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The Pain about Pain

Pain.

We all feel it, be it a physical pain in our shoulders, arms, legs, ankles, all of these, or in muscles, or joints… We might try everything to get rid of it; from a warm bath, rest, sleep. medications, be they over the counter or prescription ones, but sometimes nothing helps. Even if we take things to block the feelings of pain it may still persist… over days, weeks, perhaps months, or even years in some cases.There is of course emotional and physcological pain too. I’ve taken anti-depressants for years now.

Unfortunately, it is this latter category in which I find myself for the past 3 years or longer, having endured chronic lower back pain since my teens. It all started with a back problem   stemming from how heavy my schoolbag was. Said bag was once weighed by the    head of support for students with extra learning needs or a disability. I think it weighed about 3 stone… At the time, being relatively slim it would have been about a third of my body weight.

Never did I imagine that some sixteen years later that same pain would persist. I was always susceptible to musculoskeletal pain anyway due to my cerebral palsy (CP). Cerebral Palsy is the medical term for a number of disorders and means ‘brain paralysis’, affecting each person very differently. I’d always just assumed that because my walking was wonky, I might end up with damage to my body, especially since my diagnosis was that CP affect both legs from my hips to the tips of my feet. A physio said the pain is likely down to doing everyday things differently just to get by, and it was bound to tell on my body. (MRI Scans last year failed to pinpoint specific causes). I digress, back to the story… 

Determined to achieve as much as possible despite my CP, (and many more problems besides) since school I’ve achieved two Arts degrees, one a Bachelor, the other a Masters, and passed a couple of further education exams in Counselling Skills, as well as doing a couple of guest lectures in what it was like to grow up being labelled as ‘Special Needs’, despite unexpectedly progressing through high school to University and beyond. 

Drawing blanks

I have no idea when pain first began to push its way through into more than a niggle on a daily basis. Perhaps at University, when I first needed a mobility scooter, or when trips to the bathroom become ever more frequent and increasingly painful.

8 years ago, I began to require more physiotherapy, and eventually a three-wheeled walking frame. This took some getting used to, having been able to walk relatively unaided since the age of six, except perhaps for the borrowing of an arm or two. Despite the strangeness at first, and the increasing challenges I faced each day, I carried on managing with my walking frame and the occasional use of a manual self-propelling wheelchair until roughly age 28.
One day, I wheeled myself into a consultant’s room for what I assumed was a routine appointment and left in turmoil. Due to pain of increasing severity becoming the norm on at least a daily basis, walking was apparently no longer an option. Months of assessments followed until one day, my shiny new electric wheelchair arrived. It was now the beginning of a more painless future. Or so I’d hoped. Several medication changes have made a bit of a difference to one type of pain, and then another have been necessary to try to block a newer kind of pain.
Warm-water based exercises weekly used to stretch, strengthen and condition my aged body, but  I’ve since moved to an area where Hydrotherapy is not available. I did start on new pain patches which helps, but I always have some pain. 

Female model shown in 9 images with a read blotch indicating a different site of pain


There is little doubt my pain is chronic. Chronic pain is continuous, long-term pain of more than 12 weeks or after the time that healing would have been thought to have occurred in pain after trauma or surgery.

British Pain Society, 2015 http://britishpsinsociety.org

Different sites Inc. the one above estimate between 10-14 million people in UK live with chronic pain. Ouch! 

This is the pain about pain. 
To collapse into bed at the end of one painful day only to struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position for any length of time, and the pain to continue all night long and be with me into the new day too. The pain about pain is its sheer persistence. It doesn’t care who falls victim to it, or what one’s plans are, or what problems it exacerbates. 

The day one or all meds stop working is a day I pray will never come, though I know it’s possible. I’ve begun physiotherapy again, with the aim initially of becoming stronger and fitter for an upcoming major surgery, “elective” for the first time in my life. Really I have no choice about it,  just planned, as opposed to being a emergency. 

I’m aware many are in a worse situation than me, have no access to clean water, food or shelter, never mind pain relieving medication,  antibiotics or appliances such as stoma bags.

Equally, there are many who never need to give pain a thought save perhaps the occasional headache. For those who battle pain day in, day out I feel solidarity with, but wonder how we continue to fight each day. 

