Please don’t underestimate how difficult ‘acceptance’ of a persistent pain condition is. Please don’t think it can ever be ‘achieved’. It is a process, and if the pain condition is a lifelong problem, then so is the process of ‘acceptance’.
First are the weeks, and maybe months, when you are totally oblivious to the idea your pain may be lifelong. (I think clinicians should be more honest from the beginning when they know there could be a chance of long-term pain. Mine weren’t.)
Next is the realisation, maybe because a clinician has informed you, that the pain is long term, or maybe even lifelong. I found this difficult to take on board and put my head in the sand for a while. To put it bluntly this realization is traumatic, I think less traumatic if clinicians have been honest from the beginning.
Then there is the grieving period. You are grieving for the life you have lost and cannot regain. Many go through the five stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some get stuck along the way. Some need more support than others, sometimes from other professionals. I was lucky.
This grieving period can take a long time to go through, for me probably a year or more. The thought of living every day of your life in pain is a difficult one! The loss of your old life, the loss of your career and the realisation that life will never be the same is hard, really hard.
I cannot over-emphasise how difficult it is during this stage to imagine you will be in pain every day for the rest of your life! This does get much easier though as you go through the ‘acceptance’ stage and learn to live your life well.
For me acceptance included looking forward to a different life, working out how to manage my situation, and how to live well. I know I’m very lucky to have been able to do this. But acceptance is never ‘achieved’. Late at night when you are in bed and in pain, you may re-visit grief and acceptance. Other times too.
When your condition changes, or your life changes (eg grandchildren), or your understanding of your pain changes, then you might re-visit grief & ‘acceptance’. It does get easier to resolve. I’m aware when I need to re-visit ‘acceptance’, I know it is a process I need to go through, and I know I can move forward again.
I have been lucky to have had good clinician support for much of this process. A sensitive and kind rheumatologist, a sensitively honest and supportive GP, and an enlightened, caring and supportive physiotherapist who I particularly owe a large debt of gratitude to, @mattlowPT Good clinician support is vital!
Good therapeutic alliances are important, including sensitive honesty. Listening, not over-reacting to your despair & being comfortable with your tears, are important. Most important is the support to help you learn to manage your pain, move forward and live your life well.
I’m glad I wasn’t told to ‘accept my condition and move on’. I’m glad my tears weren’t seen as clinical depression, they weren’t, they were understandable. I’m glad my clinicians took the time to sensitively talk with me and my friends supported me. I’m glad I was supported to stay in work, albeit in a different role.
Physiotherapists and occupational therapists are well placed to support with ‘acceptance’. A main part of their role is rehabilitation. In order to successfully rehabilitate, a persistent pain patient must grieve and ‘accept’ their condition, learn to manage their pain and to live well. I’m lucky I was helped by wonderful clinicians & continue to be.
As a teacher I remember the buzz, the deep pride and the warm glow when watching a child I’d closely supported overcome their difficulties, blossom and grow. I hope that physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other healthcare professionals and clinicians can feel the same way when supporting us. A magical feeling!