Resignation or Resilience: Choosing How to Face your Pain

Marsha Miller, my former patient and a forty-one-year old secretary, was bending down to fix a copy machine when she felt her back pop. She assumed that the pain she felt then was temporary and would go away with time. It didn’t. Weeks followed and Marsha attempted to resume her life until finally, her leg gave out on her and the pain in her back returned worse than ever. After an MRI, she discovered that a disc in her back was protruding so much that it was squishing one of her nerves out of its normal position. What followed were two spinal surgeries, prescriptions to multiple pain medications, job transfers, a divorce, restless nights and no relief.

Eventually, like many chronic pain patients, Marsha came to the realization that pain had found a permanent place in her life. Experts who study these things say there are two kinds of acceptances of a severe problem like chronic pain: acceptance with resignation and acceptance with resilience. Acceptance with resignation steals hope more thoroughly than pain itself can do. Acceptance with resilience makes it possible for a person to reinvent himself or herself on the other side of a problem’s onset. Marsha chose to live with her pain instead of giving into it.

After Marsha’s divorce, she was left to deal with her pain all alone until she saw John Kay, a resident of her small town, at one of her pain appointments. John had struggled with similar issues, recently divorcing from his wife who could not fully comprehend the magnitude of his chronic pain. After their chance encounter, John and Marsha started to share the long drive to their appointments, using chronic pain as a bonding element in their relationship. Soon after, they married and started their lives together. They went together to church, the movies, dinner with family and friends, fishing with their grandchildren and began photographing the scenery of Utah. John testifies, “I can honestly say that Marsha is my soul mate and we found each other for a reason and a purpose. During the low points of my life’s journey, I rely heavily on Marsha. She battles the same things I do, and together we cope rather well. We basically spend 24/7 together. I love every minute of it.”

While the future may hold options for alternative care that relieve chronic pain patients of their life altering discomfort, our options right now are limited to surgeries and pain medication that may provide some comfort for chronic pain patients, but not completely eradicate the root cause. Battling with chronic pain can be an uphill battle, which tests relationships with families, friends, coworkers, doctors, pharmacists and even oneself. Pain can easily nestle itself into the cracks of one’s life, and while it may always be present, it is up to the patient to decide if it will take over their life and drain them of all hope and happiness or stand resilient, accepting pain as a partner, but never giving in to the destruction it can cause.

If you are living with chronic pain, you must decide if you will choose to live with resignation or choose resilience as have Marsha and John.

Adapted from my forthcoming book “The Painful Truth,” to be released in September 2015. 


  1. Craig on July 9, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    I have been blessed with a family that will not give up on me no matter what and a new friend who I am truly grateful to meet and support me with direction to your website. I’ve read some material thus far and agree with your assessment that it’s up to the patient to determine whether they will let their pain control their lives or live with resilience. But there are many variables that will lead a patient to be swayed one way or another. The hard truth is its a learning curve as well as a nonstop personal assessment based on the level of pain, literal hour by hour. Pain is a psychological predator that leaves me in a state of hopelessness once a level of 6/10 is surpassed and all the medication and tens unit distraction does nothing until the wave passes and the anxiety state subsides so I can regain rational process. August 2015 marks four years since I was struck by a vehicle while riding a bicycle and although no fault of mine, it is a moment that has forever changed my life. A few times during this ordeal I have gone from self harm (cutting) when the pain meds had little to no effect to thinking I have got it licked as I would feel the pain level drop and remain at a 3/10 level for a few weeks (my present baseline and resilience attitude), thinking and I would no longer need medication or PT at some point. I would then request a reduction in my medication to only find the pain soon returns to elevated levels not managed with the now present dosage, thus an anxiety state follows and a vicious cycle of resignation from resilience occurs. As the pain is manageable family life, work and exercise seem to return to some state of normalcy and confidence, hope and acceptance of my new life is viable, yet the predator lurks and awaits a mechanical mistake, poor posture, fatigue or even a sneeze and seizes the moment that may send me into a whirlwind of spasms in my back, psoas, glute or another area or even exacerbate the repaired torn labrum for hours or days. There is more I could get into such as I desperately want to take a leave of absence for a month or two for rehabilitation both physically and medicinally but at the present time i financially cannot. I’ve also been proactive with my doctor, requesting medications that have less side effects than morphine such as opana but still the effects are harsh. Radio frequency ablation helps reduce the need for breakthrough medication and helps a little with the spasms. I thank you so much for your time and I look forward to reading and learning from you.

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