For most people, chronic pain recovery is a series of many hills and valleys. There are moments along the way when it feels like you’re back at square one, in the pit of despair: Frustrated, angry, afraid and riddled with self-doubt.
If this sounds familiar, your experience is totally normal. As a chronic pain recovery therapist and a former migraine sufferer, I’ve been there and so has every single one of my clients.
Pain is a signal that your nervous system feels unsafe, and there are lots of different reasons that we can experience flare-ups and setbacks:
🔹 A new stressful event happens in your life and your nervous system goes back to old stress patterns.
🔹 You’re doing so well in your recovery that you decide to try something new and brave (like setting a boundary! pursuing a passion! telling your story!) and your nervous system goes: “Whoa, this is scary, slow down!”
🔹 Your nervous system starts getting used to your new, brave habits and suddenly realizes it’s forgotten to be scared — and it goes: “Hey wait a minute, isn’t my job to be scared?”
When you’re in the midst of a setback, you might get tunnel vision where all you see are the steep walls of the pit that you seem to be stuck in.
But if you zoom out to see the bigger picture, those steep walks turn out to be hills — and you’re just in one of the valleys of a hilly journey.
Over time, those hills and valleys can become more gentle. It won’t be a tidy, predictable path and you may run into another jagged slope along the way. But if you zoom out far enough, the overall trajectory of healing moves gradually toward gentle modulation.
If you’re in the midst of a pain flare right now, I hope that this image gives you hope.✨
And if you’re on top of a hill right now, it’s a wonderful time to sit down for a moment, take in the view and write ✍️ yourself a letter. Maybe it starts something like this:
“To my dear self while encountering a flare, I know that all you can see right now are the steep walls surrounding you. But you are doing great. Please don’t lose hope. Here’s what the view might look like from the next hilltop …”
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