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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Living with Pain: Grace Under Pressure

I don't talk about it much (because, dude--BORING), but I live with pain 24/7 and have since I was twenty-four. I'm Fifty-three now...you do the math. That's when I developed fibromyalgia, which is basically Latin for "ow, everything hurts and they don't know why." And recently I got hit with a new pain thingy, which is just too irksome and weird to go into here, but it seriously effects my ability to travel and exercise, and is just generally Not Fun.

Mostly, there isn't much that can be done about either of these issues (or the tendonitis that comes from being a writer who also uses a computer at work). I do stretches and some mild exercise, use a number of non-traditional approaches like acupuncture, massage, Reiki, and hypnotherapy, and on the very worst days, take Tylenol with codeine, which is so mild it pretty much does nothing. Frankly, a glass of wine with dinner is usually more effective, and much more pleasant. For the most part, I just live with it all and do the best I can.

So if I don't usually talk about it--why bring it up now?

A couple of reasons. For one, I'm having the fibro flare-up of the century; probably the worst I've dealt with in ten years or so. I blame it on the crazy weather patterns we've had here recently (I find that my fibro tends to respond badly to drastic barometric pressure changes...I can tell you when a storm is coming before the Weather Channel ever puts up an alert). And maybe hormones. I blame everything on menopause hormones. Go ahead; prove I'm wrong.

But mostly, it is because I've been thinking a lot about pain lately. Not just physical pain, because sometimes that's the least of our worries. The Boston bombing started me off, and then I had a major crisis with one of my most important friendships, and I have two friends who are dealing with the pain of having seriously ill husbands, and then yesterday, my pal Bryan had to bury his smart, sweet, 18 year old son. I'm pretty sure that his pain far outreaches mine at the moment, and will for a long time.

Here's the thing about chronic pain, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual: for the most part, you just have to live with it. There's no choice. No magic wand to whisk it away, no miracle pill to cure what ails you. It just IS.

But you do have a choice about HOW you live with it. My earlier years of dealing with chronic illness (there was other stuff too) were miserable. I was miserable, and I'm pretty sure anyone who was unlucky enough to be in the same room with me was miserable too. There might have been whining...

These days, I try, as much as possible, to deal with the pain with a little more grace. This doesn't mean I never have a bad day, or complain to one of my friends, or even spend a few minutes first thing in the morning cursing out loud as I try to get my body moving. (The cats don't seem to care, as long as I am moving towards their food bowls.) But mostly, I just get on with things.

That's what it comes down to, really. My friends whose husbands are ill are a perfect example of this. They're unhappy, and worried, and scared, and feel helpless in the face of the pain of those they love, but they are doing the best they can to put one foot in front of the other, and just live their lives the best they can.

Grace under pressure.

I learned a long time ago that attitude is everything. You can't always choose what crap life will throw at you next, but you can choose how you deal with it. I try to keep a positive attitude, and a sense of humor, and not to take my pain out on those around me. I remind myself often that there is always someone who is way worse off than me. (If you have seen any of the videos of the Boston victims, vowing from their hospital beds that this isn't going to ruin their lives, you know what I mean. Grace under pressure, many of them.)

For people like my friend Bryan, it will be a long time before life returns to anything resembling normal, and even longer before the pain begins to subside. But when I saw him yesterday, greeting the long line of people who had come to pay their respects, and share his pain in what small ways they could, it reminded me that the people I respect the most have this trait in particular. Grace under pressure.

I don't always pull it off perfectly, and I sometimes have to struggle to keep a positive attitude in the face of (as the Irish say) shite. But pain isn't who I am; it is just something I live with. I have a new motto that I'm using to help me try and hold on to that attitude:

I choose happiness and health.

Whenever I feel whiny or resentful about the pain (physical or otherwise), I say it to myself: I choose happiness and health. 

What do you choose? And do you have a motto that helps to get you through? I'd love to hear it if you do.

20 comments:

  1. I love your article, my husband has herniated discs as well as nerve pain from diabetes and will be in pain for the rest of his life. People forget that it isn't just those who are in pain that suffer, our marriage has been severely tried because of the pain meds he's been on, our sex life, and the fact that he barely talks to me when he's in pain; and sometimes that's every single day. I wish my husband would put a positive face on it, but he comes home and when he's in pain he's nice to the kids and ignores or snips at me. I'm going to try and take what your wrote for me, because though my body isn't in pain, my heart has been broken for the past 4 years.

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    1. Jen--I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I'm pretty sure that if you ask the folks who knew me back in the day, they would tell you I was pretty miserable in the beginning (you know, like the first seven or eight years). But I got tired of being the downer in the room. Maybe your husband will too?

      In the meanwhile, big hugs from me. Being a caregiver is TOUGH. (Like I said, my two friends whose husbands are ill are suffering almost as much as they are.)

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  2. I have fibromyalgia as well. It is difficult to deal with the pain but I find it more difficult to deal with peope who say it's all in my head. I think you said it perfectly. It's all about attitude and choices. I choose to fight and to be as positive as I can be.The God/dess helps keep me on track. Thank you for sharing this. You are truly an inspiration. Blessed Be.

