I have now lived with chronic pain for just about 3 years. Prior to that, I had a serious sports injury that saw me in initial pain but then a long 10 month recovery period. Looking back, I can say that the initial injury was the start of the time that I had to start adjusting my perspective on my abilities. This is an ongoing journey and something that is not “going gentle into that good night.”
In many ways I’m only now coming around to the fact that I seem to have permanent physical limitations. That is really, really hard because mentally I’m “ready, willing and able.” To compound this, often I manage my pain so well and have become somewhat desensitized to it’s constant existence, that I easily forget that I cannot/should not/must not DO! Combining this with my do-it-myself upbringing, I am often throwing myself backwards into a deep pit of pain because I decide to lift up a bag that is slightly too heavy, or carry an extra bag of groceries, or, or, or!
I think the most significant thing I’ve learned is that chronic pain is EXHAUSTING!
If you are trying to support someone who is dealing with chronic pain, you need to know this!
CHRONIC PAIN is so completely and truly EXHAUSTING.
Often the sufferer doesn’t know this.
Because I suffer from two kinds of pain, I’m able to realize the difference. I’ll try to explain a bit more.
Very quickly, I have two herniated discs in my back:
- The first is burst inwards and has pressed so long and so hard on my spinal cord that it has caused permanent damage to my sciatic nerve. This means that I have constant, unrelenting and never stopping pain/feedback from my lower left leg. This is the chronic pain to which I’ve adjusted relatively well. I say relatively because the pain is somewhat mobile. Depending on the swelling that day, the pain can be in my centre three toes on my left foot (most common), the side of my left food from below my littlest toe to the start of the ball of my heel (least common), to a radiating sphere of pain around my left ankle (second most common and most painful – also what I’m experiencing today).
- The second is bulging, perhaps burst at this stage, and is pushing the opposite direction of the first disc. This makes treatment very hard because treating one will cause the other more problems, and visa versa. This one also contributes to pain, but it is more site specific and generally I feel this pain radiating in any number of odd lower body locations. I can tell I’m getting worse when I start to feel pains in my right foot toes.
Due to some great work with an amazing physiotherapist and a blessing in disguise of having amazing pain tolerance, for the most part I’ve managed to train my core muscles to add a ton of support that allow me to manage the pain without medications. The main medication I take when having a flare is actually designed to lessen the swelling causing the pain.
Yes, there are really strong pain medications out there – but here is the brutal and not fair truth – due to how the nerve is being pressed I feel pain in areas where the pain is not originating. In other words – today my ankle is screaming in pain BUT my ankle is fine. It’s my disc pressing on that nerve that isn’t fine. The bulk of pain medication does a great job when the site of pain and the pain match and numbing the tips of the nerves receiving the pain. But because the nerve is being pressed in the centre and not at the tips, the pain meds don’t really work for me.
(NOTE: Science people, just tolerate my less than specific language – this makes sense to me and my doctor says I’m understanding it okay).
There are meds that do work. Due to my pain tolerance, I tend to need large doses that typically can only be administered when I’m at the hospital. These result in me basically entering a comatose state with no hope of any mental function. And they have side-effects that take time to “get over.” So I save those for the times when I am literally in so much pain that I cannot do anything anyway.
And it is those experiences that make me so vividly aware of how completely exhausting it is to be in pain. After a pain flare, one of which I’m recuperating right now, it can take me a minimum of a week to truly feel awake again. I will find myself HAVING to go for naps. Yes, wanting to, but literally having to go to sleep.
From my observations it is this limitation that most frustrates myself and my family. Especially when I’m rebounding from a severe pain episode. For one thing, I’m so full of joy to not be feeling so, so bad, that I’m smiling and truly feeling energetic. And then I’m not. About that fast. And this lasts. And lasts.
That’s my experience. I hope that helps you either understand your loved one, or gives you comfort that you aren’t alone.
Clearly, this isn’t everything I have to say about pain, so I’ll write more later. Meanwhile, I think I need to go lay down.
Blessings to you!