Emotional and psychological problems add to the burden

At least 1 in 4 in the UK battle psychological and emotional pain in the form of one or more mental illness. While I don’t have a mental illness as such, I do have Reactive Depression, a result of living in so much pain for so long, not to mention the emotional and psychological chaos that comes with constantly managing all that comes with it. 

Stay tuned for the next in my series of posts on pain, on depression and loss.

What’s so hard about going out?

‘Worry Wart’

I’ve found this post so difficult to start. I have tried several times in the last day or two, but not managed to concentrate long enough.  The words have jarred so in my head, that I’ve ended up deleting them and going outside for fresh air. Still, my mind refuses to quit jumping from topic to topic, thought to thought. I’ve cut, copied and pasted so many times trying to make the words fit despite the chaos in my head!

I’ve always been a worrier since I was very small. Outings have always been hard since a young age because of the need to be near a toilet. Growing up, I still went camping with The Brownies, and The Girl Guides, even though the latter meant sleeping in tents… and dashing to toilets. I’ve been on numerous picnics with my family or while on a Scripture Union holiday. I always worried about accidents, and developed something of a fear of public loos.

There were other worries too. Since I was very small, I become easily disorientated, sometimes even in familiar places, getting lost as easily as a young child might do, and have been known to panic in crowds. Having the spatial awareness of a 10 yr old is the reason why I’m not allowed to drive, but somehow, still allowed to be in charge of an electric wheelchair!  I don’t know how I managed to move away to university twice, given these sorts of problems, but now many years have passed since my move to the wrong side of the Scotland/England border, I’m very glad my parents gently encouraged me to accomplish as much as possible. I was no different from my brother in this respect, having both left home at a similar age. However even if going out while at uni or when I lived in my flat was as ‘simple’ as going out for a meal with friends, out to a friends house or out shopping with friends, I’d be so anxious beforehand so as not to sleep much the night before.

Argh….!argh

As time has gone on, and my health issues have become more complex, going out have become much more of a thought, and required more planning than ever. Even weeks or days before an outing, I’ll worry whether I’ll be well enough to go at all, and how much going out will take out of me, or if it will cause a pain spike. Remembering to take spare ostomy kit and spare clothes, medication, my phone in case I got lost, always having a drink with me because of greater risk of dehydration, and so on alleviates some of the worry. However, I’ve even had panic attacks and lots of trouble with anxiety, especially in the last few months, before I made the decision to move. I’ve had mindfulness training and other help with my mental health due to the toll my physical health has had on my mind. I find it useful as a practical skill to calm down if i’m in a state of heightened anxiety. Of course, I still pray at times of worry and panic too, as mindfulness is no replacement for prayer, and nor is it intended to be.

‘Somebody stop me’!

Tomorrow, I’m due to meet up with a faithful friend I haven’t seen in 2 and a half years. I should be excited about seeing her and catching up on all her news. All I can think about is if I will feel well enough to enjoy being out, if my friend will be shocked at the differences in me, and how I will manage to stay calm while navigating an area unfamiliar to me. There is of course, the usual worry over toilets! I will be with a carer as I am unable to do this kind of thing on my own. Much to the staff’s confusion, as they said they didn’t want to feel like a spare wheel in a private conversation. Fair enough… The worries around going out have become enough for me not to be concerned about this, as it is far more important to be accompanied and hopefully relax enough to forget everything for a little while, other than enjoying seeing my friend..

Making such an effort to go out means I’ll have to schedule in ‘recovery time’ afterwards, chronicillnessmeme2to try to recoup some of the extra energy used. Going from day to day can mean I need a least one recovery day in bed, so adding extras to my week isn’t easy. It’s very necessary for me though. It’s a big part of feeling as though I’m living, and not simply existing. Being with friends or family energises me, and I love being around people as much as ever. Despite all the effort, I’ll continue to push myself to go to new places and keep seeing my friends occasionally, rather than them always having to come and see me. A carer commented today that I seem to have lots of friends. I think it’s in part because I’ve learned the hard way that you have to be a good friend to others to make good friends. I wouldn’t have it any other way… and I get to nap after!

Over to you….

 

  • Áre you a worrier? I’m interested to hear how you manage those worries, whether it be through keeping a journal, hitting the gym or something else.
  • If you also have an illness (physical or mental) or a disability, do you find it difficult to meet up with people or to go out? What are some of the ways you cope with going out, or coping with not being able to go out?

From a modern flat to a big, old home….

