When Chronic Pain is a Mental Handicap Too

By:  Raven Swanson

When the word handicap is suddenly thrown into the conversation, the first image that comes to mind is one of a wheelchair. A handicap is, typically, something that the rest of the population – the non-handicapped part of the population to be more precise – imagines they can identify at first glance. Does a handicap exist if it can’t be seen? Of course, it does, especially as it affects your life in dramatic ways. But it can be difficult to get other people to understand your perspective.

Chronic pain is one of those invisible handicaps that can hinder your every move. It is tricky to explain to someone who doesn’t experience lasting pain what the effect is on your mental health. Physically, your interlocutors might argue in all sincerity that pain shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want. Don’t get angry at them. For someone who only deals with temporary pain, the mind cannot visualize what you are going through. However, you’ll find that most people can relate to the mental health consequences of your pain.

It drives you to make bad decisions

Pain is a neurological response that happens in the brain – your arm doesn’t hurt; your brain tells you it does. It can be challenging to make the right decisions for your body and your health when your mind is already focused on the pain. You are likely to be tempting to find coping mechanisms to deal with the pain and free up your mind. However, even with the best of will, finding the appropriate coping habits can be tricky. This is precisely where you are vulnerable to the people around you. If you find the right tribe, you’re likely to develop healthy coping solutions. On the other hand, if you are surrounded by people who have an unhealthy relationship to pain management, such as indulging in hard substances, for instance, you’re prone to follow their footsteps. Because pain can alleviate your cognitive abilities, you don’t know you’re making a mistake.


You don’t need a cure; you need constant management

The thing about chronic pain is that you can’t cure it. When you talk to friends about your issues, you need to emphasize the lack of cure. Indeed, while people might try to relate by telling you about that time they broke their foot or the day they fell off the treadmill, but they fail to understand that despite its intensity, their pain disappears when the injury healed. Mentally, talking about pain management strategies such as, is a different kettle of fish. It means acknowledging that your story doesn’t have a happy ending.


You feel vulnerable in your day-to-day life

As you go through pain, you also begin to question your own perception of it, as seen on Some stress-related patterns tend to occur, such as wondering whether the pain is real or whether you imagine it. You can also feel victimized by the situation; why do you have to suffer while others don’t? The downward spiral is never far away if you’re not careful.


Chin up, what’s a little pain? Next time you hear the comment, explain to others the emotional burden of chronic pain and the way it messes up with your mind. Pain can affect your decisions, your sense of closure, and of self. Don’t be afraid to open up about your mental health struggles as, you’ll find that, if physical pain is something not everyone understands, emotional suffering is universal.


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