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3 Reasons Chronic Pain Makes You Feel “Crazy” (But you aren’t)

A friend of mine injured his back a few weeks ago. He is unsure how, but it is likely an injury from the gym- one that has remained for weeks, resulting in constant pain.

My phone lit up with a text from him- “So, chronic pain makes you crazy.”

Knowing I am a chronic pain/chronic illness specialist, he wasn’t surprised when I responded with, “It does.” Of course, I then offered my sympathy as well as some tips to help with the pain, both physically and emotionally; but, I am sharing this because something I have noted, after years of working with individuals who experience chronic pain, is the shock that comes from the emotional response people (naturally) have to continual pain.

My friend is a well -adjusted, intelligent, successful individual with a lot of family and peer support, and a strong marriage. However, chronic pain does not discriminate, and neither does the emotional response that comes with it. It does not matter that he has a great support system, access to quality healthcare, and financial stability -imagine how much harder it is for those who don’t have these things! Even with all of these parts of his life in place, as he openly described- chronic pain was making him feel crazy.

So, why does pain make us feel crazy? Well, there are a few reasons for this.

  • 1) Chronic pain releases chemicals into our brain and body that stimulates our nervous system.

    When the body is in pain, in particular intense pain over a period of time, the body, using its natural protective- mechanisms, releases hormones and endorphins to try to calm the inflammation and pain, to kick its healing mechanisms into gear. The body means well, however, when these hormones and chemicals are released, it can feel a bit like adrenaline, or, “I need to run away from this situation now”, feeling. The body and brain are fantastic at alerting us to danger, but it can become exhausting when this signal is going off for a long period of time. Having the extra “danger” signal hormones floating around in our bloodstream, naturally, can create the feeling of “crazy.”

  • 2) A change in routine is stressful.

    As much as we might not want to admit it, humans are creatures of habit. Our brain and bodies like, and even thrive on, routine. When something unexpected happens, it can be really difficult to cope and to adjust, especially when it interrupts our daily routine and/or required tasks.

    This stress continues, and grows, when we are having difficulty doing something we really identify with- such as going to work, completing a hobby, taking the kids to school, or caring for a friend or family member. It is normal to identify with things we do in our daily life, such as caring for others, or our career, and when we are unable to do these things as well as we used to, or at all, it can really affect our self – esteem, as well as our frustration levels. Ironically, but, not surprisingly, when stress levels go up due to not being able to complete tasks, pain can increase, continuing the cycle.

    When big life changes and stressors like this happen, I often walk my clients through a routine that will work for them- something they can do daily that is predictable, helpful, and fulfilling. To see some examples of this, read my previous blog post on ways to build a routine and cope when life feels overwhelming, here.

  • 3) Not knowing what to expect is anxiety-provoking.

    Not only are humans fans of routine, but we are also fans of knowing what comes next. Unpredictably is incredibly anxiety provoking in any part of life, and especially when it comes to our body and pain.

    It is important, when you don’t know what to expect, to create times, routines, and rituals within your day where, for the most part, you do know what to expect. While you cannot control how you feel, how other’s react to it, or time itself, you can gain a sense of control by actively deciding you will meditate each morning at 10 am, walk your dog at 6 pm, read for 20 minutes at 9:30 pm, etc. (See the previous blog post, linked above, for more suggestions)

    When you start to feel overwhelmed, or you feel as if your pain or illness is driving you crazy, try to ground yourself with one of my favorite questions: “What do I know to be true?”

    While you might not know what tomorrow will bring on the pain scale, your diagnosis or treatment might be up in the air or scary, and you feel your life is changing, you can recall what you do know for sure- including a list of people who love you, your faith or spirituality if that serves you, and even the times things will happen, such as, “While I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I do know I will call my mom at 7 pm, and I like talking to her.”

    During this time, be easy on yourself. Feeling overwhelmed by pain is a normal reaction. Be sure to communicate with your medical professionals your pain levels, concerns, and needs, and surround yourself with your usual comforts and small things to look forward to, such as a Netflix show or documentary, a new book, trying a new flavor of herbal tea, or a phone call with a friend.

As always, I am wishing you wellness, peace, and the knowledge that you are worthy of a joyful life.

“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.”
– Joan of Arc

© 2018 – Laura Manderino-Martins- All rights reserved