Chronic Pain and Mental Health

It all started one unremarkable night when I was 11.

Earlier that day I’d been out riding my horse, and was relaxing on the sofa waiting for ‘I’m a celebrity…Get me out of here!’ to start. As I shuffled slightly in my chair, the most intense stabbing pain I’d ever felt shot through my body. All I could do was freeze.

From that moment, my life was completely changed.

I put on a brave face, hoping it was just one of those weird things that would pass soon enough. Everything was agony; walking, sitting, lying down, wearing or putting on clothes, anything that involved even the slightest movement. The thought of stupid things like going up a step would fill me with dread, because there was nothing I could do about the intense pain I knew was coming.

Three days later, the intensity of the pain had worn off, but I still felt something wasn’t right. I could go about my usual activities again, but I was terrified of doing something that would trigger more pain.

As a result, I began analysing every move I made – I think that’s when it started damaging my mind. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that starting to live with this pain coincided with the onset of my mental health struggles. Suddenly, I found myself carrying out little ‘rituals’ I was somehow convinced would stop it happening again – whether it be repeating phrases in my head hundreds of times a day, or touching certain objects.

When you’re young you don’t want to talk about ’embarrassing’ health issues, and this well and truly fell into the ’embarrassing’ category. If there was one piece of advice I could give a young person in the same position it would be that hiding it out of embarrassment is just not worth it. Having said that, it wasn’t solely embarrassment that stopped me from seeing a doctor, it was also the fear of being told they couldn’t do anything about it. At least if I didn’t know I’d still have hope – that was my young brain’s logic, anyway.

Of course, that intense pain did come back. It’d strike completely randomly and usually last for three days before easing again. In the beginning it happened probably once a month and I spent my life walking on eggshells, terrified my next move would set it off.

At the present, it’s been around 3 years since my last severe flare-up. This doesn’t mean, however, that everything just sorted itself out. There’s always an awareness of something being ‘off’, and I do regularly get ‘mini flare-ups’ which can be caused by things like wearing tight clothes, walking in a certain way or sitting/lying down. The big difference now, though, is I know what I’m dealing with, and that alone makes things so much easier.

At 18, several episodes of depression down the line I had to stand up and accept the fact I’d never really confronted the root cause of my problems, and that my mental health would never truly improve until I did. Seven years after that first incident, I booked a Doctor’s appointment, which was one of the biggest positive turning points of my life so far. Yes, at the very start with it was embarrassing, but however cliché it is, doctors have seen and heard this stuff a million times before. I was surprised at how liberating it felt to not be keeping it to myself anymore. I no longer had this big ‘dirty’ secret and just like that, it lost its power over me. I was now in control.

After a few hospital appointments I was diagnosed with Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome, probably the result of damaging a nerve whilst horse-riding. Realising this ‘thing’ had a name was a surreal feeling. I was also surprised to learn that a huge number of women experience pelvic pain, but not many talk about it or seek help out of embarrassment. That’s when I decided I would never dodge the subject, even if it is a bit ‘awkward’. I got the answer I had dreaded all along – that it may never go away completely, but to my surprise this wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. I learnt that pelvic pain can’t always be cured, but it can be managed. Through medication, therapy and ongoing physiotherapy, this thing that used to be a huge part of me, doesn’t affect my life too much at all.

I wanted to share this on World Mental Health Day, as physical pain can have a massive impact on our mental wellbeing. I remember sitting in a classroom and watching the girl in front of me twist around in her chair to speak to someone and being literally overcome with jealously. It seemed so unfair that people could do that without even thinking about it – without being terrified of the consequences. I had soon forgotten what it felt like to be ‘normal’. The over-analysis of every move I made triggered a very obsessive side to my personality, one which over the years has presented itself in many different forms, and one I still struggle with to this day. 

It’s obvious by now that I’m a huge believer in sharing our own stories; I think it’s the most profound tool of them all. I know when I was a young teenager it would have been a huge relief for me to read something like this. Simply to know I wasn’t weird and wasn’t the only one dealing with it. Pelvic pain is very common, yet I felt as though I was the only one, which is solely down to the lack of education on the subject. It can present itself in many different forms, so if you think something is wrong, don’t be embarrassed or nervous to speak to a Doctor. That short-lived embarrassment (which is never as bad as you expect) is so worth it and way better than the alternative life of worry and fear.

For more information on Pelvic Pain, visit the NHS website or sites such as The Pelvic Pain Support Network.

Links to some of my other Mental Health related posts this World Mental Health Day:

Mental Illness: My Story

‘Blue Monday’ isn’t as Innocent as it Appears

My Top 5 Stress-Busting Techniques

SAD: The Mental Illness Nobody Talks About

How I Transformed my Mental Health with Exercise

How Horror Movies can ease Anxiety

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