A response to the article I Was in Hell - How Much Worse Could the Pain Get?

Maria Fitzpatrick suffered from whiplash injuries as a result of a car accident. She describes the pain as, “like living in the most extreme episode of Tom & Jerry: my bones are squeezed in a vice, my muscles are drilled full of nails, there’s an anvil on my neck, I’m encased in ice, burnt alive, and my nerves are twisted like spaghetti on a fork.”

No surprise that she took pain killers – we all would! I have lived with chronic pain on a daily basis for over thirty years, and I had periods so doped up that I felt my brain was stuffed full of cotton wool and any useful brain cells had gone on a long vacation. 

It’s a vicious cycle, once you start on the pill merry-go-round. Chronic pain and increased tolerance to pain killers can eat away at your life until you feel like a shadow of who you used to be, completely helpless and desperate. I still take the pills for my spinal pain, but at a much lower dose; these are to control the unbearable spasms I get in my feet if I come off pain killers all together.

Many people who live in chronic pain will relate to Maria’s story, and also understand how important the American Academy of Neurology’s warning on the extent of the modern addiction to opiate-based drugs is. As Maria says, “Such is the growing concern that in the treatment of chronic pain these drugs could be doing more harm than good, the British Pain Society, together with the Royal Colleges, is now revising its opioid-prescribing guidelines.”

Like Maria, I eventually found my relief from pain and suffering not through pills, but from my own self. Maria has found the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an offshoot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, has given her relief, much as I use mindfulness. Both practices have principles in common – acceptance being a strong theme. Maria says that “ACT reasons that if you can’t change something, stop fighting it and spend the energy on something that makes your life fuller and more meaningful instead.” Sound familiar?

Mindfulness is my saviour. I use the awareness it brings me to take responsibility for how I react to my pain. Gradually, I have learned to respond rather than react and to be much more kind and gentle with myself (and less grumpy with others!).

As the reactive cycle has calmed down I've been able to apply mindfulness to my whole life: exercising more, taking regular breaks so my pain doesn't get out of hand - due to staying in the same posture for too long; establishing a supportive routine for eating and sleeping and getting back into rewarding work.

Vidyamala Burch