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    1. Melissa, you have my sympathy. Fibro sucks :-) I once had a pharmacist (of all people) fill a pain prescription for me and say, "You don't look like you're sick." Really dude? What does a sick person look like?

      Hang in there, and just ignore the ignorant folks...

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  3. I have not been faced with personally having to deal with chronic pain, but do have family members with MS and young onset Parkinson's and an important lesson I have learned from them is that they make the best of what they have within the limits of their physical condition. They have not removed themselves from life and the people around them but have found ways to still use their talents and skills to be contributors to the world.

    You obviously have worked long and hard on making choices that help you be in control of how you deal with what happens in your life. That's a life lesson we can all take to heart.

    And I'll pass along my husband's mantra for helping to deal with pain - diaphragmatic breathing (which you probably already do.)

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.


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    1. I often have to remind myself to actually breathe deeply. Pain has a tendency to make your entire body clench without you realizing it.

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  4. It takes alot of courage to live with chronic pain gracefully, and alot of grace to live with it courageously. Clearly you have both in abundance.

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    1. Well, it depends which day it is...and how much chocolate I have :-)

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  5. You amaze me, how much you can get done given the pain and the tiredness and everything. Not sure I got that much done when I wasn't dealing with so much myself. And I don't have that much pain on a daily basis. However, I am in a fibro flare that is getting worse (weather, stress, who knows) and all I want to do is curl up into a little ball of pain and whimper. But I will take my inspiration from you and push myself and think of grace under pressure and "I choose healthy and happy".

    Mostly I just say "breathe!" :)

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    1. Breathe is good too! And you're working hard and getting better at getting things done.

      I have to admit, this particular flare-up has made me want to curl up and whimper too. But I have too much to get done :-)

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  6. Your writing really struck a chord with me, you write so beautifully. The first comment on here too has got me thinking. I suffer from chronic daily migraine and I know I'm horrid be around some of the time. Your attitude is wonderful and I will try and be more like you. Migraine triggers are very similar too, mine are very much weather and hormones at the moment! blessings to you for a lesser pain day! Alison xx

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  7. Ah, man. I'm another Fibro sufferer, though I get more the side of the soul-crushing /fatigue/ than real pain. My best friend, on the other hand, when she's in flare, she can barely wear clothes because her very skin is on fire, she's in so much pain. Some days, it's nearly impossible to be any kind of graceful (for me too, when I'm so exhausted and easily irritable and out of it that I almost can't even see straight to work, when I ache so badly and I'm so tired I feel /sick/), but I do what I have to do, and I remind myself to think of others and how my actions and attitude will affect them, what messages I'm sending. Whatever /I'm/ going through, it's not fair to them to take it out on them, be they friends or coworkers. And yeah, I have a few (like my BF who's also a fellow sufferer) to whom I can bitch and whine and complain to my heart's content just to get it out of my system when I need to - and I am available for the same from them. You get it out, you release the ugly energies that have built up, and you get on again with things.

    And, of course, I'm speaking really only of physical pain. I can't begin to relate to what Bryan or your other two friends are going through. I am also a sufferer of clinical major depression, but I know that's nowhere near the same thing.

    There was a time in my life when someone gave me . . . you know those plastic/rubbery wristbands people have made for various causes or messages in general. This one was bright yellow and from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Granted, that's for cancer sufferers and survivors, but I took to it like crazy at the time and have still never forgotten it. It said "Live Strong". That's what I try to do. Sometimes it's all I can cling to - Live Strong.

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    1. I get the tired bit too. Although I used to have chronic fatigue syndrome too, and I'm never sure whether it is left over from that, or due to the fibro (or if they are both part of the same thing, which no one has ever figured out for sure).

      And major depression tends to go along with both of them, alas.

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  8. I've also been Dx with fibro, and several other auto-immune disorders. I've had little trouble over the past few years, thanks to taking a really holistic approach. That's not to say that it will work for everyone, nor that I have no pain ever. Neither would be true.

    I do, however, think that the auto-immune disorders are linked to my being an empath. Figuring that out has been the biggest boon to improvement for myself. I've learned to ground and center, daily, and find that its more important than anything else I do. And, also to constantly consider whether the feelings and sensations I'm having are mine or others.

    I wish you wellness and improved circumstances. Like you, I've had the situation of learning to deal with and sometimes ignore the pain, being desensitized to it after so long.

    Blessed be.

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    1. I have Fibro, and I've been told I'm an empath. I've never thought to link the two! I'll have to look into that.

      I wish you well also, that you continue the best you are able and more.

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    2. Many of the folks I've know with fibro seem to be on the more sensitive end of the scale. I suspect that being sensitive in one area (psychic/emotional) means you are also more sensitive in the other (physical). Swell.

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  9. Alison--I get migraines too; you have my sympathy. I've always had some headaches, but the last couple of years menopause has really ramped them up. I hope yours get better! *hugs*

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  10. Very good article. I definitely appreciate this site.
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  11. As someone with a mood disorder, I deal with the cyclical ebb and flow of energy and emotion. The motto that most often pulls me through is "this too shall pass." I also frequently rely on the adage that I cannot choose what happens to me, only my response. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Yes, I use that one too :-) What's more, it is even true. *hugs*

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