I say this with all seriousness. Life can be a pain for anyone, of course. There’s the usual stressors of everyday life, sometimes there’s issues with friends and family, and sometimes there’s problems at work.
However, for some people, life isn’t just a pain: life can be painful, too.
Having Scheuermann’s disease and cerebral palsy means that I live with chronic pain. Though it is a common misconception, having chronic pain doesn’t necessarily mean the pain is severe; it simply means that the pain lasts for an extended period of time (the word chronic is derived from the Greek ‘chronos’, meaning ‘time’). So, to put this into perspective from my point of view, if I’m talking about my back pain, I haven’t been free from that for over seven years now. That’s right. Seven years of pain occurring pretty much every day. So what does this constant pain mean? How do people living with chronic pain cope? And finally, how does it affect the way I live my life?
I’ve always found it difficult to articulate what living with chronic pain feels like. I’d like to say that the expectation of having pain is a constant thought in the back of my mind. Pain is the last thing I feel at night, and the first thing I wake up to in the morning. Yes, it hurts, of course it does, but there’s ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days. There’s days where the pain is barely noticeable, but there’s days where the pain is all consuming and it stops me doing normal things. I like to think of my pain as a Bunsen burner flame. Like my pain, the Bunsen is always on; but the flame burns more strongly when you add oxygen to it. Like the flame, when I do too much (just adding more oxygen to the Bunsen) I can exacerbate my pain levels, and the pain becomes ‘stronger’ or worsens.
Sometimes this happens without prior warning. I don’t necessarily have to have done anything in particular to exacerbate my pain, (this can be really frustrating) but there is usually a reason why. Silly, I know, but sitting for an extended period can exacerbate my pain levels, as can standing for too long. I’m constantly needing to strike the perfect balance. If I go for a long walk, I have to be prepared that I may be in more pain as a result, from both my Scheuermann’s (abnormal curvature in my thoracic spine; I’ll explain all in a later post!) and cerebral palsy. It’s a really odd thing to talk about, and it sounds so silly, but I’m constantly aware that each day will bring different levels of pain. Being in constant pain means there are things I cannot always do, though when I was younger I tried to ignore the fact I wasn’t necessarily able to do everything that I’d like to. Going to the cinema is pretty painful, and as much as I like going out to eat in a restaurant, the extended period of time sat down means that can become quite a painful experience. I’ve recently had to accept that going out clubbing isn’t really the best thing for me. Being on your feet all night coupled with the fact you’re constantly being pushed into by drunk dancers doesn’t make for comfortable entertainment! Studying for university can become difficult, but I’ve learnt to deal with it by constantly working and reading, so that if I need to take a day off then I can.
There are various ways I cope with my chronic pain, so I’ll try to list them;
1) take painkillers as and when I need them.
I’m prescribed quite a hefty amount of analgesia, but only take tablets when I feel I can’t cope. I’m often described as having my very own pharmacy in my room, and I can’t necessarily dispute that!
2) use heat pads/various other heated products
I have a heat pad that brings great relief when I’m struggling. It’s basically like a miniature electric blanket and you can adjust the heat setting. My dad bought mine from Boots and it was such a great buy!
3) learn to take it easy
This has been really difficult for me. I’m quite an anxious person naturally so I tend to want to rush so that I get everything done as quickly as I can. In light of this I’ve learnt to give myself a break when I need it. Living with constant pain can be extremely draining both physically and mentally, and I need some quality time to recuperate.
4) have the occasional glass of wine
I’m not saying this and justifying it, however I have found that if I’m not prepared to deal with the side effects of my medication when I’m really bad, (drowsiness, euphoria, itchiness) I’ll have a small glass of red wine maybe about once a week. I don’t drink a lot of it, but I do notice it definitely helps to relax my sore muscles.
5) be happy!
Though things can be difficult at times, I’m truly happy and extremely privileged to live the life that I live. I’ve had a lovely upbringing, been to school, achieved great grades and I’m now studying at university and I’m expecting to finish my final year in 2015. Trying to keep happy means I take time out to do things purely for the pleasure of doing things. I like to watch rubbish telly in bed, I like to have the odd takeaway and not feel bad about it, and I like to spend time with really supportive friends and family. I’m very lucky that the university I attend is really supportive and adjusts things as and when I need. They’re truly great and I know if I’m having a particularly painful day I can inform my department and know that there’s support there if I so need it.
Living with chronic pain does mean I’m constantly accounting for ‘bad’ days or ‘bad’ parts of days. I found a theory someone came up with to describe this, and they have described it so wonderfully I don’t think I could possibly add anything more to it. It’s called the ‘Spoon Theory’ and was created by Christine Miserandino. Click on the link below to find out more:
I’m aware that this has been a pretty long post, and if I’m honest I could add so much more to this and be writing for days. However, I don’t expect any of you would have the patience to read it (I know I wouldn’t!) So I’ll stop there for now.
Best wishes and I hope your week is going well!