Spina Bifida Family Support

"Families Helping Families"


Living with Chronic Pain

Written by Penney Cowan, Executive Director of the ACPA and Sally Price, Special Features

The American Chronic Pain Association P.O. Box 850 Rocklin, CA 95677 theacpa.org


    In today's fast paced world, life seems to be a race against the clock. Pressure to achieve is everywhere we turn, regardless of our lifestyle. At work, at school, at home and even with the family, speedy, top rate performance is more important than ever.

    Pain can take away our ability to perform and our desire to achieve-if we allow it to control our lives. Pain is a very strong adversary and will stop at nothing to gain the upper hand.

    What happens when pain becomes the controlling factor in your life? Is there any way to win this battle? The answer is yes, you can fight back. However, you need a strong defense-a goal oriented action plan against pain.

    Setting personal goals is important to everyone but it is absolutely vital to those with chronic pain. "Goals give you a reason to get out of bed every day," says Robin, who suffers with chronic pain. "Goals keep you going on a day to day basis. Otherwise you can get isolated and fall into the depression trap."

    Ed, who also suffers chronic pain adds, "Without personal goals you can be lost, without direction." Ed believes that people with chronic pain must have explicit goals because goals will give them control, direction, power and hope-the conviction that a new life is possible no matter how different it is from the old.

    A goal is an achievement or objective that can be reached with careful planning and committed effort. Setting goals is one way of preparing yourself mentally and emotionally to regain control of your life. Having new and realistic goals can provide you with a purpose and motivate and excite you to regain interest in daily activities. This motivation and purpose, combined wit how well you plan and perform your goal directed activities, can improve the quality of your life. There are things you need to keep in mind when setting personal goals.

Would your goal motivate you to get out of bed each morning, invigorated and focused? Ask yourself survival questions that will give you a reason to get up each morning and choose a goal that will motivate you to feel good about the day ahead.

    Do you have a lifelong desire or ambition that you never felt you had the talent to accomplish-like learning to play the piano or paint? That might be an excellent place to start developing a personal goal.

    Make your goal something that you want to achieve, not something you feel obligated to do. Having fun is always easier so begin with something that you enjoy. Playing golf or bowling may be more motivating than solitary exercise on a treadmill.

    Does your goal involve anyone else? Remember that you have no control over other people. If you goal depends too heavily on others, you'll have less chance of success and you'll feel less in control of your life.

    Be ready to make adjustments. Make sure that you consider personal abilities and limits when determining your goals. If not, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Feelings of failure can keep you from resetting and establishing new goals.

    Be flexible. Remember that things don't always go as planned. The danger is not in making temporary adjustments to your plan, but in allowing unexpected events to derail your plans. Don't be like the dieter who indulges in one dessert and decides that he or she is never going to lose weight and shouldn't even try. If you fall off your plan, get back on.

    As you progress, keep these things in mind:

    Keep your active plan concrete and specific. Clearly state your goal's beginning, middle and end and measure your progress as you proceed. This will give you great feelings of accomplishment, no matter how small the steps.

    Don't set yourself up for failure. Limit your goals to a point that will no increase your pain. Consider your resources and energy levels and adjust your goals so it is achievable.

    Learn along the way and use this information to redirect you in the future.

    Understand that you can restate your plan over a period of time as your path to success becomes clearer.

    Be willing to take one step at a time and pace activities to your abilities on any given day. Some days you might slip backward or stand still, but the next day may bring you two steps forward.

    Living with pain is difficult and can drain your hopes and dreams. But you will discover that your personal goals are your friend and your daily motivator. Having a plan to reclaim at least a small part of your life through personal goals provides a badly needed sense of control and accomplishment.

    It is possible to live a full life with pain but we need to plan to ensure that we reach our ultimate goal....making the transition from a patient to a person.


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