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The Tao of Chronic Pain

Illustration of jellyfish and flowers

Flower Veil Jellyfish by Jenny Brown

Suffering is Optional. Here’s how to find the teacher inside.

By the time Jolene came to see me at the pain clinic at Stanford, she was no longer able to do much of anything. She had been rear-ended by a truck while stopped at a traffic light, and was sure the neck and back pain would subside after a few weeks and she would return to work. But it didn’t go that way. Her pain progressed and she was ultimately forced to leave her high-powered career. Then, for about a year, she forced herself to maintain her role as family caregiver and homemaker. But in the past few months her body decided that even this plan was no longer viable: She wasn’t able to brute-force herself through things anymore. Doing fewer and fewer tasks around the home and spending more time recovering from pain put her in an existential crisis: If she didn’t have a career and wasn’t a good mother and wife, who was she? “I feel like I’m letting my family down,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “I’m not there for my kids, I’m missing important events, and I feel guilty because I’ve become the burden.”  Of course the stress was terrible and it was feeding back into her pain—makin …

Beth Darnall PhD is Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University and author of books including Less Pain, Fewer Pills: Avoid the Dangers of Prescription Opioids and Gain Control over Chronic PainHer work has been featured in Psychology Today, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Magazine, Forbes, Scientific American, Washington Post, and TIME Magazine.

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