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Sharp Health News

When physical pain brings emotional strain

May 17, 2018

When physical pain brings emotional strain

As a marriage and family therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, Lindsay Kramer teaches coping skills every day. But when an injury debilitated her physically, and devastated her emotionally, she had to put her own skills into practice. This is her story.

I am a very active person and come from a family of avid runners. In 2017, I decided to join the ranks of my kin and run a marathon. But while training, I incurred a stress fracture in my tibia, and couldn't participate. In fact, the injury was so bad, I could barely walk.

What followed was a rollercoaster of uncertainty — endless tests, scans and appointments — and pain, lots of pain. My leg just wouldn't heal. But more trying than the physical pain was the emotional torment that came with it. I didn't know what was going on or how to fix it. When I walked, slept or moved my leg, I could feel the sore bone, which brought a nagging sense of ambiguity and powerlessness.

My life seemed to come to a screeching halt. I had to take a six-month leave of absence from work, which essentially gave me time to feel helpless and hopeless. I couldn't do many of the daily activities that I took for granted, like swimming, walking on the beach or simply going up and down the stairs. I experienced an identity crisis, focusing on what my life was now like, compared to what I thought it should be.

As a therapist, my education and experience didn't necessarily make the process easier. What it did was help me remember that there is a process. Physical pain, as experienced by so many, can bring a person through stages of grief. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief to which I often refer. All these steps, as hard as they were, helped me come out of this experience a changed, but stronger person:

1. Denial
Denial is when a person acts like the pain isn't affecting them that badly. For me, I felt like I was too young for this injury, and my life didn't have room for it.

2. Bargaining
Bargaining is when you surrender control in one area, but try to control another. I bargained by trying to work out in other ways, and overexerted (and injured) myself elsewhere.

3. Anger
Pain itself is angering, especially how it can take over a person's life. I felt anger toward myself for pushing too hard and not listening to my body more.

4. Depression
Depression comes from the loss of functioning, the isolation caused by being limited and the uncertainty of healing. I was devastated by the life that had seemingly been taken from me.

5. Acceptance
This looks different for everyone, but is vital to emotional healing. For me, acceptance wasn't comprehensive — it took time and came in waves.

For those struggling with the emotional side of physical pain, I know how hard it can be. Hang in there. Feel solace in knowing that you're grieving, and let yourself go through the process. Try to find ways to accept what you're going through, and know when to ask for help.

For me, I took the opportunity to connect with my support system. I got more involved in my church. I caught up with people I don't usually have the chance to see. I read a lot. I took inventory of my resources and tried to maximize them as much as possible.


Lindsay Kramer
Lindsay Kramer hobbled around the Caribbean in a medical boot, proving to herself that her injury couldn't keep her down.

While it took a while, and was difficult, my leg finally did heal. Looking back, the injury taught me to be my own advocate. When I felt defeated, I knew I couldn't give up. So, I didn't. And as a result, I walked away (literally) knowing myself more completely — and feeling more confident than ever.

For the news media: To talk with Lindsay Kramer for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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