Living with chronic pain and depression

The Scream by Edvard Munch

The Scream by Edvard Munch

I never imagined that I’d ever write this post. Notes from Africa has always been my “happy place” – somewhere I can create positive energy. But I’ve decided it’s important to share my story. Maybe it will help somebody feel they are not alone. Maybe it will help a family member or friend of somebody dealing with this, to understand a little better. It’s not going to be a pleasant, uplifting post – these are Notes from the Dark Side – so you may not want to read further.

Several years ago I got out of bed one morning and promptly fell over. My initial thoughts were that I had had a stroke. Luckily, it was only an inner ear infection which had played havoc with my balance. This was not something that was going to go away by itself though, so I had to find a doctor. Since we moved to this town, I had avoided going to the doctor at all costs. I have been having migraines since I was about 5 years old, and every time I visited a new doctor, the cycle would start again. They would send me for a battery of tests and scans and to various specialists. Eventually they would conclude that they couldn’t “cure” me and I was left to deal with it on my own again. The doctor I saw that day for my ear infection was alarmed. He would tell me months later that he thought I was going to have a stroke in his consulting room – my blood pressure was very high and my heart was racing. All he said that day was “Come back when you’re over the ear infection so we can talk about what else is going on.”.

I went back to see him several weeks later, and it was the beginning of trying to get out of the very dark place I was in. My new doctor was patient and compassionate. He truly listened to what I told him, and didn’t try and “re-invent the wheel”. In the year before I met him, I had gone from having migraines about 3 times a week (all distinct episodes) to have migraines or bad headaches every day. Together with that came depression (both from the constant pain and low serotonin levels) and panic attacks (mostly at the thought of having to leave home and have the pain get worse). My life fell apart – I couldn’t work, study (I was busy with a course) or even cope with daily life or chores very well. I would wake up every morning with this feeling of absolute dread – not another day I’d have to get through!  The only thing that kept me going (and still does) was the support of Willie (my husband), and a couple of family members and close friends.

In the years since then – and with the help of my doctor – things have improved. I still deal with some level of pain on almost daily basis, but the pain levels are generally lower and less taxing on my body. I still have really bad days with depression, but I deal with them better. The last year has been more difficult again which is why I haven’t been blogging much.

So now that you know the basic background there are a couple of points I want to make. These apply to me, and won’t apply to everybody, but maybe there is something of value to you.

  • I needed to get professional help – I wasn’t able to deal with this on my own. In the depths of depression it was really difficult for me to ask for help, or even know that I needed it. I was lucky to meet a General Practitioner (GP) who was able to help me with pain management, and became somebody I could chat to easily about my situation. Therapy in the traditional sense did not help me.
  • Support groups can be helpful, but they may not be. I joined a migraine support group, where I met some lovely people, and felt less alone in my situation. But I eventually had to withdraw. The only topics of discussion were migraines, pain and medication – which didn’t help me feel any better.
  • I had to re-evaluate my expectations of life. I’ve never been a really driven career person, but my work was important to me. Not being able to achieve goals I’d set for myself was quite upsetting and my self confidence took a huge knock.
  • I found it easier to work on a freelance basis, than in a regular job. Asking for time off was always an issue. It helped to determine my own hours and avoid those conflicts.
  • Putting too much stress or pressure on myself, does not help with the pain or depression. It isn’t the cause of either, but it doesn’t help in dealing with it.
  • Our pets have really helped me stay positive. Our cat and dog are very intuitive about when I’m not doing great and will stay close to me. Not only are they a comfort, but they force me to get out of bed in the mornings to take care of them!
  • I need something to distract me on a bad day. Because I find it difficult to read or watch television when I’m not feeling well, I started listening to podcasts. It’s not just about the act of listening to something, it’s about having headphones on. Something about cutting out the outside noise and stimuli which bombard my nervous system, is very soothing.
  • Not everyone in my life understands that depression is not just “being sad” and that I cannot just “snap out of it”. Bad depression days just happen and nothing has to go spectacularly wrong for me to have a bad day. I no longer try to explain to them how I’m feeling. On the advice of my doctor I do limit the contact with those people in my life who are very negative.

I am going to stop there for this post, but will write more if there is something I’ve forgotten about.

If you want to comment, but would prefer to do so privately, you can contact me here.



