Home General Info & Awareness How Chronic Pain Can Impact Mental Health 

How Chronic Pain Can Impact Mental Health 

by InvisiblyMe

Living with chronic pain isn’t easy. You may have heard the expression “pain makes you feel alive”. I’m sure those of us living with it must be feeling incredibly alive right now! It is a physical experience and often one you can’t escape from, but it’s also an emotional journey that can affect our mental health and wellbeing. 

Every individual has their own unique experience of pain, so any points discussed here are generalised and may or may not apply to different people. With that in mind, here’s a look at just a few of the ways in which the incessant nature of chronic pain can impact mental health. 

Disheartenment From A Hopeless Situation

Chronic pain, by definition, is ongoing over a long period of time. For some people, their pain is constant and relentless, with not even a minute’s break because it is present every second of every day. For others, it may come and go, or intensity levels may fluctuate over time. Either way, it’s a prolonged experience with no end date.

Stubbing your toe or cutting your finger might elicit a loud swear word and instant pain for a minute or two, but it subsides pretty quickly. Some acute injuries and broken bones may be more intense in pain level and last over days, weeks or even months, but those too will typically heal and the pain will relent. 

Imagine chronic pain that’s an ongoing deal. You can’t tell yourself that it’ll all be over soon. You don’t know if or when you may or may not get a temporary break from it, let alone for it to disappear entirely. There is no “get well soon”. 

With this never-ending nightmare can come a sense of hopelessness. If you’ve tried various products, lifestyle changes and medications without them helping much, that too feels disheartening. If you’re searching for answers for an elusive cause of your pain, as many people do, that can feel hopeless. If your pain continues to get worse, the future can feel very unsteady and unsettling. It’s no wonder many chronic pain patients experience depression, both from the nature of pain and the changes in lifestyle, and the impact on your physiology and neurological functionality. 

A darkly coloured image showing the upper bare back and shoulders of a woman. Her hands are on her head and she faces away from the camera, suggesting she's suffering, perhaps with mental health, illness or chronic pain.

Chronic Pain Can Irritate

The incessant, aggravating nature of pain, whether it’s a dull ache, burning, a throb, or a stab, can needle away at you. It makes us stressed, tense, angry and antsy. The pain in my hips can be almost like an itch deep inside the joint, then it feels like it’s on fire and it’s so hideous with no way of stopping it that it starts to drive me up the wall. 

It’s debilitating and it’s only one element that’s experienced alongside other pain, like being slammed with chronic migraines or feeling shattered by fibromyalgia pain. It can all really get under my skin and make me irritable at the best of times, an angry ogre at the worst. Sometimes you want to scream because you just want it to stop, just for a minute. Sometimes you want to be greedy and have a whole day free from it, but you can’t. 

Sometimes, when I’m going around the supermarket, I want to just sit in the middle of the floor and have a screaming, snotty toddler tantrum because my hips are on fire and every inch of me hurts. But we adults can’t seem to get away with doing that in the way a 3 year old can. No fair.

Some patients with chronic pain live with other conditions and often different types of pain, and each aspect adds up. There may also be elements of a chronic illness that contribute to the sense of irritation, like fatigue or hormone imbalance. What’s more, certain neurotransmitters and nerve pathways are shared by both chronic pain and depression, showing how intertwined mental health and pain can be on a neurobiological level. 

Such things just make it all the more difficult when trying to stay zen in the face of unbelievably annoying pain, like someone repeatedly poking you over and over again. With a rusty knife. In the eyeball. 

Frustrations With A Pain-Limited Life

Chronic pain, much like with chronic illness or any other disability, can alter the landscape of your life considerably. In some instances, this may curtail the life you had, leading you to lose work, friends, relationships or hobbies. It may then limit the activities you can do now, or you might have to change the way in which you do things to make them more manageable. 

To admit that you can no longer live as you used to, do the things you want and need to do, or even be the person you once were, can be surprisingly difficult. I found myself being rather stubborn in this respect, desperately trying to cling on to my pre-pain life, the life I had prior to my first surgery in 2015 before my health really took a rapid nosedive.

I then didn’t want to outwardly show how much I was struggling. I didn’t want to make adaptions, buy a walking stick, use painkillers or anything else that would mean I was admitting things were bad and that I couldn’t cope. There was always part of me, for years, that kept thinking things were going to suddenly get better. They never did. They just got worse. 

A quote from InvisiblyMe in white text against a black and red background of a forest with large trees and red leaves. It reads: Chronic pain can be relentless and incessant. It can get under your skin and make you itch. It can be debilitating, frustrating and disheartening.

