I’m a little behind on getting things done at the moment after coming down with a nasty chest infection and pulled rib muscles from coughing. In the meantime, I wanted to share a personal experience from someone on the topic of pain. It’s a hard thing to talk about, to put in to words, to share with the world. Thank you Julie.
After what should have been minor surgery in 2006 I spent the next four years in often excruciating pain.
I learned that unless someone has experienced long-term pain, they often cannot conceive what it does to you. A friend believes that the pain combined with the strong cocktail of painkillers she took to get through each day changed her personality. What I do know is that pain certainly changed my life.
I had to balance pain control with being able to do my job.
Pain medication causes fatigue and impairs memory. I often woke up feeling like I had not gone to bed. I was a knowledge worker. Medication dulled the only tool I needed for my job, a sharp mind. Every day began with a choice. Do I take pain medication? Or are my commitments too important to risk a slower recall of the knowledge to do my job? I knew if I took a dull mind to work too often, I risked loosing the job, which paid the bills. Often the only choice open to me was to work in pain. This required extreme self control. Pain affects your mood, tolerance and patience levels. Being permanently irritable (or worse) at work is not an option. Without experiencing this for myself, I could never have imagined the energy expended each day just to avoid strangling someone! I came to the conclusion that I had to step down from a management role until my health improved. I could just about do my own work, but managing a team was exhausting.
Eventually, I quit working to go traveling for a year. I hoped the extended holiday would help my body to heal. It did not. I returned home in 2009 to undergo two further surgeries, the outcome of the latest is unknown.
I got the occasional pain on holiday, which whilst it was a nice break, also had the effect of breaking my spirit and crushing my hopes. I would start to believe that at last I was waking from the nightmare, only for the pain to return. I gave up praying for healing.
I learned so much about what I am capable of enduring.
And some people in my life surprised me. Pain is exhausting. I disappeared off the social radar and many people didn’t even notice or ask after me! It’s humbling to find out how little you matter to the people that mattered to you. Pain is a very lonely place.
Strangely, some people I thought I was not particularly close to were very faithful. Even if I wasn’t well enough to do much, they still phoned, texted or visited. They reminded me that I was not forgotten, I mattered to someone and was missed. And they understood why I was often dull company when they did see me!
I experienced the crushing disappointments when medication and surgeries just didn’t work. Often I just couldn’t talk about it. Some people understood and respected that. Others saw my not sharing all the details as a personal rejection of them. They seemed to think they had a right to know everything, regardless of any right I had to privacy or silence! There were times, when I just could not take on other people’s problems as well as my own. I had to practice self-preservation and just avoid some people who drained my already low energy levels. Some people disapproved of this coping mechanism. I did not know what else to do. My whole being felt exhausted, beaten, crushed, flattened and weak. I had no reserves left and no patience to hear other people’s problems, which I often judged as trivial compared to what I was going through. I wished I could explain the detail of what I was going through, but it was too intimate, too shameful. Their inability to deal with “petty” issues made me feel enraged. I swallowed that anger and tried to maintain a veneer of patience.
The psychological impact of pain is the least understood.
It’s not just the pain, its what it does to your psyche. Pain is disabling. It stops you participating in life, even doing simple things like your share of the household chores. For many months doing anything except lying down was excruciatingly painful. For most of the last four years just sitting up has been painful. I began to feel worthless.
The worst was the fear and despair. Can I do my job in this much pain? Will I get dismissed for having yet more time off for surgery? Will all my friends finally desert me because I have become so dull? Will my husband leave me? Will I end up losing my home? Will there be anything left of me that anyone will want to spend time with? I often prayed that I would not awake in the morning. “Oh dear God, please kill me or cure me. I am past caring which” Then when the morning light hit my eyelids, I dreaded the coming day.
Then I got a Eureka moment. I discovered I do still have some choice and control over my life. “You can get busy living, or you can get busy dying” (a line from my favourite film the Shawshank Redemption) I could try to enjoy life in the present moment, or live in constant fear that life would only get worse…
© Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved – Julie Loxley