When you live with chronic pain like caused by Lyme disease every day your body screams "QUIT!" How do you manage to keep going despite the pain, fatigue, and discouragements that threaten to overwhelm? Continuing to put one foot in front of the other when experiencing daily pain and exhaustion is not easy, but possible when you incorporate some of the following suggestions into your life to help you cope.
1. First, accept chronic pain as an opportunity to refine and strengthen your character. This perspective enables you to see the good in your situation and can even bring joy back into your life. Because of the difficulty you have endured, you will develop a strength that you would not have had before. You will become more sensitive to the hardships of others. You will be able to help others also experiencing pain and illness because you understand what they are going through.
All of these things would not happen apart from what you are experiencing. When you see the opportunity and value of personal growth because of it, you will be able to cope with it better each day. You will begin to respect the person that you are becoming; someone who is developing the inner strength to keep going, despite the pain, and who will not quit in the face of adversity.
2. Next, acceptance of the pain itself will also do wonders for your ability to cope. This does not mean that you are discontinuing treatment or giving up hope that the illness and pain will go away. This type of acceptance simply means that, while you realize that the pain is not going away today, you also realize that life can still be good, anyway.
To do this, you must decide to take the pain with you wherever you go (because it is going with you whether you like it or not). When you do this, you are making the choice to accept the pain, knowing that it will be with you during the day’s activities. But at the same time, you also choose to not focus on it or let it hinder you from enjoying the activities that you want to continue.
When you do this, you are well on your way to being able to cope when you might otherwise normally quit. Quitting the activities you enjoy because of chronic pain will result in isolation and depression, and that is no way to live. Choose the activities that are important to you and bring you joy, and keep doing them. These very things will give you a sense of normalcy in your life. Continuing in them will help to prevent devastating losses that can accompany chronic pain and illness.
3. Learn to keep going when you need to keep going, and rest when you need to rest. This is a learning process that requires a balance of pushing yourself when you need to push without pushing yourself past your limits. You will develop a sense of what is too much to do at one time. Allow yourself to rest by carving rest days into your week and rest periods into your days. This will enable you to keep going for the long haul and will prevent you from having to quit because you have overdone it.
4. Be patient with yourself. You will continually fail your personal expectations because you no longer have the same capabilities that you once had. Recognizing and accepting this fact will help you be more accepting of yourself and your situation. Giving yourself grace when you need it will keep you from becoming discouraged with your inabilities. While not an easy lesson to learn, patience is one lesson that will help bring contentment back into your life. Accepting your inabilities does not mean that you give up and quit because you are no longer able to do what you used to do; rather, it helps you know when to stop an activity now, so you can pace yourself and keep living the new life you want to live.
5. Be patient with others, also. Family and friends do not know what chronic pain feels like, and hopefully, they will never know. Some try to understand, but others do not. Unfortunately, some friendships will fall away because some people do not know how to help in situations like this. But some friendships will grow stronger, and it is those people that will stick by you in the days to come. Focus on those friendships.
Try to to make new friendships with people who understand chronic pain. These types of friendships will provide the support that you will need in the future. There are numerous online groups for people with Lyme disease. Many of the people in these groups are experiencing the exact same things you are dealing with on a regular basis. They will know how to help, support, and guide you as you make future decisions for your care and treatment. They will help to give you the courage to not quit. Over time, you may just develop friendships that will last a lifetime.
6. Ask for help. This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons to learn, but it is essential when living in pain. You may be surprised at the number of people who are willing to help. Unfortunately, sometimes family and friends grow weary of listening to and helping the person in pain. If you are experiencing this situation, try to ask other people for help when you need it. Try not to mention the pain constantly. It is natural to talk about what you are experiencing, but you must become aware of when people are weary of listening to you talk about it.
Find support from people who understand chronic pain because they also live with it. It is those people that you will be able to talk with freely about your losses and discouragements. They understand better than anyone. If you are unable to find tangible help that you need, such as assistance with medical bills, food, or transportation to doctors’ appointments, research the community resources in your area that offer help to people living with chronic illness. There are resources available that offer assistance with these types of needs. Government agencies or churches in the area may also be able to provide help.
7. Focus on the good in your life. If you have trouble identifying the good things, ask a friend to help you have a broader perspective. Every day before bed, try to think of three things for which you are thankful. Purposeful gratitude has a way of lifting you up out of the despondency of your situation and enabling you to gain a more positive and hopeful perspective, which ultimately helps you keep going when you would otherwise quit.
8. Deal with bitterness and other negative emotions daily, especially those that make you want to quit. Difficult emotions like anger, bitterness, frustration, fear, anxiety, and depression are emotions that we are forced to deal with all the time when living with chronic illness. It helps to deal with them as soon as they crop up so they don't become a way of life. If you are dealing with particularly difficult emotions, consider talking to a mental health counselor, life coach, or pastor.
9. Remove "I CAN'T" from your vocabulary. If you don't remove those two words from your vocabulary, you will never do anything because chronic pain makes you feel capable of nothing. Most of the time, to be able to accomplish anything, you will have to force yourself to put one foot in front of the other. Remembering that will help you do what you need to do to complete the task at hand.
You will have to repeat this process with yourself before every task you face every day, so reward yourself when a goal is accomplished. For example, after you have successfully made it through a hard meeting at work, take a relaxing bath later after work to reward yourself. Associating rewards with hard daily tasks will help you to complete them.
Ultimately, finding and keeping your eyes on hope will help you most. Hope looks different for everyone, and may take on a different form according to the season of your life. If you have difficulty seeing hope in your situation, ask a friend to help you find your hope. Different treatment options may provide you with hope. The right friendships and sources of support will help to provide you with hope. Your children or grandchildren are great sources of laughter and hope-filled futures. Hope can also be found in reaching out and helping others. Many find hope in personal faith-based belief systems, which can provide support and help outside of your own resources. Fixing your eyes on hope will give you the strength you need to keep going and help you to not quit during times of adversity in your life.
Laurie Miller is a wife, mom, nurse, and patient with chronic pain. She enjoys being with family, reading, and blogging at God-livingwithchronicillness.com, where she provides faith-based hope, encouragement, and resources for those living with chronic pain and illness. Many of the principles described in this article were inspired by the book, 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn't Quit by Nicki Koziarz, Lifeway Press, 2016.