As I sat down to begin my new blog series on chronic pain, I had to take so many deep breaths, I just about hyperventilated and fell over. It’s not something I’ve talked about very much. You may not even know that it’s something I struggle with. For the last year, I’ve been huddled down in my turtle shell not wanting to admit that I am in pain, much less figure out how to talk about it. It has become very obvious to me that it’s time for me to knock it off and as one of my friends puts it, “put on my big girl panties”, and deal with the fact that I am in pain. I hope that this series encourages you, helps you understand the nature of pain, and dare I say, makes you laugh a little.
Chronic pain is one of those things in life that none of us dream of one day having. As children, none of us pointed out pain and said, “Oooo, I hope I have that when I grow up!” Sadly, there are countless people, myself included, who live with pain. Some of us hurt every moment of every day. For others, it’s less often, but no less damaging. It hurts not only our bodies, but our minds, our spirits, our relationships, and our lives. It causes a spiral of anger, depression, frustration, and ironically, more pain. It’s a spiral that is evil and wrong.
The spiral that I’m referring to is a vicious one and for me, one that begins and ends in myself. The pain starts and without even realizing that I’m hurting, I get cranky. The pain worsens, I get angry. I get frustrated. I start to get tense. It’s usually the tension and the frustration that alerts my brain that something is amiss. I stop and take stock of my being and realize that I’m in pain. Sometimes, I can tough it out and keep going. I figure that I can deal with pain levels up to around 6 on the pain scale, but when it edges up into the 7 and 8 range, I am done for. I take my drugs and go to bed and try as hard as I can to zone out. Sleep is usually fleeting, which only increases the exhaustion I already feel deep into my soul. And, that starts me spiraling downwards into anger, depression, and eventually makes me even more physically sick.
My journey into the spiral of pain has been a long one. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when it started. Some of my earliest memories are waking up with terrible pains in my legs, which the doctors diagnosed as “growing pains”. I remember the day, at 14, telling the doctor, somewhat sarcastically that I hadn’t grown for two years, so it probably wasn’t growing pains. The pain continued, undiagnosed into high school and college, when my endometriosis hit hard. A few more years passed and I was diagnosed with cancer. Surgeries and chemotherapy made it even worse. As I recently told a good friend, “You know, being poisoned didn’t actually improve my health, weirdly enough.” Eight years later, my family and I moved to Colorado Springs. I discovered that living at high altitude really makes me hurt. I spent about three months in bed when I should have been unpacking and making pies for my neighbors, after which I decided I was going to try to get a diagnosis.
I spent a month and a half camped out in my new pain specialist’s office and was tested for everything from Brittle Bone Disease to Fibromyalgia to Lupus to Vitamin D deficiency. Only to find out that I’m a really healthy person. At least on paper. At my final meeting with my specialist, he admitted that there are a certain number of chronic pain sufferers who simply go undiagnosed. We don’t know why we are hurting or how to fix it. However, a certain slice of drugs have been known to help and so we began the experimentation of drugs and doses to help get me out of the mind-bending pain I was in all the stinking time.
A year later, I’m doing better. I still have flare ups and days that are bad. I’m currently on the search for a non-medical looking cane that will help on the days that are really bad. However, the pain overall is so much better and the drug we finally landed on only makes me a little nuts as opposed to totally crazy, so that’s a plus!
But, it’s a rare day that I’m in no pain at all. And that spiral of anger, frustration, and bitterness is so easy to slip into.
I’m beginning to hate that spiral! I don’t want to be angry, bitter, cranky. The reason I said that the spiral begins and ends in myself is that all of these negative experiences I have had with pain are all very…selfish. I’m hurting. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m cranky. I have to rest. I have to take care of myself. I, I, I. And, I don’t like that. I want a different way to do things.
God, in His perfect timing, has provided that different way. My friend Julie, a fellow chronic pain sufferer, is graciously allowing me to tag along with her and learn from her journey through pain. We are going to begin a ministry, which I will begin talking about a lot soon, so buckle up, that reaches out to those of you who are suffering through chronic pain.
We are going to focus on breaking that spiral of self and prayerfully surrendering to the possibility that there is a better way to live with pain. We want to live joyful, peaceful, and God-centered lives, even when our bodies and brains hurt. We want to find out what God has for us in the pain, and that a novel idea might be that it should be all about Him instead of all about us.
There are so many of you who are struggling and whose eyes are probably filling up with tears as you recognize yourself in my struggle. We want to know who you are, your journey, your struggle. We want you to know that you are not alone. And, we want to love and minister to you in your pain and help you be brave as you break your own spiral and begin a new way of life. Even though it hurts.