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.
This January marks five years since I made the decision to get completely off pain medication. 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 (three years med-free). I wear my pain warrior badge proudly, and even though I have accepted the ups, downs, and limitations of my diagnosis, I was still 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, they still suffocate me with their intensity. I don’t bring it up to be dramatic but instead to lessen its 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.
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 sustained at the gym. For the first time in seven years, I called my sister and mom in tears from the pain.
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 its full fury, it was my sister who had the best advice. “Go to your doctor, you probably actually hurt yourself.” Did you ever see that spoof 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.
It’s OK to be afraid.
I did go to the doctor and am yet again back in physical therapy. 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. When we do well managing our pain, it’s easy to forget how far we h]ave come. It’s OK to be afraid of the pain… just know that you are stronger.