Thinking more about chronic pain, because....... well, one, I opened that door and it's definitely something that deserves some attention and awareness; and two, because I HAVE IT!! Along with hundreds of thousands of people; around the world, probably millions of people. Ususally I would actually go to Google and then cross reference a few searches to see if I can get a rough percentage, but I'll just stick with the 'I've read in multiple places it's a problem for millions of people' (You can fact check me if you wish!)
Drawing attention to chronic pain is an important issue. Many people are living with some form of chronic pain, and will do so for the rest of their lives. For some, pain is constant, for others it comes and goes. If my treatment goes to plan, mine should improve massively, as the function of my shoulder improves, but it is unlikely I will ever be pain free. However, if my pain drops below a level where I have to take crazy concoctions of strong medications and I get myself back where I can live a normal life, I will take that as a win.
I think it's important to draw attention to this quote, from a seminar/ conference (/can't quite remember which) on pain, last year, this was said:
I really think that last sentence is worth highlighting:
"We believe chronic pain is a disease in its own right."
I admit that I had absolutely no idea of the extent to which pain can affect the entire body. And it does - pain makes you tired, you ache, you struggle to concentrate on conversaation as if you have a bad headache (you get them too); your body tries to compensate for the way you move, so other non-injured parts beging to hurt; you have to try to learn to correct that so you don't create further problems; the pain makes you tired, but you're too sore to get comfortable - sleep is broken (shoulder pain is actually one of the most common causes of insomnia) Or it swings entirely the opposite way, I hit a 14 on the scale below, and when I do le down to rest, my body just seems to wipe out. It's such a strange thing to explain - I understand why it's so difficult to understand; but if you have a friend or family member with chronic pain, sometimes reading some of those usually really simple 'about......' articles make useful points. And, as usual, I'm writing this to try to draw attention to another 'invisible illness' and maybe offer a glimpse into the complex world that is chronic pain .....
It is definitely not 'broken wrist, stick it in a cast' kind of pain; this is like saying Lyme disease makes you 'tired' as opposed to 'pathophysiologically fatigued' (the medical term; aalso used wwith ME/CFS/ Fibo and other similar illnesses - not something a normal sleep helps in any way). Chronic pain and acute pain are not just different sides of a coin, they are completely different currencies.
And really, as an, um, adventurous kid, I thought I knew it all - acute injuries: broken bones, pulled muscles, head/ neck injuries (gymnastics, flying over bike handles, falling out of trees.... and more - I was active!!); along with 'normal' pain from general minor illness.
But that's the key word there 'A C U T E' - chronic pain just isn't comparable. It's not like having a sore arm/ shoulder/ tooth/ whatever. It's not something you can compartmentalise. After you have pain for a certain amount of time (medical definitions vary from 3 to 6 months), it changes the way the brain processes pain. Sort of. Because we don't really know that much more about pain. Generally, the body should heal in that time - in my case, for example, I know my muscles were still detached 8 months later (right before they were reattached). So then I had surgical pain (& the damage that goes with that)..... in an area that had been in severe (undiagnosed and untreated) pain for months. Knowing what I know now about the actual physical damage as well as what I know about the little we really understand about chronic pain, it is not surprising that I have pain issues - add in my nerve damage, lack of function in my right shoulder; and other things that all came to light (I think it's pretty much covered across 2012- early 2015 on here!) - my sister's cat could issue a chronic pain diagnosis if it could talk.
A solution on the other hand.....?...... Well, if we don't really understand how chronic pain works, it's pretty obvious to say we don't have a good solution for it. Slap on a fake smile, lipstick, and a pair of sunglasses (or a good mascara) with my meds, and nobody would know...... most of the time...... Bad days are harder to hide, but those also tend to be the days I just hide under my duvet, with little other choice..... this is far more than I ever really admit.
Recent happenings (details for another time, but not so good) have led doctors to offer me further medications and then more medications to mediate the side effects of that extra pain medication. Right now, I have a drug combo that works the best out of anything I've tried. It doesn't take the pain away - and nothing will. It lets me cope with it, basically. But I'm never not in pain.
This leads to a lot of judgment.....often from doctors who make comments like "you really don't want to be taking this many medications at your age....' (umm..... NO, I really don't.....) but after examination, history, and discussion conclude that they could "add more pain medication and give you another drug to help with side effects." So I declined. The extra drugs won't get rid of my pain, so I'd really rather not add more toxins to my body - only to have the next doctor judge me for the even greater number of meds I take. *sigh*
One thing that gets me with this is the assumption you're 'out of it' with medication. Most people's experience is after a surgery or following a bad injury - nothing long term; and for most people strong painkillers will make them either loopy or sleepy. There's about 5% of people who have 'contrary reactions' to meds - guess what group I fall under?!...... Of course. I have known this since I was 12 though (e.g. valium makes my insomnia worse, instead of knocking me out. I would much prefer the sleep). However what is difficult to understand for people is that my pain can make me seem 'out of it' - it has nothing to do with the meds.
My sister once told me she "could tell when [ I ] had taken all my medication because I as a bit slow to think..." Actually, she could tell when my pain was bad, because I take the same medication every day, at the same dose in order to try to keep my pain 'even' (rather than it spiking and dropping like a rollercoaster) - it sort of works. Research has shown that in patients with chronic pain, pain medications act differently in the brain than in people using the drugs recreationally/ to 'get high'. I know it's a misconception that bothers other people too.
When people (and usually medical people) comment negatively on my meds, I think about what those meds enable me to do.... It's nothing like what I would like to be doing, but they enable me to get through my physiotherapy sessions. They enable me to get out the house, have a shower - basically to not lie crying in agony 24/7 until the pain just knocks me out. That's where I was before the pain meds ere sort of balanced. I imagine, sometimes, answering with, "would you ever make a cancer patient feel guilty about chemotherapy, a class of drugs that are known poisons, but the best you can offer?" - Because of course they wouldn't!! Nobody would! And the same should apply to all other patients too - those 'evil drugs' are the only things those same doctors can offer; it's all we've got.
(As an aside I think I actually HAVE also tried EVERY ''alterative therapy' I can find, and I do take a few supplements in order to actually avoid certain drugs, for specific things. Laughably, the doctor who has just told me I shouldn't be taking so many prescriptions drugs, but offers me no alternative, then usually tells me the supplements are probably not doing anything.....)
*Arrrrrrrgh!! * Can you hear me scream?!
So, yes, a little bit more serioius - but if you made it through that, and you know someone who suffers fom chronic pain, maybe you can ask them a little about it; or give them a (gentle!) hug - most people just want to be understood. :-)
Words have no power to impress the mind ithout the exquisite horror of their reality.
- Edgar Allen Poe -