How I Deal With Chronic Pain

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I hurt every day of my life. I have for the last 17 years (except the last 2 trimesters of each of my pregnancies). My particular dragon to fight goes by a variety of names: Chronic Intractable Headache, Transformed Migraine, Migraine With Aura, Menstrual Migraine, Migraine Without Aura, and a few others. The particular manifestation shifts at times, but it’s always a headache. The list of treatments I have tried is as long as my arm. Nothing takes it away. Every new practitioner is convinced that THEY have the answer and it’s really so simple. But it’s never quite so simple. 

I say this not to gain pity, but it’s my reality and someone might find my story helpful. 

So what do I do when I wake up hurting every day knowing that the pain will likely grow as the day progresses? Knowing that tomorrow will likely be just as bad if not worse? 

I suppose that sounds rather negative. I think it’s not; it’s facing the ugly truth of reality. As the Bible says in Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I can hope and hope, but after several years of deferred hope I got rather “sick” of it and decided to go with reality instead. The truth sets free. Yes, a miracle could happen, but it hasn’t yet, and I have to go on and live life.

I am inspired by my Grandmother who suffered from migraines, debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, and finally ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease); I don’t remember ever hearing her complain. She went shopping on her knotty feet, created Christmases that were unforgettable, expressed her unbelievable love for her grandkids, and generally squeezed every positive moment she could out of her painful life. 

There are things I cannot do. Flashing lights are bad. Loud noise is bad. Exercise is painful. I taught 1 kid to ride a bike and all the running-behind-the-bike triggered a multi-day flare up and put me in bed. So I try not to do things that are going to increase the pain. The day I took the kids skating with a homeschool group and got an aura (the flashing lights only I can see that occasionally alert me that a bad one is coming) in the car on the way there, I had to call in backup because the loud music and flashing lights were just going to compound the pain. The day I woke up on vacation fully intending to go skiing with the family but instead lost my breakfast and lunch and everything else I tried because of a migraine, I had to accommodate. Me barfing on the ski slope would be a memorable family experience, but not one I wanted to create. 

But there are things I CAN do. If I’m going to hurt anyway, I might as well be adding something positive to the pain. Do I WANT to get out of bed? Usually not. Does it help to stay in bed? Only about twice a year. Do I end the day saying “I wish I had just stayed in bed?” Never. Do I feel great throughout the day? No. Do I want to crawl in a hole and pull it in after me? Absolutely. Do I feel good at the end of the day that I actually got some stuff done? Yes. Was the stuff I got done as much as I wanted? Often not. 

Sometimes I have to put the goals really low. Sometimes my goals have to be really short-term. “In the next 10 minutes I’m going to load the dishwasher instead of griping at everyone because I hurt” or “I am going to get through dinner without busting out in tears” or “I’m going to church today with a smile on my face and there I’ll spend time with my Father and worship Him along with my spiritual family.” I have made the decision that I want to get all I can out of life. I will add positive to the pain. Some days are better. Some are worse. I try not to borrow trouble or hope from tomorrow. Today is enough. 

Sometimes, though, I do choose to do big things. I chose to have 5 children. I choose to educate them at home with the best possible education. I direct the music and children & youth departments at church. I travel to Africa with my husband. I bite off more than I can safely chew and then I chew away. Often I surprise myself by what I can do when I have decided I will do it. 

The other decision I have to make is how to present myself to those around me. I have consciously decided that I don’t want to be thought of as “the headache woman.” I talk about it to my family so they know what’s going on, and sometimes, honestly, just to vent. I rarely talk to others about it unless I think it can help them or if I have to explain my behavior. When I am in a loud place and have to wear earplugs or if I am wearing sunglasses inside I might say something. But I have chosen to be a women who has a lot of things going on and oh yeah, I think she has headaches.

How is this working out for me? Quite well, actually. I have a life; I have a busy, fulfilling, contributing-positive-to-the-world life. I have friends. My family is cared for and loved. Is life perfect? No way. Is it better than it could be if I made different, less-positive choices every day? Oh yeah. 

So if you have chronic pain in your life, whether physical or emotional, add something positive to it. Add several things positive to it. Determine that you will get as much out of life as you can in spite of the hand you’ve been dealt. Because it sure is better than crawling in a hole and pulling it in after you.