For today’s Tuesday post, I revisited and completely reworked an old health post about pain. Amazing how much rambling and slightly-off-topic writing I did on this blog back in the day! LOL
Author’s Note: What you are about to read is a composite “day in my body,” involving all the pains and aches (and troubles) I’m likely to face on any given day. After all, no one knows exactly what anyone goes through in their daily lives, and that’s my point; I write this to talk about pain and fatigue in a personal, immediate way.
This post outlines a pretty typical day for me back in 2011–ankle pains, knee pains, headaches, and all. Even though I have had some relief from my headaches since then, it still shocks me that I do indeed go through most of these events every day. I guess even pain becomes customary and normal after a while. Yikes, what a thought. 🙁
This post might not be the most enjoyable (or interesting) I’ve ever written, but it is certainly eye-opening. If we all lived a day in another person’s body, what might we experience? What might we suffer?
Waking Up…In Pain
The insistent MAINK-MAINK-MAINK-MAINK of the alarm clock startles you out of bed. Actually, you weren’t really asleep–you’ve been going in and out of sleep for the last hour, lying there on your side. Too many things to think about, too much to do today…and since your flattened pillow was crammed against the loose headboard, your neck and head are burning with pain anyway. It’s almost more of a relief to sit up and shut the irritating alarm off.
Right foot hits the floor, and the old familiar lightning strike of pain zaps your heel, zipping up the back of your leg, threatening to crumple your knee even as you try to put weight on it. Familiar as this pain is, it’s still a shock to the system. Depending on your left leg (the obedient one, at least this week), you hobble to the bathroom; even after eight hours of rest, your right ankle is still swollen and hurts, just as it has hurt every morning for years.
Getting Ready for the Day, And Already Tired
Completing your morning ablutions is a sorry task this early in the morning. Having to depend on your left leg yet again in the shower makes the whole leg a little sore, but it’s better than dealing with the brain-jangling pain in your right ankle and foot arch (the one that never existed thanks to genetics). Murphy’s Law dictates that next week, your left ankle and left foot arch will be the ones acting up every morning–you just hope your right ankle is a little better by then.
As you descend the stairs to the basement to retrieve clothes, one step at a time, you’re not sure which ankle hurts less. Each time your heel strikes another stairstep, there’s a sharp clanging pain like horribly-out-of-tune church bells in your nerves. But it must be done, and you clump down the stairs heavily, stumbling by the time you reach the basement.
You struggle to fit your jiggling thighs and tummy into panties and then jeans, “dancing” into them to fit the fabric around your hips and waist. Elastic leg bands slide perfectly into the grooves between thighs and stomach, binding your flesh tightly, as underwear has done since you were eleven years old. Zipper and button tightens the waist of your jeans, though there was no chance of the taut fabric going anywhere even without being fastened–the 10-inch difference between waist and hips takes care of that.
Shirts are a little less difficult, but you still look lumpy and saggy in the mirror. Even the expensive plus-size bras don’t make you look your age–it looks like you’ve already had several children and never gave them a bottle of store-bought formula in their lives. Weight drags at your shape in every direction, most evident when you try to haul your 300-pound mass back up the stairs; knees crunch painfully with every upward step, and weakened ankles threaten to roll inward and crumple your legs as you pull yourself up.
The Walmart Trip of Fail
Getting dressed and getting back up the stairs was enough of a challenge, it seems–you’re already out of breath, and disgusted with yourself for it. You had planned to go to Walmart today to pick up groceries, but your ankle angrily disagrees. Even thinking about the walk in from the inordinately-large parking lot is unbearable at this point. Why bother going, when you’re only going to get to the door and want to just turn around and go home?
It takes a lot of motivation to finally get up the courage to go out. Strapping on the black ankle stabilizer brace provides a momentary flood of relief; if only the thing were waterproof so you could wear it in the shower. Maybe then the ankle would feel well enough to conquer Walmart. As it is, you will settle for just picking up what you absolutely need and getting out of there without standing in horrible lines that make the soles of your feet burn.
Walking the aisles at Walmart–or any large store, actually–is a grand adventure in Tantalus-like torture. So many things you want to see and do, and yet your ankles and knees have put you on a strict timer: “5 more minutes and we’re done,” they shout. Never mind that it will take 5 minutes just to pick up one of the items you need. You end up pushing past that horrible time limit, but the growing pain on the outside of your right ankle indicates swelling, again. You’ll be paying for that later, and not with a debit card.
Noon comes, and sees you coming home with groceries in tow; hitting the gas pedal with your right foot is only marginally less painful than standing in the lines. You really wish the woman in front of you had not mistaken the “20 Items Or Less” line for the “Customer Screams at Cashier for 10 Minutes” line. But you’re seated again and you’re back to your usual self, not emotionally strained and near to bursting out with anger, like you feel when you stand for long periods of time. Driving is a lot less painful, and you feel the blood pressure in your temples receding, even though your right temple is beginning to throb with the first teasing poke of a headache.
