Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Chronic Pain is a Solitary Experience"

Chronic pain is a lonely experience. Even if you have good support from family and friends, it’s lonely. A few months ago I had bought the book, “Chronic Pain for Dummies.” This book gave a hypothetical experience to compare to the experience of chronic pain that I thought hit the nail right on the head. Under the section: Chronic Pain is a Solitary Experience, it gives this hypothetical experience to consider…
“You and your husband are hiking in the mountains and get stuck in a cold, hard rain. You have five miles to go to reach your car. Lunch was four hours ago, and in your pack is only 8 ounces of water, chewing gum, and an apple. And, oh yeah, you forgot your raincoats. So you just keep going. And going. And going. And the cold hard rain never stops.
Two and a half hours later, you finally reach your car. When you arrive, you each know how the other feels. You’re both exhausted, cold, wet, and hungry. And you’re both very relieved that you lived through the experience and your heated cabin – the one with the hot tub – is only a mile away. Later that night, you share a good, long laugh about the experience. For years, you two enjoy telling the story of “the day we almost died on the mountain.”
Chronic pain is very different from this shared experience. You’re up on that mountain all alone. And when you return to your cabin, there may be no heat and no hot tub. And there’s no shared laughter.”

When you have chronic pain, your scope of life gets wider and narrows all at the same time. When I’m having “bad days” or “flare-ups” in pain, my scope on life narrows. I get trapped in my head and my body with the pain. Relief is hard to find and what may have helped yesterday may have no positive effect today. When none of the medications or hot or cold wraps or stretches work my go to escape is to try to take a nap and sleep through the pain. Sleep is such an amazing gift when you’re not feeling well, but if you also have insomnia (which is quite common for people who have chronic pain), sleep eludes you. I don’t think about bills, groceries, friends, family, or the future. I’m trapped in now….the aches, pains, throbbing, and stabbing of now. It’s a pretty horrible place to be and when you go there nearly every day…it’s very tiring and depressing.
However, at the same time, my scope on life have gotten vastly more open. More open in a sense of appreciation for the little things in life and also what I’ve learned about spirituality. Because medical treatments have not helped me much, I have realized that I really need to work on my emotional/mental health. This past year, I’ve been reading a lot about spirituality and it’s been helping me. Working on changing how I think about certain things has helped me get through “bad days” and do what I need to do. It’s also helping me to allow myself to take better care of myself. Missing so many days of class and work made me feel horrible, even guilty. I felt like I was letting so many people down and that it wasn’t right for me to take the time I was to try to rest or take care of myself. I’m getting better at being ok with taking the time I need to take care of me and that’s been really important.
My belief in the afterlife has also helped me. It’s nice to know that there is more than this existence. It keeps me close to loved ones who have passed on and gives such a great sense of comfort. The thing that’s so great with the spirituality stuff, is that you can pick and choose which ideas work for you and ignore the ones you don’t like. It’s not strict and it’s not organized…and that works for me. I’m not saying that if you have chronic pain you need to get into any of this, but that it has been helpful for me. I think we all need to believe in something.
My next goal, medically, is to work on the daily headaches and insomnia. Insomnia and chronic pain is a terrible cycle that feeds off of one another. You don’t sleep well, you hurt more….if you’re in pain, it’s hard to sleep. I would like also to maybe try being in a sleep study. I think that insomnia is almost worse than the pain. When you can’t sleep…you seriously begin to feel neurotic. And when sleep is one of the only things that gets your through pain and you can’t do it…it’s so damn frustrating.
About a month ago I finished up my fourth try at physical therapy (PT). My physical therapist came to the conclusion that PT wouldn’t help my neck or my headaches. It may have helped my back a bit because my back has been overworking for my neck and unstable shoulders. I’ll provide an entry that lists the different treatments that I’ve tried for pain and how they’ve worked or not worked for me. All of the failed treatments have made me realize how important it is to work on being mentally stronger. So that’s where I’m at right now.


Mitzy Moo said...

This is so true. When I had a pinched nerve in my neck no one could possibly relate to me because it affects each of us differently. So much depends on what you need to do that day versus what others need you to do that day versus what, if anything you feel you can do. It colors everything. You see the world through the filter of the pain.
Unfortunately there are so many slackers and system workers out there that employers have difficult times telling who is for real and who isn't. That does not excuse the way people treat someone who needs special accomodation (and, for God's sake, a little sympathy and empathy), it just explains it a bit. Walking away from jerk bosses is the best thing you can do. When you're in constant pain you have to set priorities, and changing jerks is just more work than you can handle.

Life with Chronic Pain said...

You're right. It's very sad how some scam artists pretend to have injured something to collect money...only to later be discovered on camera walking around doing hard labor around the house (just for example). People also cannot see a pinched nerve injury and take to take your at your word. I really empathize with people who suffer pain from injuries that are invisible. I think that we're raised to be skeptics and that doesn't help us much. Even one person being sympathetic to your situation makes the load we carry a bit lighter. I wish you luck in the future and hope that your pain has become managable.