I want to dig in to one of the toughest and most frequently asked questions about living with chronic conditions – how to manage chronic pain. So tough, so entrenched, so much of an impact on every part of life and one’s ability to function, chronic pain is a many-faceted problem with no easy answers.
My roots of chronic pain are fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (which causes flu-like pain), my muscle wasting disease (called polymyositis) which leads to deep muscle pain, and polyarthritis – joint pain, primarily in my knees and hips. I also have daily headaches from meningitis. These headaches are worsened by noise and light and ramp up as the day goes on. As I make this list I’m having to tamp down the shame-gremlins that tell me that just listing these symptoms is the same as complaining. Here are three of my favorite books about managing chronic pain.
Books About Managing Chronic Pain
Relaxation Revolution: The Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing — The title of this book belies the significance of its research and scientific rigor. The book draws on studies from Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins and Beth Israel where something like 12 conditions/illnesses have been double-blind tested, and evidence has shown that a 20-minute meditation practice has met or exceeded the standard medical treatment of medication or surgery. Radical. The practice of “remembered wellness” is at the root of the meditation practice. Learning this technique has changed my own experience of pain. I firmly believe that meditation and “remembered wellness” can shift and reduce the experience of pain in significant ways.
How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard — This book is written by a Buddhist psychologist who became chronically ill. This first-person examination of illness discusses how to accept the limitations imposed by illness and chronic pain with compassion. She has three chapters addressing pain and specific practices to try at the back of the book. Learning how to be compassionate with ourselves, and learning how to cultivate patterns of acceptance rather than resistance are both big parts of my journey managing chronic pain.
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie — This book is one of my greatest teachers. What would it be like to always, in any circumstance, love what is? To take in our experience and our surroundings and be able to accept it and embrace it as it is without resistance or trying to change it? That’s what is at the heart of this practice. Katie teaches a four-question method to take our stressful thoughts (like, “this pain is making me stressed out!” or “I can’t do this,” etc.) and challenge them to help us come closer to being able to love and accept what is. I listen to this one on audiobook because she cuts to her interactions with folks actually doing this practice, which I find incredibly helpful. If you’re curious about her method, she has lots of examples up on YouTube. Watch a few clips and see if it’s for you.
All of the other ways I deal apply here too. In addition, I take medication for my pain, daily as well as break-through meds. I hear really good things from others about pain management support groups and the benefits they experience from being in a community. If you’re curious about this, pain management clinics usually have these, as well as local hospitals. For me, right now, my dance card is full enough that adding one more appointment does not feel feasible. However, I do recommend exploring this option — even if it is virtual support like joining a private Facebook group with others who share your diagnosis. Sometimes, knowing you are not alone is nice in the face of pain, even if it doesn’t take the pain away.