A Glimpse in to the Life of a Chronic Pain Flare
I am suddenly awoken by a sharp, burning pain that feels like jolts of electricity through the entire course of my spine. Before the sun has even risen, my body is fighting against me. My muscles feel like stone-heavy, dense and tight. My bones ache, like every ounce of energy has been completely sucked out of me. Before I have time to notice the thoughts in my head, my body not so gently reminds me…that I am still alive.
I slowly become aware of my surroundings…my bed, my dog and the fact that my clothes are absolutely drenched in sweat.
Ah, thank you nerve pain. The smell of peppermint from the medicated muscle salve that I left open on my bedside table, becomes overpowering. My mind is quickly brought to the aching pain in my calves-that’s right, I was woken up with multiple muscle cramps throughout the night. It’s 5am, and my Apple Watch alerts me that I got about 3 hours of broken sleep last night.
Before I can attempt get out of bed, the first thing I always try to do is roll over. This usually gives me a pretty clear sign of whether I can get up and try to start my day, or if my morning is going to need to be spent doing everything I know to do, just to bring my 9/10 pain down to an 8.5. If rolling over causes excruciating pain, I know that I am going to need a whole lot more self-love and care before attempting to get out of bed. If I am able to roll over with even a little bit of ease, this means I can usually get up and out of bed to go to the bathroom, brush my teeth and/or make a cup of coffee. But the thing is, every task that comes to most people subconsciously and requires little to no energy at all, can be the one activity that sends me straight back to bed for the day. So, I have to pace myself. I have to constantly be aware of my body to check in and see if I can and should complete the next task on my ‘to do list’.
So, I roll over… and it feels like my insides are made of shards of glass, penetrating every inch of my body from the inside out.
But I CAN roll over, so this means it’s time to try to get out of bed. First, I gently push myself into a seated position and a wave of nausea surges over me-my only thought “please don’t throw up”. I try and will every sore muscle, joint and bone in my body just to move- just to fight through one more day.
The morning has officially begun, and all things considered I am having a pretty good start to this pain flare day.
I’m up and my heart starts racing… It feels like it is beating out of my chest- partly due to the anxiety that the unpredictability of living in chronic pain brings- and partly because my body is not yet used to standing up while in so much pain. Sometimes it takes a few seconds for my brain, mind and body to fully connect and realize, that I AM stronger than my pain. Once I have completed the part of my morning routine that involves standing and walking, I head back to bed to gently allow my body to continue to wake up and so that I can get my headspace where it needs to be in order to tackle the day.
What I am able to accomplish throughout the day varies greatly, as chronic pain brings a level of unpredictably that you are forced to succumb to whether you like it or not.
The only thing constant about my pain, is that I have felt at least some level every single day for the last 4 years. My pain levels can ebb and flow depending on so many factors like sleep, mood and how often I am able to sit, stand and lye down. My body is usually only able to complete 1-4 hours of ‘activities’ (aka going to doctors’ appointments, pain management treatments, grocery shopping, lunch with friends, working etc.) per day, while keeping within my tolerable pain limits. I have to be extra mindful about the state that my body is in because the simplest of tasks if pushed too far, can bring unrelenting, agonizing pain at any given moment. Which means, I can often be found lying down (the only position that brings a little relief) in the most unusual, bizarre and awkward of places. From the produce section at the grocery store to the waiting room at my doctor’s office- if my body needs to lie down, it essentially takes control and does what it needs to do to find relief.
Whether I am able to complete all of my scheduled or planned activities or not, by afternoon I almost always have to be back in bed resting.
I check my e-mail, but my pain levels are too high to allow me to focus. I keep staring at and rereading the same sentence over and over again, trying to “get it”, trying to understand the simplest of words. I shift my body, turning from my back to my left side, and then to my right. I continue to move around, trying to find any kind of comfort or relief. I roll onto my stomach and then back to my side-I toss a pillow under my legs and then flip back onto my back-but nothing’s happened, there is no change. There is no reprieve, respite, or relief and so… I just breathe. I do everything I can to focus on anything other than my pain. With a sense of defeat, I put a comedy show on Netflix that’s almost always on repeat and if my exhaustion trumps my pain-moments of fragmented sleep will come.
As the day continues on, my pain levels almost always continue to rise. Every movement and step I make each day, takes an astronomical amount of energy for my mind and body to complete-4 hours of activities for me is like 12 hours of activities for a normal, able bodied person. Most days I live with pain levels that would send a grown man to the emergency room bagging for help.
It’s almost time for my last scheduled “activity” of the day-typically an appointment to help aid in my pain management.
However, although I gave my body the rest it needed- getting up, changing, walking to my car and driving is far more than my body is going to be able to handle at this time of day, with these increasingly high pain levels. So, in a pain struck daze, where all I can focus on is the burning, throbbing, stabbing sensations throughout my body- I cancel my appointment. The irony is, I desperately need treatments to help my pain, but my pain often prevents me from receiving the treatments that I need. I feel proud that I am listening to my body, but I feel guilty for being unable to show up in the world. If it’s not a therapeutic treatment I am cancelling on, then maybe it’s a date with a friend, a staff meeting, or a birthday party. Living in chronic pain means constantly having to cancel plans.
The rest of my days are often filled with at home therapies, remedies and techniques that I have learned over the course of the last 4 years of living in debilitating pain to at the very least, help distract my mind from my pain.
Living in chronic is a constant struggle that can often feel like an uphill battle. Every day brings something different, whether it’s an obstacle to overcome, another test result to process, or a new symptom to learn to manage-I have to overcome it all while living in debilitating chronic pain. What I am able to accomplish also looks different every single day-some days I don’t even make it out of bed, and other days I can appear absolutely ‘normal’. I fight every single day for what may seem like small victories and sometimes, very little relief. However, the physical pain I experience is only one aspect of what it’s really like to live with chronic pain.
East Meets West Inc. has a full staff of experts to help you live your best. Whether you have some aches to kick, or you want to start down a path of better health, let’s chat!