Surviving the Storm of Chronic Pain

I have usually talked about my experience of living with chronic pain in passing during the three hundred and fifty posts that I have previously written.  However, today I thought I would shed some light on what it is like living with chronic pain from my own personal experience.

Living with chronic pain is like attempting to function through a torrential storm.  A mighty and ferocious storm that wreaks havoc and destroys everything in its sight.

The excruciating pain is limited to my upper and lower limbs, although the pain in my legs is often much worse.  The pain is unimaginable; a crushing sensation, as if they are leg caught in a vice which is only getting tighter and tighter.  Every step hurts, each step bringing stinging tears to the eyes.

 

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Pain is relentless and all-consuming

 

At other times, the pain feels like an extremely unpleasant cold sensation radiating throughout my entire legs; cold that seeps down right into the bone, feeling frozen and if will snap in half.

It is crippling and unrelenting causing a massive red stop sign to appear in my track; unable to do anything else but think about and feel the intense, uncomfortable pain. Distractions, anything to divert the pain away from the thoughts inside the brain, but nothing works.

Pain consumes everything; a storm that is so powerful and savage causing flash floods. Rough waves pulling at the body, dragging you under, consuming you.  And living with constant pain feels like that, it drags you under to the depths of despair.  It is all-consuming and relentless.

Living with constant pain is exhausting.

If fatigue weren’t already a side-effect of living with a neurological condition, then the pain would be the cause.  Dealing with pain every day is draining, each night laying there all alone with nothing but the pain for company is mentally exhausting.  The lack of sleep and fatigue accompanies the pain, following you around after the exhaustive, restless nights.  In the chronic illness community, we have a word for this – painsomnia.

Often, as the lack of sleep overwhelms everything else, a nap becomes necessary.  But no matter how much sleep we, it is never enough.  Sleep never eradicates fatigue.  A vicious cycle of sleeping during the day and not being able to sleep at night which is seemingly impossible to break.

 

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Painsomnia can last all night, and one in which you will try anything to distract you from the pain which usually consists of social media and Netflix

 

Each morning promises to be a clean slate, a new beginning of hope and promise but for those like me battling chronic pain, each new morning starts instead with the shock of crippling and debilitating pain.

It is a constant companion, one who dictates how our day will go and what we can do with our day.  We speculate when the next ‘storm’ will impact, although very often these waves continuously crash, pulling us under, our bodies being slammed from every side by the violent waters.

The emotional side effects of living with chronic pain can be just as soul-destroying as dealing with the physical aspects of our conditions.

Pain can make us feel incredibly lonely.

Pain is invisible, and as such nobody ever knows just how much pain we are in, we are expected to participate in society even when we are consumed with the pain.  We don’t want to say no or cancel plans we have made, but it feels as if we are being held hostage by the pain and as such we are forced to stay at home, clinging to a raft trying not to be sucked under and sink.  Chronic pain and chronic illness shrink your world until you spend your days staring at the same four walls, like Rapunzel trapped inside her ivory tower.

 

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Due to constant and debilitating pain a lot of time is usually spent alone

 

Lonely as we struggle with the painsomnia; lying awake in bed, the pain draining our ability to sleep, alone with only the pain and our thoughts (usually about the pain) for company.  We can be in the company of others, a roomful of people and still feel alone; the pain louder than any conversations happening in the same room.

There are times when the pain wins; days when we are worn down by the pain.  Days when we don’t do anything besides lie and think about the pain, feeling defined merely by the pain.  Pain has a way of making you feel stranded in the middle of nowhere with no roadmap or compass in sight to help you find your way.

Many of us are never without pain, but regardless most days we soldier on despite the pain; we push through the intense discomfort.  Despite the constant affliction of pain we continue to hope for better tomorrows.  We cling hard to a raft during the torrential storms until it passes and sunshine and rainbows appear overheard once again.

 

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Despite living with pain and feeling like we live in darkness when living with a flare we still look and see the beauty in life 

 

The storm of living with chronic pain cannot be stopped, it is a  storm that can only be weathered.  The only thing to do when the storm hits is to seek shelter, prevent damage, survive and stay as comfortable as possible while the storm is raging.  We embrace self-management techniques; tools that we have built up over time into our very own ‘toolbox’ of strategies that help us manage our chronic pain.  Techniques which include strategies such as pacing, relaxation skills, and diet and exercise.

And eventually, the storm subsides, and we breathe a big sigh of relief that it’s over, while also waiting with baited breath for the next storm to arrive…

 

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After surviving the ‘storm’ of a pain flare, we are left wondering when the next one will arrive…

 

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HAWMC Day 7: World Health Day

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon given prompts.

