Navigating the Storm of Chronic Pain.
I have so much good in my life. So much to be thankful for.
And as I inhale at this very moment to write, and follow the rhythm of my breath as anyone normally would, it hurts. It hurts to breathe in, and for as long as I can remember and until I noticed not too long ago, that is the very reason I seemed to have held my breaths and never allowed myself to go as deep as my lungs.
It’s those things that you notice last. The small things. They are recognized in the slim areas of daily functioning, like trying to look through two panes of glass. They only reflect off each other, and you cannot see what is in between until your threshold has been tapped hard enough where eventually it’s made a crack and you can finally see between the two. Maybe the seeing is the worst part.
Why couldn’t I just keep up with the tolerance I have had, that I have worn so well and strapped on with courage at a young age?
100 million Americans suffer from mild to severe chronic pain. Six months ago, and with much notice — years of notice — I had fit in those statistics. Two weeks ago, my doctor explained my pain to me, and crossing his arms he leaned back in his chair and said with sympathy, “You are in the minority, and an unfortunate case. But know that nothing you did or did not do is to blame for it.”
I am thankful for having had my parents sitting next to me at that moment, and my Mom with her arm around me.
However, I do not know how or why I had such resilience in the years past, due to where I am at now. It was as if a tree shot up fast, and like an ignorant farmer not giving notice to all the changes and expansions due to the roots being underground, being surprised that the tree was all of a sudden there should not be quite surprising at all. I woke up one day in pain, and this time it never left.
I’m not on this earth to talk about it, to complain, to seek out pain medication, or to do just the opposite and say how ritualistically I reach out for holistic remedies instead. I have no desire to talk about where it comes from, and the intensity I feel and the where and when. Maybe, unlike most people, I do not find solace or emotional relief talking about what one would call symptoms or ailments.
In fact, it exhausts me even more, and my energy — both mental and spiritual — is precious to me. To my loved ones, all that I can say, and could be said when I finally revealed to them what I had been so quiet about, is, “I’m in pain.”
I am not going to play out the what-ifs for what has happened to me, as they would just tangle up in my hands like trying to feed the tape back into a cassette, making more of a mess than when I had started. I am not going to photoshop the limit to which it has reached in order for me to function. Those tactics will not convince my mind, no matter how skewed or airbrushed the measure of this frustration is that I breathe in and breathe out.
I do not want to talk about it with someone who suffers from the same thing I do. I hear about support groups, and that it can be a way of coping when shared with someone who has the same physical mirror that roars at you with pain like the grinding of two rusty blades blowing sparks. There is no anger in my heart. There is no rage that lingers even at the slightest discomfort I feel in places in my body I never knew existed.
I say I won’t and I am not, but the truth is, that is just exactly who I am and always have been. So here I am solely exhibiting my character in my writing, to say I do not think as such. The truth is only that I have grieved. Simply but brokenheartedly, I have grieved. And I’m still grieving.
I remember the first time, a couple of weeks ago, when I lay down in my bed, not expecting anything to be different from lying down and waiting to fall asleep as I talked to my spiritual guide.
I’d just taken a shower, frosted my skin with my favorite lotion, and put on one of my gorgeous summer nighties. I am single, and never gave a thought to how I do things all my life because I always do them for me, but I love feeling sexy, and not just that, womanly… and so I crawled into my bed of satin sheets and devoted my body to my down comforter, awaiting serenity.
I am not sure what happened as I lay there, well, maybe I do know as I was devoting my time of rest to my spiritual guide, my sense of the divine, my help. I began to feel uncomfortable.
I ached endlessly, and without purpose began to breathe in heavily and exhaled like they teach you in Yoga to use the back of your throat, except this was from the tears that I felt were coming. Like two panes of glass with light shining on them, making it impossible to see anything unless it’s in the slight shadow where the glare lets up. If my tears were anywhere near those two panes of glass, the force would have broken through them.
It was when darkness rested next to me, and I was alone, that I was allowed to see my emotional pain and grieve over my physical trial. I have never cried like that before, and since then I have not. Somehow, some way, I had that moment that I believe everyone does at some point. Or maybe for some, they don’t.
I think sometimes there’s a spiritual force that awakens the towers that keep getting higher and we can no longer look up at them, for our neck cannot strain for that long. There was a pain awakened inside me, and it became so very real at that moment, and from then on, like pinning it to my heart as if I had gained something and not lost it instead.
Chronic pain, and the severity I feel, makes me believe I have lost something. And yes, in fact, I have. I lost physical comfort. The things I did before, I loathe to do now.
Getting in and out of the car. Bending over to pick something up. Making my bed. Grocery shopping, and bringing the groceries in. I will wait as long as I can go without things just to avoid going to the store. Sitting or standing for minutes at a time, and trying to overcome the challenge of finding a comfortable posture or position, similar to the game of musical chairs.
