My Journey with Chronic Pain
This week, I’m taking a slightly different approach for my blog post. This one is a bit personal. For the first time in four years, I woke up pain-free the other morning. It is one of those moments in life that felt surreal. Was this really happening? Am I dreaming? For the last four years, I’ve been suffering from increasing chronic pain from three bulging disks in my back and neck. At first, I didn’t think much of it. Just powered forward. Put one foot in front of the other, and kept on. But the constant fog of pain has wreaked havoc on me and my life. It turned me into a cranky mess and caused other health problems.
A year ago, I tried to walk my son to and from school. It’s three blocks. By the time I got home, I was in tears and in so much pain that I could hardly lift my legs to walk up my front steps. In April, I woke up and couldn’t turn my head to the right. A couple of car accidents, a back injury, and twenty years of working in a sedentary job have come back to haunt me.
For the last few months, I’ve been doing spinal decompression therapy to pull things back into alignment and take the pressure off of the disks. While things are healing, I’m still not 100% healed. There are still things that cause pain, and days where I’m achy, stiff, sore, and unable to get out of bed. But the soul-eating, black abyss of pain has been put to rest, and I’ve learned several things during this process.
Laptops and Ice packs are my friends.
There have been times when I really need to write. It’s the one outlet I have when I’m in too much pain to leave the house. With a laptop, I can write wherever my body is the most comfortable that day. At my desk. On the floor. In bed. On the couch. Ice packs mean I can write for longer. Put that chilly baby where it hurts the most, and I can get an extra hour of writing time.
The spoon theory only partially works.
For those who don’t know, there’s a theory about spoons to describe living with chronic illness. You can check it out here. The basic idea is that a person with chronic pain or illness has so many spoons to dole out a day. Once they run out, they have no more energy. It works to partially explain how people with chronic illness have to dole out their energy, but it falls somewhat short.
See, the number of spoons a person has decreases the longer the person suffers from their chronic pain or illness. Exhaustion, depression, and anxiety slowly eat those spoons. You no longer wake up with ten spoons a day. One day you have three, and the next might be a good day, so you have six, but then you overdo it and end up with negative two. It’s hard to explain to friends and family why you can’t attend events or go out for a night on the town. It’s embarrassing and often feels like you’re giving a lame excuse when in reality, your body has betrayed you. You used up your spoons three days ago and are trying desperately to dig your way out of the negative.
Anxiety and depression don’t disappear with the pain.
Most people who suffer from chronic pain or illness have moments of depression and/or anxiety. It’s hard not to feel anxiety when a friend calls to invite you somewhere, you know you physically aren’t up for it, and once again you have to say no. It’s hard not to become depressed when your family heads out for a fun time, and you’re left home alone because it’s one of the days that you woke up with an energy deficit. Once the pain and illness are gone, the anxiety and depression can linger. That’s okay. It’s not a failure. It’s one more step in the healing process.
Cats (or whatever animal you love) can be a lifesaver.
My cats always seem to know when I’m having a bad pain day. They aren’t lap cats, but when they sense that I’m in a lot of pain, they tend to sleep within arms reach of me. It doesn’t matter where I am in the house or if I end up moving from one room to the next in an endless search for a comfortable position, they are right there with me. A silent, supportive lifeline that I can reach out and pet when I need a little extra love.
Sometimes, you just have to say, ‘forget this’ and escape.
There have been days when I just couldn’t deal. The pain and exhaustion had taken more than I could give and I had nothing left. Those were the days when I ignored my responsibilities and dove into a book or a video game and just let myself escape. I walked in someone else’s life for a bit. Beat up baddies and imagined that I was physically healthy and whole. A day or two later and I would emerge feeling more like myself. More capable of handling what life was throwing at me.
My husband is a treasure.
Seriously. Both he and my son have done a lot to take up the slack of me not being able to contribute to the running of the household. There have been times when even the ability to get out of bed and get dressed was non-existent. The pain was too intense. The exhaustion too great. He didn’t blink. Just stepped up and took over the care of our son, the chores, and everything without a complaint.
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned over the last four years. I’m glad to be escaping the fog finally, and I know there’s still more healing for me to do. What are some things you’ve learned from dealing with chronic pain or illness? Drop them in the comments and ….