Living in chronic pain, is a pain in the a**. The routine is always the same. The outcome varies, but the routine doesn’t.
Like many people, I wake with a terrible taste in my mouth. I am eager to immediately brush and floss to remove the accumulated bacteria. However, even before leaving the warm comfort of wherever I was finally able to rest my head, I must assess my pain level. It is an automatic response, just as the desire to brush is. Sadly, I cannot just brush away the pain as easily as I can brush away the night’s distaste.
In an ironic thought I want to bad-mouth my pain. I want to yell at it to leave my body. Instead, I assess what I am going to face when I get up and begin my day. Am I immediately going to face a 9 pain level? Am I going to be bed bound? Am I going to be able to shower without tears? Am I going to be able to have some time enjoying an activity that brings me joy? I know I want to have a good day. I know I desire to find whatever minutes or hours that aren’t complicated with anguish.
I am not searching for gloom and doom when I wake. I am searching for time be joyous and at peace. These last two weeks have been more of a challenge than I care to admit. Along with all my other chronic illnesses, shingles has joined the party. It has been kicking my butt. It has denied me, most days, of any attempt at finding joy.
Before I leave the bed, to start the mandatory meds that rule my life, I try to determine what I shall attempt. Do I need to contact any doctor about guidance for relief? Happily, I have a tribe that cares about me. A group of men and women who work to give me the best possible outcome. I have an emotional tribe as well. People who understand that when I say I am OK; it just means I am doing the best I can.
On mornings that I can easily get out of bed and begin my day, I am grateful. My morning always begins with the gratitude for what I have, for what I can do, and for those I love and care about. Gratitude every morning and evening has been a life changer for my mental health. Often, my morning thoughts are a sweet guide as to what I need for the day.
Thursday, I left the house for the first time in quite a while. I drove the seven minutes to my acupuncture appointment, in tears. My pain was off the charts. I knew in my heart that the needles would bring me some relief.
The waiting room was packed with patients who also needed attention of this gifted healer. I was slumped, standing against the wall because sitting was too painful. I knew in addition to the shingles, and everything else, I also had costochondritis. My rib pain was causing me agony. I could not escape the throbbing no matter what I did.
My doctor noticed my distress and soon put me in a room to try and get some relief. I attempted to find a position I could relax long enough to remain still. This was a huge challenge. In an almost fetal position, with a heated pad on my rib, I was given some needles. My wrists and feet were the assigned healing spots.
As he attended to his other patients he repeatedly came and checked on me. He adjusted the needles and spoke to me about how I was feeling. For the first time, I thought there was no hope for relief.
I have always left his office much better than when I came. Thursday was different, and I was scared. What will happen if I cannot escape this pain? His reassurance and care mean the world to me. I know he is a miracle worker and I needed one ASAP. We discussed the pain protocol my MD prescribed. He reinforced the need to follow the plan. In my fear of not wanting to get hooked on pain meds, I was taking far less than directed. This allowed my pain to take hold and run. I was unable to bring my numbers down once they took hold of me.
After the needles and heat, I was only a tiny bit better. That is not my normal. I was able to stand tall as I left his office, but I wondered how I was going to fare on the ride home. He assured me that I was healing. He reminded me that the shingles were almost totally gone in the front and scabbed over in the back. He told me I was no longer contagious which was great news. Not that I wanted to be around anyone.
As I was leaving, I noticed that my phone had a text message from the pharmacy to pick up some meds. I pass the store on my way home so I foolishly thought I should get the prescriptions on my way home. They asked me to wait while they filled a second script, so I decided to get some needed groceries while I waited.
The store was filled with balloons, candy, flowers, and tons of other items meant to assuage the guilt of last-minute Valentine’s day shoppers. Maybe everyone waits until the day before to purchase a gift. I don’t know and I didn’t care. The store workers were all smiley and happy and cheerful. It was depressing me. I purchased my few items in time for my meds to be ready. The pharmacist asked if I was doing better and sadly, I told her I was not. These people I only speak to when getting prescriptions truly seemed to care, and I made a mental note to be grateful for more members of my healing tribe.
Upon returning home, I ate some food, took my meds, and took a nap. I was frustrated at not feeling qualitatively better. I expect my pain to always be reduced when leaving acupuncture. This was an anomaly that I did not appreciate. After my nap I again assessed my pain level. Much to my surprise, I was not at a 9. I was at a 7 at most. Had a miracle happened while I slept? Kind of. I slept and that in of itself was a miracle for me.
I expressed my gratitude for the lowered pain level. A couple of wonderful members of my tribe called me. They were reassuring and comforting. I let them know how much they mean to me. I am grateful for all those that care about me and my path.
When I woke Friday, I was at a pain level of 5. I was overjoyed and contemplated how I wanted to spend my day. I expressed my gratitude for all I had been given. I want to return to my normal more than anything. I want my life back. I was hoping this was a turning point. My needles, my meds, my sleep, my comforting friends, and my self-care was doing its healing work.
My school was having a celebration at lunch for my former core mate’s wedding. I taught with her for over 15 years. I had given up hope of being able attend the party. With joy I my heart I decided to go to the gathering. My former school site is only about 10 minutes away from home. I had already contributed the gift so that was not a worry.
I had purchased numerous calendars for February gifts. Most were for my former core mates. The calendars made me happy and I wanted to share the joy. I had made a few Valentine’s gifts, but there was no way they were going to get sent off. I wrote my cards and wrapped my gifts with love.
I went to the party feeling a tolerable pain level. It was good for my spirits to both be out of the house, and to be amongst caring people. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few other retirees in attendance. We talked about what retirement was like and the joys of not dealing with the stress of working.
One of the retiree’s spouses is dealing with some new medical issues. We were able to talk about meds and recommendations for a good rheumatologist. I was happy to help with what I could. She spoke about her new normal. She is a wonderful advocate for her spouse. As he downplays his illness, she seeks advisors for help. I respect her for not allowing him to have anything less than the best possible help. We had a great time and I know I was supposed to be at the gathering.
As I left the school, I exited the locked campus through the room of one of the teachers. The class was filled with 7th graders I had last year. There were many “Hi, Mrs. Swanberg’s,” to be had. It felt good to be acknowledged. I miss the kids, not the stress. My friend said it is different for her because the kids she taught are long gone. She told me it is a little sad that none of the kids there remember her. It was food for thought.
Still feeling well, I returned home, took my meds, but was unable to nap. I was grateful for a wonderful day. I was out of the house. I was not in agony. I helped celebrate with my friends. I gifted my Valentine’s. I straightened up my February box, and I gave thanks.
I made myself a simple dinner with the groceries I had purchased. I tried to read awhile but I could not focus. I am grateful for lowered pain levels. I hoped yesterday was a turning point in this latest struggle.
Then I woke up today. I am hopeful for a return to the lowered pain level. I am hopeful for an outing out of the house today. I am grateful for all that I have. I am grateful for my tribe.