It's Kind of a Big Deal: ways I've coped with chronic pain
About 10 years ago, I started getting weird shooting pains up and down my leg. I went to a doctor and they said it was my IT Band. The advice: lose some weight. The pain eventually went away but would flare up. About 4 years ago, I started getting pains in my right knee that were so bad I could barely move or walk. I had a disc bulge. So I got a steroid shot and eventually the pain went away. One night I felt this pain like someone was trying to hack through my back with a rusty machete. I screamed out loud and then looked at my husband and said “I can’t move.” We called an ambulance and I was prescribed Flexaril and I saw a chiropractor. The pain went away for a while (again) and then about a year ago it was back. In January, I picked up my son and I felt it. I went upstairs to the bathroom, fell on my bed, got my adrenaline to get back downstairs, and then proceeded to stay on the couch. I felt it coming and I knew it was going to be bad. When I got up, I lost feeling in my right leg and collapsed in a weird kneeling position. I was completely immobile and terrified of moving. It was like someone had used the “crucio” curse on me and again an ambulance was called. The paramedics literally had to wrap me in a sheet to lift me up and get me in the ambulance where I lay on my stomach trying not to move. The main paramedic said, “did this pain start 2 hours ago?” I nodded. So the fun thing with muscle spasms, they tend to start two hours and then the big one hits. You physically can’t move. I can’t really describe it. It’s like a nightmare where you are anesthetized but are still conscious. You rationalize bathroom breaks. I’m not kidding. It’s like “how long can I hold this in?” In the ER, the nurse made me get up to use the bathroom after I got a shot of Toradol. The doctor on call was like “you had a muscle relaxer and two naproxens and Toradol and you still couldn’t move.” I nodded. I was proud because the only time I cried from pain was when I got the shot. It took a few hours but I rolled over. I’m sharing this because after this incident, I realized this pain was a part of my life and wasn’t going away. After I got an MRI, I learned that my disc bulge had turned in a herniated disc and was degenerating. So it was chronic. It is a fact of my life. Before I had this, I used to really judge people who would use handicapped spots and walk in somewhere. I’ve now had to walk into a Target and be in so much pain that I needed a wheelchair. It’s made me realize that you don’t know what people are suffering through and really not to judge.
4 Things That Work for Me
(Disclaimer: not a medical professional. Always talk to a medical professional before you do any pain intervention. I’m a hypochondriac so I’m all about talking to a doctor before you do anything. These are things that work for me and they are non-pharmalogical.)
Wearing Comfy Shoes. This is really tough because as women we are supposed to have cute shoes for everything and comfy shoes just aren’t cute. Get yourself some sneakers and see what you can work with. I mean good walking sneakers. I’m talking nurse shoes. I’m talking a clunky AF heel. Guess what? I’ve had way less exacerbations and if I get judged for wearing sneakers with dresses-they don’t have to deal with crippling back pain. It’s on me.
2. Know when your intervention has stopped working. For me, I was taking the maximum amount of Tylenol per day for about 2 months. Wait- you may ask- that isn’t what it says on the label. It says about 10 days and then see a doctor. Well, dude, I wasn’t thinking that way I thought I could handle it on my own. I was rationing out when I could take the pills and when it finally hit me that I kept on upping my dose and nothing was changing. Here’s the thing with chronic back pain-it’s multifaceted and it takes several courses of treatment to make it better. Adding to this, the pain is a moving target so what works one time might not work another. Since it’s your pain, you need to advocate for yourself and I am not a doctor. I do know that back pain is a sticky wicket and there are multiple interventions. However, there comes a point-for me- when medications aren’t enough. I need another option. It’s really hard. Especially, because I love the feeling when the drugs kick in. I love that numbness. Know thyself, if you have an addictive personality and some doctor tries to prescribe you something that is majorly addictive speak up. It is easy to get in a vicious cycle with pills and you can really hurt yourself. This is not to say all medications are bad- but know when a course isn’t working for you. At this point, you need another intervention. For me, it involves exercising or physical therapy. This is when I reach out to a medical professional and see what they think the best course is. You aren’t too busy. Make the time.
3. Get comfy pillows. Dude, this is the time to splurge. Get things that make you comfortable. If they happen to be cute and on sale-get it. I’m currently lounging on some boho lumbar pillows that match my couch perfectly. I love it. Anytime I get to add art to my life, I’m there for it.
4. Be HONEST with yourself.
When I was 5 I sprained my ankle in kindergarten. I walked home and my parents were furious at my teacher for not doing anything. She had no idea because as I told everyone “I didn’t want anyone to notice.” I walked on that pain. When I was in my labor and delivery class, I asked what specifically counts as labor because I wouldn’t know what it was. Braxton-Hicks, I walked them off. I work at a hospital and I got one in front of an actual doctor. She was like “Are you OK?” I said “It’s nothing.” Not wanting to bother anyone and saying “It’s not THAT bad.” Guess what? My bar for seeking help with my back was “can I walk?” That’s a really low bar. When it was just me suffering, it was doable but dumb. Now that I have a toddler-it’s madness. I’m fortunate to have a safety net of insurance, a husband, and my mother lives by me. Not everyone has that. So if you feel alone-just ask for help. Seriously. Don’t say your pain is a 3 when it’s a 7. Think of it like you are at a restaurant where they have levels of spicy. You don’t want to have something that is so spicy you can’t enjoy your food and you are begging a waiter for water/something with ice cream. This may or may not have happened on my honeymoon. I hate the 1-10 scale of pain or the smiley face thing. Pain is so subjective and it is so so hard. We are also in a weird place because of over prescribing opiates.bGuess what? You are experiencing the pain and trust your feelings. Just be honest when your daily life is inconvenienced.
It’s not fun. It is a struggle. I hate it so much. But I know I’m not the only person that goes through this. I just have a jacked up back and it’s part of who I am. I have to be careful but it’s also forced me to be more active (you need a strong core) and appreciate my body when it feels better. It also makes me advocate for myself and more empathetic to others.
Do you have chronic pain? Do you have interventions or things that you do when it’s really bad? Shows you like to watch as you are stuck on the couch? Good blankets to buy? Cute orthopedic shoes? Cute backpacks? I’m genuinely curious.