So many things about living with chronic pain/invisible illness are hard. Some days the actual pain is on the back burner, because pain-savvy scheduling, career planning, meal making, mandatory R&R, socializing (so as not to become a total hermit), and general pain avoidance all conflate into a much bigger deal than the pain itself. Other times, severe pain bursts through every well-laid plan like The Hulk through a grade two game of red rover. In those moments the pain is, by far, the hardest thing about living with chronic pain.
Pain is so hard to describe, but in case you are thinking this pain is not so bad, it is so bad. The pain I’m talking about is the kind that is synonymous with despair; the kind that makes you (literally — there is no choice here) cry like a banshee, pushing your head into the icepack, and alternating between tensing every muscle in your body and going dead weight, unable to decide which is less painful. It’s the kind of pain that makes it exceedingly difficult to imagine that non-painful feelings exist. How could smell, sight, touch, hearing be pleasant. I mean really? I know it’s possible hypothetically… It’s all-encompassing, and while I’ve never had a so-called “suicide” (cluster) headache, I certainly understand the sentiment.
So how do we get through pain like this? Especially when we know it will return soon, and the emotional gravity of our lives revolving around the pain gets caught up in the storm?
I’ve heard of people using all kinds of techniques, from visualization, meditation, medication, environmental modification, mantras, ice, heat, tears, and food with varying degrees of success. For me, an ice pack and a quiet scent-free space is essential to any kind of recovery, but the thing that actually gets me through to the other side, so that I don’t feel entirely like a soggy, stale human heap of compost, is to heartily congratulate myself for continuing to breathe. Because breathing hurts real bad, and so to continue doing it makes me feel kind of superhuman, like the superhero of small, continuous unbelievable battles with the air. The air tries to render me useless and hopeless with its poisonous pain, but I keep sucking it in, using it for my own purposes. Take that, air!
I also like to congratulate myself for important things I might have accomplished that day, like this:
Did I practice basic hygiene at some point today? Amazing!!
Was I able to procure a good variety of nourishment? Huzzah!!
Did I write, make, paint, or teach even one little itsy-bitsy thing? A+++++++
(This is me winning at life with my friend, the Goddess of Incredible Legs.)
And that’s how I get through the pain. By being my own god-damned hero. If that makes me unreasonably narcissistic, I’m okay with that. Whatever it takes, right?
How do you get through the pain?