Please be aware that this article talks about suicide and self-harm.
If you’re feeling like you don’t know how to go on with your CRPS or chronic pain, firstly and most importantly, please know that you’re not alone. So many of us have been right where you are. I’ve been there myself. It’s terrifying actually to admit to yourself, let alone another person, that you’re thinking about harming yourself, but if you can start to understand what you’re feeling then you can start to help yourself feel better.
Try not to be scared
Acknowledging that you’re thinking about death is terrifying. The knowledge that you’re having those thoughts can be as scary as the thoughts themselves. Understand, though, that realising what you’re dealing with is the first step in facing it; many people have thoughts of suicide and self harm and the overwhelming majority get through it. There is zero shame in finding it all too much; you’d be amazed how many of us have been in your shoes. You’re not alone. You can get through this. I have, people I know have, and I believe you can too.
Reach out for help right now
If you’re worried about your thoughts then you need to reach out for help today. Please don’t wait: if you’re feeling this way then your situation is not okay, you can’t handle all of it alone and it’s only by getting help that you can start to make things better.
There’s a whole range of people and places that you can ask. This is crucial though: if you don’t think you can keep yourself safe right now, please call 999 or take yourself to A&E. They are there to help people in emergencies and you are in a life and death emergency right now. You wouldn’t think twice about calling an ambulance if someone collapsed with a heart attack in the street; if your situation is as serious, then you shouldn’t think twice either. This is the single most important message I can impart.
Who can I talk to?
There’s a wide range of help available out there. You have a choice of who you talk to and how. The first thing that comes to people’s minds is often friends and family, but admitting to people who love you that you’re having thoughts about death or ending your life can be incredibly difficult or even impossible. If you can call a friend or loved one that you trust and you can really be honest with them, then do so. The people who love you are the best placed and most motivated to help you.
You can talk anonymously, if you wish
If you don’t think you can talk to someone you know, then that’s okay too; there are trained volunteers out there 24/7 on helplines that you can call for free, anonymously and confidentially. The Samaritans are reachable for free from any phone (including mobiles), at any time on 116 123 in the UK and the ROI. They’re not going to judge or label you, and you don’t need to worry about hurting their feelings. You also don’t need to give your name if you don’t want to. They’re there to try and help you work through your thoughts and feelings, so that you can start to see things more clearly and realise what your options are.
If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can email email@example.com or visit your nearest branch. If you’re not ready to talk yet, then please have a look at:
Online support groups
There are many very active groups on Facebook and the internet generally for various pain conditions (and all other health problems). Many of these are active all day and all night, due to differing time zones and pain-related insomnia. They’re generally welcoming, safe spaces where sufferers can get advice from other patients, talk about their conditions and just be honest in a way they may not feel able with their loved ones. They can be a great source of comfort and support and I strongly recommend seeing if you can find a group where you feel you belong. Don’t be afraid to try a few on for size; if you don’t feel at home in one group, there may well be others where you fit right in. For UK CRPS patients, I highly recommend CRPS talk and support UK.
You need to get help with your pain
The next step is recognising that you need medical support with your pain. Although living with CRPS is difficult, it shouldn’t be impossible and if it is for you, your medical team need to step up and help you. Depending on who manages your pain (and which doctor you feel understands the best and is most supportive), you may want to get an emergency appointment with your GP or to ring your pain management clinic or consultant’s secretary. In most cases, I would recommend trying to see a sympathetic GP as soon as you can as a first port of call as they know exactly what support is available in your local area. Don’t worry about whether your situation constitutes a real emergency or not: trust me, it is and your doctor will see it as such.
It may be that you need help with tweaks or changes in your pain medication to support you. Your GP may be able to do this or they may need to speak with your pain management team to ascertain the best way forward. Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor exactly how bad things have got for you; there’s no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed because you certainly won’t be the first or last person to ever tell them that you can’t cope right now. It’s only by being honest about exactly how you’re feeling (both emotionally and in terms of your pain), that they can really understand your situation and work out how to help you.
You need psychological support too
All chronic pain has a psychological component. Some of us may be loath to admit that, fearing the stigma that still (utterly wrongly) exists around mental illness, but think for a moment; would you expect anyone who lives with constant pain to be able to do so without it having ANY impact on their mood and feelings? It’s just not possible. You wouldn’t hesitate to ask for medical support in helping you live with your physical pain, so why not get support for the emotional components too? We have to recognise that living well with pain is a holistic endeavour, meaning that you have to look at it from the standpoint of how it affects every aspect of your life. If you’re open to getting support on the emotional side of learning to live with your condition, it can reap amazing rewards. I managed to get long-term counselling with a specialist pain psychologist through my local hospital. It was massively helpful and enabled me to start to see a future, even with my CRPS.
Try to be honest
Something I see so much amongst chronic pain sufferers (I’m guilty of it myself) is a desire to hide what we’re really going through as much as possible. It happens in so many situations for myriad reasons. I understand that putting on a brave face and concealing our suffering is an essential management technique for many of us, but I’ll end this article with a plea: please don’t try to be brave all the time. No-one can carry the weight of the world alone. No-one can deal with the most painful condition there is without getting some support sometimes.
CRPS and chronic pain patients, on the whole, are incredibly bad at asking for any kind of help, be it physical or emotional. I don’t know if it’s a side effect of not having a visible disability, but we tend to push and push ourselves until everything falls apart. Please don’t do that. There is help available, from friends, family, the government and the NHS. If you feel yourself moving towards the edge, please reach out and ask for that help before you hit it. You are loved, valuable and important; please try to remember that always.