Suggested Topic: Mental Health & Chronic Pain

I’m not good at prompting myself to write, so I posted on twitter asking for subject ideas. This was the first suggestion. Thanks, husband!

It’s been known for longer than any of us have been alive that the brain and the body work together in ways we understand as well as those we don’t. 

One of the more extreme examples of this is the connection between chronic pain and mental health issues. As usual, this is only my own personal experience. I’m not an expert, nor any type of trained scientist or doctor.

There are a lot of things that make me the awesome fucking me we all know and love. Two of those, my mental health struggles, and my chronic pain issues, are related, have direct impacts on one another, and impact me in different ways separately as well as together.

It’s hard to be in pain. Like, really hard.

Think about the last time you were really sick, running a fever of over 100 degrees. It took every ounce of energy you could muster to get yourself out of bed to go pee. Walking to the living room to sleep in a different sweaty lump makes you feel like you just ran a marathon while being the most hung over you’ve been since you went to that fall fling bash at Alpha Kappa Drinka.

Really hard.

Now, imagine that being the way you have to live your life. Not every day, but more days than not. Think about how desperate you were to just feel “normal” again. How easy it was to get upset. How running out of tissues makes you want to cry despite knowing how silly that is. Think about how exhausting it is to try and make yourself some kind of budget to get through your time being sick and away from work. Then think about that feeling never going away.

I’m incredibly lucky, as far as spoonies* are concerned. For the most part, I have more good days than bad. Minus a year or so about 8 years ago, I’ve been able to hold jobs. I can “play” normal. I have the good/bad luck of having an invisible illness. Despite when I’m really exhausted (Fibro brings insomnia along for the ride.) or wearing arm braces (I have nerve issues that require splints at times to control the pain or to keep the numbness at bay.), you can’t tell by looking at me that anything is wrong. It’s good because I don’t walk around with any sort of “HEY I AM INTERALLY FUCKED UP” beacon on me, but it’s bad because I have to constantly defend my need for extra time, extra space, extra comfort. I grew up being mocked as “lazy” from my family itself. I still have to explain to people why I’m always tired. I don’t look sick, so it’s easiest for people to just assume everything is fine.

It’s hard to always have to defend yourself, especially when it involves things like how you physically feel. 

Humans aren’t made to suffer. Having to do so without any hope of improvement is not easy to do. It’s hard to not feel sorry for yourself without feeling extremely guilty. You constantly worry. Will my job understand? Will I have enough energy tomorrow? Will I have enough leave time earned to take time off when I need it? Will my partner understand? Will my children judge me or think less of me? Will my friends think I just want attention?

It’s easy to worry. We have parts of us that are physically broken and often are told “too bad” so it’s hard to hold faith in the rest of the world going any better.

How are we told to deal with worry? Let’s look at a few examples and how they go sideways for us:

        • Tomorrow is a new day! True, except that chronic pain and illness don’t disappear overnight. For many of us, sleep can make pain worse.
        • Just stay patient! Things will improve. Except again, no, they won’t. Things are hard. And they are likely to always be hard.
        • Remember, some people have it worse. Suffering is not a competition. Stop telling us this. It takes our pain and tells us we aren’t important enough to complain about it.
        • Have you tried breathing exercises? Yes, and I do them regularly to help keep shit at bay. It doesn’t solve anything. It sometimes makes things more tolerable

After a certain point, it’s easy to believe that if my pain doesn’t matter to others, why should it matter to me?

We spend our lives defending ourselves and it’s hard. Think of how tiring it is to argue with someone constantly and have them never believe you. Now imagine that being how things go more often than not.

It’s yet another reason it’s so crucial that you try to see things from the eyes of others.

When someone tells you they hurt, listen. It’s literally that simple.

*Spoonies are people with chronic conditions that regularly involve using up more spoons than you have available. You can read about the spoon theory here.

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