Headache Comes to Join the “Party”
Later in the afternoon, after you’ve come home and unloaded the groceries, you’re lying in bed, luxuriating in being off your swollen ankles. The right one is currently lying atop a towel-covered ice pack–cold has never felt so good. It’s good to be off your feet, and you try to get a little bit of computer work done (typing, designing, and writing), only to realize that the teasing headache of a few hours ago is now starting to bloom into your face and down your neck on the right side. Turning your head and trying to pop your neck results in a short respite, but the pain comes roaring right back, burning along nerve endings, turning your pulse into a painful drumbeat. This pain centers in the right temple, making vision flash and concentration almost impossible within minutes.
Hours Later and No Relief, As Usual
Lying in your darkened room, the classic treatment for a migraine, your ankle lies forgotten for the moment on its ice pack. It’s now been an hour since you took your prescription “migraine medicine,” and 30 minutes since you took an Advil Migraine, and yet the pain still surges through your temple, making the whole right side of your face feel funny. If you press your fingers to your temple, you can feel a blood vessel, corded and thick, pounding right under your fingertips. You’ve had all sorts of headaches all your life, ranging from the dull thump of a sinus headache to the sharp, eye-searing classic migraine, but this is a headache in its own class…and medicines do not touch it, just as medicines do not completely soothe your crunching knees and swelling ankles.
Nighttime–You’ve Made It One More Day
As evening falls, you manage to take in a little TV, along with a little bit to eat…the headache won’t allow much past your lips, but you’ve got to eat something. The ankle, as if sensing its complaints won’t be paid much attention, has quit aching quite so much, so the stumble to the kitchen is less painful than you feared a few hours ago. Now the goal is to ease the headache enough to sleep–except for the fact that every position your neck gets put in to go to sleep results in alarmingly-worse pain rocketing up into your head.
You end up resting propped against the headboard for a blessed hour or two, until at last the headache loosens its death-grip on your temple and eases off just enough for you to sleep. Sleep dulls the pain, but it will wake you again in the morning; the irritating MAINK-MAINK-MAINK-MAINK of the alarm will not be needed tomorrow morning, because it will already be jangling in your nerves.
When we hear of torture that makes people reveal secrets they would never have revealed otherwise, some people might say “Well, they’re just weaklings. Why couldn’t they last through the pain and just keep their mouths shut?” But the prevalence of pain relievers in pharmacies across the country and around the world seems to say that we humans actually don’t have a lot of pain resistance.
This LiveScience article, The Pain Truth, calls pain a “silent epidemic,” and it certainly is–it’s an epidemic that is downplayed and even trivialized by those who do not suffer pain as often. Pain is not merely a physical symptom of illness; it also has an emotional component of suffering, which in long-term cases leads to personality changes and life changes. I have experienced these firsthand.
My Personal Experience with Chronic Pain
Pain has been a constant companion of mine for several years, with old lower-body injuries galore, headaches and migraines, and random shooting pains that seem to have nothing to do with any injury at all. I didn’t realize how much my personality had shifted to deal with these various pains, however, until we discovered and began to treat some of the pain sources.
Getting rid of my constant burning headaches with chiropractic therapy opened my eyes first. For the first time in MONTHS, if not YEARS, I was able to go about my day without having to spend at least part of it lying in bed trying to tame a headache. How liberating! And how surprising! I could finally live without having to constantly endure the “ice pick” in my temple. Some of my friends and family commented on this change, saying that they were glad to see me smiling again–I had been suffering such pain for so long that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t smiling much anymore.
Other effects of pain on my personality were subtler, but only just. I was much more irritable and more easily frustrated–after all, my life was being controlled by a force I couldn’t stop, so anything else that slipped out of my control was that much more infuriating. Plus, with the lower-body pain, I had had to shape my life’s day-to-day rhythms carefully so that my ankles and knees would not get aggravated with too much activity/standing per day. (Usually, standing in line for 10 minutes = ankles are DONE for the day.)
Pain had, in essence, transformed me into a cranky, isolated, less active version of myself. I hated this change, but I literally could not do anything about it until at least some of the sources of pain were treated. And that, I think, is universal for all pain sufferers.
Why Pain and Its Personality Effects are Not Well-Understood
Unfortunately, pain is a feeling and not an observable condition; even scans of your body cannot see the sensation of pain, only can see potential causes of it. And others cannot feel your pain as you do–thus, they cannot truly have empathy unless they have suffered the exact same condition.
Some folks, however, don’t even make any attempt at empathy, telling chronic pain sufferers to “suck it up, take an Advil and quit complaining,” etc., not understanding or caring how insensitive and insulting they’re being. (These kinds of people are just about as infuriating as my chronic pain itself.) This dismissive attitude only adds to the mystery and confusion around pain, since some people just don’t experience it as much and therefore cannot understand why it affects us so strongly.
That’s why I’ve written this article and added my own personal experiences; pain can have a huge effect on your personality and indeed your whole life, especially if it goes a long time without being treated (as mine did). Pain is not something that only weak people feel or talk about–it’s a human condition which causes suffering (both emotional and physical), and so it must be treated seriously.