This may help you focus some of your energy into getting your entitlements after your injury, but anger can also become a destructive force which holds you back from recovery. A lot of energy is expended in being angry, and you may need to decide if anger is depleting your resources in other areas of your life. It may help to stand back from your anger to assess whether this emotion is really helping you or whether it is preventing you from moving on towards rehabilitation. However, we can’t just make anger go away; it would be a good idea to talk to a counsellor or psychologist about how best to deal with it.
People with chronic physical injury and pain are vulnerable to depression. Although depression is a natural reaction to the experience of loss and is part of the grieving process, it may hinder your recovery if it becomes a persistent feature of your life. Some of the following symptoms may be part of a depressive illness :
- feeling sad, crying easily
- changes in appetite and/or weight
- sleep disturbance
- loss of interest and motivation
- feeling of helplessness
- guilty and/or self-reproachful feelings
- pessimism regarding the future
- loss of energy and/or fatigue
- physical aches and pains
- confusion, poor memory
- loss of sexual interest and/or impotence
- alcohol or drug abuse
- feeling that life is not worth living
Depression is a treatable illness, and if you are suffering from symptoms which suggest a depressive illness, you should see your doctor, community health centre or community mental health clinic. However, medications prescribed for depressive illnesses are just part of the solution and the underlying causes must also be addressed. Keep in mind that some doctors may view your depression as the cause of your overuse injury; there is good evidence against this, so go to another doctor if you encounter this attitude.
Developing a positive outlook
Your attitude may have a big impact on your recovery from your overuse injury. Whilst your behaviour is likely to be the best way you know to cope with the stresses resulting from your injury, it may not be the best way to achieve rehabilitation. Changing established behaviours, attitudes and thinking patterns may hold the key to finding a rewarding and fulfilling life, in spite of your injuries. Optimism, for instance, is an attitude that can be learned—and can strongly influence whether you find a different, but equally satisfying and full life.
On the other hand, a pessimistic attitude will reinforce the negative aspects of your disability, and cloud your chances of finding new abilities and strengths in the future. Naturally, there will be relapses, so consider some of the following strategies to maintain a positive outlook:
- break tasks up into small, achievable steps—be aware that you need to change something to change anything
- stop yourself using words like ‘always’ and ‘never’—remind yourself of the exceptions (eg Am I ‘always’ in pain? Do things ‘never’ go right for me?)
- focus on the progress you have already made to gain perspective—even though sometimes you may seem to go forward one step and back two steps.
- treat yourself with kindness and forgiveness—give yourself permission to grieve for the loss you have experienced. Seek out help; try to find a release for your feelings and express your emotions in non-destructive ways.
Practical things to do
Get help with pain management as this may be influencing your emotional health. Ensure you have `restorative rest periods and address any sleeping problems. Make getting well a primary focus—take adequate exercise and eat a healthy diet. Gradually enlarge your activities as your RSI improves. Some suggestions for this are:
- make time for gentle daily exercise and other self-care
- pursue a hobby , eg. public speaking; join a choir, a reading/discussion group or become a film buff
- go to the Volunteers Centre and find satisfying volunteer work that uses your skills and abilities
- study something you’ve always wanted to learn about
To achieve emotional well-being, it may at times be necessary to consult a health professional. Find out what resources are available in your community, find out about your RSI and get in touch with people who have had experiences similar to your own.
From our members…
I’ve learnt to allow things to happen more slowly and be a lot more relaxed. For example, I’ve learnt that things can happen bit by bit and that’s ok. Things that need to be done have less power over me. They don’t make me stressed. – Lisa
“I learnt the miracle of pacing. The more breaks you take, the more efficient you become. You need to let go of the desire to have everything completed right away.” – Ashley
I realised that people at work didn’t think less of me for not putting in more than 100% all the time. – Carl
“Through this time I often questioned why it was happening to me … then I remembered something I heard once. I was doing a skydiving course and when the instructor asked a man why he wanted to jump out of an aeroplane, the man replied that he didn’t want to be 90 years old and look up to the sky one-day and wish that he had done it. I realised that there were two ways to deal with my RSI: see it as a death sentence; or accept that I had RSI and not let it rule my life.” – Peter
“One of the biggest turning points in my acceptance came with the suicide of close friend. I understood the heartache that he must have had. Seeing the non-acceptance of his chronic pain and loss of health, I realised how important it was to look after myself and move forward. His death made me see that if you keep looking back you can’t see what’s in front of you.” – Kathryn
Emotional Do’s and Don’ts
Do make a list of the things you already know you enjoy doing and the things you think you would like to do. Think creatively about how to do these things within your capacity.
Do spend time with people who help you to be cheerful. Avoid people who are negative and in particular avoid doctors who have a negative attitude towards your recovery.
Do recognise that you are much more than a person with an overuse injury. You have many talents and a wealth of experience. Your self-esteem is a precious resource that you need to maintain and develop. Do things that provide opportunities for you to use and expand your abilities, such as becoming involved in community activities.
Do try to take some exercise every day. This is very important to your mental well-being and to the healing process. Try walking, using an exercise bike, water-based exercises or Tai Chi. Build up gradually and consider a warming bath or shower to warm up before exercise and relax afterwards.
Do let go of unproductive blame of yourself and other people. While it may be the case that others have contributed to the problem or are not helping now, dwelling on that situation will only cause you distress and aggravate your condition.
One way of letting go of unhelpful thoughts is to notice them and give them a name, for example, “there’s my “blame the boss” thought”. Notice the thought whenever it occurs, and just imagine placing it on a leaf flowing down a stream of thoughts and out of sight. Don’t dwell on it and don’t follow it – just let it go.
Do try to become more aware of your own body, of when you are relaxed and when you are tense or stressed. It can be very useful to attend relaxation classes to appreciate what it feels like to be really relaxed.
Do take pleasure in little things. Find the joy that is in every day. Make sure to pamper yourself from time to time, especially when you feel a bit down. Become aware of what makes you feel good and do more of it – and what makes you feel bad and do less of it!
Don’t hang on to past mistakes – let them go, learn and move on.
Don’t engage in debates when you encounter people who don’t believe in overuse injuries – just don’t talk to them about it. Prejudice is not often overcome by rational debate and arguments can be stressful and therefore unhelpful to you and your health.
Don’t be ashamed of having an overuse injury. If someone asks you to do something that is not within your capacity, just be straightforward in your response. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you with that. I have an overuse injury.” Just be clear, not apologetic about your injury. If this is a real problem for you, then think about taking assertiveness classes.
Don’t overload your family and friends with your anger and resentment. You naturally want and need to talk about this. However, there is only so much of your grief and anger your friends can take. You and they need to spend joyful times together too or the relationship will wither and die. If your need to express your feelings about your illness is not being met, seek a professional counsellor, as it will only make things worse to bottle your feelings up.
Don’t give in to self-doubt. Anyone who begins each day awakened by pain is convinced that something is wrong with his or her body. But when a doctor can’t find anything and family members grow suspicious, it is difficult not to doubt yourself or to drop into depression.
Recognise your self-doubting, self-blaming thoughts quickly. We talk to ourselves all day long, often in a negative manner. Learn to talk to yourself as you would talk to a good friend. You have an illness and you did not cause your illness. You need comfort and understanding. You deserve such care even from yourself when you are feeling ill.
Also express your need for understanding and validation to family members and friends – ones you trust will listen and be in your corner. A good support group can be helpful too.
While you’re here…
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