12974270_10153389935261898_3412654725083429368_n
A recent photo of me with my nephew, taken in my new room in Nursing Care facility where I now live. 

From ‘independence’ to full-time Nursing Care

In the last little while, I’ve moved into residential care. Not a decision I took lightly but living independently was seriously endangering my mental health. Respite was arranged in a hurry as I desperately needed a rest. A few days after my arrival, I was a different person. I’d had more sleep then I’d had in a very long time, in part due to sleeping on a specialist mattress to try to ease some of my pain. I’d had proper meals, and help with the projectile stoma output which had been giving me so much grief at all hours of the day and night. I very quickly made friends, and there are as many activities available as possible given that the home is maintained by a national charity, and as such, relies heavily on volunteers. I did play more than one game of scrabble that first week, which I loved.

At the end of the week, I hadn’t heard if there were any changes to my care plan at home and I knew I couldn’t go back for any length of time and not get in the same mess. I knew deep down there was no money for any more care at home. Long story short, I’m now in residential care full time. I’m much happier, certainly safer and healthier than I was living on my own, latterly.

Disconnect in Well-Connected Times

Of course, as with any move, there will always be teething problems. These have become apparent very quickly. The manager is trying hard to get something done about the sweltering heat, and the problems with water. The care I have is generally absolutely brilliant, especially now people have had time to get used to the idiosyncrasy of doing stoma care on my behalf. I may have startlingly high levels of pain and fatigue, and the medication needed to manage these has it’s own side effects. Staff have begun to recognise the signs, and remind me to rest often. I am slowly developing my own routine in amongst my varying levels of health. I love visitors and thrive on being around people.

There’s just a weeny problem. The house is old, and has been extended. The house has been blamed for the non-existent Wi-Fi in upstairs rooms but that was only part of the problem. Finally, a solution has been suggested and will hopefully be implemented fairly swiftly. It needs to be. After all, personal care and support is paramount, but access to social support, which arguably includes Wi-Fi is nearly as important. I look forward to the day when I can skype when I chose to, including family as well as my therapist. I am almost wholly dependent on social media for keeping in touch with my wonderful friends, who I really miss, as well as church family and blood family. I also rely on Wi-Fi to conduct research for blog posts, and find other sits to write for. Being a girly girl, I make occasional purchases too.

My life has diminished enough without losing touch with people or losing the blog altogether. These are crucial contacts for my own sanity, some of whom offer online support with my chronic illness and disability. Why should any of this have to suffer simply because my circumstances have dramatically changed? It’s time residential care caught up with the times!

Over to You:

Do you think WiFi access is important in today’s world? Why, or why not?

Do you live in supported living, residential care or a nursing home, is Wi-Fi access considered a priority? Should it be?

Do you have any other comments to make. Perhaps you disagree with me. I’d love to hear from you!

Do I want to take pain medications? The simple answer is no. Just like I don’t want to take any of the medications I am prescribed. But equally I know that those same drugs keep me functioning. That without them I would not be able to write this post, or stand, or walk the few […]

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The Persistence of Pain

Pain. We all feel it, be in a physical pain in our shoulders, arms, legs, ankles, all of these, or in muscles, or joints… We might try everything to get rid of it; from a warm bath, rest, sleep. medications, be they over the counter or prescription ones, but sometimes nothing helps. Even if we take things to block the feelings of pain it may still persist… over days, weeks, perhaps months, or even years in some cases.

Unfortunately, it is this latter category in which I now find myself, having endured chronic lower back pain since my teens. It all started with a back problem stemming from how heavy my schoolbag was. Said bag was once weighed by the head of support for students with extra learning needs or a disability. I think it weighed about 3 stone… At the time, being relatively slim it would have been about a third of my body weight.

Never did I imagine that some sixteen years later that same pain would persist. I was always susceptible to musculoskeletal pain anyway due to my cerebral palsy (CP). Cerebral Palsy is the medical term for a number of disorders and means ‘brain paralysis’, affecting each person very differently. I’d always just assumed that because my walking was wonky, I might end up with damage to my body, especially since my diagnosis was that CP affect both legs from my hips to the tips of my feet.

Determined to achieve as much as possible despite my CP, (and many more problems besides) since school I’ve achieved two Arts degrees, one a Bachelor, the other a Masters, and passed a couple of further education exams in Counselling Skills, as well as doing a couple of guest lectures in what it was like to grow up being labelled as ‘Special Needs’, despite unexpectedly progressing through high school to University and beyond. 

