Living with chronic pain
The beast of chronic pain sits quietly next to Helen, watching T.V.
It doesn’t move; maybe it’s asleep. Helen acts nonchalant despite the low level of fear it’ll wake up and strike. She wonders if she should even move during the commercial. If she turns her head or leg or back the wrong way, those claws might uncurl, and the pain becomes out of control.
It seems safer to not move at all, Helen decides, but turns her head anyway, just to look at the beast.
How long can this go on, and how long, really, are those fangs? Longer than the years she has lost fighting the depression, fear, resentment – usually a combination of these and worse. Helen has exhausted all traditional and alternative approaches and is still in pain, tired to the bone.
She is tired of new doctors and therapies which often don’t work, although she is beginning to realize how lucky she is to have insurance at all.
Helen is sick of the beast itself. She looks it in eye.
“What’s your name?” she asks.
So begins the task of recovering — which for many like Helen – may be a lifetime endeavor.
The idea of taking control of her life seems almost impossible to Helen. Moving from a patient to a person – a concept embraced by the American Chronic Pain Association (A.C.P.A.) – is a difficult but rewarding task.
Helen may always be in pain, but with the help of doctors and treatments which did help, she can start moving forward, even find some relief. However, in order to survive there comes a time to look the beast in the eye.
Luckily, others have walked the path, and there are certain steps that appear to be unavoidable.
Finding power and strength
The first step is acceptance, and is one of the hardest. It can be a scary thought that, once you put yourself back together, you may not be the person you were before. You may never work at your previous job. You may never get back the friends and relatives you have lost. You may not even like yourself for a while, but eventually you may like yourself even more. You might even make friends with Walter. (That could still happen!)
Here are the ways some of the people in the local A.C.P.A. chapter have found power and strength.
Barb, who has multiple pain syndromes and continues to peal the onion of Lyme’s Disease, fibromyalgia and other health issues, seems to always have a smile.
“I’d rather smile than cry,” she says. Looking at things that are positive – hugs from her grandchildren, a blue sky, being grateful – has made Barb a joy to be around. Compassion, she admits, has been one of the benefits of her journey.
Donna had been on the fast-track of success: Financial security, married, children doing well in local schools and 4-H. A self-described type-A personality, Donna’s life abruptly changed after her chronic pain diagnosis.
Slowing down no longer an option, but a necessity. Expensive vacations and trips to the mall were no longer possible.
“I was a ‘becoming’ instead of a ‘be,'” Donna says, embodying the recovering of the shattered self image that puts the beast to rest. For now.
Next time: a special man’s 70-year experience with chronic pain.
Laurel Gavin is a writer and playwright who lives in the Grass Valley area. She has lived in the area for 22 years and has worked in the health care field.
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