The Neverending Battle To Accept The Chronic-ness Of Chronic Pain
As I sit down to write this, it's been eight-and-a-half years since I first developed chronic pain.
Since then, there have been ups and downs, good days and bad days, and today is a bad day. My mind is cloudy and I can barely form a coherent sentence, and as I type this, I don't know if I'll end up with an article worth publishing. I suppose if you're reading this, then I managed to pull it together. Good for me!
Mostly, I'm writing this because today is one of those days where my pain is all-encompassing. On days like this, it's close to impossible to focus on anything other than the pain, so I've palmed off the entertainment stories I had planned to write this afternoon -- you know, the stories that are my actual job -- and I've decided to churn my literal pain into content. Maybe someone out there will relate to this, or maybe someone will gain a deeper understanding of what it's like to deal with chronic pain. Either way, it's all I can think about, so I may as well write something about it.
For those of you lucky enough to not have chronic pain, I'll try to explain what a bad day feels like for me. Aside from the mental cloudiness and inability to focus, I feel sluggish and slow. Everything just takes longer, time feels slower, and it's harder to focus, which means it's harder to follow conversations, to recall details I was just thinking about, and to get through my to-do list.
Physically, there are layers to what's going on. For me, I have chronic nerve pain that also affects my muscles because the two interact with one another. Where nerve pain feels like an electric charge that rages in zaps and tingles down my leg, the muscle pain feels like a constant aching punctuated by cramps and twitches. Both are unpleasant!
This morning, I woke up with both. For whatever reason -- be it my period, which is on the way, or the weather, or exhaustion as I'm still just getting back into the swing of things at work after I tripped over and shattered my elbow's radial head, resulting in surgery to replace it, or whatever other of the million triggers that could be responsible, my body is feeling it today. I can't turn my head to the left. My right hip is aching. I'm sitting on a bundle of nerves that may as well be a firework, and I'm just. So. Tired.
For the most part, I'm pretty accustomed to days like this. I know that I'm going to get through it, and if not tomorrow, then in a few days I'll be able to think clearly once again. I'll be able to focus on something other than the various pains all over my body.
Right now, though? I just can't help but think that I am so sick of having to be strong. I'm so sick of having to get through pain flares, of living my life as if it's a series of problems that need to be solved, one after the next. As much as I know that this too will pass, and that things will be "fine", or, as fine as chronic pain can be, I also know that it will only be a matter of time before I'm right back here, having to deal with this all over again.
READ MORE: One Week In My Life With Chronic Pain
I know that as soon as the clock hits 5pm this afternoon, I'll head home to break my two-week long streak without any panadeine forte or valium, because otherwise I won't be able to sleep tonight. Although that's a long streak without painkillers for me, I can't help but be disappointed. I'd like to be off them all together, but it's just not realistic at the moment and I need to accept that, as much as I need to accept my chronic pain for what it is -- chronic.
When I think about "accepting" my chronic pain -- something I have been trying to do for years now -- my instinct is to hear "acceptance" as a synonym for losing the battle I've been fighting for so long. But the problem is, I've been fighting the wrong war. At this moment in time, I have been there and done it all when it comes to pretty much every single treatment option, to varying results. For the most part, it's been a disappointing and expensive journey I didn't set out to go on, and the more treatments that fail me, the more upset I've gotten as I've found myself somehow further away from my goal of not being in pain.
That's where everything goes wrong, you see. Every time I experience the failure of a new treatment and get upset, or every time I have a set back -- like randomly stacking it in a car park and breaking my elbow -- I get upset. That response then adds a level of emotional suffering to the physical pain and forces me to interact with the pain more, where if I learned to accept the pain for what it is -- a very unpleasant sensation -- then I wouldn't have to deal with as much suffering.
The harder I fight to "fix" my body, viewing it as a problem to deal with the harder it becomes to deal with, because the unpleasant truth is this: It's not going anywhere. At the end of the day, I can add things into my arsenal of treatments and therapies that will help take the edge off, but at some point, I need to accept that the pain will always, always be with me.
But how do you find hope in a situation where it often seems like there isn't any? How do you find the strength to gather yourself back up and carry on, knowing that there's no guarantee that things will ever get better? I guess there's no real answer for that, other than to look at every other pain flare and to know that I've somehow managed to do it before and will surely find my way once again.
As I pick up the pieces once again, I'll try to remind myself to focus on fighting a battle of acceptance against a mind that doesn't particularly love the idea. I'll try to remember how much my pain has taught me about myself over the years, and try to practice self-compassion for myself in days like today where I couldn't help but think that this pain was really f**king unacceptable.