The vicious cycle of chronic pain and depression

There's a quote in the book "Turtles All the Way Down" by John Green that really stuck with me, years after I read it. 

“We're such language-based creatures that to some extent, we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn't real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize," Green wrote. 

"The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with."

Many with chronic pain report that, because the condition is "invisible" and doesn't have a clear biomedical explanation, they feel like their partners and family members — and even some doctors — don't believe them.

Imagine being in constant pain and then, on top of that, people don't believe you. It makes sense, then, that up to 85 percent of those suffering from chronic pain are also affected by severe depression. So, grrrreat, now they not only have to deal with one thing that's stigmatized by biased assholes — but TWO! 

For Alexa Randolph, host of the podcast With Love Alexa and the YouTube show Staying Forever Strong, she has been living with chronic pain since 2016. That year, shortly after graduating from Michigan State University, Alexa was in a car accident, which left her with a mild traumatic brain injury. And everyday since then, she feels like she's "constantly burning from head to toe."

"If my pain could be visible, it would look like I am on fire and that I was beaten. The nerves in my brain are constantly misfiring so simple touches or goosebumps hurt where they should not," she said in our interview. 

Now, Alexa lives in a vicious circle — the more pain she's in, the more depressed she is, and the more depressed she is, the more pain she's in. 

"I think depression/anxiety is more likely for those experiencing chronic pain because you can only be in pain everyday for so long. Sometimes dealing with chronic pain can keep the person from truly living their lives as well as doing certain activities with friends, which can also lead to depression. I think the way our brains are while dealing with chronic pain is like someone’s brain with depression and anxiety," she said. 

Depression and chronic pain share some of the same neurotransmitters and nerve pathways in the brain and spinal cord, according to a WebMD article. So, the most ideal treatments help manage both of these awful all-consuming conditions. 

It has been proven that antidepressants that are serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors help treat both depression and chronic pain. It is also important to find a cognitive therapist with experience in treating cognitive pain. 

Alexa shared some of the additional ways she helps manage the conditions: "I have learned that journaling and meditation can really help. I have been doing both lately and it has really helped to calm my mind. I think finding people who deal with similar circumstances to talk to can help."

"Most of all, I learned just sharing your story not only helps you, but it can help others who are going through it."

For those living in Michigan, click here to find a chronic pain support group near you. For more resources, visit the American Chronic Pain Association or the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies

At 8 p.m. Thursday, April 1, Alexa hosts a Mental Health Zoom event where she will talk with a panel of professionals and reality stars about their mental health journeys. Click here to register. 

To learn more about Alexa and her story, visit or

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