By Kristine “Krissy” Anderson
Those of us who live with chronic pain often have a hard time convincing others that it’s not just about the constant hurting, but there are side effects that add injury to insult, and can often be difficult to cope with.
After living with progressive, intractable pain for 30+ years, I’ve become so familiar with side effects, sometimes I forget what it was like to feel “normal.” So now and then I go back and imagine scenes of yesteryear and smile at the memories. (There is enough time spent feeling that I’ve been robbed of my “normal,” and ever-increasing “want-to-do” list and overflowing “bucket lists.”)
I imagine going down a ski hill, excited and ready to tackle the hardest one, going as fast as possible. I’ve always liked speed, whether it be with fun cars, skiing or sailing, it’s a tremendous rush and feeling of freedom.
I was driving on a bridge over the ocean here in Florida the other day when all of a sudden I couldn’t see the front of my car nor the road in front of me because the bridge is built as a steep arch, so my surroundings made it feel like I was flying. With the vast ocean on both sides of me and only the sky ahead, I actually got that physical excitement I used to get when flying in a small plane or skiing down a big hill. It was a moment of thrill, something I miss so much.
Keeping it positive is great when you are having a day that works that way, but we also experience negative consequences of living in pain, and the stress of these side effects just add to the whole picture of misery on those “other days.”
Lack of energy is my public enemy number one. We blame ourselves for lack of energy because we aren’t “good enough” to get into shape and bolster our metabolism. The truth is, we can’t. Right now I am sitting in a motel room on a busy island full of fun things to do. I am on a business trip (about pain) and I’m fighting with my brain:
“You should go out and do something.”
“You can’t go out on a whim because you might get stuck.” (I get stuck if I walk too far.)
“You are wasting precious time, you may never be back here again.”
“I truly don’t have the energy to get ready. I will be tired and in pain if I try. Then it will just be another disappointment.”
“Just drive somewhere, park the car and get the wheelchair out. You can walk it and hold onto it.”
“If I go too far I will need to wheel myself back and my arthritis can’t take that.”
“Where did your sense of adventure go? You are being a lazy idiot! There’s so much to see out there.”
“I give up. I feel guilty now and I feel fearful of trying. I know how much it will hurt to do this. I know I will be bent over and in serious pain, panting, walking in a shuffle, if walking at all, and in tears when I get back.”
The dialog grows, and so does the time taken away.
Other side effects of any kind of chronic pain might include sleeping problems, poor concentration and memory, and for some, depression. Pain impacts mood as negative emotions can attack, which can then impact relationships of any kind.
I’ve noticed that if I am standing in a line or sitting and waiting, I will often get irritable. That’s not my normal kind of attitude, but when put in a position where the pain increases, those emotions can come on quickly. I might become impatient about something that I previously would have thought was a ridiculous reaction. Another example is when I am flying. I used to love it and it was a frequent part of my business before retiring. I could fall asleep before take-off and nap until the end of the flight. Now, because it is so uncomfortable to sit, I have a really hard time getting through a flight. That brings on irritability, which blossoms into more tiredness and more pain.
The side effects of pain are dealt with differently by everyone. Many people live near normal lives in spite of pain because they have been able to develop good coping skills. Others have a more difficult time accepting the dramatic changes pain has brought to the table.
I hope YOU have good coping skills and feel positive energy!
Krissy Anderson is an award-winning freelance writer who has several life-long pain conditions. Her work has been published for more than 30 years, and translated into 17 languages.