I have no idea when pain first began to push its way through into more than a niggle on a daily basis. Perhaps at University, when I first needed a mobility scooter, or when trips to the bathroom became ever more frequent and increasingly painful (more of than on World IBD Day (19th May).

Some six or seven years ago, I began to require more physiotherapy, and eventually a three-wheeled walking frame. This took some getting used to, having been able to walk relatively unaided since the age of six, except perhaps for the borrowing of an arm or two. Despite the strangeness at first, and the increasing challenges I faced each day, I carried on for managing with my walking frame and the occasional use of a manual self-propelling wheelchair until the age of about 28.

One day, I wheeled myself into a consultant’s room for what I assumed was a routine appointment and left in turmoil. Due to pain of increasing severity becoming the norm on at least a daily basis, walking was apparently no longer an option. Months of assessments followed until one day, my shiny new electric wheelchair arrived. It was now the beginning of a more painless future. Or so I’d hoped. Several medications have made a bit of a difference to one type of pain, and then another have been necessary to try to block a newer kind of pain. Successive appointments with different doctors followed, and for a time I was reasonably comfortable. 

However, this is now no longer the case. Most of the time, medications, microwave heated (wheat bag) animals and hot showers make a bit of a difference along with warm-water based exercises weekly but nothing really helps to the point of being in no pain at all. Those days have gone. 

Take today for example. Waking up to buzz my carer into my flat, only to realise once she flicked on the light switch that I was in agony from one side of my forehead to the other, and from one shoulder to the other, and in-between my shoulder blades, aching in the middle and culminating in some of the most intense lower back pain I’ve felt. It was time for emergency pain meds. Never one to admit defeat if I can help it I carried on with my day, seeing a good friend for a cuppa, only to crawl back into bed at lunchtime and stay there the majority of the afternoon. My bedtime is now fast approaching just as the lower back pain is increasing all over again. 

I’m aware many are in a worse situation than me, have no access to clean water, food and shelter, never mind medication. Equally, there are many who never need to give pain a thought save perhaps the occasional headache. For those who battle pain day in, day out I feel solidarity with, but wonder how we continue to fight each day. 

This is the pain about pain. To collapse into bed at the end of one painful day only to struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position for any length of time, and the pain to continue all night long and be with me into the new day too. The pain about pain is its sheer persistence. It doesn’t care who falls victim to it, or what one’s plans are, or what problems it exacerbates. 

Thankfully, I know One who felt more pain than I will ever feel. One day my pain will cease and all I will know is perfect joy and perfect peace. Not I the centre, but He. Until that time I push on, not in my strength but with His power. Pain pulls my focus back onto myself. What I’m feeling, what I need, my ruined plans, rather than His purpose. Tomorrow is a new day. Regardless of the persistence of pain, I will wheel on beside the One who endured it all for me.

Transport woes part… (I’ve lost count)

Despite being back on track with my writing now, generally I have found it difficult to write this year, unless something particularly grabs me. This is one of those posts. (N.B. I wrote the remainder of this post roughly six weeks ago, but facing Hospital Transport tomorrow, this post is pertinent!).

Old worries revisited

I have many things in common with fellow disabled people regardless of disability type or severity. Difficulties finding, and keeping affordable transport are almost universal. I’ve barely been out of the house recently, either because of myriad problems with my electric wheelchair, difficulties with care or a health related problem.
This morning, however, I had an unavoidable blood test. I have to use transport to get there so I can have the finger-prick test much like a diabetic person would do to check their blood sugar levels rather than a regular blood test. I am often told children have bigger veins than I do.
This morning was different, because instead of the usual transport vehicle it was a taxi contracted to do the same journey on their behalf. Rude, impatient and uncommunicative and on their hands free phone for the majority of the journey, I was apprehensive about being dropped off at the conclusion of the journey. I should say as far as I can tell my wheelchair was tied down properly.