Coming to terms with the limitations or changes can take time. Acceptance is another beast entirely. Even if you get used to it, it doesn’t mean there won’t be times when it frustrates you or when you feel resentful for missing out, or annoyed with your body for not behaving as it used to. 

Chronic Pain Is A Lonely Road

Pain and illness can be very isolating experiences. Pain is an invisible condition because it’s not immediately obvious to others what you’re experiencing. You may use a mobility aid or have a grimace on your scrunched-up face from pain, but nobody else is going to know what it is you’re feeling or what your life is like as a result. 

Even those close to you may not “get it”, even if they want to try to understand and empathise. Those same people that genuinely care may end up feeling shut out because they can’t fully understand, especially if you perhaps can’t or don’t wish to talk about what exactly is going on.

There are sadly many patients who struggle to get the healthcare support they need. They can be fobbed off by doctors and disbelieved by specialists, strengthening this feeling of isolation. 

When others don’t “get it”, you can also get the sense, be it true or not, that the person you’re with or talking to thinks you “look fine” and that your pain can’t be that bad. You might not want to talk to them about it for fear of them thinking you’re over-egging the pudding, so to speak, even when you’re not even coming close to explaining how bad it is. This can lead to you feeling self-conscious, even worthless, and all the more worried about what others think of you.

Add to that the way some people can lose friends, family and colleagues, and suddenly your life can feel smaller and emptier. 

The online world, be it through blogs, Facebook groups or elsewhere, can be priceless in this respect as you’ll typically find a warm chronic pain community from all over the world ready to welcome you. They’ll “get” what it’s like and they’ll be there without judgement. It won’t be the same as offline relationships but it’ll fill a little of that void perhaps as you realise you’re not as alone as you may feel. 

Pain Piques Anxiety & Deflates Self-Esteem 

The aforementioned irritation from relentless pain can ratchet up anxiety. This may be further increased by any lifestyle adaptions you have to make, medication side-effects, chronic illness symptoms or hormone imbalances. It can also be heightened indirectly by knock-on problems you have to contend with as a result of your pain and health issues, like money worries from losing a job. 

There’s a lot of stigma around illness, pain and disability when it comes to employment and benefits, so if you’re unable to work, you might lose confidence in your abilities and your usefulness. Another layer of guilt, depression and feeling worthless gets slapped on top.

With anxiety and stress comes mental and physical fatigue, which can impair your concentration, ability to think clearly or keep a level mood, and your ability to calm yourself. It can impact your self-esteem and affect those around you and your relationships, which leads to more anxiety. The more pain you get, the more knock-on problems crop up, the more isolated you feel, and the worse you feel about yourself. 

You might find you’re less able or willing to look after yourself and invest in self-care, which only makes you feel worse. Your sleep and eating can suffer. You start to feel more shut-off from the world. That can lead full circle to heightened pain and the cycle continues. 

Self-Doubt & Gaslighting

With such invisible illnesses and hidden disabilities come real or perceived scepticism from others. Unfortunately pain patients don’t always get the supportive response they should from friends and family. Many also hit a wall with medical professionals. They may doubt what you’re telling them. They may claim you’re too old, young, tall, short, or whatever else for there to be anything amiss with you. They may acknowledge your pain, but be uninformed about the underlying health condition if there is one, or they may be unsupportive of the medication you need. 

It’s also possible for patients to experience gaslighting by some medical professionals, the same ones who’re employed to help, not hinder, their patients. This prevents those patients from getting the diagnostic tests, referrals, treatment and support they need, leaving them in a horrible, painful limbo. 

After some time of fighting, feeling judged or receiving scepticism, you can start to doubt yourself. I have nerve damage from metal tacks in my back, and that causes the debilitating pain in my back and hips. I get other symptoms from nerve damage, as well as the all-over pain that earned me the fibromyalgia diagnosis. Even now, fibro itself still receives mixed reactions and disbelief from some specialists. 

Whether it’s a well-known and better understood issue or not, patients can struggle to be heard and believed. I spent several years being fobbed off with bowel issues, and even now that I have a myriad of problems and somewhat better documented causes, it’s incredibly hard to find specialists who understand what I’m dealing with. It’s never easy to challenge confident scepticism from the medical professional you’re seeing when you need them for tests or treatment. 

Give it enough time and you’ll start wondering whether it really is in your head, or whether perhaps it’s not as bad as you think and that you should put up with it and suffer quietly. 

