Three Ways Chronic Pain Affected My Mind
When we talk about living with psoriatic arthritis, we focus a lot on the toll it takes on the body. It can cause joints to deteriorate, tissue to swell, and skin to flake. And while sometimes I hear about the emotional and mental health effects it can have, I don't think we talk enough about how it affects your mind.
Chronic pain has had a huge impact on me
At some point in college, I had read that long-term pain can change the physical structure of your brain. I'm not sure if or how the pain from living with juvenile-onset psoriatic arthritis has affected my brain in a structural sense. But what I'm certain of is that it had a huge impact on how I learn, react, and process the world around me.
My mind feels foggy
I am intelligent. But there are many days I have to remind myself because I don't feel it. When I'm not feeling well, brain fog rears its ugly head. Sometimes, my brain is too busy processing my pain and functioning through the fatigue to do much else. My short-term memory, problem-solving skills, and vocabulary go out the window.
Brain fog goes beyond misplacing your keys. It can make it hard to learn new concepts or recall things you already knew. I've had days where I feel like I'm at a first grader's reading comprehension level.
It's even made it hard to process my emotions and work through my feelings. I can't emphasize enough how it's the most frustrating thing in the world. Don't underestimate the impact it can have on your life.
My mental health and mood
Anxiety and depression are common among people with PsA and other types of inflammatory arthritis. It's not surprising that living with ongoing health conditions can trigger those things. Plus, inflammation isn't good for the body and seems to affect one's mental health.
But even if you don't deal with depression and anxiety, it can still affect your mood, temper, and general emotional health. I'm feeling a lot of pain and fatigue, I can be more irritable, snappy, and short of patience.
I've been very open about going to therapy. Working with my therapist has helped me deal with these long-term issues and short-term feelings. While my anxiety has greatly improved over time, my day-to-day got better a little quicker; learning to give myself some grace on painful days helped tremendously.
My personality changed
I would like to start by saying that sudden personality changes are a sign of a medical emergency and need to be brought to the attention of a medical professional.
But it's not surprising that pain changed who I am over time. Humans are not static beings- we're constantly changing and being influenced by our environments.
There are days, weeks, and months when my brain is hard-wired for survival, and not much past that point. I don't think PsA has made me a better or worse person; I just picked up traits I needed. I did gain some positive traits like resilience and a lot of empathy for others. But I'm more introverted than I was before, many times preferring to be alone. I've also become more out-spoken and stubborn between fighting insurance companies and hospital billing offices.
I'm still the same person
For me, there was never a person I was before my diagnosis because I was so young. But I did have a time before my symptoms got more severe. And I'm still that person; I never went away. But I changed a lot - I'm stubborn, introverted, and a little forgetful sometimes - and that's perfectly okay.
We always acknowledge how much our bodies go through with psoriatic disease, but we never take a minute to think about what our brains are going through, processing all these new sensations, emotions, and events.
So be kind to yourself. Stop and think about it, you've been through a lot.
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