By Katelyn O’Leary
One of the things I hate about having CRPS (among many things) is how my emotions are closely tied to the pain in my leg. The more upset I get, the worse my pain is. I wish the pain would recede if I was gloriously happy, but of course it doesn’t work that way. Doctors, therapists, and my parents always tell me to let my emotions out, don’t bottle things up and to “feel” my pain. But I always worry, that by following this advice, I’ll have a flare up.
For those who don’t know, a “flare up” is a severe increase in nerve pain and symptoms of CRPS, resulting in hospitalization or total agony and suffering. It goes beyond the “normal” chronic pain we feel, and the sensitivity of my leg is so severe that having a blanket touch my leg is horrendous.
I had a flare up in early February after a friend of mine passed away from cancer, and in my grief I triggered this terrible nerve response and was hospitalized for 3 days. Our complex emotions are a big part of what makes us human, and our ability to feel for others is one of the many things that separates us from the animals.
Can you imagine being afraid of feeling sad, because you don’t know if your body will punish you for it?
A week ago my family’s dog died. She had lived a long life, nearly 15 years, and she had to be put to sleep due to her inability to walk. The absolute agony of losing my companion, the only creature in my life that loved me without guilt or complexity – but with true loyalty and purity was a devastating blow. It’s always hard explaining the grief that comes with losing a pet. Some can relate, but many wonder why you shed so many tears for something that isn’t human.
On the day she died, my brother called me so I could say goodbye to her. I could barely find the words as I tried to control my sobbing, knowing I would never see her again. It brought me back to my friend who I lost in January, wondering why life seemed to be throwing so many curveballs me.
They say God never gives you more than you can handle. This phrase has always bothered me, because it is simply not true. Sometimes God gives you basket upon basket of awfulness and the only thing that makes it possible to “handle” these moments is time. Time is the prescription my doctors have given me for my ketamine treatments and it is the marker by which I deal with my pain both external and internal.
So how do you move on when you’re afraid to cope, to feel, to emote? Tension, stress, and emotional instability are like landmines: once you step on one you’re screwed. It seems like a cruel joke, having a condition that is on the same wavelength of your grief, as if it is a barometer of externalized pain, a reminder of what has been lost and cannot be found.
Death is a part of life, and as we grow older we see more and more of it. Will I always have a flare up in my grief? Or is it possible for me to be sad without the physical pain? I wish I knew the answer to this question, and the many others that plague my mind during this difficult time.
My siblings and I are hoping to get my mother another dog, so that she can convert her grief into love for a new life and reinvigorate her home. I wish I could do the same for my pain, but for now I will focus on channeling my grief through physical exercise and the all-important thing: love. My brothers and sisters have been sharing various pictures and memories of our dog, memories filled with so much love and devotion. She was the connecting force of our family, she unified us and comforted us for most of our lives.
Remembering the good helps me think of this situation as good grief – a process of localized positive sadness – knowing that for a period of time I had the greatest companion. Maybe I’ll be lucky and have another chance at that. But for now, I’ll remember her as best I can, and hope more than anything that my leg doesn’t punish me for it.
Katelyn (Katie) O’Leary works in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.