I have been lucky on several occasions to enjoy the delight of having all my physical pain removed from me unexpectedly. I have dreamt I died- I existed at that moment pain free and without laggard body, and it was glorious. I went to a gig where the music was so vast that it pushed the pain out of my body for a full 4 minutes. I woke up in hospital so comfortable, so very comfortable and peaceful and blinking without any conscious feeling of my person – I could have been a pair of eyes in a jar.
These occasions have sprung up as a subject because I am currently in an opposite situation. My oldest pain – the ‘triangle’ of discontent from my head, down my neck and across my shoulder- has decided to assert itself. It’s placement in or near my head makes it most difficult to ignore (so close to the place of thought and internal monologue). It’s not the worst pain – I actually find pains in my knees or elbows and my newly diagnosed Costochondritis more powerful and certainly more annoying. But the Old Triangle makes me nostalgic. It’s been with me so long: 14 years the parrot on my shoulder. I have a clear memory of gaining it, of it’s first treatment (and my first experience of Diazepam – I keep the bottle from that time as a trophy) of times it influenced my experience of life and, as recounted above, moments when it went away.
The Triangle is the foundation stone of my pain problem. It is the original element considered ‘Chronic’ as it does not respond to treatment (pills or therapies) it doesn’t ever go away fully, and it can ‘come on’ (increase in strength rather than start up, as it’s always there) with little or no provocation. It has a mind of it’s own. I know what has awakened my Kraken – Physiotherapy. Friday I went to visit my Physio and we added new movements that involve my neck. My neck is very stuck in it’s ways, it doesn’t like change. We’ve had this problem before. I’ve had to stop doing movements because it decides to throw a tantrum. But this time I’m not going to let it’s loud and loutish behaviour win. It doesn’t know that yet. I’m going to keep doing the movements, and it’s going to be painful.
Giving your pain a personality, or visualising it as an actual 3D object or even animal is very helpful. It separates it from yourself and gives you something tangible to fight. Many people with unending, unresponsive pains are not believed by doctors or friends or relatives etc. because there may be no visible cause. There may be nothing on the scans, nothing on the blood tests and humans like to be able to see their enemy and they like ‘evidence’. When pain is part of yourself, when you fight it, you are fighting yourself. In blaming it for problems – for not doing things, missing appointments, being fuzzy headed at work – you are blaming yourself. This is not good. It’s difficult enough to cope with any pain (broken leg, root canal etc.) let alone one that no one can see a cause for, without literally blaming yourself for it. So, making it a separate ‘thing’ helps. Your pain is separate from yourself, you are it’s victim, you can beat it up and work against it and that is good.
I have ‘given up’ on Physiotherapy before. Sometimes (I’ve had multiple therapists) it’s been because my physical state has demanded it – I’ve not been able to make the appointments. Sometimes life outside has taken over – University was one time, my college work make getting to my appointments impossible. Other times cost- going privately for Physiotherapy is expensive. I’ve had to do this twice when the NHS waiting list was approx. 8 months, or when I’ve had to see a very special recommended wonder-therapist person. But this time I’m not going to give up, even if as I write this The Triangle is being a Bitch of the first order. What is different about this time? Well, it’s a rather shameful thing. I’m getting old, my Mum is dead, I spend 1/4 of my life stuck in bed and I don’t want to go on. For years I’ve fought my depression. But I’ve not been as industrious with my person. Now I believe I have to be. Something, little bell at the back of my skull, is ringing and saying ‘you have to do this’. I don’t know what it is, but when I’m stuck getting out of bed, or getting up from the chair, a little tinkle happens and I remember my Mum, and then I swear loudly, get up take all the meds* and then do the damn movements.
Beyond bells and age and visions of dead (and well beloved) parents, there is an additional element that I want to mention. My Physiotherapist. I have ‘lucked out’ this time in terms of my therapist. My experiences with Physios will be discussed in a separate post, but I want to take time to praise my current practitioner. Hannah is approximately my age. She is gentle, she asks considered questions, she definitely listens and remembers what you’ve said and, very important, she’s not in a rush. I see her monthly – not weekly. She double checks my details and she is understanding about real life. I have not been given exercises that need equipment I don’t have or I can’t afford or fit in my house. I’ve not been chided for getting things wrong, having problems or forgetting things. I’ve had very stupid questions answered. And I’ve been treated as a human being, and not a piece of broken, naughty meat. ‘Bedside Manner’ is very important when dealing with pain filled people who may be fragile and who are most definitely suffering, even if it’s just from a stiff toe. It has made a great difference to me at the is point – I am at a low, and could easily give up on the daily list of movements – but I have not, and part of that has been due to the way I have been treated by Hannah.
Hannah is an NHS practitioner at a small hospital in West London.
*Not pain medications. These are my first meds of the day – a Prescription mixture of Anti-Depressants, Omeprazole, Beta-Blockers and Vitamins. I have prescription Vitamins – yes, I know. I have Chronic Anaemia and Vit.D deficiency. I had no idea of how horrible anaemia can be until I forgot to take my Iron for 3 days and became breathless. Holy Shit did I feel rough.
Costochondritis – http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Tietzes-syndrome/pages/introduction.aspx – trust me to get a condition that can only truly be solved by not breathing.