But you know your body better than anyone else. You know what it feels like and you know what you experience. Self-doubt and gaslighting are real dangers because such responses start to erode our mental wellbeing and self-belief. It may be over a course of months or years, but keep an eye on self-doubt because it needs to be addressed. Have confidence in your feelings and shore up your resources because your health is worth fighting for.

A quote by Invisibly Me in white text against a dark background of grass and peach-coloured flowers. It reads: You know your body and your pain better than anyone. Never doubt your experience or stop trying to be heard. Your health is worth fighting for.
A black scroll divider.

While I want everyone to remember that the chronic pain community has their back and that they should be confident in asserting themselves for the sake of their healthcare, this post isn’t designed as a pep talk. Nor is it supposed to be a pity-party.

It’s merely a look at the ways in which chronic pain can impact a person’s mental health, giving those on the outside a better understanding of it, and those living it a little comfort in knowing that others may also being going through what they are.

Related Reading :

Caz  ♥

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37 comments

Ashley L. Peterson September 7, 2021 - 4:55 pm

I’ve never come across the expression “pain makes you feel alive,” but wow, that’s gross. Pain, whether physical or emotional, reminds you that you’re alive and that life can be seriously shitty…

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InvisiblyMe September 10, 2021 - 3:45 pm

It’s certainly a negative reminder to get on a consistent basis. I’d rather have had a post-it note. xx

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Cheryl, Gulf Coast Poet September 7, 2021 - 5:14 pm

I am not sure i could handle constant chronic pain. Robert and I both have several chronic illnesses, including fibromyalgia. For me there is some pain, but not all of the time. Fatigue and brain fog are also intermittent. Thank you for the great information. <3 Take care, Caz!

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InvisiblyMe September 10, 2021 - 3:47 pm

I’m sorry you and Robert know what multiple chronic illnesses are like to juggle, and fibromyalgia itself brings its own challenges. While your pain and other symptoms can fluctuate rather than being permanent, it doesn’t change the experience. It’s tough, but you’re tougher. Thank you for reading & the comment, Cheryl, I really appreciate it. I hope you have a lower pain & fatigue weekend ???? xx

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Kymber September 7, 2021 - 5:32 pm

Thank you for this important article, Caz. xo

“Your health is worth fighting for.” It’s exhausting, but this is one thing we need to remember through it all.

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InvisiblyMe September 10, 2021 - 5:03 pm

Absolutely, that’s the thing to hold onto even when everything else slips away. Our health is always worth fighting for ???? xx

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Blogging_with_Bojana September 7, 2021 - 6:22 pm

Don’t you hate it when they say, Get well soon?
(Of course you do.)

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InvisiblyMe September 10, 2021 - 5:33 pm

Yes, it riles it me up big time!!

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Sandee September 7, 2021 - 6:35 pm

Pain can mess with your head for sure. I can’t imagine having chronic pain. I commend you for how upbeat you are.

Have a fabulous day, Caz. ♥

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InvisiblyMe September 10, 2021 - 10:23 pm

Trust me, Sandee, I can be a grumpy badger too! ????

I hope you both have a wonderful weekend – enjoy the TV series you’re into at the moment! xx

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capost2k September 7, 2021 - 6:39 pm

Hard to hit the “Like” button after reading this, but I Like that you are so open and clear. For those of us who do NOT experience chronic pain, this is an eye-opener. You are frequently in my prayers, and while I understand so little about prayer, my heart goes out to you, but not as much as the Heavenly Father’s. I wish sooo much that we at least had clear answers as to why God sometimes does not heal the way He did when Jesus was on earth, but I know that sometimes He still does. And so I pray for you, that you will find peace with Him, and that He will stop the chronic pain.
❤️&????, c.a.

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InvisiblyMe September 11, 2021 - 4:50 pm

It’s one of those types of posts where in one sense you actually don’t want people to like it or to understand it. I’m glad this could give you or anyone that doesn’t live with chronic pain a little insight into what it’s like. I know there are many people with far worse than what I live with, and it’s hard to imagine from my point of view given how much of a struggle it is for me most of the time. Thank you for your kindness, it’s always very much appreciated. Stay safe and have yourself a restful weekend ????

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Despite Pain September 7, 2021 - 8:32 pm

I feel so alive!! Oh, what a terrible expression, isn’t it?

Your post is spot on. Absolutely spot on.

I have often felt like having those toddler tantrums in the supermarket but managed to restrain myself. I must have looked like it on the odd occasion as shop staff have asked me if I needed a chair and helped take shopping to the car if hubby wasn’t there.