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Categories: health, Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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14 Comments on “Living with chronic pain and depression”

  1. Eha
    September 20, 2016 at 6:43 am #

    Lisa: thank you for writing this so honestly and openly. I must have learned to know you well before, because I just knew the Munch painting was going to be up there. I think you have done us all a great service: As far as you are concerned any problems arising will be easier to bear: there is nothing to hide. Some days you can, some you can’t! As far as your readership: methinks you will find almost each and every one of us has our own hated and feared demons which oft are hard to stand: you are very decidedly not alone. Going back a few years you quietly told me of this when you were so frustrated that you could not ‘even’ [as you then put it] take your dog for a walk. Reading the above: you ARE a survivor: I am glad you have found a GP with whom you are in tune [wish I was with mine 🙂 !], methinks you have made all the right choices and are becoming friends with yourself again . . . and you have a great partner in Willie who has always stood firm beside you. And now you are about to go on that wonderful ‘insane’ journey, which will be a challenge but a measured one, and we will all clap you on and eagerly await all the tales and photos and hope WE know how to emulate you. DearHeart: I too have lived with intolerable back pain [easier to bear than the blooming head hurting!] for some two decades, with nought to be done except pace myself and love myself and take each day as it comes. . . am sending many hugs, bigger than before, across the continent and the ruddy Indian Ocean . . .

    • September 21, 2016 at 7:48 am #

      Eha, thank you for such a kind and thoughtful response! I would definitely not have survived this period without Willie’s help and support. You are so right – each of us has our challenges in life. I’m not sure about back pain being easier to bear. I have hurt my back twice and could hardly move without pain shooting up my spine. With headaches you can at least move around without making it worse. Take care of yourself!

  2. September 20, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    I’m pleased you have found help and I hope your life will become a happier place.

  3. September 20, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    Leading off with this topic must have involved overcoming some hurdles for you – or was it like opening a floodgate? Such an important post in this age of “everything is awesome” cheerleading on the Internut. That’s one of the reasons I don’t “do” social media in the usual sense. Will be interested to see how marathon month unfolds!

    • September 21, 2016 at 7:54 am #

      It wasn’t really a floodgate opening and surprisingly it wasn’t that hard either. I have voiced this thoughts to family and close friends before. I’ve received some very positive feedback so I’m pleased that I wrote this post.

      The “October Dash” as Willie refers to it, will be an interesting experience. Am preparing some posts ahead of time, so I don’t have to write every day – or when I’m not feeling up to it.

  4. September 20, 2016 at 9:01 am #

    Well done for writing this. I know how difficult – and also how empowering – it can be to shift gears on your blog and get really real. I hope the writing process and the feedback you receive from the post helps the healing process.

    • September 21, 2016 at 7:58 am #

      Hi Heather! 🙂 Thank you for your kind words. I considered for a long time before writing about such a personal topic. The feedback so far has been kind and supportive, and I’ve also heard from some people in the same situation. So I’m glad that I wrote the post. I’m not sure how this will affect my writing in the future.

  5. Dave Joubert
    September 21, 2016 at 7:58 pm #

    Hang in there my old friend. What is this thing they call ….. “The October Dash”?

    • September 21, 2016 at 8:02 pm #

      Thanks Dave! 🙂 After a year of not posting any blog posts I am going to be publishing a blog post every day in October. There is going to be a series of posts about our trip to Namibia.

  6. September 23, 2016 at 1:07 am #

    I told someone recently that sometimes we don’t always appreciate wellness until we are ill. The past few years have been challenging for me too, especially after having ‘chikungunya’ – and now 16 months later, the pain in the hands continues. Several times today the fingers spasmed while I was working… I am lucky that the pain is not full time, and hopefully eventually it will improve.

    I listened to a very interesting youtube recently and am going to try to find it and send you the link.. it’s about a doctor who tried to cure his migraines by diet, and that diet ended up being very important for treating cancer.

    Enduring pain can take a great tol on one’s emotional and spiritual health. I suspect that when your migraines are no longer tormenting you, you’ll be awakening with a lighter mood.

    • September 23, 2016 at 7:20 am #

      Hi! Thank you so much for your comment. I am so sorry to hear about your struggles with pain. I definitely think that leading a healthy life helps the body to cope with any chronic pain type situation. Take care!

  7. September 23, 2016 at 2:04 am #

    i am in a restaurant so canno/should nhot listen to this to see if she mentions how her father stumbled upon the cure.. he was trying to cure his igraines, and in one interview, it’s told how he eliminated certain foods and the reasons he did that..

    sorry, there’s no interent at the house, so i am online briefly each week. hope this link leads you to that info! lisa

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