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Chronic Pain: Nobody Tells You How Hard It Is

Some days, I feel like I can finally lift my head above water. Like I can finally take a breath. Or better yet, a couple of deep breaths. 

I feel like maybe I finally have this whole chronically sick thing figured out. And, finally, after being in pain for more than two years, I can focus on living the life I want to live. Like just maybe, this whole chronic pain thing isn’t going to win after all.  

And then other days, like today, I wish I was dead.  

Days when I wake up with an insane amount of pain in my ribs, and a migraine and I have to work because I’m genuinely afraid I’ll lose my job if I call in sick one more time. 

Days when I hate my body so much, because it’s like a jail keeping me prisoner and holding me back from the life I once thought I was born to live.  And days when I want to push myself, because that’s what I do, I push things, to the limits, and that’s how I have always lived my life.

But then I do that, I push myself, and I do something crazy like go for a walk, or stay up late, or take a shower two days in a row, and then I literally end up spending the next week on the couch in too much pain to function. 

Days when all I want to want in the whole world is to lose weight, but instead, because of my stupid body, the only thing I’m allowed to want is relief from the pain. So rather than putting all my resources into losing some of the 50 pounds I’ve gained since getting sick, I have to use all my resources to just sit on the couch and check my email. 

I want so bad to worry about regular things, like whether or not my boyfriend is ever going to propose, or whether or not I’ll get that promotion. I want to think about going for a long walk, and just worry about the weather. 

But my body won’t let me. Instead, I have to worry about whether my boyfriend will, or should, stick it out with someone who is so radically different than the healthy, much thinner girl he first met almost 5 years ago. I have to worry about just keeping my job. I have to worry about whether my body has had enough time to recuperate from the walk I took three days ago to allow me to blow dry my hair. 

Being sick every day of your life is so much worse than anyone ever tells you. It’s so much harder than anyone can ever explain. 

That’s the thing, really. There’s no “talk” with the doctor when you have chronic pain. A medical professional doesn’t pull you into his office, hand you a box of tissues and say, “I’m so sorry to tell you this, but you have chronic pain.” That conversation never happens.  

Instead, they scan your test results, say something about sending you to a pain specialist and then they go on with their life, while you’re left holding the pieces. Or worse, they say, “At least you don’t have cancer.”

Everything is suddenly different, but nobody has the decency to tell you that. They just ship you off to another doctor and hand you some opioids. 

But your life has been changed forever.

There’s the constant, daily battle with the pain, and the insane side effects from the drugs you use as weapons. There’s the loneliness and the feeling of failure that comes from being stuck on the couch in pajamas all day, every day, even on Easter. There’s the assault on your faith, and the outright attack on your ability to hope. And there’s the way your brain goes crazy just trying to understand how you’ll ever endure like this forever. 

There are other days though. And on those days, for a second, you almost feel like you’ve got a handle on the situation, like you’ve got your head above water. 

Today just wasn’t one of those days. 

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How to be Healthy When You’re Sick

I’m trying to find ways to be healthy despite the fact that I constantly feel like I’m dying.

Having chronic pain is like waking up every single day feeling like you’ve just been mugged, then hit by a semi-truck, and simultaneously come into contact with the plague.

And when it first hits you, you’re like, “I can’t be expected to function under these conditions. Nobody could function under these conditions. I must call in sick to life.”

But after a month of laying on the couch watching every episode of Burn Notice three times, you suddenly realize you’re probably not going to be getting better any time soon, so maybe you should try to, you know, shower or something.

That’s where the drugs come in. And suddenly, you wake up one day and you’re literally taking six different medications before you even get out of bed in the morning. But hey! At least you’re getting out of bed.

And over the next few months or years or whatever it takes for you, you just sort of live in this drugged-up state of barely existing. It’s how I would imagine high school pot heads hope their life turns out, except without all the stupid stabbing pain in my ribs (or wherever yours may be).

Aside from being high daily, you find all the shortcuts you can. For me, I ended up working from home. I moved in with my mom because doing my own laundry and washing my own dishes is literally too difficult. I shower once a week to save my energy. I shop online. And I never, ever, ever wear high heels. Ever!

On one level, I’m just happy that I’m no longer in so much pain that I literally hope I don’t wake up alive in the morning. But on another, I don’t really like what I see when I look down the long, dark road that’s probably going to be my life for, what? Another 50? Or even 60 years if I’m terribly unlucky?

Which brings me to the yoga. Yes, it’s true. I have started doing yoga. I’m hoping this is the next stage in the chronic pain life cycle, which will be followed quickly by, “Find a cure, and live happily ever after.”

While I’m here though, barely living, I figure I might as well get really good at downward dog. I started with a 30-minute PM yoga session for beginners on DVD. The hardest part is when I had to take two deep breaths in a plank pose. And, guess what? It didn’t suck.

I mean, I can admit when I’m wrong. And I was totally wrong about yoga. I really, really thought that bending my body in new, crazy ways would only make things worse. It’s just the human intuition in me, saying, “You’re in pain, stop doing stuff.” But, with chronic pain, you have to learn to override that voice.

And so, I’ve even done the 30-minute AM session, and I didn’t even die from that either. Plus, I also found another DVD by the same soothing instructor that’s 51-mintues long, and I did that one too, all without any trips to the hospital or anything! I’m pretty excited about the whole situation.

After each session I feel really relaxed, and it seems like I’m going through fewer pain pills when I do the yoga as opposed to when I don’t.

I’ve also started drinking tea. Back in the day, when my body didn’t hate me, I used to say things like, “Tea is literally just dirty water. Ick.”  But now, I’m sicker and wiser — and I need to find ways to bring a sense of peace to my wounded body.

So, yeah, tea. It’s got to be better than Coke, right?

There’s a morning tea that seems to ward off the overwhelming feeling of being high that the meds give me. And then there’s a night tea that helps me poop — something I’ve really missed doing ever since my prescription pills took that seemingly natural bodily function away from me.

Truth be told, I am secretly hoping all these new changes will help me lose some of the 50 stupid pounds I’ve gained since getting sick. But if they even help me do more than shower or something, I’d be cool with that too.

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My affair with opioids

I’m at the doctor’s office. It’s the second week of February, 2013.

She thinks the sharp pain in my ribs is from an ulcer. Probably the result of taking 20 to 25 Advil a day for weeks on end when I get one of my headaches.

I’ve been getting the headaches since I was in college, but all the doctors I’d ever seen had brushed me off when I told them I could put the pain at bay by taking a few simple Advil.

This doctor says they should have asked me a follow-up question: “How many Advil, exactly?”

So, yeah, the Advil is out. At least for now.

“But what if I get another headache?”

“Here. Let me write you a prescription for hydrocodone. Take one of these if it gets really bad.”

***

(more…)

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