Chronic pain is maybe not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word pain. However, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when anyone tells me they’re in pain. Did you know that there are several different interpretations of pain and chronic pain? Did you know that there is a medical definition of it also? Even the dictionary itself has a slightly altered definition. How can there be so many different versions of the meaning of chronic pain? I ask that you hold onto that thought through this entire blog, trust me it’s very important.
Pain is not just a physical emotion. Pain can hurt from the inside out. Your heart can ache, you can feel sad and happy. Pain is something that might consume us throughout our life at one point. It’s something that most of us have had the not so pleasure of knowing. I would argue that emotional pain can just be as bad as physical pain. Sometimes the world even gives you a double dose and you feel pain inside and outside at the exact same time. Rude, right? I think so.
What is pain?
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what pain is, really? From the time we are little we automatically know what pain is. It’s not something that is really taught. It’s this neurological signal in our brain to let us know that something isn’t right. Pain sometimes even keeps us safe. Think about the first time you go to sip that morning caffeine and it’s piping hot. When your lip gets a little sting of energy that seems to burn like the Sahara desert, you know not to start gulping the rest of the drink down. Our senses keep us safe. Pain is something that really provides you with a certain level of discomfort in one way or another. Pain is a real pain in the butt if you ask me.
Not A Sob Story
Why should you care about pain? Because again at one point we all will go through it. We need to learn to sympathize with one another without turning it into a competition about who has the worst pain. Pain is something that is also determined by the person. Chronic pain might be something very different. It might be someone’s leg hurting, or their back, maybe they have internal issues, or chronic migraines. That is all pain! We can’t judge how much pain someone else is in. At the doctor’s office they usually ask you how much pain you are in. On a scale of 1-10. However, my scale of 1-10 is probably extremely different than their scale of pain or the patient in the room next to me.
The first time I experienced chronic pain was around 2013 when I fell and broke my tailbone in wintertime. Let me tell you I literally wished it upon myself. My husband and I were walking out of the frigid cold on December 30th from looking at all the pretty Christmas lights. It started to snow, and I actually blurted out loud how proud of myself I was for not falling because I wasn’t wearing the best shoes to be honest. Then I did one of those big falls, the kind you see on tv, where your feet manage to come out from under you and it looks like you’re trying to do a very bad handstand. This was my first experience with pain that lasted for weeks on end. It got a little bit better.
My chronic pain.
That was the first real pain I had. Over the years I continued to hurt my back more and more. Between falling while shoveling snow too often, to doing ballet. I became the person that gets diagnosed with chronic back pain. To be precise it’s called spondylosis for me. Disc wear and issues. I was 22 when I got diagnosed with chronic pain. In the same year I also was diagnosed with chronic migraines and chronic rhinitis (sinus) issues. Really great year for me, right? Getting all this information thrown at me was extremely scary. All I knew was that I was in pain all the time. Over the years my biggest wish is to have a single pain free day and wake up like I use to.
My pain in my back is the worst. I can’t remember the last time I actually slept through the night. The back spasms jolt you awake, and you feel like you can’t breathe, until you try to reposition your entire body to try and find comfort. It’s the aching hot burning sensation I feel while sitting in a chair. It’s the constant fidgeting while talking to someone hoping to find a comfortable position to either sit or stand. The walking and falling a little because the back spasms decided to give you a nice surprise.
It’s tiredness you always feel from never resting well. The thing that’s always in the back of your head. It’s whats stopping you from doing things you love because you’re not sure if your body can handle the wear and tear. It’s the countless invitations you politely decline hoping no one gets mad at you for saying you can’t come because you either can’t do it or the pain is too bad. This is MY definition of living with chronic pain.
Don’t feel sorry for me.
Now I am not telling you all of this because I am hoping everyone will say sorry and make myself feel better. I write to you to give you a small glimpse of someone who is living with chronic pain goes through. There is a lot of awkwardness that surrounds “chronic pain.” I can relate to the common steps in a conversation about pain, and from having dozens of these conversations I will tell you this is usually how it goes:
1: They usually say they’re so sorry for you.
2: They usually ask what type of pain you have.
3: List a million things that you should try (like you haven’t tried literally anything and everything).
4: Conversation is over.
This seems really arbitrary when we are talking about such an intense topic don’t you think? Don’t you think it should entail much more? I think so.
What helps my chronic pain.
It took a long time; I am talking years before I understood that I don’t really need a pity party when it comes to pain. Telling myself when I am having an extra painful day that it could always be much worse. I think of something I am grateful for. That my pain today was not as bad as last week, I am grateful for that. I am grateful that I can still walk and have a relatively normal life. I am thankful for those in my life, and all that I have achieved. When you get rid of the woe is me, living life with pain can be a little bit easier, and a whole lot more enjoyable. I’ve found a few things that can help with pain. Whether it be coloring to relieve stress and anxiety to stretching in the morning.
What to say, and how to help.
I can’t speak for everyone, nor should I. I just argue my own tale of pain. It gets in this weird cycle with friends and family about pain. At first you get asked too much, where it almost makes it worse to always be thinking about pain. You will probably ask the same questions as the next person, but that is just fine. Then somewhere they stop asking, that is when you feel the need to have a support system. How do you know if asking is too much or too little? There is no perfect balance. I say that it’s nice to still have someone ask you occasionally how you’re doing, maybe you’re trying something new and want to share the information.
Check in on your loved ones. If you have pain it’s nice to be able to share what you’re going through. I see a lot of people with pain almost compete with one another about who has more pain. Remember at the beginning how I said there are different definitions? This is it; this is where it applies. No one’s pain will ever be the same as the next person. Pain is pain. You can say I sympathize with you; I know how hard it is, and remember to tell them that you care, always, no matter what.
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