Unexpected Intervention

Not expecting any further help, I slowly pushed my wheelchair towards the dropped kerb. Unexpectedly, someone in the next car addressed the driver, asking if he was on NHS work all day or just the one job. He said ‘just her.’ The driver then said he should really help me get inside so the taxi driver motioned towards me as I inched toward the pavement. I swear my garden snails would beat me. The other driver swiftly said “it’s just we’ve been warned, you know…” Tada, my driver’s attitude transformed. He propelled the chair at speed towards the building and asked civilly where I would like to be, saying thanks as he did so. I think it was for keeping quiet in front of the person who reprimanded him. Job done, he left.
After my blood test, I plucked up the courage to complain. I wouldn’t usually, but I felt I had to this time because I wanted to make sure the same driver wasn’t taking me home. I was concerned others would be at risk if faced with this same driver too, in terms of their emotional well-being if nothing else, or more, if they didn’t get the necessary help either.
Imagine my relief when an ambulance technician I had seen before rocked up. I knew everything would be fine after that.

A timely reminder…

This morning reminded me of an important lesson though. God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we expect. I suspect you are wondering how transport and prayer are related? You see, this morning I was in such pain I was almost in tears. I’d prayed God would lessen the pain as I knew I had potholes and speed bumps to endure on my journey, and asked a couple of others to pray too. Being driven by taxi meant being driven straight there rather than all over my side of Leeds to collect others, ensuring a shorter, smoother journey, despite the unpleasantness. Thankfully, on the journey home I’m first to be dropped off. What a relief,  answered prayer, and an important lesson remembered.

fifteen on Friday: people who make ‘snap’ decisions

Fifteen on Friday is a space where I write about something related to my experience of disability and illness. It stems from ‘five-minute Friday when I followed prompts set by the originator of the site, and I do this with her blessing. It takes me fifteen minutes often, to type what others would type in five, usually just because I get so tired!

They don’t know me like I do…

This week, it’s a subject that really riles me, and so I will do my best not to rant. I should acknowledge as well, that I do this too, though I shouldn’t, given how annoyed I get when people do it to me. So what is it that so annoys me? I can’t stand people making ‘snap’ decisions based on a snippet of information, or on how I look, specifically snap decisions on the severity or lack thereof, of my disability, or that I ‘look’ healthy, so I am healthy, which just drives me mad. Someone else said recently that ‘I hide being ill very well!’ I think so too!

It would be a lot easier to say, ‘I know the truth, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks’, but I’ve always cared. My friend known as ‘Chronic Rants’ blogged how it bugs her people always have to see the negatives in new treatments she tries, or tell her horror stories of how it went wrong for their friend’s friend, their mother, or who ever. Again, people making snap judgements based on a little information. Chronic Rants admits she does it, far too often. I do too. It still smarts when I am on the receiving end.

But you don’t look disabled!

If I am sat in a chair, or laid in a bed, I don’t ‘look’ disabled (nor would I want to). The irony is, neglect to take my cocktail of tablets and I look very disabled indeed, flailing about with arms and legs, shaking when I hold anything, doubled over in pain (which I often am even with the tablets). People see me looking ‘normal’ therefore and think ‘her disability is not that bad’ and voice it. I’ve even had a consultant pummel my arm years ago trying to find a vein, with me almost in tears ‘what’s wrong?’ he says.

‘My arm hurts a lot, cos I have cerebral palsy’

He says, incredulously, ‘You have cerebral palsy? Nobody told me (no surprise there!) But you don’t look like you have cerebral palsy’.

He’s not the only one. Nurses have made me walk because I don’t look disabled enough to need a hospital wheelchair, so I’d only have to walk the wee bit to the taxi) and others have asked ‘But how do you manage at home?’ Erm… that’s the point (of asking for help) I don’t. I have invisible disabilities, but I also have a physical disability that looks invisible in certain situations… weird!

However, they don’t see the exhaustion after a few steps, the physio does, or the pain shooting down my legs from trying to stay upright with a Zimmer frame after said steps. They don’t see all the things I can’t do that I have to ask ‘sidekicks’ to do, while wishing I didn’t have to ask so often. They don’t see me doubled over in pain, the professionals in and out of my flat, be they joint care manager, agency manager, nurses, ‘sidekicks’, other nurses for appointments, and house visits from doctors when I can’t even make it down a street or two to the surgery.

Yes, I know, I should put the violins away now!! I am thankful that I can talk (though others may not be when I just don’t shhhh!!), I have an electric wheelchair to get about (though it doesn’t fit in taxis — another story!) and I can move my arms and legs enough to do some things (eat, drink, choose lighter weight products in the supermarket, drive my wheelchair (badly…!) and so on.

It’s something I have to live with, but that will continue to bug me! I guess we all have pet hates like that!