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A group of people smiling and talking; one person has a dark cloud looming overhead and red pain circles on his body

Chronic Pain and Depression

I've been sad and anxious for most of my life. That's not an inherently negative statement, it's just the truth about my reality. My home life was toxic and dysfunctional and it was hard for me to cope.

Diagnosed with depression

At 13 years old, I was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. This explained a lot about why I’d feel so low all the time and why I felt debilitating levels of nervousness.

I've been living with depression for more than half my life. It's a constant for me. It ebbs and flows. There are times when it's worse and times when it's better. I've also gotten a lot better at managing it. While I still struggled with low mood, a lack of motivation, and not experiencing any pleasure, I'd found ways to cope and get by.

This or That

Do you experience anxiety as well as depression?

When chronic pain set in

However, around 7-9 years ago, during my late teens, I began experiencing pain throughout my body. It quickly became constant and stopped me from being able to do everyday things like going on walks or showering without a chair.

After many years of unanswered questions and suffering, I was diagnosed with axial spondyloarthritis and fibromyalgia, 2 chronic pain conditions. Living with pain exacerbated my depression.

It changed my entire life

It became difficult for me to connect with my peers. It felt like all of them were living their lives to the fullest but my body was giving up on me. I completed university with much difficulty, almost dropping out several times due to how the pain interfered with my ability to study.

I also began needing to use a cane to walk around and this made me feel singled out, because many people would stare and ask intrusive questions. All of them saying "you're too young to be experiencing this." It made me feel very alone.

My depression deepened with the pain

I couldn't go out as much. I could no longer do things that helped my low mood, such as going out, knitting, writing, walking my dog, etc. I lost all sense of myself and who I am. I felt like I was drowning in my pain and nothing was helping. I've never been as hopeless and suicidal as I was at the peak of my worst pain flare-up.

I went through several stints of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for depression, anxiety, and chronic pain and only really found it helpful for my anxiety. I've also been on different antidepressants since being diagnosed and found that they help a lot. I've taken fluoxetine, sertraline, and duloxetine at different doses and am currently stable on duloxetine.

Coping with chronic pain

It's really hard to stay positive when you're in pain all the time. I have to actively fight against slipping into negative self-talk and harmful ways of thinking. It's something I have to constantly do and it's exhausting sometimes.

Something that's helped me, personally, is using body neutrality and realism. Instead of using positive statements that are unrealistically optimistic (and often untrue) such as, "Pain doesn't last forever," I think something like, "My pain is bad right now and that sucks but I’ll do what I can to manage it and maybe it will decrease." By doing so, I accept that I have constant pain, but that it might come down to more manageable levels later by utilizing pain management techniques.

Relationship with myself and others

By acknowledging the reality of the situation and how my conditions affect my body, I can try to accept what I'm going through and work with it. I find that I don't dwell on how my pain has altered my life the same way.

It still makes me sad that I can't do a lot of things and have limitations I'd never thought I'd have. Many relationships with family and friends have deteriorated because they couldn't understand that I am chronically ill. I've lost a lot and it really gets to me sometimes.

Living with chronic pain is my reality

But I've also never been so in tune with myself. I've found people who are understanding and empathetic. I've learned to honour and respect my limitations, accepting them for what they are and making decisions based on that.

Chronic pain causes a lot of mental distress but I'm learning to live with it and make the best of it.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.