My Experience Living With Chronic Pain
Last updated: May 2022
I have been living with chronic pain for 4 years now. It began in 2017 when I was working as an account manager for a luxury car service, and I started noticing that I couldn't sit for long periods of time without my lower back and hips starting to hurt. It wasn't a normal kind of back and hip pain, it was a burning sharp pain that would be consistent and would not get better with any of the over-the-counter meds that were available for back pain.
I decided to take medical leave to find out what was wrong
In my mind, I thought because I had children, that maybe it was from the epidural injections that were administered to me at time of birth. But it turns out that wasn't the case. After seeing numerous doctors, no one could tell me what was causing my pain.
It wasn't until I saw a jaw surgeon that I found out I had an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis, because I tested positive for the HLA-B27 antigen. I was referred to see a rheumatologist where I was officially diagnosed with AS. I was in complete shock. I never heard of the disease and I didn't know anyone living with the disease.
I was lost
I asked the doctor what it was, and she explained to me that it was an inflammatory form of arthritis that attacks the spine and other larger joints in the body, and that there was no cure only treatments.
I felt like my whole world stopped in that very moment. I felt like I couldn't breathe and I was having a panic attack. I went home and told my mom what the doctor had told me, and she asked me what it was and if there was a cure for it. I told her no, only treatments, and she immediately gave me a hug and told me that I would be okay. We cried together and we researched all we could about the disease and what was to come.
Here are 5 things that may help you understand chronic pain a little better
Pain isn't just physical.
Chronic pain clearly affects the body, but it also affects emotions, relationships, and the mind. It can cause depression and anxiety which in turn can make the pain worse and cause mental illness.
Pain isn't always curable.
Medical professionals do their very best, but they don't always have the right answers, nor do they always have cures. There is no magic pill or intervention that makes chronic pain disappear completely. Sadly some people with chronic pain may never be pain free again. However, there are many effective treatments that can help manage chronic pain.
Not all pain means harm.
It took me time to learn that pain doesn't always mean emergency. There are two types of pain: acute pain is the body's normal response to tissue damage or injury, and needs immediate medical care, and heals usually in less than 3 months. Chronic pain is an abnormal response and doesn't improve with time. It can happen even without tissue damage and happen long after the body heals. It also changes how the brain processes pain.
By being able to tell the difference between new acute pain and chronic pain, I have changed how I react to chronic pain by not being so guarded or worried about it. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected. Chronic pain makes it easy to feel distressed, to give up and become a victim. "Why me," "life isn't fair," and other unhelpful thoughts increase ones focus on pain and can make it worse so look for the blessing instead of the curse!
If chronic pain doesn't mean more harm and there are no magical medical answers, what's left to do but accept it as the "new normal" adapt to it, and learn how to cope and manage it.
In loss there is gain.
Though my losses to chronic pain over the last 4 years have been steep, I have also gained much through the experience. I gained a new respect for myself, knowing that I am in control of the pain instead of the pain controlling me. I gained friendships, and I am gaining a new purpose in helping others cope with their pain. I have set a new course for my journey, and you can too!
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