in to the therapy room with a pretty closed mind, I didn’t see how sitting talking to someone was going to help at all when I’d tried every treatment out there. But that was my first mistake, because Acceptance Therapy wasn’t about treating my pain to make it better, it was about treating my mind.
The first five sessions were a mess. I felt like I was wasting my time and I didn’t understand how he was going to make anything better. I heard what he had to say but I wasn’t really listening, deaf to his help as I could only hear the pain. He explained how pain is amplified by your mood, and I was angry that he was essentially telling me that I needed to be happy to calm the pain. How was I supposed to be happy when I could barely sleep as I was in agony? But I was fuelling the pain just by sitting there and being angry with him, I could feel it.
So I opened up. I went in to my childhood, my weight issues, my past relationships, my current relationships, everything. I was holding on to so much that every day instances were causing subconscious reactions and making me angry and miserable, hugely overreacting to the smallest things. It was hard, talking about things I hated talking about or hearing him repeat things back to me and realising things I really didn’t like about myself. But I needed it. I needed to hear where I was going wrong, how I was affecting my own life and how no matter what happened, I’m the only person who can dictate where my life goes.
Every time I overreacted to something, my body reacted with it. As my pain level increased, my mental health would plummet further and my body would then react again. It was a viscous circle, The Pain/Stress Cycle to be exact. I was caught in this loop that I couldn’t get out of without realising it. So we made a list! Everything that was important to me, from big things like travelling to small things like a hug. And that was my focus, do the things that are important to me. Keep my happy hormones high, not just for my mental health but for my physical health too.
Breaking the cycle wasn’t easy, but I did so much research in to mental health and it’s correlation with pain that I knew I had to do it. I started hugging people all the time, and I mean all the time – I even won the ‘Class Hugger’ award at my company! (I believe in six hugs a day FYI, it was a stat I read in my research). I made more of an effort to spend time with friends, even if it was just a catch up on the sofa. I spent less time on social media so that I didn’t feel like I was missing out as much. I focused on self-care and learning how a good day is based on how I react to a situation, and how I determine how it affects the rest of my day.
Then one day, I didn’t feel like I was drowning anymore. I felt empowered. Sure, the Universe has dealt me a seriously bad hand, but does that mean I should just let it take away the few things I have control over, like the person that I am. I love who I am away from the pain. It’s up to me to still be that person with the pain, and I was losing her. I couldn’t, so I put everything in to finding her again. So here I am. I’m weird, I dance too much, I sing WAY too loudly for a girl with zero ability, I want all the cuddles and all the food, I love way too hard, I’m super competitive and I can be a little grumpy when I’m having a bad pain day, but I’m me and I’m happy.
And that is what Acceptance Therapy is about. I’m in less pain than when I started, not a huge amount, but enough that it has meant that I can do a lot more than I could before. But really, it’s because I’m mentally stronger. If I have plans and I’m in a bit more pain than usual, I know to go anyway. The happy hormones from doing something that I really want to do and being around people I love will 100% lower my pain. Before, I’d have cancelled and gone home, only to see videos on social media and feel lonely and isolated, fuelling the depression.
I still acknowledge my illness, I still recognise when my body really does need rest and will always listen, but it’s understanding where I can push myself a little because I am so much stronger than I ever thought possible. Not because I live in pain, but because I live in pain and I’m happy.