Blogger and chronic illness advocate Nitika Chopra was diagnosed with psoriasis at the age of 10 and psoriatic arthritis when she was 19. In addition to working with doctors, Chopra has developed some of her own strategies for coping with chronic pain. First and foremost, she says she’s learned to take a time-out and focus on self-care during times when the pain is especially intense.
“I think a lot of times, if you’re in chronic pain, you can have a really high threshold for pain. So sometimes, we kind of push through or force ourselves to be stronger than we need to be,” Chopra tells SheKnows. “A lot of times, taking a time-out and upping your self-care and giving yourself that time to really acknowledge and feel everything your body’s going through is really helpful. If you’re not resisting, your body can move through the pain more quickly.”
Another important coping strategy for Chopra has been learning not to isolate during especially rough stretches. “Pain is such an isolating experience because it’s only happening to one person at the time that they’re going through it,” she says. “There’s this tendency to handle it on your own and not really include other people in the process.”
But over the years, Chopra has begun reaching out to close friends when she’s experiencing tremendous pain that has gone on for weeks. “I finally ask a friend to come over and to just help make me laugh and be normal with me, and that’s actually been a huge help.” Chopra says she has a few friends she calls on these occasions, and it’s actually what’s made the biggest difference. “Those friends that I can call who just come over and make me laugh… that takes my mind off things. It’s automatically de-stressing, and then your body starts to de-stress,” she says.
In terms of treatment, Chopra believes in a multifaceted approach. For example, she’s passionate about acupuncture — especially as it pertains to pain relief. “It’s a slow process when you’re trying to find or address the root of the pain, but when you need immediate relief from pain, it actually goes right to the point and it makes a big difference,” she says. As part of her holistic approach to pain relief, Chopra is also conscious of what she’s eating and how much she’s sleeping.
Like Chopra, I live with chronic pain due to lupus, which went undiagnosed for five years. As I struggled to obtain a diagnosis, I searched for healthy pain-relief methods and have found success with several of the strategies Chopra mentioned.
Dr. Howard Forman, a radiologist and physician, tells SheKnows women dealing with chronic pain should avoid doctors who simply write a prescription and send them on their way. “The most important thing may not be what to do, but what not to do,” Forman says. “Opioids can offer quick relief and even euphoria, but for chronic pain, they are a losing venture. Try and seek out physicians who will address your pain with more than just a prescription pad.”
Physicians like Dr. Loren Fishman, medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and assistant clinical professor at Columbia Medical School, do just that. Fishman recommends finding an exercise program to do every day, like yoga or tai chi. “[Find] something that doesn’t hurt, and even if it helps a little, it’s worth it,” she tells SheKnows.
Many chronic illnesses take a long time to diagnose. For example, women with autoimmune conditions such as arthritis, Hashimoto’s and lupus see an average of five doctors over the course of 4.6 years before receiving an accurate diagnosis. In addition to working with doctors, Fishman recommends seeking further consultation with other specialists, such as pharmacologists, nutritionists and acupuncturists.
“The most important thing is to get an accurate diagnosis, but doing anything in a focused way — even a warm bath — except for multiple sclerosis — is better than doing nothing,” Fishman explains.
So if you’re living with chronic pain but are still struggling to obtain a diagnosis, don’t discount your pain — you’re, unfortunately, one of millions of people who are currently undiagnosed. Engage in self-care, let your friends help you, try acupuncture and seek the expertise of other specialists.