Caz, I am sure that most of us have been like you and tried to cling on to our previous lives before admitting defeat. I know I kept pushing myself to keep working. I just wanted normality but eventually realised that this was as normal as it could get. I don’t think ‘healthy’ people will ever really understand how difficult it is to admit that to ourselves.

I don’t know where I’d be without online support groups and friends. Having lived with chronic pain before we all had internet in our homes, I know how much lonelier life was. Not just lonely, but in many ways without a purpose and my self-confidence and self-esteem had vanished completely. Between running an online support group and blogging, I now feel as though I have something to give.

Fantastic post, Caz. I am so glad you have written this.

Take care,
Liz x

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 10:34 am

It really is a strange expression once you live with pain, isn’t it? I’m both glad and not glad that you like the post, because I know that you know all too well what chronic pain is like. It’s actually quite nice to hear, in the sense of giving hope that decent people are around, that shop staff have asked if you’d like a chair or have offered to take the shopping to the car if you were on your own. I applaud you for not just shouting “no” and proceeding to roll around on the floor having a tantrum ????

You are far better placed than I to talk about the benefits and comfort in the online realm. I’m glad it’s been like this for you too with the outlets like blogging and online support groups to connect you with others and give you that sense of purpose. You make a difference to other people’s lives and the online chronic illness and pain community is a far better place for having you in it ???? xx

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Wendy September 7, 2021 - 8:50 pm

So well-written. It is a spot-on, “yes, that’s it” type of post. Resonates so strongly with those of us living with chronic illnesses and chronic pain. Thank you!

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 1:42 pm

Thank you, Wendy, I’m really glad you like the post, though I’m sorry you can nod along to it and know all too well what it’s like. Thank you for the wonderful comment ???? xx

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Blanca September 8, 2021 - 6:55 pm

Such a great post Caz, totally spot on in all your points. Thank you so much for sharing this. I know for my own experience how chronic pain afects mental health. When my Hashimoto´s condition worsened I suffered from severe muscle pain, brain fog, fatigue, migranes and digestive problems (just to name a few). I became very moody and also an introvert, always saying no to everything, as I was too exhausted to cope with life. But things improved dramatically when I went gluten free. It´s really worth to be proactive, keep fighting and trying to get better The same way you feel very bad at some point, you can feel much better some time later.

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 1:45 pm

I’m sorry you had such awful knock-on effects when your Hashi’s was so bad. “I was too exhausted to cope with life” – that’s so very well said. Just fatigue gets you, doesn’t it? That’s on top of everything else you had, like muscle pain, migraines etc. There’s so much all at once with most chronic illnesses and chronic pain conditions.

I’m glad you had such benefit with going gluten-free, that’s amazing! Any changes we can make to see even the smallest of improvements are worth it, and the same goes for the cases where such improvements aren’t possible but where we can better manage the symptoms in some way. Keep fighting, always. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with this amazing comment, Blanca ????

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annieasksyou September 8, 2021 - 7:31 pm

Hugs and thanks to you, dear Caz. Your three-point closing caps a very valuable post.

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 1:45 pm

Thank you, Annie, I really appreciate that ???? I hope the week ahead treats you kindly! xx

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Ann Coleman September 9, 2021 - 2:46 am

Thanks for being so honest about your struggles! I know it will help others in the same boat. Meanwhile, I’m so sorry for all you have to deal with…you deserve better for sure.

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 1:46 pm

I hope this can help even one other person to feel less alone in what they’re going through. It’s hard to admit things are hard to deal with, especially when society leans towards positivity being more readable and attractive. But it’s the honesty, whether it’s positive or not, that I think can be most useful sometimes. Thank you very much, Ann ???????????? xx

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Rachel Duerden September 9, 2021 - 1:09 pm

Hi Caz. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Posts like this one will help people who don’t suffer with chronic pain to understand what it’s like and hopefully be more supportive and less patronising.
I send you best wishes.

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 3:30 pm

That’s what I hope for, too. Thank you very muchly, Rachel ???? xx

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James Viscosi September 10, 2021 - 4:17 pm

I’m lucky enough not to have any serious lingering effects from The Event, but the cerebral aneurysm survivors’ group I’m in over on Facebook is full of people who weren’t as fortunate. There’s not necessarily lingering pain from a subarachnoid hemorrhage (although some people do have that) but there can be a stupefying range of disabilities, many of which are often invisible. It’s a tough road to have to walk.

