Pain management

Tabletop with laptop, coffee mug, papers, and needlework.
(My pain management class supplies: textbook, computer, water, herbal tea, and needlework. I don’t know if I could get through the classes without the needlework.)

One day this week, an errand took me past a former workplace. It’s a road I spent years driving down, Monday through Friday, but I rarely have cause to drive it now.

Thanks to my pain management class, a book I learned about there, and a recent conversation with my primary care doc, I am coming to understand some things about my body’s responses to perceived threat, and how that is connected to years of chronic pain from various medical conditions. So, when I had to drive by that place slowly–it’s a school zone, and I hit it at peak drop-off time in the morning–I had plenty of time to get triggered and to feel what the triggering was doing to my body.

When I drove that road nearly every day, I didn’t notice how it felt–how I felt. It was just my normal. Maybe I was desensitized by its constancy. Maybe there was no room to really feel it. I mean, quitting was not an option. I wasn’t in denial about the problems of that place, but I was about their impact on me. Not entirely, but enough to keep myself able to function. Mostly. For a long time, anyway.

My PCP sent me to a behavioral health consultant, so that I can get access to therapy to “heal from unresolved trauma” that is playing a role in my chronic pain conditions. That person asked me to rate, on a 10-point scale, how much I feel impacted from my chronic pain.

The question stumped me.

I mean, how I feel most of the time is better than I ever have in my entire life. I have pain of one kind or another (and fairly often more than one kind at a time) most days, but it is manageable. When my back acts up after a half hour of cleaning, I am able to sit down and rest. When a migraine starts, I am able to stay home and rest. I have effective meds. For the first time in my life (other than a short stretch in my early 20s), I am not either living or working in a situation that causes me to walk on eggshells, constantly alert for trouble and doing whatever I can to avoid it. Do you know how good it feels to always feel safe, accepted, loved, and relaxed at home? I feel so incredibly fortunate to have what I have now. It’s a wonder to me.

But I do have pain of one kind or another most days, and that is manageable only because I am no longer working in my career field. I don’t feel able to commit to any other paid work because managing/improving my health is feeling like its own full-time job now. But working is a primary life function, and I’m not even 60 yet. If I can’t do a primary life function at my age and be well, what should my score be?

I think I settled on 7. Or maybe 6.

I don’t know where I’m going with this.

It’s been a funky week. The weather is cold cold cold, but the days are so brightly sunny I keep saying I need to get my sunglasses back out. I’m savoring every last bit of true fall that I can, before we pass Thanksgiving and it is officially winter holiday season. I love this time of year, when we go inside and get cozy but don’t yet have a bunch of other obligations. When we love light all the more for its scarcity.

For so many reasons, I really can’t with Thanksgiving much any more, but I will always love taking time to notice and name what I am grateful for. In this funky week full with appointments and phone calls and triggers and wind and wool sweaters, there was one morning where everything sparkled because the temperatures had dropped below freezing overnight, but the sun was rising. Branches were newly bare, but there were still leaves clinging to them–leaves blazing with their final colors. It felt like a metaphor for many things right now, so I took a picture.

One day I was home alone, and I noticed a pair of boots that Cane had left out. My daughter leaves her shoes and slippers in the hallway outside her bedroom door. When my son used to come home on military leave, he’d leave his shoes out, too, and I always loved seeing them. When I lived by myself, I had neat, tidy, empty hallways. This kind of clutter fills me.

On a walk this week, I passed an old, old tree:

Isn’t she glorious? I mean, look closer:

That’s a kind of beauty that only comes from years of living, from standing through season after season of sun, rain, wind, ice, and sun again. When I was younger, reminders that the world had existed long before me and would long after me were unsettling. Now, they are comforting. (I might have given that tree a hug. She felt like a grandmother, and I miss mine.)

Hoping all of you have a week with some beauty and comfort in it, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

(Maybe my next stitching project. Or maybe I’ll write a story set here. Something about this place calls to me.)

12 thoughts on “Pain management

  1. Kari says:

    Rita, we both suffer from chronic pain for the same reasons. I am unable to write about my why’s. I will someday. I’m working my way through it on my own and coming to a place where I can manage it. But I am happy for you. I’m here at my desk, crying for a person I’ve never met in person: *That person is you.

    When you said that tree reminded you of your grandmother, YES. This summer, I had a vision in which all of my deceased family members transformed into trees, leaves, and grass. To hear me explain it, I sound ridiculous. Reading your words, it sounds very reasonable. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    Think I will hug a tree this week.

    • Rita says:

      I don’t think that sounds ridiculous at all. Of course, that’s because trees have started talking to me. 🙂 Not all trees, just really old ones.
      Isn’t it great that we are finally getting answers and gaining understanding? It makes me feel hopeful about aging–helps me believe that other things will continue to improve, too.

      Give that tree a hug for me, too.

  2. Kate says:

    “ When I was younger, reminders that the world had existed long before me and would long after me were unsettling. Now, they are comforting.” YES!! I can’t pinpoint when that switch happened, but I’m so grateful for it.

    That house picture might be my favorite of all the lovely ones you took. I really love the house you’re working on right now as well!

    The work involved in managing chronic pain sounds exhausting but also enlightening.