Tuesday April 7th: World Health Day 

April 7th is World Health Day – so let’s talk about daily nutrition and diet.  After your diagnosis, did you alter your diet or health routine?  If so, how so?  How do you maintain a health regiment?

Water.  Leonardo di Vinci, famously said that “Water is the driver of nature.” Drinking plenty of water and keeping well hydrated is vital for a healthy functioning brain and nervous system.  Therefore, when living with a neurological disorder, hydration and proper nutrition are not only critical to sustaining health but can also prevent a progression of the condition, or worsening of symptoms.

After being diagnosed with a neurological therefore, I take steps to ensure that I drink enough water throughout the day and even downloaded an app for my phone to remind myself to drink a glass of water, as living with symptoms such as fatigue, and brain fog, it can be really easy to forget!  And nowadays, water is generally the main beverage that I choose to drink.  I have never been one to drink hot drinks, such as tea or coffee, although I do enjoy the occasional hot chocolate for a treat!  But knowing all of the benefits of water for not just the brain, but the whole body I am happy drinking it, knowing I am doing something good for my health.

Doctors estimate that we need to drink around 8 glasses of water a day
Doctors estimate that we need to drink around 8 glasses of water a day

Since my diagnosis, however, I would not say I have taken huge alterations to my diet or daily health regiment.  I have been aware more of my diet and the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, especially as the weakness in my legs, and the other symptoms have made it difficult to regularly take part in cardiovascular exercise.  I am now therefore more aware of what I eat, and if we are having a take-away or eating out, then I will choose a dish that is healthy and not overloaded with salt or fat.  Recently, I have been opting to eat dishes with chicken, or seafood, especially king prawns, which not only have plenty of protein but are also low in fat.

Over the past couple of years, I have also developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which can result in agonising stomach cramps, bloating, and diarrhea.  As a result of this new diagnosis, I now have to be careful what I eat, especially for any potential trigger foods.  For example, dairy products can often be a trigger for an IBS flare, in particular cream and to have ensure that I ask for any desserts or my order of a hot chocolate not to be topped off with the whipped cream.  Luckily, in terms of the IBS, I have found a great friend in peppermint tea, as if a bad flare of the symptoms occur, after a mug or tea of the tea, I often find that the symptoms such as the stomach cramps eases off.  Yay for peppermint tea!

Would recommend for anyone with IBS to keep some peppermint tea handy in case of a flare
Would recommend for anyone with IBS to keep some peppermint tea handy in case of a flare

Exercise, as previously mentioned is often very difficult when living with a chronic illness, due to debilitating symptoms, such as pain, fatigue and weakness inhibits us to be able to do so.  However, last year I joined, what is known as a feel-good factory.  It is different from a conventional gym, as the equipment there consists of toning tables rather than giving a cardiovascular workout.  These toning tables are designed to rebuild muscle strength, tone, improve posture, increase circulation and mobility, just some of the examples of the benefits of the equipment.  And as the equipment consists of chairs and beds, I am not at risk of falls due to legs giving way.  Although I may not have seen improvements in the muscle strength and tone in my legs, it may be that without regularly working out at the feel-good factory, the weakness may be even worse.

FeelGood Factory in Llantrisant - photograph from their Facebook page
FeelGood Factory in Llantrisant – photograph from their Facebook page

All these steps, may not have had any effect on the symptoms caused by my neurological condition, which is evident by the recent worsening of my symptoms, however by taking small steps in maintaining a healthy regiment such as drinking plenty of water, and eating a healthy low-fat diet I can not only have control over aspects of my health that I can control but also helps to avoid even more health problems often caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.

HAWMC Day 4: The unpredictability of a predictable life…

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon given prompts.

Saturday 4th April: Creature of Habit 

What good habits (health or otherwise) do you have?  Do you have a routine that you follow every morning?  Are there any bad habits you wish you could break?

As someone living with a chronic illness, my obvious morning routine consists of making sure that I take my daily medication to help manage the symptoms caused by my neurological condition.

Routine is something which is defined as ‘a sequence of actions regularly followed’.  Therefore, a routine follows a predictable pattern.  The only thing predictable about living with a chronic illness, however, is the unpredictable nature of our daily lives.

As a result, being able to maintain a regular routine is extremely difficult as we never know how we are going to feel from one day to the next.  We do not know whether our bodies are going to cooperate on that particular day.  In relation to my own experiences of living with a chronic illness, due to spastic paraparesis, my legs are weak and often there are days that I am unable to get out of bed due to the severity of the weakness.  When these days occur, therefore any routine and habits that I do follow become impractical.

