I’ve long suffered with pain. I’ve had Cerebral Palsy since birth which has caused other painful conditions such as neuropathy (nerve pain) for the past decade.
Because the pain is so normal, and I’ve built up the tenacity to just push through, I often don’t give myself the space to fully grasp how different life is for me than the typical mom — whatever that means. We all have our struggles, and I want to acknowledge that. To be fair to my fellow chronic pain moms out there, though, there’s another layer of engagement needed when parenting while in pain.
Moms often talk about being overstimulated and touched out. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this language, it means that your amygdala, (the part of the brain that controls stress responses) is off-line and dysregulated. Feeling touched out happens when your nervous system is feeling attacked and has no way to cope.
Think about the worst injury or procedure you’ve been through. And yes, childbirth counts! When you were amidst the worst part of the pain, do you remember any specific thoughts? Probably not. That’s because when you’re in pain, the part of your brain that associates mood and attention are constantly on hyperdrive and must funnel information differently. In essence, it’s offline.
Since moms with chronic pain are occupied with pain signals, they have significantly less space for processing other things like questions, whining, tantrums, teenage frustration, and even love and affection.
Many moms who suffer from chronic pain have figured out a way to live with the pain because, just like all other good moms, our families come first, right?
This is the push through effect.
Well, this is me, a fellow chronic pain sufferer and trained therapist, letting you know that you DO NOT have to put your family first, and you do not have to push through the pain.
It almost sounds profane when you read it, but just take a second to think: Taking care of your family requires emotional, physical, and psychological effort. If you’re at your lowest capacity, due to pain, how are you going to be a healthy caretaker? Simply put, you can’t. You’ll only be partially present. Your fuse will be short. Your energy will be low, and you’ll snap easily.
So, here are a few tips for taking care of yourself first.
Get Up Early for Alone Time
I know. When you’re in pain, sleep can be a way of coping and escaping that pain. But getting up early and having some alone time, whether you use that time to meditate, pray, drink a cup of coffee, or catch up on a book or the news, you are putting yourself first and giving yourself a chance to center and regulate the emotions surrounding your pain. This gives you a great foundation to move forward with your day as a mom.
Schedule a Regular Mom’s Day Out
As finances allow, I encourage you to do something special outside of the house just for you. This could be a facial, manicure/pedicure, hair styling, massages, or sitting in a coffee shop reading, listening to your favorite podcast, audiobook, or music. This is just about getting out of the house and carving out time that is specifically for you. I encourage you to do this alone. It’s great to have a village, as they say. But this is a time for you to unwind from overstimulation. Doing these things alone gives you the opportunity for quiet and peace. You don’t have to worry about entertaining a friend’s conversation, regardless of how hilarious or fascinating it may be. There’s a time and place for that.
Use Your Village. This is Why You Have One
If you’re lucky enough to have a group of caring and completely selfless friends, then use that to your advantage. Don’t let that little voice in the back of your head talk yourself out of using this resource by telling you that it’s taking advantage of your friends or family. If you have a healthy village, it is simply using what’s gladly given.
Be Honest About How You’re Feeling
We live in a culture where masking pain is normalized. Please don’t let that be your norm. It’s OK to explain to your partner and/or your children, (in developmentally appropriate ways) how you’re feeling on a particular day. If it’s going to be rough, let them know in as exact terms as possible how this will affect their day. This kind of communication is key to developing emotional intelligence in your children and partner. It also helps you get what you need throughout the day. It’s OK to speak truth about your pain. Speaking the truth about your pain gives it less power. You’re the one in control. Not the pain.
To all the moms out there living with chronic pain: It truly stinks.
That’s the truth.
Shout it out if that helps.
I encourage you to not hide behind it.
The pain is real and deserves validation.
You’re not alone in this pain.
Solidarity to you, my dear friends.