How many times have I wished to toss the chairs aside (and yes, risking pulling a muscle in doing so) and quietly go find a place to lie down and not have a time restraint. Everything hurts. And I don’t know what to do. So I keep getting up and getting ready for my day as I normally would, but not so much anymore.
Things for me are quite different in my world now. I get up, and I drag. I hold on to the sink in the morning when I get ready for work because it hurts to breathe. When I am sure that no one is looking, I clench my jaw and I find my hand in the area that is screaming out for relief.
At work, I watch the clock, waiting for time to move faster so that I can go home, after which I cannot strip my clothes off fast enough, take a hot shower and drink the heaviest chamomile tea. If I were the Tin Man, an oil can would be my biggest aid. I feel like a string puppet, as if my limbs are being conducted in such a way of being pulled in different directions while my stature remains still.
If I dared to paint the picture, I would say the pain I have locks me up, and freezes the most crucial parts I once had the delight of using without thought. What I have realized is what I do still have. I will always bask in the sunlight on the days I am able to go walking, and I will turn to go down the street that smells like lilacs and salt from the beach that sits at its end.
I will always giggle at the dogs on the beach that never cease to fetch the balls their owners throw for them, and the dogs’ struggle through the waves getting tossed about, but for them that ball is such a serious thing. I will always relish in the feeling of having a good book in my hands and turning its pages, when you never know how good it is until the very end.
There is something about having closed a book after finishing it, and feeling as if something inside you shifted, some little life force that made you more solid. Every time I finish a book, I begin to miss it afterwards like one would miss a person they met, got to know, and grew fond of.
I cannot do a headstand anymore in Yoga. And in a few years, I may not be able to do Eka Pada Galavasana, flying pigeon pose, my favorite, along with many others. How I wish I knew about the awesomeness of Yoga sooner. I could have been doing some distinct pretzel-shaped poses and had more fun with it than I have gotten to in the past two years I have been practicing.
Conquering a peak pose for me was never about the physical. There was just something about that success that I could call my own, and I would grin right in the middle of it as if someone had just handed me a bouquet of flowers. I always wondered if any other yogis ever got that feeling too.
I have an extremely healthy lifestyle, but it’s getting harder and harder to find the strength to stay active. In years and months past, my mind has always willed itself and won despite the pain. I take it day by day, but lately it has been moment by moment. The things I used to find enjoyment in doing, I hesitate in participating in because I know what I have felt before.
It’s like a bad memory that stings in your mind, having suffered the repercussions and not wanting to repeat it. Like living out some experience that never meant to cause harm, but the thought of trying it again has made you timid. So I have readjusted the internal daily calendar by which I have gone by for so long. And I grieve.
I can no longer wear a pair of high-heel shoes. I guess if I were sitting down the entire time I had them on, I could. The thing is, on the outside I look fine. My young age covers it up by my appearance. In most ways, I would rather have it be that way right now. I believe there are a lot of us who would prefer to keep our battle scars hidden.
I look well, but if you turned me inside out, the pain in my body would resemble the motion of a small ship being engulfed violently by a storm.
I remember gripping the sink while brushing my teeth recently one morning, before I decided to make an appointment to see my doctor, and asking myself, “Is everything supposed to hurt like this?”
So, I am going to have some battle scars. More of them. But I have found that making a list of all the blessings in my life helps. My good friend taught me that. He also taught me that eating fatty or sugary foods act as a pain analgesic. I would have never believed him, having my healthy eating habits as I do, so he tricked me into it one day, and since then I make sure I tune into that channel a couple of times a week.
What else haven’t I lost? Knowing that I will always be able to laugh. Knowing that there will always be remedies that help produce oxytocin, the body’s natural pain-reliever hormone, and believe me, that mental list keeps growing. Knowing that I will always be able to fall in love with people and things in life. Knowing that no matter what, no matter how much my body fails me, my emotional heart will always work.
Michelle Sanborn is a devoted self-nurturer. After several years of doing just the opposite, she now enjoys life splendidly and unbroken. She currently lives in the moment, spends as much time as she can being barefoot, and enjoys the cooky behavior of Siamese cats. She has a love for raw honesty, has found that the places of our past are never really lost when they have full nostalgic value, and she dreams of someday having a hot air balloon ride over a very green country. Her recipe for nourishing her introverted ways consists of one-on-one stimulating conversation, a date with her kitchen baking sweet treats on a gloomy day, and with her headphones and beach chair as her only guests, she drinks up solitude at the beach from nine to five. She does not believe in luck, but instead believes in being blessed. Writing is not her occupation, nor does she string the chords of an imaginary instrument to make it be so. The true faculty of her writing would only take the form of absolute serendipity, and that is just what makes her feel alive.