Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock …
It’s 1:30 in the morning and a full three hours since popping a Vicodin and I am still waiting for it to kick in. Let’s face it, it isn’t going to do the trick this time.
Peanut, my hyper active dog by day and serious sleeper by night joined me in bed about an hour ago. Most nights, I join my wife in our king size bed with our five little mutts. When I am awakened by pain, I will get up and go sleep in another room because it allows me to toss and turn while I search for a comfortable position. This night, I never made it to our bed.
I enjoy it when Peanut joins me. He hops up and tunnels under the covers before curling up against my left side and rests his head on my shoulder. He always picks my left side. Unfortunately, tonight the pain is too much and he is unable to bring me any sense of relief so I leave him to sleep the night away and head out to the kitchen.
I am hungry. Pain does more than just throw off your sleep patterns. It will also throw off your eating habits and just about anything else. I eat a bowl of cereal, make myself some coffee and wait for first light so I can go for a walk. Walking has become one of my best friends. I have learned it helps me during bouts of pain if I just get up and move around a bit so I walk a lot.
Like millions of others in this nation, I suffer from some form of chronic pain. I have accepted this fact of life and have stopped beating myself up over it, questioning myself and whether or not I am crazy and imagining all of this. The pain is real and if you suffer from it, it can be impossible to describe because it is not like the pain one feels from an injury.
My aches are many and their reasons are too. However, there is one ache I am all too familiar with and that is one that runs very deep inside my body. It might begin as a dull ache, but in a matter of minutes can escalate into serious discomfort. It is compounded when it is joined by some of the other pain I feel from a major neck injury.
It has only been recently I have relented and allowed myself to use a narcotic to dull the pain. I fear becoming reliant or hooked on it so much I just lived with the misery from nerves on fire, fingers too stiff to function properly, and the many joints I have damaged over a lifetime of play. I have yet to take the prescribed three a day when my pain acts up, but right now I am thinking today might be a first. If I can’t get this pain to a level I can handle without pills in three days, I will see my doctor and get a shot of Toradol which will knock out any inflammation in my body and give me a few days of relief.
I tell myself something positive when my pain hits me. This time, I remind myself I had a twelve-day break from pain. No painful joints, no deep aches, no burning spine, and no headaches. That’s also nearly two weeks without any Vicodin or any muscle relaxants.
Twelve days may not sound like much, but for me, and the many people who are like me, it’s a huge relief we do not take for granted. My wife suffers from migraines and she would love nothing more than to go twelve days without one. The best analogy I can give someone who does not suffer from chronic pain is to imagine how wonderful your job would be if your pain in the ass boss or coworker was gone for twelve days. Then imagine the feeling you have upon their return.
I have tried just about every form of relief for pain other than acupuncture. It’s not that I am opposed to it, I just wouldn’t know where to begin. If I had just one point of constant pain, I would be able to address it better. Besides, with my luck, I would probably be pain free and enjoying a great day upon my initial visit. Such was the case last week when I met with my new pain specialist. Nothing makes a person who suffers from chronic pain feel like a nut job more than when this happens.
Pain and depression go hand in hand for chronic pain sufferers. I have suffered from depression all my life, but I could never say with certainty which came first, the pain or the depression. Does it matter? Does it make the pain any more or less real? Is the connection between the two real or coincidental? I do know the antidepressant I take has done a great job of knocking out my bouts of depression, but I still suffer from bouts of pain.
How best should a sufferer deal with pain? For me, I have found acceptance to work the best. I have accepted the fact this is how my life is. I still do the things I have to do and the things I most enjoy because I know how important it is not to give in and give up because of pain. I tell myself I will take being a chronic pain sufferer over other illnesses like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.
I take greater pleasure than ever from some of the things I use to take for granted. I can look at the front and back yards of my home and really gain a sense of pride and pleasure from the work I have put into them this spring. Besides how nice they look, they are reminders to me I did not give in and give up and tell myself I can’t do the work because I am a victim of pain. I am not a victim of pain, just a host of it so that maybe others don’t have to be.
Any day I enjoy a run is a great day as far as I am concerned. It serves as a reminder of the one form of movement that brought me the greatest joy as a kid, long before I understood what depression or chronic pain was.
Laughter truly is great medicine so I seek it out whenever possible. I also love to make others laugh because I know just how nice it feels to find something so funny it makes you forget all else, even if it is just for a moment.
Having a partner who understands your pain and who you can share your feelings with is perhaps the biggest relief. No one wants to go through a life of pain, much less alone. I think it is this loneliness that ends up driving so many to becoming addicts.
“Alone, we suffer,” and “In silence, the lonely make all of their mistakes,” are lyrics from two songs I enjoy. Yes, music does help to sooth one’s pain, which might explain why today, I need hearing aids.
Not sure why, but when I tell someone who does not suffer from pain I suffer from chronic pain, they look at me with that look that says, “What the hell is wrong with you? Are you mental?” We don’t give people who suffer from cancer or some other debilitating disease that look. It just adds to our burden and makes us feel that much more alone. If done enough, the sufferer is liable to overdose on narcotics or take their own life simply because they believe they are alone.
I am not alone. If you are reading this and you also suffer from some form of chronic pain, you are also not alone. You might be misunderstood by many, but if you are not ashamed of the pain you find so difficult to describe, eventually you will find others who can relate.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock …
The clock on the wall next to my desk reminds me just how calm and quiet it is now that it is three in the morning. Peanut has crawled out from the bed and has joined me in the front room. He’s checked in with me to see how I am and hopped up on the couch and gone back to sleep. I think of his life and the pain and challenges he went through that led me to taking him to see a veterinary neurologist. Eighteen months of treatment to ease his pain and discomfort have all been worth it as we now have the fun loving and equally annoying dog we grew to love before he got sick.
I also think of my mother who passed away four years ago. She suffered from cancer at the age of 42 and lived with chronic pain. What I remember most though is her smile, her humor, and her desire to always help others less fortunate than her. She was never a victim and I will damn well make sure I won’t be either.
I will continue to draw strength and inspiration from her and others I know who have faced battles far greater than anything I hope to ever face. I will take comfort in knowing I am not alone as I know others who also deal with their own forms of chronic pain. Most of all, I hope I am able to help others realize they are not alone in this world.
Twelve days. What a wonderful break from pain. I have no idea when my next break will come, but I am not worried. I will adjust and adapt like I have learned and accept this is what I have to do in order to enjoy life. To borrow from cancer, I might have chronic pain, but chronic pain does not have me.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.