I have started and stopped this post multiple times, deleting everything and beginning again from scratch. The truth is, it’s incredibly difficult to talk about fear, and there simply is no way to discuss chronic pain and flare ups without including the topic of fear. It wasn’t really even a topic included in the Pain Rehabilitation Clinic (PRC), and their whole purpose was to help us get off of medication and face the fear of voluntarily eliminating the only shield we had between ourselves and the pain that threatened to tear us apart daily.
This January marks five years since I went through the rehabilitation program at the Mayo Clinic, and since getting off of pain medication I have certainly had flare ups. My first year living pain medication free was a roller coaster of blinding pain and attempts to manage it with an endless supply of biofreeze and enough ibuprofen to kill a herd of livestock. I thought I had accepted that I would never be pain free, and it was a shock to me the first time I made it through a day at work without taking ibuprofen or even thinking of my pain once (3 years in). I wear my pain warrior badge proudly, and even though I have accepted the ups, downs, and limitations of my diagnosis, I was in no way prepared for the fear that accompanies a flare up.
Sometimes, it takes a flare up for us to see just how well we have been managing. I’m not talking about the day to day pain, but that deep, searing pain that takes your breath away as it rips you back in time to memories of when your pain was at its worst. Your pain manifests as a physical being, gripping you in a toxic embrace and all you can do is silently scream in your head, “NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN,” until your brain is numb from the agony. Even after five years of flare-ups, it still suffocates me with it’s intensity.
I don’t bring it up to be dramatic, but instead to lessen it’s power by telling you this is normal. We went through hell–some of us are still in some shade of it–and the thought of going back there brings us to our knees. It’s hard talking about it to others, either because we don’t want to be the person who always talks about their pain, or because we are too afraid of our fears being invalidated. Having someone tell us that, “I’m sure it isn’t that bad,” or, “Hey, have you ever been to a chiropractor?” makes our blood boil.
While it is perhaps one of the hardest things to do, I focus on slowing down, which is the exact opposite of what my terrified rabbit brain wants to do. I’m currently in one of my worst flare-ups in five years, which, happened to be brought on by a new injury. Farrell’s Kickboxing, which is something I am so proud of myself for accomplishing with my damaged body, resulted in spraining my shoulder, and led to a full scale flare up of my neck and trapezius muscle pain to the degree of which I haven’t felt since rehab. I called my sister and mom in tears from the pain for the first time in 7 years.
What about the nail?
While my mind was spinning terrified circles about the “what ifs” and possibility that my pain could be coming back to it’s full fury, it was my sister who had the most sane advice. “Go to your doctor, you probably actually hurt yourself.”
Did you ever see that video where the girl goes on and on about problems, completely ignoring the nail in her forehead that causes all of said problems. I kind of felt like that for a minute. Having chronic pain means I am very good at ignoring my pain, or at least distracting myself from it. Sometimes I forget that pain actually has a purpose, which is to tell you something is wrong in your body. Facepalm. An injury. Deal with the injury, then deal with the flare. I’m not going to say the anxiety was immediately resolved, but it was a plan and sometimes, having an actionable plan can bring that internal panicked bedlam down to a dull roar.
I did go to the doctor, get some X-rays (nothing broken or displaced), and a prescription of muscle relaxers and physical therapy… and was forbidden from kickboxing for an entire month minimum…. right over Christmas. Ugh. I’m trying to do the opposite of what I normally do (ignoring the pain) and actually listen to my body and what it is telling me. I’ve been so run down between the pain, holiday triggers and anxiety, and personal life anxiety that this break is a (mostly) welcome excuse to take it easy. To get back to basics, and start practicing better self care, both physically and mentally. To put on my war paint and face this next battle against chronic pain.