Managing Chronic Pain

by Vania Patrick-Drakes

Have you ever started or been part of a conversation about periods? Chances are, at least one person begins squirming, avoiding eye contact, or goes awkwardly silent. For a myriad of reasons, many of us are still uncomfortable with conversations surrounding periods, menstrual health and menstrual hygiene. Ironically, many menstruating women have a number of unpleasant, debilitating symptoms in common – including chronic pain.

In this way, it makes sense for us to get past the ‘hushed tones’ surrounding women’s health issues to get to the crux of the matter:

Periods are normal.

Chronic, debilitating pain is not.

Pain is usually regarded as ‘chronic’ when it lasts or recurs for more than 3 to 6 months. It can be mild, it can be severe, but it’s there – and it can have significant ramifications on one’s quality of life. Friendships, romantic relationships and even professional relationships can suffer as a result of chronic pain. Being absent from work, social outings, or even avoiding intimacy with one’s partner due to pain, may lead to challenges with self-esteem and feelings of worth.

  • “What if my employer does not understand?”
  • “What if my colleagues think I’m shirking my responsibilities?”
  • “My friends are going to stop inviting me to places.”
  • “My partner is going to think I’m not attracted to them – or may be dissatisfied with me because I’m not always able to engage sexually.”

Unfortunately, a lot of the time, chronic pain can be associated with depression and anxiety and, let’s be honest, stress. Stress is a funny little thing – excess, prolonged stress can exacerbate physical pain, leading to potentially more stress and a frustrating, circular nightmare.

Luckily, there are ways to manage chronic pain.

1. Professional Assistance

Persons dealing with chronic pain are always encouraged to consult with a trusted medical professional. Keep in mind that symptoms which cause unnatural pain or distress are not normal and should never be diminished. Periods should not be debilitating: you are not weak and you are not overreacting if you feel like your periods are. Medical professionals will be able to formally assess your unique situation and provide insight into how any pain can be managed. Mental health professionals can also provide useful tools for pain management and emotional upkeep – don’t be shy about utilising that resource.

2. Eat Well

This is said regularly enough that there must be some truth to it by now (and there is!): eating healthily can help with the frequency and/or intensity of chronic pain. Keep a food diary and pay close attention to the days where your pain is more significant -perhaps there are food triggers which you may benefit from being aware of. Foods in their most natural form – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meat sources should encompass the majority of your daily meals (minus the sauces, oils and other ‘extras’). Should you be able to indulge every now and then? Life would not be as fun if you couldn’t! But loving and taking care of your body means nourishing it with the most premium fuel possible…and often, those treat foods “ain’t it”.

3. Move Often
Whenever possible, regular exercise can also assist with pain management, providing a sense of purpose and boosting emotional wellbeing. Often, exercise is seen as synonymous with torture – full of burpees, heavy deadlifts and real tears. It’s important to note that it does not have to be like this (unless that’s your preference, in which case, more burpees, please!). Any movement that makes your body feel good is beneficial – a walk, zumba, yoga…any purposeful movement releases endorphins ‘galore’.

4. Support
Surround yourself as much as possible with persons who understand, support, respect and care about you. Negative energy should have no real place in your inner circle – block it like you’re surrounded by a force field.

With that said, many of us also hesitate to lean on our friends and loved ones when we need support. Try it. When it comes to genuine loved ones, chances are they would be more than happy to provide that extra love and support when you’re physically or emotionally hurting.

Finally, spend some quality time with yourself. Support yourself. Listen to music. Journal. Unplug from social media and other technology every now and then. Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and you are enough.

Vania is a registered Counselling Psychologist and is a board member of the Barbados Association of Endometriosis & P.C.O.S.. She has also founded the wellness brand Ikigai Nutrition, Wellness & Lifestyle Consultancy Services.