    I’m still trying to parse out my feelings on Thanksgiving and how to keep the things I treasure about the day without celebrating the origin or if that’s impossible. I hope you have a wonderful day week whatever that looks like for you!!

    • Rita says:

      That house picture would be a challenging one to transform into needlework, but maybe as I get better at it. There was just something about it that was so appealing to me. My progress on the current one is slow. Some nights, by the time we are sitting on the couch to watch something before bed, I am too tired to pick it up. On Saturday afternoon I let myself sit and listen to an audiobook and stitch and drink tea, and it was so nice. But I don’t seem to have much opportunity for that. Or don’t let myself.

      If you figure out Thanksgiving, let me know. I’m in the same place you are. I hope you have a wonderful day/week, too. I’m thankful for our connection!

  3. Ally Bean says:

    I suffer from chronic back pain, but have found ways to alleviate it, adapting to what is. I don’t know how I’d answer the question the behavioral consultant asked you. Now, of course, I’m going to ponder on it. The old, old tree is glorious and makes me feel good about aging. I will never achieve its longevity, but with any luck it’ll outlive me to inspire the next generation with its twisted beauty.

    • Rita says:

      To be able to adapt to what is, is so important, isn’t it? I’m deep in serenity prayer territory these days, trying to figure out what I can change and what I need to accept and adapt to.

      That tree makes me feel the same way about aging, too. I’m feeling that our age (I think we must be in the same general ballpark) is a kind of adolescence to old age. It feels awkward in the way that earlier stage did, when we were neither entirely child nor entirely adult. I’m looking forward to being glorious again!

  4. Marian says:

    So much of this post resonates with me, Rita, so much so it would take a blog post of my own to explain it all. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with chronic pain, and I hope you’re able to find some relief from it. I remember what a difficult thing that was for many of the people who came into the pharmacy I worked in so long ago, and I really hope there are better options now. (It certainly sounds like it, thank goodness.)

    I love the new house embroidery you’re working on. And that tree!

    • Rita says:

      Hi Marian,
      I’m sorry to hear that this post resonates, and no need to explain. Honestly, I feel pretty fortunate. Some of the others in my pain class seem to be far more impacted. I don’t know if there are better options (don’t know how it used to be), but it seems that there’s a much greater understanding of pain and what causes it. I’m thankful for that, for sure.

      I’ll try to remember to share the new house when it’s done. 🙂

  5. TD says:

    Dear Rita, I am so sorry that you are learning about possibly having fibromyalgia (muscular pain condition). I relate to first learning that I have a thyroid condition in my early forties which I had a full year of denial, but every three months my blood work confirmed the condition. Then shortly after my ACL reconstruction due to my love of playing racquetball, I learned that I have peripheral neuropathy in both my ankles due to my allergic reaction to statins which I had just started for about nine months to lower my cholesterol. NONE of this was easy diagnostic to various doctors.

    I think that I might know some of your frustration with pain management. This started when I was forty and now in my mid-sixties. I see no difference that what you may be experiencing is age related, or even specific to one trauma experience, but a life of living worthy of living.

    I’ve had life traumas back to childhood and add on, and add on. Sometimes there will always be HOLES, missing puzzle pieces to to our life story.

    Though I admire your strength to inquire, investigate and come up with your own story of your life.

    Today, I am beginning to the trying to renew my faith, after 28 days of RSV virus that the children are having to go to the hospital. I cannot describe the difficulty to breathe from this virus which settled into my lungs as bronchitis with a barking cough and wizzing that even Yorkie could not stand to listen and went to her bed in the living room.

    I have home self care independent living which I much prefer to a hospital or senior living environment.

    Yesterday I was able to take my first “deep” breathes! Something all of us take for granted until we cannot take that breath.

    Today I am up! Doing freshening and airing out the confines of my home. I decided this evening that I felt well enough to do a holiday decor on my mantle which I learned that I’m in the processing of my faith (after such an illness). I kept the hearth simple with home ceramics made from important family members of my past.

    I also unpackaged my holiday needlepoint that I designed in my twenties and thirties from concept to stitches to finishing. I’m am awed at how perfect is the stitching! I have not seen these for years because I lost my faith due to divorce in 2009.

    Whatever you are enduring with muscular pain (mine similar challenges with nerve pain) you will find how to manage with living with the condition. Do not think of any of these things as a disorder or wrong with you. It’s a CONDITION that we learn to live with those terms.

    I hope this note helps in some way.

  6. TD says:

    I wrote the above a few days ago. I was only up out of bed for a few hours, then back to bed with the wheezing, cough etc.. I’m still not well from the RSV Virus . I doubt that decorating my fireplace hearth would magically renew my faith. Perhaps the pain management class and all the various things you are doing will help you find a good path for you and your husband.

    I’m not sure if you understood my message.

    • Rita says:

      Hi TD,
      I’m sorry for the delay in responding. I’m also sorry to hear that you have been so ill. I hope that you will be feeling better soon. A month or more of illness is a long time, and RSV is no joke.

      I think that as we age and things happen to us–losses and gains of various kinds–the holidays become challenging in different ways. I hope you find ways to be within them that feel good and right for you. I’m sure you will.

      • TD says:

        My comment to this post, Rita, is actually about your writing on “pain management”.

        I don’t know anything about “losses and gains of various kinds–the holidays become challenging in different ways.”

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