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Chronic Pain: Being Resilient About Resilience- Pain News

Recently, I have read several articles about resilience. There was a surprising amount of response–pro and con–from the Pain Community. 

Chronic Pain: Being Resilient About Resilience
mark ibsen

Mark Ibsen, MD

It has me thinking about resilience as it applies to ALL of us. Some folks, suffering from chronic pain, who are really hurting hear talk of resilience and feel they are being criticized or seen as inadequate. The cancer community went through this conversation 25 years ago when Dr. Bernie Siegel wrote his seminal work: Love, Medicine and Miracles.

Dr. Siegel, or “Bernie”  as he prefers to be called, made the case for empowerment and self-healing around cancer and terminal illnesses. Some who read his books were offended, concluding, as chronic pain patients might today, that they must be inadequate if they hadn’t healed their own cancer yet. The point of the book was to share Dr. Siegel’s success with his program called “Exceptional Cancer Patients.”

He found that patients who were ready to powerfully engage with this cancer, express their feeling and re-engage with the joy of living all did better. This, of course, was in no way meant as an indictment of those who did poorly: some of them just had nastier cancers.

I can see something similar going on in the chronic pain conversation–often when pain is kicking your ass, you just don’t feel very resilient.

But resilience is about coming back, isn’t it? It’s about getting off the mat. It’s about creating resilience where none existed before.

And pain, being such a f—– terrorist, doesn’t want to let you up off the mat.

So, as I’ve been thinking about this over the past month, here’s what came to me. We all have plenty of resilience to everything that is NOT currently kicking our ass.

We just don’t always have resilience to what is currently dominating us: unremitting chronic pain.

So when someone, who is well-meaning, encourages us to be resilient, it might be good to develop some resilience.

Some of us are just tired. We don’t know how to summon the energy. And we certainly don’t care much about hearing from people who we think don’t know what they are talking about as they offer us “coaching” about how to get off that mat.

But then the theme from Rocky comes on–or maybe the one from Chariots of the Good or some other miraculous stuff happens.

Maybe the doctor writes that prescription you need or the pain decides to terrorize someone else, or maybe you get a good night’s sleep and feel like writing that letter to your Governor about the problems in treating chronic pain in your state.

I guess that’s it.

Someone’s else resilience is useless to you. You (We) must generate our own. Those who have generated resilience just want to contribute.

Let’s let them.

If someone in a boat throws us a line in the water, we don’t have to take it as an insult, we can just grab the rope.

Stay in the game.

Don’t give up.

That is resilience.


Give Up.

That can be resilience too.

We just don’t know, do we?

Editor’s Note: Dr. Mark Ibsen is from Helena, Montana. Recently he stopped prescribing pain medication for patients at his emergency room practice because of pressure he has been receiving from Montana regulatory officials. He is an outspoken advocate for pain patients and has written previously for the National Pain Report.


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