We all grow up with an idea of how life is going to look, imagining our career path, choice of a life partner, whether or not we will be parents, how we will spend our golden years, etc….Rarely does anyone include chronic pain or illness into this view of their potential future. No one wakes up one day and says, “I sure hope I spend the rest of my life feeling sick or being in pain.” However, for many people, this becomes their reality. If you have experienced this in your own life, you know all too well how isolating and lonely it can feel. You know the depression, the anger, the resentment, the jealousy, the guilt, and the fear that frequently accompanies an often unexpected journey. Whether you were born with your condition, developed it after an accident or medical issue, or simply woke up with symptoms one day, it can feel tremendously unfair. Maybe you look “normal” on the outside, and you find yourself confronted with doubting questions or insensitive remarks. Maybe sometimes you find yourself wishing you looked as sick as you felt because then it might actually be validated by those around you.
If you can relate to any of the above, please know you are not alone. Whether you struggle with chronic migraines, a metabolic condition, an autoimmune disorder, cancer, joint pain, a physical limitation, or some other condition, the emotional effects are experienced daily by countless others. Becoming chronically ill can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. The life trajectory you thought you were experiencing has drastically shifted, and it may feel like you have lost your purpose. Maybe you have had to give up a career that gave you meaning or an activity you loved. Maybe you have lost members of your support system because they didn’t understand or couldn’t deal with it all. Maybe you’ve been dismissed as “crazy” by family, friends, or medical professionals. Whatever your experience, it is valid. It can be helpful to develop support from others who are navigating similar paths. Sharing your stories and experiences can help to instill hope and purpose in a life that has seemingly gone off course.
While support from others can be immensely helpful in the journey to acceptance and the creation of a new life purpose, we do have to be careful not to slip into the land of self pity and victimization. While you may have been a victim at one point, you don’t have to remain a victim. This is where a supportive therapy group can be beneficial. You can gain support from others who intimately understand the experience of chronic pain and illness, but in an environment that is guided through a purpose. Whether your pain is a temporary or permanent reality for you, it doesn’t have to define you.
A new group “Purpose through Pain” is designed to provide support, but also direction as you navigate through the developmental process of creating the new you. It will encourage grieving the loss of your former self, addressing physical limitations and challenges, acknowledging the emotional aftermath, and letting go of the fear that often comes with medical uncertainty. It will also touch on becoming your own advocate, maneuvering through social challenges and awkwardness, and ultimately creating a new identity and purpose.
I feel passionately about providing a supportive and educational environment where group members feel safe to be vulnerable as part of the process of gaining their strength. This group is about being validated, while also being encouraged to be an active participant in your medical treatment and life. We will also address cognitive shifts that can be monumental in coping with pain, as well as behavioral techniques that can be beneficial. Research shows that much of our pain is experienced within the brain. There is more and more work being done that is encouraging in that it gives chronic pain sufferers a little bit of control over their symptoms. While relaxation strategies and neural re-training are not miracles in that they don’t make you the person you were prior to injury or illness, they are showing marked results in peoples’ experiences with pain. Any little bit can help. If learning how to calm down the fear response resulted in your amygdala firing off fewer pain signals, wouldn’t that be a good thing? It’s certainly worth a try! I encourage healthy skepticism, but also an open mind.
Change happens when we are willing to ask tough questions, but also when we are open minded to the process of growth. If you have been living in a chronic state of pain or illness, I encourage you to give our office a call. I would love to chat with you about your experience and whether or not this group may be a good option for you. There is also the option of individual counseling in the event that a group setting isn’t something you are comfortable with at this time. Regardless, there is help out there, and you do not have to live in your pain. I look forward to talking with you and assisting you on your journey as you find new purpose through your pain!
Kelly Lehman, M.Ed., LPC is a professional counselor who specializes in helping clients navigate the journey of chronic pain, chronic illness, and medical trauma. If you are interested in this group or scheduling an individual appointment, call our office at (910) 790-9500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.