What I Wish People Knew About Living In ‘Chronic’ Pain

July 9, 2018

I take offense to being told my pain is chronic rather than acute.

I feel every ache, every jagged edge. Chronic is the medical way of categorizing my pain. It is not acute because it will not kill me. It has gone on too long.

Acute pain is described as “sharp” and “severe”. Chronic implies dulled. My pain is not dulled.

There are still days when I am tempted to check in the mirror for wounds. The pain is too much, too strong, too often for there not to be bruises, blood. But there are few outward signs save for some surgical scarring.

The pain is acute in as far as I can almost touch it. I can tell you exactly where it is; if not exactly why. Its central point is that of a triangle; in my mind, it is less than 90 degrees. Acute, not obtuse. Would I prefer my pain to be categorized as obtuse? It seems more fitting; chronic pain doesn’t try to understand.

I’m told complementary therapies such as osteopathy and acupuncture are a mere placebo. The method may be questionable, but the relief is tangible.

The Osteopath has helped me name my pain – or at least where it can be found – better than any doctor. I place my finger on my sorest point and he drives a needle in. It is as if there is a reservoir beneath the skin; waiting to boil over.

I expect blood and pain but there is nothing as the needle pierces the skin. He twists it and like water simmering, it slowly peaks until he finds the nerve.

Gluteus maximus. Pectineus. External oblique. Sacroiliac joint. A needle for them all.

Sometimes there is a relief in causing more pain as if the needle puncturing my skin will create a new sensation to cover the aching. As if the pain will spill out and drain away.

It never does. Not that I help myself. Occasionally, very occasionally I totter in high heels. On those rare nights out I medicate with wine and gin and tequila until I cannot feel. Until the next day.

This is always a mistake. I clutch the scar on my side to hold myself together as I retch. Alcohol is never an escape; it is merely parole. My body will always re-offend.

I have family and friends who would gladly take my pain for themselves. And I love them for this because I know they are sincere. But I cannot bring myself to say I would do the same. It would make sense, better me to take on more than them my heavy load.

This carrying other people’s pain is an imaginary transaction; it takes place only in my head. Like survivor’s guilt, it is between me and my silent God.

Other people’s pain numbs me; it renders me emotionless. I no longer know if that is just my problem, or something felt by everyone. Something not felt by everyone. It is not that I do not sympathize. It is empathy that I cannot bear; I cannot take on more.

I talk to God often, in my mind at least. I am yet to hear him answer, but when I reflect I can see he is there.

I have always identified with the father of the healed Epileptic child in the bible,

“Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.”

I do believe. I also struggle to believe. No one talks about the Prodigal Son wandering off again once he has returned. I think that would be a more accurate telling of the tale. Am I always welcome back?

I have bargained with God over and over both while I was treated for cancer and since. I have felt guilt and shame at not being able to bring myself to ask him to take me instead of others. But like bearing other people’s pain, it is a deal which was never mine to strike. I cannot be blamed – not even by myself – for a free fall I had no control over.

Sometimes in the darkest days of blinding pain, I am back in that spiraling descent. Or perhaps I have reached the ground and it is my shattered body that I feel.

I have been to the Chronic Pain Team and to Palliative Care. Both clinics who specialize in not finding or fixing but disguising problems. For all understanding of Palliative Care is improving, there is still an air of,

“Cancer didn’t kill you. You are not dying. What more do you want from us?”

I feel selfish in the waiting room because I look young and healthy. At least I am one of the two.

My pain is not acute because they can find no damage to fix. It makes for interesting conversations; if there is no cause then am I in pain at all? An existential crisis. Doleo ergo sum.

And yet I now see everything through pain’s tinted lens. It is a sepia wash that darkens my vision. I wonder sometimes how a painless day would feel. To float comfortably, not on a sea of codeine but instead on a sea of calm.

Medication merely keeps my pain off the boil. That is not to say pain-free or painless. It bubbles under the surface. it is always there. Insensitive – or obtuse – to my suffering.

Sometimes my repetition of “I am here. I am alive. Pain is the price of being alive.” like a rosary sees me through the worst. Other times I wonder why these people think being alive is such a gift. It is a consolation prize at best; a poisoned chalice at worst. Everyone else is alive too, but it feels like no one is telling them to be grateful. Why is it me alone who must show thanks for this broken body?

I struggle sometimes to see where God fits into this pain, is He in the acute or in the chronic? Is He there at all? As a triangle, He can only be in the equilateral. All parts equal. Mine are not.

I wonder if my pain would feel less if I could see an ending on the horizon. At 30 I am weary at the thought of my ageing joints and the ways in which I will injure my future self. I have faith that the acute will be fixed. I have stopped praying for an end to the chronic.

Is that why I take issue with this classification of my pain? It is not about placing value on it; one is not worse or more real than the other. To accept my pain as chronic is to acknowledge that I have lost faith in there being an end.

I need to believe there will be an end.

Image via unsplash.com.

Comment: Do you live with pain? What’s the one thing you wish people better understood about it?

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