10 Things I’ve Learned About Chronic Pain

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I live with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue. My pain comes from Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis in all my major joints, Myofascial Pain, a condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia, Diabetes (and Neuropathy that comes from that), Pelvic Adhesions, a spinal condition called Forestier’s Disease, aka D.I.S.H. which stands for Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis, Gastroparesis and several other medical conditions.

The author showing various pictures of her face in pain

My many faces of pain

I’ve been living with Chronic pain for over 30 years now, from the time I was a teen, and I’ve learned a few things in those years. I’d like to share 10 of those things with you now.

1. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE

No matter how long I’ve been in pain for, I’ve never given up hope that things are going to get better. Some days I have are pure agony. Some days are pure delight. I cling to the good days as a reminder that things can be better and often are. There is always hope.

2. A GOOD DOCTOR IS TO BE TREASURED

Doctors have a hard time treating patients with chronic pain because they haven’t been trained well. They’re trained to diagnose a problem and solve it, so chronic pain is frustrating for them as well. If you don’t have a sympathetic doctor who is doing everything they can for you, find another doctor. When you do find one, be honest with them. Share everything…your depression, your anger, your worries. A good doctor wants to help you, but if you can’t share with them, you’re not giving them the chance to do all they can.

3. SUPPORT GROUPS AREN’T RIGHT FOR EVERYONE

Some people thrive in a support group. Others tend to get tired of the constant back patting and “Oh my gawd, I’m so sorry” conversations. Some are in the middle. I think a support group can be a great thing, as long as it’s the right fit. You want a group where you can feel heard and valued while offering support to the others as well – not just a one-way street. I also think it’s important to not jump into every group you hear about. That just becomes confusing and almost like a competition, to see how much sympathy you can drum up. You have to be willing to give back and you can’t forge honest relationships with people when you’re in a dozen active groups in my opinion. Unless that’s all you do all day long. And if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you, because you’re obviously not getting something you truly need.

4. CHRONIC PAIN IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN TO OTHERS

Despite having great tools like the Spoon Theory and the Battery Analogy to talk about how much energy it costs us to live with chronic pain, it’s almost impossible to get others to understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain day in and day out. Here’s the thing…THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY. I can’t make it any more clear than that. No matter what I’m doing, or not doing. I’m hurting. Sometimes I’m in agony, like when I get a Trigeminal Neuralgia Flare up. Try to imagine the last time you experienced brain freeze from eating/drinking something cold…do you remember that sensation? That agonizing pierce of pain in your brain?  Now try to imagine that same feeling but in your cheekbone…for 12 hours in a row. Can’t imagine it?? Go try and get brain freeze as a reminder. That’s what my TN flare-ups are like. They start in my cheekbone and spread to my sinus cavity and my eye, then down to my jaw, and to my esophagus. I get spasms in my throat and often I get chest pain as well. For 12 hours.

My Fibromyalgia pain feels like my limbs are in concrete…it’s a heavy throbbing sensation in my arms and legs that make them impossible to move. The Neuropathy I feel in my feet is like pins and needles that never go away. My back pain is so intolerable that I can’t sweep my floors for more than 5 minutes without my lower spine seizing up.

5. DID I MENTION, THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY.

Sometimes it lightens up a bit, maybe after I’ve had a rare good night’s sleep, but if I’ve done too much on a particular day, the next day will be agony. Every day is different, and I’ve learned that there is no rhyme or reason as to what might cause a flare and why some days are better than others. Even as I’m typing this, my hands and wrists are throbbing and I’m making more mistakes typing than I normally do. When I sleep, I have to make sure my fingers aren’t curled, or I’ll wake up and won’t be able to move them.

6. COMFORT ROUTINES FOR FLARE UP DAYS ARE LIFESAVERS

In order to combat chronic pain, you need to have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. This can include medications, therapies like massage or chiropractic care, acupuncture, heat, cold, stretching, yoga, and other items that help you when your pain is flaring up. Warm fluffy blankets and socks, a TENS machine or massaging unit, a roll-on pain medication – whatever you find works for you is part of your comfort routine and it’s important that you use these items when needed before your pain becomes even worse.

Kitten resting in a fluffy blanket

7. PACING REALLY DOES WORK

One of the important things you learn when you have chronic pain is that you have a limited amount of energy and you have to pace yourself throughout the day/week, etc. in order to stay ahead of the pain. Pacing is critical in helping to prevent flare-ups or in helping to reduce the number of flare-ups you may experience. There comes a point when you may have to consider outside help for chores because you can’t do them all. Perhaps a teenage neighbour can help with cleaning or laundry or care in the garden. Maybe you decide to hire a cleaning service twice a month for a deep clean that you can’t get to. Whatever you need and whatever you decide, my best advice is to lose the guilt. It’s not your fault you have chronic pain. You do what you need to, in order to make your home a happy one again.

8. SLEEP IS A VERY GOOD THING

Most people with chronic pain struggle to get good sleep, just by the very nature of being in pain. Take the time to establish a good sleep routine and don’t be afraid to nap during the day if that’s what your body requires. Just sent a timer for no more than 90 minutes (one sleep cycle) and do it early enough that it won’t interfere with bedtime. If you need to ask your doctor about sleep medications, then ask. Don’t be afraid of them, but perhaps try the more natural solutions first, like melatonin. Your doctor can give you the best advice.

9. WE ARE ALL WARRIORS

Just by the mere fact you are reading this and identifying with it, you are a warrior. Living with chronic pain is no picnic my friend and those of us who do it struggle every single day of our lives. Some days are good, some days are bad and some days are too difficult to talk about. It takes a special kind of strength to manage chronic pain and life at the same time and I admire every single person out there who is doing it. You are a warrior.

10. I’VE FINALLY ACCEPTED MY BODY THE WAY IT IS

For all my bravado and positive spirit, it took me a long time to learn to love this pain-filled body of mine. When I was forced to leave my job at the top of my game in 2009 I was devastated. I didn’t think I’d ever be useful to anyone again and I sank into a deep depression over how my body had let me down. It took several years before I was able to accept that this truly was my “new normal” and that returning to work wasn’t going to happen for me. When I found myself in a place where my health had improved somewhat, and I felt I had something to give back, I started volunteering for the Patient Voices Network and that really helped me get back on my feet. I am able to take part in committee work again, but at a pace that works for me and my health. I’m better able to accept my body and all it’s medical failings because I’ve found ways to contribute again.

I’ve also been able to get involved in hobbies again such as crafting and reading. I’m learning how to crochet and do needlepoint, all things I didn’t have time for when I was too busy working. So accepting my limitations also opened the door to new things for me to try, which has been a blessing. Perhaps you’re in the same place now, ready to accept that this is your new normal, and it’s an okay place to be. If you’re going to be in pain anyways, doesn’t it make sense to accept it and find ways to make the best of it.

CONCLUSION

I’ve been blessed with a positive nature that has helped to get me through a lot of difficult situations in my life. Chronic pain and my medical conditions are part of that. I believe in God and trust Jesus every day to be there for me. I have wonderful family and friends who have been so supportive of me. I belong to a great support group online that genuinely cares about me. More than anything though, and as my first point says,

There is always hope

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