It is not only the physical symptoms that make it difficult to successfully follow a daily routine but other symptoms such as pain, insomnia and fatigue are also obstacles in the ability to maintain a regular routine.  Due to fluctuating pain levels, I often find it difficult to sleep.  As a result, my sleep patterns become disordered and out of kilter; finding myself waking early in the morning one day and sleeping in late the next.  And fatigue is the biggest hurdle in my opinion as very often you feel too exhausted to be able to do anything besides lying down and watching television!

In terms of wishing if there were any bad habits, I would like to break, I suppose I would choose to checking my phone less!  I do check it often, as it often feels that it is my biggest connection to others (through social media) and the world outside my house.

Life on autopilot…

I realise that I have been deathly quiet in regards to my writing recently but unfortunately I have been really struggling with well, everything.

I have been finding that the trembling in the legs is becoming increasingly worse.  Standing is becoming extremely uncomfortable and impossible to do for very long as I am feeling the severity of the tremors and the buckling of them whilst queueing or whilst completing the washing-up for example.  With regards to standing, it has been evoking anxiety as I am always afraid that they will suddenly give way, which has been happening to much embarrassment.  It was not until I was speaking to a person who has similar problems to myself, that using two crutches maybe more beneficial for myself than using just the one as it offers increased stability when standing and walking and reducing the risk of falls.  I loved the idea of being able to save myself from falls as because I have been experiencing so many of them my bruises have bruises!

The owner of the gym even kindly let me borrow a couple of the crutches that have been donated to the Feelgood Factory.  Unfortunately, after using them for a few days around the house and even once whilst out with my carer, I have decided that this option is not for me as not only have I found using two incredibly awkward and uncomfortable, they have also proved to be inconvenient.  For example, whilst in the house on my own, I was unable to carry my lunch from the kitchen to the living room as I had no free hands to spare!  It has also been found to be inconvenient when out shopping as I am left unable to pick items from the shelves or racks and therefore offers me less independent than using the one crutch as I am reliant on other people to do my shopping for me.  In addition, because of the dizziness I have always found that holding onto someone for support, such as linking arms gives me comfort and confidence when out and about and so using two crutches also prevents me from having the support of another person.

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So, I now have to make a decision to make whether to start using the wheelchair on a more permanent basis; although I do not always feel comfortable in using one because of the dizziness and vertigo, it has been put to me that because of the increasing severity of the trembling as I have stated above and the increased number of incidents of falls then it may be the time that I need to start thinking of using it for the majority of the time when I am outside of the house.  This is not only to keep me safe from further injuries, but also prevents my falls from injuring others or even from falling and damaging items that are on display in the stores that I visit.  It is not an easy to decision to make; for anyone it is difficult to admit weakness and further to admit that you need help.  It’s difficult to accept that my legs are getting worse and further that I may need further support such as the wheelchair to be able to get around when out of the house.

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Fatigue has also been a big problem for me also.  As the pain and trembling have been bad during the nights, sleep as a result has been limited and thus leaving me exhausted through the day.  Naps has been my best friend lately and have found myself falling asleep during the afternoons.  These naps are more frequent and last longer after days where I am out and about I have also noticed.  Fatigue not only leaves you feeling absolutely exhausted but also leaves you with little energy (or in our case ‘spoons’) to be able to do things that we would ordinarily do with ease.  Completing one circuit of the gym has been extremely challenging, whereas before I could complete two with ease.  Chores has left me unable to function for hours.  Not only it has had an effect on my energy levels either.  It has also had an effect on my mood – not only have I been snapping with very little provocation but I have also been feeling very low.  I would not say it’s depression but am just generally low in mood.

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In other news, I finally have had an appointment with the neurology consultant for early next month so I am hoping that all of the test results that I have had done over the past few months have found something, or there are ways in which they can help me and improve my overall quality of life.  When things are bad such as what I am experiencing at the moment, it can often seem as if we are just existing rather than living; if we are just going through the motions or living on autopilot but I am determined to continue to fight my way through the bad patch and find my silver lining…

Tweet: When things are bad it can often seem as if we are just existing rather than living http://ctt.ec/b30e0+ via @serenebutterfly #spoonie

Superpowers? What I would really love is endless energy!

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon prompts given.

The first prompt reads as given:

Superpower Day…It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…you!  If you had a superpower – what would it be?  How would you use it?

I am sure that the majority of people who are asked this very question, they would answer with hypothetical superpowers such as invisibility, flying or the ability to read minds.  However, being a spoonie, I would like a superpower which is rather ordinary and mundane – and that superpower would be the ability of having endless energy.

