Painful Potential

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Dear Hoopers,
I was injured in a car accident two years ago, which developed into chronic pain. I’ve tried working with chronic pain but I had to take a medical leave. I’m starting back at work now but I don’t see how I can ever get back to full time work. This was my dream job, I had a chance to do something meaningful and make a decent amount of money doing it. Losing my job may mean losing my house and never having kids. How do I say goodbye to all the dreams I had? I’m not even 35.
-Painful Potential

Dear Painful Potential,
Chronic pain can be debilitating both physically and emotionally, but it doesn’t have to claim your life. The car accident was unfortunate and being left injured has certainly changed your life course. You should be proud of yourself for putting one foot forward. Don’t give up. This does not have to strip you of your dreams and values.

The hardest part of this transition may be comparing your former self to the life you have now. Certainly you’ve had time to assess and evaluate your health and relationships through this time, but what about priorities of a job? With work becoming a daily struggle, I would first explore pain management options to help stay functioning at work. Whether it’s working with a physical therapist to enhance physical fitness, exploring new innovations in pain management treatment or a combination of therapies, focus on physical and psychological improvement. Another important thing to assess is whether what may have been your dream job before the accident is still the right fit with your current condition.

The hardest part of this transition may be comparing your former self to the life you have now.


If keeping your house and one day having kids is your priority, keep your eye on the prize. Take each day as it comes and know that it may take some recalculating. Give yourself credit for reaching out for help. This speaks volumes about your resolve and your capacity for realizing those dreams.


Dear Painful Potential,
Chronic pain can be cruel and unforgiving. It starts by trying to take over your body and then starts aiming for everything else. While some individuals may experience drastic improvements from an operation or a procedure, many more will not. This seeming lack of recovery can often pull for feelings of hopelessness.

It can lead you to feel like less than your old self and less than others around you. I would start by reminding you that you are not alone. Over 100 million people experience chronic pain in the US and it appears that the numbers are only increasing. I would also remind you that you are not less than anyone, not even your old self.

For many of my clients working with chronic pain, feelings of hopelessness and a lack of control can often abound. The challenge for you is to gain comfort in the things you can control while finding hope in the small successes. The best approach to most chronic health conditions, including chronic pain, is twofold. That is, to remain eternally hopeful that you can live a meaningful life while also accepting that some limitations will occur. This is tough because some days, weeks, years will be better than others and you may never know when/if those times will come.

The challenge for you is to gain comfort in the things you can control while finding hope in the small successes.

-Dr. Ryan

I would encourage you to look for support. If you are able to seek out a pain specialist, I would start there. There is a wide-range of options to improving your experience of chronic pain and there are many more alternative approaches available today than in the past.

If you talk to any specialist who will only discuss opioids, walk out immediately. Moderate use of opioids can be a viable part of a pain management plan, but only a part. It is also important to have good emotional health in order to best manage your pain. Seeking out a psychotherapist with experience in treating chronic pain will also help. Lastly, just having others who are experiencing the same struggles is important. I would start with friends and family but also know that there are support groups out there for you.  
-Dr. Ryan

Working with chronic pain