1 in 4 adults live with some form of pain, according to the United States Medical Research Organization, the NIH. That statistic sounds staggering but, thankfully, of that approximately 25% only a few know chronic pain of a debilitating nature.
Although, it is well worth noting that chronic pain is the no. 1 reason for permanent disability in the U.S.
So what is it that separates those with chronic pain from their fellow pain sufferers besides the obvious: its magnitude, duration and consistency. What are the tell-tails and the markers, the “common” every day knowledge of those living in chronic pain?
1. Awakening is One Mean Feat–
No morning begins without the immediate mind’s scan of the body- to register the amount and severity of pain. No single thought comes before, no matter what events and tasks may be on the agenda for that day, no matter the alarm clock calling you, no matter a loved one’s needs (or desires), no, not a single other thing comes first. The response to that pain-scan will absolutely and completely determine one’s next move, and the next, and the next. And every single day begins just that way.
2. All Plans are Pending Plans–
No firm plans exist, are remotely possible. Every day, every moment is up in the air until your pain weighs in. You may be having a great week or a great day but that can change in the blink of an eye. Nothing can be confirmed…not being present for a job, a class, a dinner date, a flight, a court appearance…any of these may need to be cancelled in a matter of moments unless you have enough pain medication and don’t mind doing whatever it is you’re up to with tears streaming down your face, if moving at all is even an option. You learn to become an expert of the last-minute cancellation. A couple helpful tips can be found here but sincerity and honest, along with brevity, go a long way.
3. Sleep has More Than One Dark Side–
You’ll soon learn that your body can function with very little sleep, perhaps not well but what other choice is available? Pain does not recognize bed times and no amount of camomile tea is going to convince your pain it’s time for beddy-bye, sheer exhaustion may, on the other hand. It becomes vitally essential to adhere to good “sleep hygiene”. The Mayo Clinic lists 7 keep tips for a good night’s sleep, and they may help, Sleep is vital so such habits become non-negotiable for most. And it’s just another great irony (when you live in chronic pain there seems to be a limitless supply of these) that not getting good rest increases your body’s sensitivity to pain and destabilizes your moods, another pain trigger. When enough is enough you wind up in the familiar Wa-La Camp…the miracle of the great blessings of sleeping medication.
3. You’re an Expert of the Medicine Cabinet–
Of all the things you hoped or dreamed of becoming, being or doing there are few amongst us to reach for this gold ring, except for the Pharmacists out there. When you live with pain at this level you become a whole lot more willing to first, take medicine and secondly, find the ones that work. The US Food and Drug Association (FDA) offers a world of helpful information on medicines as does The American Chronic Pain Association (whose references are, obviously, directed more towards those medicines associated with pain and its related conditions). The “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” motto becomes the go-to when the alternative is excruciating pain that has you curled up in the fetal position crying in some corner- like your Doctor’s office (and, let us pray, hopefully, if there is a God, not your boss’s). You’ll be a ninja of medication pronunciations, classifications and side effects in no time.
Helpful Hint: Numbers 1.-3. above and 4.-5. below are frequently greatly helped by this, your new found, and ever expanding, expertise.
4. Peace of Mind Has “Relationship Issues” with Your Health –
Pain is pervasive, and it’s challenging, to put it mildly, to not let it become corrosive to your mental well-being. According to Dr. Linda Ruehlman , a social/health psychologist and researcher,
“Living with pain presents all kinds of challenges in addition to the pain itself. You may find work difficult or impossible. Your social life may have been greatly reduced. Your roles as partner, parent, friend may have changed in ways that are deeply disappointing to you. The activities of daily living may have become difficult.”
Simply thinking, clearly, with focus, can be way beyond your will to control. Creative and critical thinking skills are lowered as too, problem-solving, so tasks like balancing your check book or wrestling with your insurance company over procedure approvals all can cause great confusion and stress. All of these impact your general, overall sense of well-being, state of mind and outlook.
As psychiatrist Michael Clark, with the Johns Hopkins University says, “Pain is rarely simple. It often appears, like lightning, with a cloud of other problems, not the least of which is depression.”
5. Not All Relationships can Weather Life’s Storms–
You will learn a lot about loved ones simply by “getting sick”. You’ll be surprised, more times than you can imagine. Some people simply cannot handle, deal well with, illness, especially anything that touches on mortality. Others, thankfully, will 100% step up to the situation and be there for you in delightful and crucial ways. Hopefully more family and friends than not will remain with you for this twist in the road, but for those who cannot, bear in mind, that it is simply beyond them to do so, for any of a myriad of reasons which they themselves may not be able to articulate or recognize.
Chronic pain is a demanding journey and not everyone is equipped for the trip.
Forgiveness and acceptance become definitive in respect to our relationships. As does gratitude. These become practices we learn to live by.
And of course Love, in all its wondrous forms, for those we care for, for those we must let go, for those who stay and, most crucially, for ourselves.