Spoonie Superhero - looks just like you and me but with lots of energy!
Spoonie Superhero – looks just like you and me but with lots of energy!

One of the most common symptoms of a lot of chronic illnesses is fatigue.  Fatigue being defined as “extreme tiredness“.   As a result of fatigue, energy levels are severely reduced and in turn activity levels are also severely reduced.  All the chores that you once could easily complete, now feels as if you are attempting to climb an impossible mountain.  And as you are no longer able to complete as many (or sometimes no) chores, we are often very reliant on others to do things for us – such as cleaning, doing the shopping, cooking and so on.

This can often feel very demoralising , especially when being young and seeing others’ your age going out partying for hours on end and still being able to get up the next day and head for work, and there you are unable to complete small chores around the home. Therefore, the one superpower that I would choose to have over any other, is simply the power of having endless energy.  Being able to have the energy to be able to do everything that I would like to do, instead of completing something and then having no energy to do anything else for the rest of the day.  Even to be able to do the housework for my Mother and feeling that I have done something  to take the added burden away from her, and generally feel that I have accomplished something would booster my self-esteem and make me feel valued.

Recently, the fatigue that I have been experiencing has been very bad – after going out with my carer shopping, going for coffee or to the gym, I am absolutely worn out; and at times have changed straight into a comfortable pair of pyjamas and having a nap!  And I am finding that I am even feeling the effects of going out the next day with no energy to be able to do anything.

So, wouldn’t it be lovely just to have endless amounts of energy instead of being so tired that you have no energy to be able to do anything?  Imagine the freedom that could come from that…

 

What would you do if you had endless energy? Feel free to comment below.

Chronic Illness can ruin plans and routines…

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Welcome to the eleventh day of the National Health Blog Post Month Challenge hosted by WEGO Health.   Every day during the month of November I will be writing a new blog post related to health and living with a chronic illness based on given prompts provided by WEGO Health.

Today’s prompt reads:

Veteran’s Day: For all our veterans and family members, we celebrate this day because it marks the end of WWI, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.  Do you have a task you complete every day at the same time that helps with your chronic illness?  How long have you been doing this, how has it helped?

I cannot say that I complete a task every day, at the same time which helps with my chronic illness.  In my personal experience, no two days are exactly the same when living with a chronic illness.  In addition, life with a chronic illness can instantly change within a blink of an eye; one minute the symptoms are in the background, calm…and the next minute they are wreaking havoc amongst your body and impacting upon your life and your routines.  For example, very often the neurological condition that I live with causes such severe weakness in the legs and intense dizziness that I am unable to get out of bed, and even if I did have task that I complete every day at the same time, I could not very well leave my bed to complete the task.

 

Keeping to a routine can be very difficult when living with a chronic illness
Keeping to a routine can be very difficult when living with a chronic illness

 

Making plans, whilst living with a chronic illness can also prove be very difficult as because every day is so very different, we can never tell how we will feel on that particular day.  Do we dare to book tickets for a concert or play just in case we are unable to attend?  We are ruled by our bodies and as a result we are governed by our conditions and its symptoms; dizziness, pain, weakness or overwhelming fatigue may result in a person with a chronic illness to cancel plans, or cease our routines to rest and recuperate.

 

Cancelling plans can be as disappointing to us as it is for our friends and family...
Cancelling plans can be as disappointing to us as it is for our friends and family…

 

Recently, I have even been finding that the coping strategies that I do have in place regarding the dizziness, can work one day but as the intensity of the dizziness may be worse the next, these coping strategies are not proving to be effective.  So, to conclude, living with chronic illness can vary from day-to-day; and even from hour to hour or in certain cases from minute to minute, and although we all would like little tasks and routines to complete every day to make us feel better, our illnesses can prevent us from completing them, ruining all of our plans and routines.  Certainly, life with chronic illness is never the same from day-to-day….

 

At the end of this post, as it is Remembrance Day, I would like the opportunity to pay tribute to every member of the armed forces, past and present;  all of their hard work and sacrifices that they make in serving our country and allowing us the freedom that we are so fortunate to have today.  You are all heroes and we will remember all those from all the wars that were not so fortunate to return home to loved ones.  I certainly will be wearing my poppy with pride today…

 

Wearing my Poppy with pride today! #lestweforget
Wearing my Poppy with pride today! #lestweforget

 

As always would love to hear your thoughts and views!  Do you have any strict routines you adhere to when dealing with chronic illness?  Does it help?  Please leave comments below!