Chronic Pain and Suicidal Thoughts; a Natural Response?

Three years after I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and shortly after being diagnosed with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, I had my first suicidal thought.  I was in the middle of a flare in my pain and fatigue symptoms, and I was feeling overwhelmed.  The thought seemingly came from nowhere. “Man, I don’t think I can do this anymore” was the general idea.  “This” of course representing the Royal “This,” Life.  It seemed like a perfectly logical, sane idea.  I was in severe pain every day, I was struggling with basic tasks of daily living, let alone going to work and raising my son.  I was exhausted and finding little enjoyment in my life.  After the thoughts became more frequent, I realized what they were, and immediately told my family and sought help.  However, although I have never attempted to hurt myself, or even planned to do so, the thoughts came back every once in awhile, always during a flare-up of my chronic pain.   Despite trying countless medications and therapy, nothing seemed to help– except a reprieve from the pain. I finally find relief in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which uses a strong magnetic field to essentially “clear out” patterns of depressive cognition in the pre-frontal cortex. [TMS is an FDA-approved treatment for depression, covered by most insurance plans, and is even being researched as a treatment for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).]  Thankfully, I am currently free from suicidal thoughts, as I’ve kept up regular visits with therapists and Psychiatrists.

Because the thoughts always seemed to correlate with pain, and none of the medications helped, I recently began to question whether I really did have a “chemical imbalance,” as my doctors told me. In my mind, a better explanation was that I was simply responding naturally to my situation.  I had never experienced depression before becoming sick, and as the symptoms seemed directly connected to my pain, I decided to investigate if I was alone.  Short answer? no.  I asked dozens of other people with chronic pain about their experiences and found shockingly similar stories. Young and old, working and not working, with children and without children, men and women; the only factor that seemed to matter was PAIN.   According to a controlled research study done by Fibromyalgia expert Robert Bennett, 39% of FM patients reported having suicidal thoughts.   One woman I talked even had a clear and logical “suicide plan” that she planned to implement once her pain becomes truly unbearable, or she’s no longer able to care for herself.  This woman is not depressed.   The chronic pain community is suffering from an

And really, why not?  What is so shocking about this information, and why isn’t the medical community, or anyone else, talking about it?  There is such a stigma against suicide, and especially mental illness, in our culture, that it is viewed as almost entirely unacceptable, and no one wants to talk about it.  A local newspaper recently published an article about my story and my childrens book “Why Does Mommy Hurt?” that mentioned my past from suicidal thoughts, and many people were extremely uncomfortable around me after reading the article.  In our culture, it seems to require that one must be truly “out of their mind” to contemplate suicide.  However, the people that I spoke to did not sound crazy at all.   The people I talked to were simply suffering, at the most basic animalistic level; they were in severe, unrelenting pain.  Thoughts of ending ones life seem, in my opinion, a natural reaction to the extreme stress of their situations.  A recent study confirmed my suspicions, and concluded that suicide may be a “consequence” of chronic pain.  Several recent studies show that chronic pain dramatically increases the secretion of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” and not surprisingly, research has shown that people with chronic pain are at a much higher risk for depression and anxiety than their pain-free peers.   Thankfully, this issue is beginning to get some attention from national organizations, like the NFMCPA, but very little is being done in the medical community.  Personally, not one of my doctors has ever asked me if I was having suicidal thoughts or depression.  This is unacceptable, as obviously the chronic pain community is one of the most at-risk demographics for suicide.  I propose that regular monitoring by physicians, suicide prevention support, counseling, and Psychiatric services need to be provided hand-in-hand with pain management, Rheumatological, and other specialties who deal on a daily basis with chronic pain patients.  Treating the physical symptoms without caring for the person as a whole, and acknowledging the immense mental suffering of living with chronic pain is like giving a starving person a bag of airline peanuts.  It might keep them alive, but in what kind of life?

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#chronicpain and #suicide; natural response?  @parentswithpain

Elizabeth Christy

Elizabeth Christy is an author, writer, and IT professional living in Sterling VA. She lives with her husband James and 4 year old son, Jimmy. In addition to basic survival, Elizabeth enjoys reading, sewing, and nature. She also runs the nonprofit organization "Books and Bottles", which promotes reading to young children. (Facebook.com/booksandbottlesorg

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