I was reminded of the relationship between chronic pain and hopelessness when a client told me that because she again feels chronic pain, she feels hopeless. She said she felt hopeless because she could not insure or protect her body. I think many of us would feel this way if we started experiencing a lot of chronic pain. Why? Because we are used to getting up in the morning expecting to be “fine”. Waking up daily rarely or never “fine” feels like hopelessness.
What if we awakened expecting to feel 30 percent “all right”? Then might we feel more hope? With my chronic illness, a good day is 60 percent “fine”, and a bad day is less than 30 percent “fine”.
Most people with chronic pain/illness feel a portion ok and a portion uncomfortable each day. No day is 100 percent terrible, and almost none are 100 percent “fine”, either.
I am not an expert in probability or statistics, or even well educated in this area, but one thing I remember; it is not realistic or helpful to shoot for the “tail” of the Bell Curve. That is, do not aim to be one of the people near the top of any group. Aim for right above average, try as hard as you can, and accept what happens. How this applies to chronic pain/illness is: do not aim to be perfectly healthy. Aim for a bit above average, try your best at healthy living, and see what happens. You don’t expect to be an Olympic athlete, a virtuoso pianist or a “trillionaire”, so why do we expect our body to be perfect? Let’s do the best with the wonderfully imperfect body we have!
So if we adjust unrealistic expectations of the feeling of wellness, we may feel better psychologically. Do we always expect to feel happy? Don’t we expect to feel anger and sadness and fear in varying situations? So why would we expect to feel physically “fine” all the time and be convinced of hopelessness when we have a 60 percent week? Perhaps it’s our culture that expects us to postpone age, be aerobically active or thin, or muscular all of our lives.
Hopelessness could be confused with powerlessness, a very different idea. We are powerless over our physical body signals some of the time, we cannot always stop pain, illness, or degeneration, even when we exercise vigorously and eat lots of vegetables. But that does not mean that any possibility of change for the better is missing, it is just not entirely in our control.
If we could expand our notion of hope for recovery to possibility, growth, knowledge, understanding of pain, and chronic disease, might we have some hope for a modified lifestyle that is as good as a “fine” one?