If you are dealing with a chronic sickness or acute disability you may think there’s nothing you can do to make yourself feel better or decrease your pain.
“Whatever happens,” the thought goes, “I’m still going to be sick.” Maybe that’s true. Counseling doesn’t necessarily cure physical diseases or decrease pain, but we know more and more how the brain and body interact and health in one area is beneficial to the other.
So if you are suffering from a physical ailment and seem to pooh-pooh the idea of trying out counseling, I’d challenge you to give it a try. How is therapy different than talking to someone you know? Or having a conversation that includes venting to a friend or complaining to your partner?
Well, first, I’m not even sure I’d call it a conversation. Therapy is a way to tune you in to what you’re feeling—especially if you’re not aware of the full feeling (spoiler alert: we’re usually not)—and to help you express it. And there are people who come to me because of a strong feeling (like anger), OR because their partners tell them they’re not assertive enough, OR because they’re “passive aggressive” OR sarcastic—and they often end up finding out that they’re actually storing some of these feelings (resentment, sadness, fear, vulnerability) in their bodies in the form of backaches, headaches, stomach issues, and unexplained pain.
This is pain that may be decreased once you’re able to express what you’re holding in.
So think about it, and while you’re considering it, here are a few more ideas for decreasing your pain while managing with sadness and depression and a chronic illness:
- Use social media for good, not evil: Connect with online communities in as positive a way as you can. Maybe you’ll find a group focused on your injury, or perhaps its a group that likes to talk about a particular show, movie, or book you like–join the conversation as unabashedly as you can. If you’re having trouble expressing how angry you are at the pain in your leg, maybe you can point it toward your favorite character or some really bad writing this week.
- Use technology for good: If you have video available, use it to connect with people who make you laugh. Whether friends, co-workers, or your nieces and nephews–Facetime them, Skype them–let yourself be seen.
- Be Direct: With both depression and physical illness, most people are really uncomfortable about not knowing how to relate to you. They’re afraid to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing. So help them out–let people know that you want them to drop by (if you do). Let them know that you’ve been really craving some good food–and someone to eat it with. Tell someone to bring over Settlers Of Catan and teach you how to play. If the idea of this is filling you with dread, start small: tell someone you’d welcome their company and that on Thursday you’re pretty open.
- See Your Therapist…virtually: More and more of us are providing an option to see clients online, and there’s a lot of good research saying that it’s effective. If you’re in therapy, talk to your therapist about it. Many counselors have started using this technology in response to clients who request it for these reasons. (If they’re hesitant, tell them to give me a call and I’ll walk them through how to get started). If you’re not currently in treatment, most of the directories use this as a search term when seeking a counselor. I have a part of my website that talks about Online Counseling and how it works.
The Second Arrow
There’s a Buddhist story I like to tell where a man is hit with an arrow. Not a few seconds later he’s hit with a second arrow in the same spot. The pain increases so much more after this second arrow. That second arrow can be the emotional pain that makes the physical injury so much worse. In a simplistic way, it’s what happens when we stub our toe in the middle of the night. We’re dealing with real pain. It hurts! But add the part of you that’s cursing yourself out for leaving that thing on the floor–that makes it a whole lot worse. The blame, the anger, the shame, the fear, the loneliness, the whatever compounds against the part of us that’s simply pain in the first place. The pain is bad enough–why do we make it worse?
Let’s take a look at where your energy is going and if it’s being wasted on self-blame, pity, petty anger, or irritation you can learn to redirect it towards the honest-to-goodness physical healing you need to do. And that may mean that you need to connect with some self-compassion (which is different than self-pity!)
If you’re ready to get started in shedding some of that wasteful energy and feeling better, email me to set up a free consultation.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been providing counseling for men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.