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 3:45 pm

It’s interesting how differently people experience things, even the “same” initial issue. I’m glad you at least don’t have “serious lingering effects”, though I think what you went through was quite enough horror for one lifetime! ???? I have heard of different levels of disability from types of brain haemorrhage. I suppose some of it depends on the part of the brain and any other areas that have been affected at the time, perhaps impacting motor or memory regions. After any traumatic instance, there seems to be the chance for other conditions too, from migraines to fibromyalgia. The body is a wonderful thing… when it all works smoothly! Thank you for sharing this, James. You make some excellent points ????

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indianeskitchen September 10, 2021 - 5:22 pm

As horrible as the chronic pain is for me, I feel guilty my husband has to do so much because I can’t. Then there’s the doctor that can’t figure out why I have pain yet says “You’re not a complainer”. What good would it do since they can’t figure it out. lol

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 4:10 pm

I’m so sorry, Diane. While it’s not my place to say it, I already feel pretty sure hubby will want to be helping out wherever he can because he wants to be there for you and won’t want you in pain. As for the cause, that can often be a really tricky one. Have you had many tests or investigations to see if there are any clues to be found? I’m always around if ever you want to chat, any time. I really hope your doc or another specialist that can make some progress on the cause and provide some support for managing it, too ???? xx

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Terri, Reclaiming Hope September 10, 2021 - 7:53 pm

Another fantastic post Caz! You do a wonderful job explaining how living with constant pain day-in and day-out can impact your mental health. Honestly, it would be a surprise if it DIDN’T affect our mental health…. I hope you don’t mind, but I shared the link for this post for Friends Friday. This is such an important wellness topic I wanted to share it.

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InvisiblyMe September 12, 2021 - 4:12 pm

Of course I don’t mind – that is incredibly kind of you to share this, thank you! I saw it yesterday and it made my day ???? I hope it can help even just one person to know that what they’re feeling mentally because of chronic pain is something others also experience, that it’s okay to feel like that. You’re right, it would be a surprise if this sort of pain didn’t impact our mental health. Thanks again, Terri – I hope the week ahead treats you kindly my friend ???? xx

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Tea With Jennifer September 11, 2021 - 12:40 am

Hi Caz,
Visiting from Terri’s, I too have Fibromyalgia since 2006 plus several autoimmune conditions.

Like you I continued for years to live in an ‘acute illness mindset’ that FM would soon pass!

In 2011 (yes I’m a bit stubborn!) I finally had to come to the acceptance that I had a chronic condition & needed to take a ‘sabbatical’ from my professional life due to Fibro Fog, I found this step extremely difficult.
And yes debilitating in every aspect. As I had just reached the pinnacle of my career after decades of hard work!

Ten years on from that sabbatical I’ve had to take another acceptance step & finally retire from my profession. Realising I am not returning.

But like you I have found great joy in writing & i within the blogging community!
Thank you,
Jennifer

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Joe September 11, 2021 - 11:38 pm

????

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Samantha September 12, 2021 - 4:27 pm

I hate it when people belittle what you’re feeling, only because they don’t feel it. We all feel our own pain worst.
This was a very insightful piece, Caz.

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Linds September 13, 2021 - 3:30 am

Such a relatable post and a great description of how chronic pain is always more complicated than just having something hurt. Pain is one of my newer symptoms – only about 2 years. I have to admit that I’m not great at managing pain – I do get irritable and anxious, as you described. I’m learning to process those emotions better and refrain from taking it out on the ones I love, but it’s hard. When I’m in pain, it’s difficult to focus on anything other than that feeling, and it prevents me from feeling like I’m present in my life and when I’m spending time with friends and family. It’s no surprise, then, that it affects our mental health!

I’m glad you shared this post, because I think it’s important for everyone to understand that, although physical pain and mental health are separate, they’re also interrelated. Great job.

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chattykerry September 13, 2021 - 4:13 pm

That was a great post, Caz, and I liked the reference to medical staff gaslighting. I have chronic pain (eyes, back, hands and feet) and I can sometimes sense doctors thinking ‘it is all in her head’. One was brave enough to explain why he thought my parasesthia might be a combination of a cervical spine problem and anxiety. That I could accept and he didn’t diminish me.

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muz4now October 5, 2021 - 4:17 pm

Such a helpful and important post. Thank you!
I’ve had chronic neck/shoulder pain for decades. Sometimes I forget how much it’s affecting my attitude (aka mental health). But I do my best to avoid letting it come out sideways!
Thanks again for this.
Stan

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Gemma - Wheelescapades October 10, 2021 - 4:40 pm

Pain can certainly affect my mood and motivation. My sleep too, which then has a knock on affect of more pain and a grumpier me! I have to say I’m much more fortunate than some though, in that I may experience pain daily, but it’s not continuous.

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