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Living with Chronic Pain

Living with chronic pain is exhausting, lonely and frustrating. According to the American Pain Society, nearly 50 million American adults suffer from significant chronic pain or severe pain. On a daily basis, 25 million U.S. adults report chronic pain, and another 23 million manage a lessened, yet severe pain.

If you have recently been diagnosed with chronic pain, then you have suffered from pain for at least six months with thirty or more of those days with pain. It is likely that obtaining the diagnosis of “chronic pain” took much longer than the window that describes it. The difficult issue is if you suffer with chronic pain, you have to learn how to live your life every day while sucking up the pain.

I understand this, as I have chronic pain and have had it for well over 15 years. My chronic pain started when I was in my teens when migraines became a part of my life. During that time, migraines would hit me once or twice a month. In the last 5 years at my worst, I was having daily migraines and currently, I average 2-3 on a good week.

On top of migraines, I also have (DDD) degenerative disc disease and 2 herniated disc. Additionally, to combat endometriosis, I had a hysterectomy, which brought me a new nightmare. I deal with ongoing shoulder, neck and hip pain. I have been told that I may also have fibromyalgia. I have not pursued this topic any further. I am terrified of taking on the label of fibromyalgia.

For some people with DDD there may be no symptoms. In some cases, the spine loses flexibility and bone spurs may pinch a nerve root, causing pain or weakness. Some days I have no pain, other days there is a great deal of pain.

The doctors have told me I shouldn’t be feeling the pain. I am not the only person that has ever been told this when dealing with chronic pain. In fact, individuals that deal with chronic pain are often made to feel that it is all in their head. The doctors recommend that I take Motrin -- and I wish I could, but I am allergic. Tylenol, doesn’t touch muscle related pain, and narcotics are out. I have had physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massages. My massages help me function. I call when I am desperate, as weekly care would be too expensive. I have a tens unit and I use essential oils. Ice, tiger balm, and soaking in the tub are three of my best friends.

While working on this article, I am dealing with a vicious migraine. The price I paid for staying out late and taking my children to a concert. I am working in the dark, my vision is working right now, but I am nauseous, can’t stand any noise, and just don’t feel well. I work through it, because when you have 2-3 migraines a week, you can’t stop what you are doing to try and work through them. I know anyone dealing with chronic pain has had to do the same. We are told over and over again to suck it up.

Below are things I have been told from friends, family, co-workers and medical doctors.

  • You need to snap out of it

  • It’s all in your head

  • I bet you are just dehydrated, go get a glass of water

  • Go outside, you will feel better

  • You don’t look sick

  • Everyone has bad days

  • Don’t focus on the pain

  • A migraine is just a headache

  • You need to try.......a new diet, a new pill, therapy, etc.

  • I know this person that is suffering with blah, blah, blah and does great

  • Suck it up

  • If you exercise you would get rid of all your pain

  • It could be worse

I am sure, if you deal with chronic pain, you would be able to add to the list. I find that when dealing with these day to day issues, I don’t need your sympathy. I would prefer your empathy and understanding that I am doing the best I can.

Yes, I have also missed appointments, days from work, big events, and I cancel at the last minute because of migraines. I actually, try not to get too excited for special outings, so that I don’t jinx myself.

My sister’s wedding photo documents my 3-day migraine battle I earned for traveling for a long weekend to a different time zone. I felt I smiled in every picture, but when I see the pictures, I am horrified.

I’m the one in the pink, I thought I had a huge smile on my face.

Photo Credit: Ramin Rahimian

I enjoy going to events, seeing friends and celebrating life. I hate that I have to cancel at the last minute and feel guilty because I can’t participate. I have also gone to events and family outings when I should be home, and I “try to suck it up”. I don’t want life passing me by, without trying to participate.

If you deal with chronic pain, give yourself permission to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. I have days when I battle myself, cry and feel frustrated because I feel life is passing me by while I am in the bed.

I have struggled with work because I have to miss time due to my migraines. I have felt guilt with my family because they are downstairs eating dinner and Mom is in the bed again, in the dark. I try choose happiness at every possible moment that I can. Pain is not going to define my personality.

I find that distracting myself from pain, does help sometimes. I pamper myself with a pedicure or something to make myself feel good. I have started meditating in the past year and use deep breathing techniques to move through the pain. I focus on the positive and try not to let the pain beat me down. I also do a lot of apologizing, but I am working on letting that go.

I choose to fight through the label of chronic pain and be the best I can be day to day. Living well with chronic pain requires the capacity to accept the moment for what it is, while at the same time working toward positive change. I urge you to be kind to yourself and take your life one day at a time.

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