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. 

Oh, For Grace To Trust Him More!

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God loves me. God can do anything. God wants the best for me. These are a few of the beliefs that I hold dear.

So why do I have pain? I don’t mean productive pain: pain that tells me to stop catching my toe against that piece of furniture, or to remove my hand from that hot water. No, I mean the constant, relentless, ever-present pain in my head, an all-day every-day headache. It isn’t telling me to change my behavior. It serves no purpose physiologically. It is simply a headache, literally and physically.

Am I like Job, buffeted by Satan in a cosmic contest between good and evil? Is this some test I just can’t seem to pass? Am I supposed to be learning something? Is this my version of Paul’s “thorn on the flesh” to keep me humble and show God’s strength? Or is it just a result of bad genetics; I’m swimming in the deep end of the gene pool? I really don’t know.

I do believe God still heals. That is not limited to the Bible stories I learned as a child. God could take the pain away. I hear of others who have been healed or see those who have recovered, yet I have not. So why not me? When is it my turn? Do I lack faith? Is it because of some weakness in me? Have I not yet passed some test?

Can I trust Him? Do I even want to?

The emphatic answer is YES! This IS a God I want to serve. You see, God doesn’t cause the pain. It is there simply because of a broken, messed-up world. Headaches are heavily present on both sides of my family, just as bad eyes and high intelligence and tall stature are. So should I blame God for not interfering? No. If He chooses to not wipe it all away, this must mean He can use it for some good. What is it? I have no idea.

In my experience, there are levels of trust. First is the belief that He will someday take it away and I will serve Him until He does. Though this is an admirable place to be, it is not a terribly deep faith. Second is the knowledge that He may choose to not ever take away the suffering, and though I may not understand why, I will continue to live my life for Him, following his Word as well as I can. I will keep walking in spite of the trauma occurring in my life. I will keep on keeping on. The third level is actually giving God a blank check to use whatever life throws at me to make me a better person: to deepen my faith or enlarge my patience or whatever it is that He can do with it. Accepting, and even embracing the pain, now THAT is a difficult spot to reach. To trust that the dark threads on the weaver’s loom make the tapestry more beautiful, give perspective otherwise lacking, that is the thing hardest to accept.

This world is filled with sorrow, heartbreak, sickness, abuse. The amazing thing about my God is not that He makes all things perfect. The truly amazing thing is that He alone can take rotten things and make good come from them. Oh sure, they’re still rotten, but they can produce good anyway. Sometimes I can anticipate what the good will be, but often, even usually, I can’t see it until years later, or sometimes not at all.

One day, our journey will be complete; our race will be done. Until then we will have trouble. Sure, there are laughs, friends, and good times. But right alongside all of that will be sorrow, heartbreak, and pain. It’s a day-by-day choice, sometimes even a minute-by-minute one, what we will do with our sorrows.

As for me, this is my theme song:

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus
Oh, for grace to trust Him more

What a Headache!

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Every minute of every day I have a headache. Sometimes it is just below the surface of constant consciousness, and sometimes it is bad enough that I can feel my pulse in my head and hurts to move at all. It tends to get worse as the day goes on. Certain things increase the intensity of it: weather changes, hormone fluctuations, stress, and schedule changes. Obviously, none of these things can be avoided.

I have seen numerous doctors and tried basically every kind of drug and treatment that is available for headaches: chiropractic care, herbal remedies, shots, inpatient treatment, IV medications, injections, nasal sprays, yoga, heat, ice, relaxation, distraction techniques, and even acupuncture. Nothing works. I feel like the lady in the Bible with the issue of blood; she saw many physicians yet grew worse.

My husband is the pastor of Newark UPC and is an adjunct professor at Urshan Graduate School. I am the Director of Children and Youth Ministries as well as the Music Director. I have 5 children, ages 7 to 14, whom I homeschool. I cannot just stop life, and I know that if I did I would become a depressed puddle on the floor.

So what do I do? How do I cope?

I have chosen to live my life. Sometimes it is a choice that has to be made on a day-to-day basis, sometimes minute-by-minute. I ask God that He not allow me to face more than I can bear, but even if He does, I know He will make up the difference. His Word says to take no thought for tomorrow, and I try to live by that when it comes to my pain. If I start worrying about how I’m going to get through the rest of life, it becomes too much. If I can get through one day at a time, that’s enough.

In the midst of my problems God has been so faithful. The 14 years that I have had these headaches have been the best years of my life. I have been blessed with a wonderful husband, 5 beautiful children, and great friends. He has provided my every need, and I know He will continue to be faithful as I live day-by-day. I laugh with my children and my husband. I teach my children how to read and write. I help them with their Bible Quizzing. I love and serve the people at church. I continue to choose to live my life to the fullest.

I know that God is able to heal me; that is not in question. Whether He chooses to do so is in His hands. The faith of trusting God through a problem is as necessary as believing that He can remove the problem. I continue to ask Him for a miracle, but until then I will trust His strength and do the work He has put before me.

I truly can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Originally Published in the July/August  2012 issue of Reflections Magazine.